The Sydney International Exhibition [poem by Henry Kendall]

[Editor: This poem by Henry Kendall was published in Songs from the Mountains (1880). It was previously published in The Sydney Morning Herald (17 September 1879).]

The Sydney International Exhibition.

(A Prize Poem published with the kind permission of the Proprietors of the “Sydney Morning Herald.”)

Now while Orion, flaming south, doth set
A shining foot on hills of wind and wet —
Far haughty hills beyond the fountains cold
And dells of glimmering greenness manifold —
While August sings the advent of the Spring,
And in the calm is heard September’s wing,
The lordly voice of song I ask of thee,
High deathless radiance — crowned Calliope!
What though we never hear the great god’s lays
Which made all music the Hellenic days —
What though the face of thy fair heaven beams
Still only on the crystal Grecian streams —
What though a sky of new strange beauty shines
Where no white Dryad sings within the pines,
Here is a land whose large imperial grace
Must tempt thee goddess in thine holy place!
Here are the dells of peace and plenilune,
The hills of morning and the slopes of noon;
Here are the waters dear to days of blue,
And dark-green hollows of the noontide dew;
Here lies the harp, by fragrant wood winds fanned,
That waits the coming of thy quickening hand!
And shall Australia, framed and set in sea
August with glory, wait in vain for thee?
Shall more than Tempe’s beauty be unsung
Because its shine is strange — its colours young?
No! by the full live light which puts to shame
The far fair splendours of Thessalian flame —
By yonder forest psalm which sinks and swells
Like that of Phocis, grave with oracles —
By deep prophetic winds that come and go
Where whispering springs of pondering mountains flow —
By lute-like leaves and many-languaged caves,
Where sounds the strong hosanna of the waves,
This great new Majesty shall not remain
Unhonoured by the high immortal strain!
Soon, soon, the music of the southern lyre,
Shall start and blossom with a speech like fire!
Soon, soon, shall flower and flow in flame divine
Thy songs, Apollo, and Euterpe, thine!
Strong, shining sons of Delphicus shall rise
With all their Father’s glory in their eyes;
And then shall beam on yonder slopes and springs
The light that swims upon the light of things.
And therefore, lingering in a land of lawn,
I, standing here, a singer of the Dawn,
With gaze upturned to where wan summits lie
Against the morning flowing up the sky —
Whose eyes in dreams of many colours see
A glittering vision of the years to be —
Do ask of thee, Calliope, one hour
Of life pre-eminent with perfect power,
That I may leave a song whose lonely rays
May shine hereafter from these songless days.

For now there breaks across the faint gray range
The rose-red dawning of a radiant change.
A soft sweet voice is in the valleys deep
Where darkness droops and sings itself to sleep.
The grave mute woods, that yet the silence hold
Of dim dead ages, gleam with hints of gold.
Yon eastern cape that meets the straitened wave —
A twofold tower above the whistling cave —
Whose strength in thunder shields the gentle lea,
And makes a white wrath of a league of sea,
Now wears the face of peace; and in the bay
The weak spent voice of Winter dies away.
In every dell, there is a whispering wing —
On every lawn, a glimmer of the Spring —
By every hill, are growths of tender green —
On every slope, a fair new life is seen;
And lo! beneath the morning’s blossoming fires,
The shining City of a hundred spires!
In mists of gold, by countless havens furled,
And glad with all the flags of all the World!

These are the shores where, in a dream of fear,
Cathay saw darkness dwelling half the year!*[1]
These are the coasts that old fallacious tales
Chained down with ice and ringed with sleepless gales!
This is the land that, in the hour of awe,
From Indian peaks the rapt Venetian saw!*[2]
Here is the long gray line of strange sea-wall
That checked the prow of the audacious Gaul!
What time he steered towards the southern snow,
From zone to zone, four hundred years ago!+[3]
By yonder gulf, whose marching waters meet
The wine-dark currents from the isles of heat,
Strong sons of Europe, in a far dim year,
Faced ghastly foes and felt the alien spear!
There, in a later dawn, by shipless waves,
The tender grasses found forgotten graves.++[4]
Far in the west, beyond those hills sublime
Dirk Hartog anchored in the olden time:
There, by a wild-faced bay, and in a cleft,
His shining name the fair-haired Northman left.[5]
And, on those broad imperial waters far,
Beneath the lordly occidental star,
Sailed Tasman down a great and glowing space
Whose softer lights were like his lady’s face.
In dreams of her he roved from zone to zone,
And gave her lovely name to coasts unknown;
And saw in streaming sunset everywhere
The curious beauty of her golden hair.[+6]
By flaming tracts of tropic afternoon,
Where in low heavens hangs a fourfold moon,
Here, on the tides of a resplendent year,
By capes of jasper, came the buccaneer.*[7]
Then — then, the wild men, flying from the beach,
First heard the clear bold sounds of English speech;
And then first fell across a Southern plain
The broad, strong shadows of a Saxon train.
Near yonder wall of stately cliff that braves
The arrogance of congregated waves,
The daring son of gray old Yorkshire stood
And dreamed in a majestic solitude,
What time a gentle April shed its showers,
Aflame with sunset, on the Bay of Flowers.+[8]
The noble seaman who withheld the hand,
And spared the Hector of his native land —
The single savage yelling on the beach
The dark strange curses of barbaric speech!
Exalted sailor! whose benignant phrase
Shines full of beauty in these latter days;
Who met the naked tribes of fiery skies
With great divine compassion in his eyes;
Who died like Him of hoary Nazareth,
That death august — the radiant martyr’s death;
Who in the last hour showed the Christian face
Whose crumbling beauty shamed the alien race.
In peace he sleeps where deep eternal calms
Lie round the land of heavy-fruited palms.
Lo! in that dell, behind a singing bar,
Where deep pure pools of glittering waters are,
Beyond a mossy yellow gleaming glade,
The last of Forby Sutherland was laid —
The blue-eyed Saxon from the hills of snow
Who fell asleep a hundred years ago.
In flowerful shades, where gold and green are rife,
Still rests the shell of his forgotten life.
Far, far away, beneath some northern sky —
The fathers of his humble household lie;
But, by his lonely grave, are sapphire streams,
And gracious woodlands where the firefly gleams;
And ever comes across a silver lea
The hymn sublime of the eternal sea.

On that bold hill, against a broad blue stream,
Stood Arthur Phillip in a day of dream:
What time the mists of morning westward rolled,
And heaven flowered on a bay of gold!
Here, in the hour that shines and sounds afar,
Flamed first old England’s banner like a star;
Here, in a time august with prayer and praise,
Was born the Nation of these splendid days;
And here, this land’s majestic Yesterday
Of immemorial silence died away.

Where are the woods that, ninety summers back,
Stood hoar with ages by the water-track?
Where are the valleys of the flashing wing,
The dim green margins and the glimmering spring?
Where now the warrior of the forest race,
His glaring war-paint, and his fearless face?
The banks of April, and the groves of bird,
The glades of silence, and the pools unstirred,
The gleaming savage, and the whistling spear,
Passed with the passing of a wild old year!
A single torrent singing by the wave,
A shadowy relic in a mountain cave,
A ghost of fire in immemorial hills,
The whittled tree by folded wayside rills,
The call of bird that hides in hollows far
Where feet of thunder, wings of winter are —
Of all that Past — these wrecks of wind and rain,
These touching memories — these alone remain!

What sun is this that beams and broadens west?
What wonder this, in deathless glory dressed?
What strange sweet harp of highest god took flame
And gave this Troy its life, its light, its name?
What awful lyre of marvellous power and range
Upraised this Ilion — wrought this dazzling change?
No shining singer of Hellenic dreams
Set yonder splendour by the morning streams!
No god, who glimmers in a doubtful sphere,
Shed glory there — created beauty here!
This is the City that our fathers framed —
These are the crescents by the elders named!
The human hands of strong heroic men
Broke down the mountain, filled the gaping glen,
Ran streets through swamp, built banks against the foam,
And bent the arch and raised the lordly dome!
Here are the towers that the Founders made!
Here are the temples where these Romans prayed!
Here stand the courts in which their leaders met:
Here are their homes, and here, their altars yet!
Here sleep the grand old men whose lives sublime
Of thought and action shine and sound through time!
Who worked in darkness — onward fought their ways
To bring about these large majestic days —
Who left their sons the hearts and high desires
Which built this City of the hundred spires!

A stately Morning rises on the wing,
The hills take colour, and the valleys sing.
A strong September flames beyond the lea —
A silver vision on a silver sea.
A new Age “cast in a diviner mould”
Comes crowned with lustre, zoned and shod with gold!
What Dream is this on lawny spaces set?
What Miracle of dome and minaret?
What great mute Majesty is this that takes
The first of morning ere the song bird wakes?
Lo, this was built, to honour gathering lands,
By Celtic, Saxon, Australasian hands!
These are the Halls where all the flags unfurled
Break into speech that welcomes all the world.
And lo, our friends are here from every zone —
From isles we dream of, and from tracts unknown!
Here are the fathers from the stately space
Where Ireland is, and England’s sacred face!
Here are the Norsemen from their strong sea-wall,
The grave grand Teuton and the brilliant Gaul!
From green sweet groves the dark-eyed Lusians sail,
And proud Iberia leaves the grape-flushed vale.
Here are the lords whose starry banner shines
From fierce Magellan to the Arctic pines.
Here come the strangers from the gates of day —
From hills of sunrise, and from white Cathay.
The spicy islands send their swarthy sons,
The lofty North, its mailed and mighty ones.
Venetian keels are floating on our sea:
Our eyes are glad with radiant Italy!
Yea, North and South and glowing West and East,
Are gathering here to grace our splendid feast!
The chiefs from peaks august with Asian snow,
The elders born where regal roses grow,
Come hither, with the flower of that fair land
That blooms beyond the fiery tracts of sand
Where Syrian suns their angry lustres fling
Across blind channels of the bygone Spring.
And, on this great auspicious day, the flowers
Of Labour glorify majestic hours.
The singing angel from the starry sphere
Of dazzling Science shows his wonders here.
And Art, the dream-clad spirit, starts, and brings
From Fairyland her strange sweet glittering things.
Here are the works man did what time his face
Was touched by God in some exalted place.
Here glows the splendour — here, the marvel wrought
When Heaven flashed upon the maker’s thought!
Yea, here are all the miracles sublime —
The lights of Genius and the stars of Time!
And, being lifted by this noble noon,
Australia broadens like a tropic moon.
Her white pure lustre beams across the zones;
The Nations greet her from their awful thrones.
From hence, the morning beauty of her name
Will shine afar, like an exceeding flame.
Her place will be with mighty lords, whose sway
Controls the thunder and the marching day:
Her crown will shine beside the crowns of kings
Who shape the seasons, rule the course of things.
The fame of her across the years to be
Will spread like light on a surpassing sea;
And graced with glory, girt with power august,
Her life will last till all things turn to dust.

To Thee, the face of Song is lifted now —
O Lord, to whom the awful mountains bow;
Whose hands unseen the tenfold storms control;
Whose thunders shake the spheres from pole to pole;
Who from the highest heaven lookest down,
The sea Thy footstool and the sun Thy crown;
Around whose Throne the deathless planets sing
Hosannas to their high, eternal King —
To Thee, the soul of Prayer this morning turns,
With faith that glitters and with hope that burns!
And, in the moments of majestic calm
That fill the heart in pauses of the psalm,
She asks Thy blessing for this fair young land
That flowers within the hollow of Thine hand!
She seeks of Thee that boon, that gift sublime,
The Christian radiance, for this hope of Time!
And Thou wilt listen; and Thy face will bend
To smile upon us — Master, Father, Friend!
The Christ to whom pure pleading heart hath crept,
Was human once, and in the darkness wept;
The gracious Love that helped us long ago
Will on us like a summer sunrise flow;
And be a light to guide the Nation’s feet
On holy paths — on sacred ways, and sweet.

*[1] According to that eminent authority, Mr. R. H. Major, and others, the Great Southern Land is referred to in old Chinese records as a polar continent, subject to the long polar nights.
*[2] Marco Polo mentions a large land called by the Malays Lochac. The northern coast was supposed to be in latitude 10° S. (Vide Bennett, and others.)
+[3] Mr. R. H. Major has discovered a map of Terra Australis dated A.D. 1542, and bearing the name of Le Testu, a French pilot. Le Testu must have visited these coasts some years before the date of the chart.
++[4] The sailors of the Duyfken, a Dutch vessel which entered Carpentaria, in A.D. 1606, were attacked by the natives. In the fray, some of the whites were killed. No doubt, these unlucky adventurers were the first Europeans buried in Australia. (Vide Woods, and others.)
*[5] Dirk Hartog left a tin plate, bearing his name, in Shark’s Bay, Western Australia. It was last seen in A.D. 1803.
+[6] Abel Tasman’s love for Maria Van Diemen is well known. Tasmania, and many of the islands and points on the N.W. coasts of Australia were named after her.
*[7] Dampier.
+[8] Botany Bay.

Henry Kendall, Songs from the Mountains, Sydney: William Maddock, 1880, pages 127-144

Previously published in:
The Sydney Morning Herald (Sydney, NSW), 17 September 1879, p. 5

Editor’s notes:
Re. footnote 1: The original footnote gave a year of 1605 for when the Duyfken sailed into the Gulf of Carpentaria; however, the actual year was 1606. To avoid any confusion, the year given in footnote 1 has been corrected to 1606.

Re. footnote 5: Whilst the original footnote was, at the time, correct in saying that Dirk Hartog’s tin plate “was last seen in A.D. 1803”, it has since been discovered, and now resides in a museum in the Netherlands.

Re. footnote 6: Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) was named after Antony Van Diemen, the Dutch Governor of Batavia (Java).

Arthur Phillip = (1738-1814) commander of the First Fleet, and the first Governor of New South Wales

Dryad = in Greek mythology, a dryad was a tree nymph

ere = before (from the Middle English “er”, itself from the Old English “aer”, meaning early or soon)

fell asleep = a euphemism for “died”

foam = ocean; sea

girt = encircled, surrounded; encircled or bound with a band or belt (past tense and past participle of “gird”)

Him = in a religious context, and capitalized, a reference to God or Jesus

hoary = a descriptive term for someone or something which is old or ancient; someone with grey or white hair; something grey or white in colour

lay = song, tune; ballad (may also refer to ballads or narrative poems, as sung by medieval minstrels or bards)

Lord = in a religious context, and capitalized, a reference to God or Jesus

N.W. = north-west

wan = having a sickly or pale appearance; a poorly appearance suggestive of unhappiness or grief; a lack of energy or feeling (e.g. a smile or laugh, displaying little effort, energy, or enthusiasm); lacking good health or vitality (may also refer to something which is dim or faint, e.g. light, stars, sun)

yea = yes; indeed; truly; an affirmation (especially an affirmative vote), an indication of assent

yon = an abbreviation of “yonder”: at a distance; far away

Old spelling in the original text:
doth (does)
hath (has)
lookest (looks)
thee (you )
thine (your)
thy (your)
wilt (will)

[Editor: Corrected “A.D. 1605” to “A.D. 1606” (re. footnote 1, per the Duyfken).]

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