The Vine that is a Friend [poem by John Shaw Neilson]

[Editor: This poem by John Shaw Neilson was published in Beauty Imposes: Some Recent Verse (1938).]

The Vine that is a Friend

Arthur is old, and being overwise,
He will not cease to taunt me night and day:
He does my water-drinking much despise.

He is monotonous and will complain:
“Meanness”, he says, “will sere the soul of man;
He can drink cheaply of the stored-up rain!

“Why will you save? You should be glad to spend;
Why not have joy and all good fellowship!
’Tis with the Vine, the Vine that is a friend.

“Did Jesus sin — come tell me if you can —
Did He not once upon a wedding-day
Drink as a loving neighbour and a man?

“In the long hours you sleep it will descend
With its long roots into the yellow lime:
Great is the Vine, the Vine that is a friend.”

Then do I say: “I have seen much of shame
In the dull lives of drinkers, nor would I
Call to my God to have Him bear the blame.”

Arthur in stout resistance will complain:
“You would dishonour God with old mistrust;
You would drink cheaply of the stored-up rain.

“Rain, ’tis a wholesome drink for ewes and lambs;
On the long days it is the home of weeds
In the dull creeks and all the yellow dams.

“Dreary is he whose drink is the dull rain;
It is so filled with every evil thing,
Even at times the cattle will complain.

“Though you reject it, still the sun will shine;
Though you should sit in darkness, still for you
There is the constant glory of the Vine.

“It has more song than all the bells that chime,
And it can heal; it takes up happiness
To the white maiden in a perilous time.

“By gluttony man has been long defiled,
But ’tis the Vine that runs with sustenance
To the thin mother and the thirsting child.

“It is a summer never known to end;
It has defied old winters of all time;
Great is the Vine, the Vine that is a friend.

“Rain, ’tis a sorrow dropping from the sky,
It is the home of all uncertainties,
Filled with the bodies of the birds that die.”

Arthur is like some Prophet who of old
Under the rainbow, out upon the mist,
Spoke to his God, and all His might extolled.

“Who touches wine,” said he, “though he be mean,
He shall not need to search for merriment;
He shall see further than the Seers have seen.

“He shall see flowers where only weeds have grown;
Sunrise shall not forsake him, and at eve
He shall be dreaming, listening all alone.

“Rain is a fitting thing for lambs to choose
On the white sheep-runs when December tells
Only the old imprisonment of the ewes.

“Rain, ’tis a welcome vintage for the lambs,
Though it be thickened with unwholesome spawn,
Evil and green and yellow in the dams.

“Rain, ’tis a drink when birds fall down and die,
When the loud wind tells not of merriment,
But of tremendous happenings in the sky.

Rain, ’tis a drink when birds fall down afraid,
Fluttering to mercy when the panting sheep
Move with the morning to the moving shade.”

* * * * *

Arthur when young did ride in a red land;
Bones did he see and old malevolence;
Death was the neighbour ever close at hand.

Arthur will say: “The Vine has evil fame,
But for its health God sent His messengers:
In from the desert the wild asses came.*

“Keen in their hunger they did pluck and rend,
Then did the roots go deep for nourishment.
Great is the Vine, the Vine that is a friend.”

Arthur is old, his thoughts are in the dim;
I should be doubly gentle: well I know
That his intolerance is the truth to him.

“Wine”, he says, “is for boldness in the boy;
’Tis in the toes of girls for happiness;
It is the taste of cleanness in the joy.”

Arthur is old, I have not time to hear
All his long boast, and wine I only take
Faintly, how faintly, once or twice a year.

Then does he say: “You have not heart to spend.
It is your servant, it can love and cling.
Great is the Vine, the Vine that is a friend.”

Arthur will have his grievance. He will say:
“Can you not drink? Oh, drink as Jesus did,
Drink as a friend upon a wedding-day.”

Slowly I soften, I no more pretend
To argument; I sit, and Arthur says:
“Great is the Vine, the Vine that is a friend.”

* A reference to the old tradition, probably true, that pruning was first suggested by the beneficial results noticed in plants cropped by wild animals.

Shaw Neilson, Beauty Imposes: Some Recent Verse, Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1938, pages 16-19

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