The Vision of the Rock [poem by Charles Harpur]

[Editor: This poem by Charles Harpur was published in The Bushrangers; A Play in Five Acts, and Other Poems (1853).]

The Vision of the Rock.

I sate upon a lonely peak,
A backwood river’s course to view,
And watched the varying shadows freak
Its liquid length of gleaming blue,
Streaked by the crane now gliding o’er,
Now checkering to the leafy roar
Of woods that ’neath me grew,
Or curdling dark as high o’er head
The gathering clouds before the sounding breezes fled.

Beyond, a broad herd grazed the vale,
Where ’mid the trees, its Station stood;
Beneath, a housewife with her pail
Plung’d dexterous, smote the booming flood —
Which suddenly from a reedy nook
Aroused the brooding teal that took
Her flight along the wood
And drew dull murmurs from each grot
And called the passing hawk to circle o’er the spot.

Straight I bethought how once the scene
Spread in its primal horror there,
When but some lone bird’s cry of teen,
Or howlings from the wild-dog’s lair
Or rush of startled kangaroo,
As near some stealthy savage drew
With hunger in his air,
Or from the stream some casual sound
Broke the dread slumbers there of Solitude profound.

A change came o’er my thoughts — behind
A length of coming time I threw —
Till round me, on that rock reclined,
Its folds prophetic Vision drew;
And purpling like the morning, gave
Mine eye of Freedom’s births to have
It seemed an ante-view,
Like as in glorious promise stole
His country’s purer weal o’er youthful Hampden’s soul.

All round me villages arose
At once, with orchards clumpt about,
And oft between through piny rows
Some mansion’s pillared porch look out,
And thickening up from alleys green,
Where rustic groups in dance were seen,
Came merry laugh and shout,
While from yet choicer shades the cheer
Of more refined delight fainted like fragrance near.

And in the gusts that over-broke
The voice of neighbouring cities came,
Whose structures in the distance spoke
Of fullest opulence and fame,
O’er fields of ripening plenty viewed,
Or hills with white flocks fleeced, and strewed
With herds that grazed the same;
While on the paven roads between
The frequent chariot flamed with rapid-rolling din.

Now gaining depth the Vision lay
Around my spirit like a law,
So that my reason might not say
But all was real that I saw.
I mark a youth and maiden prest
By Love’s sweet power, elude the rest,
And as they nearer draw
I list the vow that each imparts
Folded in the sighed spells of harmonising hearts.

They pass: and lo, a lonely boy
With wandering step goes musing by —
Glory is in his air and joy,
And all the poet in his eye!
And now whilst rich emotions flush
His face as radiant colours blush
And burn in morning’s sky,
He sings — and to the charmful sound
Troops of angelic Shapes throng into being round.

Before me now an aged man,
Majestic passes: wisdom true
Illumes his brow — the power to scan
All time and look all nature through,
And stately youths of studious mien,
Children of light, with him are seen —
His auditors — and who
Attend the speaking sage along,
As though sciential manna issued from his tongue.

Listen! — He tells of patriot deeds
And lauds the happiness they brought,
He blazons Freedom’s holy creeds
With all the affluence of Thought,
Teaches the truths of Virtue’s cause
And what are nations’ proper laws,
And what blind Milton taught —
That to avert Oppression’s rod
And pull wrong Power down, is — “Glory be to God!”

And now doth his big utterance throw
A sacred solemnising spell
O’er scenes which yet no record know,
Round names that now I may not tell!
But there was One — too long unknown!
Whereat, as with a household tone
Upon the ear it fell,
Each listener’s speaking eyes were given
To glisten with a tear and turn awhile to Heaven!

Thus night came on; for hours had flown
And yet its hold the Vision kept,
Till lulled by many a dying tone,
I laid me on the rock and slept.
And now the big round moon between
Two western summits hung serene —
When all with dews bewept
And ’wakened by the loudening gale,
I rose and sought my hearth far gleaming from the vale.

Charles Harpur, The Bushrangers; A Play in Five Acts, and Other Poems, Sydney: W. R. Piddington, 1853, pages 93-95

Editor’s notes:
grot = grotto (especially used in a literary context): a small cave (may also refer to: dirt, rubbish, an unpleasant material; someone who is filthy, slovenly, untidy)

manna = something gained freely and unexpectedly; in the Bible it refers to the food bestowed upon the Israelites in their journey from Egypt, hence the expression “manna from heaven” (also refers to spiritual nourishment; also refers to the substance exuded or excreted by certain insects and plants)

mien = the air, bearing, demeanor, or manner of a person, especially as showing an attitude or personality

’mid = an abbreviation of “amid” or “amidst”: of or in the middle of an area, group, position, etc.

Milton = John Milton (1608-1674), an English author and poet, who became blind later in life

’neath = beneath

o’er = over (pronounced the same as “oar”, “or”, and “ore”)

oft = often

piny = of or relating to pine trees; covered with pine trees

sciential = of or relating to knowledge or science

sate = (archaic) sat (may also mean: satisfy, especially to satisfy an appetite)

station = a large rural holding for raising sheep or cattle; the term “property” is used for smaller holdings

teal = a breed of freshwater duck, known for having a greenish colour on their wings and around their eyes (may also refer to a colour which is greenish-blue to bluish-green)

vale = valley

weal = well-being, prosperity, or happiness (as used in: the public weal, the common weal)

Old spelling in the original text:
bethought (thought)
bewept (wept)
clumpt (clumped)
doth (does)
paven (paved)
prest (pressed)
sate (sat)
’wakened (awakened)

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