To the Moon [poem by Charles Harpur]

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

To the Moon.

With silent step behold her steal
Over those envious clouds that hid
Till now her face, then stand — a seal
Of silver on heaven’s mighty lid!
So round me would I have her light
In one broad burst of beauty play,
And who whilst thus she rules the night
Would wish the day,
Nor feel his yearning spirit fraught
With sweetly solemn strains of visionary thought?

Love of my childhood! for but when
A child I loved thee of all things —
Yea, with what ecstacies I then
Did hail thee, what dear visionings!
And when between us up the sky
Obscuring glooms have wildly thronged,
With shortened breath and searching eye
How have I longed
For wings that I away might flee
To kiss thy hidden face and dwell awhile with thee.

I sadden! Ah, why bringest thou
Yet later memories to my mind?
I would but gaze upon thee now,
As erst for wonder; — not to find
Dim phantoms of each faded dream
That fanned my heart with pinions dyed
In passion, by old HAWKESBURY’S stream,
Before me glide,
With shades of days all figured o’er
By feelings lost, and hopes that know their place no more!

Nor was it thus thy beauty shone
Upon me fewer summers past —
Thus hopeless, world-distrusting, lone,
And withering in Misfortune’s blast!
Many that loved me then were nigh,
Of whom now these I may not trust,
And those forget — are far — or lie
Cold in the dust!
And never may we meet again
Loving and loved as then ’neath thy nocturnal reign!

O Cynthia! it would seem as though
A something from our spirits fell,
Like scents from flowers, Life’s eras through
And by which web invisible,
A gathered after-scene of all
Affection builded to our loss,
Is drawn thus in dim funeral
The heart across:
And which where stained the most with gloom
Uncertain Thought is prone to map with spells of doom.

But sober Reason sagelier sings
These visioned mysteries are but
The semblances which former things
Imbued our being with, as put
In act by memory, when is seen
Again some marked associate sight;
And thence it happens, Orb serene,
Why thou to-night
Look’st on me from thy native sky
Like an old friend too fond to talk of things gone by.

Let me this night the Past forget!
For though its dying voices be
At times like tones from Eden, yet
It bosoms too much change for me, —
That when but now my thoughts were given
To all I had suffered — loved and lost!
Turning mine eyes again to heaven,
Tear-quenched almost,
I started with a strange despair,
To find thee — even thee smiling unaltered there!

Hence vain regrets of secret pride!
My human heart, what irks thee so,
What in the scale of Nature tried
Should weigh thy happiness or wo?
Pale millions, so by Fortune cursed,
Have loved for sorrow in the light
Of this yet youthful Moon, since first
She claimed the night,
And thus mature even from her birth,
Chased with pale beam the glooms that swathed the infant Earth.

And be it humbling too, to know
That when this pile of haughty clay
For ages shall have ceased to glow,
Shall be a heap of ashes grey —
Which as the invading ploughshare drills
The unremembered burial ground,
The winds may o’er a hundred hills
Scatter around —
That in the midnight heavens thou
Shalt hang thy unfaded lamp and smile serene as now.

Nay, more than this: could even those,
The Edenites, who sorrow’d here
Ere Noah’s tilted ark arose
Or Nimrod chased the bounding deer,
Wherever sepulchered, could they
Shake the cold bonds of death and doom
But for a moment now away, —
Into each tomb
Solemnly gazing, thee they’d find
Even as they dying left thee, watchful Moon, behind!

But shall my thoughts thus widely range
And I no profit therein know?
Seeing that wither, waste and change
Must all that lives thine Orb below;
Shall I not turn with this sole aim,
In act to shun, in heart control,
Whatever dims the heavenward flame,
The essential soul
I feel within, and which must be
A living thing when thou art quenched eternally?



Source:
Charles Harpur, The Bushrangers; A Play in Five Acts, and Other Poems, Sydney: W. R. Piddington, 1853, pages 88-91

Editor’s notes:
clay = in the context of mankind, a reference to the idea that God made man out of clay; from Genesis 2:7 in the Old Testament of the Bible, “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul”, which has sometimes been referred to as God making man out of clay (e.g. “Man is made out of clay; he is an animal. Into the clay of man God has breathed the spiritual life; he is a son of God.”)

Cynthia = Artemis (in Greek mythology, the goddess of the moon), who was known as “Cynthia” as a nickname or epithet (Artemis was born on Mount Cynthus); may also refer to the Moon, especially in a literary context

ecstacies = archaic spelling of “ecstasies”; plural of “ecstacy” (archaic spelling of “ecstasy”)

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

erst = (archaic form of “erstwhile”) long ago, in the past, formerly (may also mean: at first)

Hawkesbury = the Hawkesbury River, New South Wales

nay = no

’neath = beneath

Nimrod = a king of Mesopotamia; according to the Bible, he was regarded as a great hunter and was a great-grandson of Noah

Noah = according to the Bible, in the Book of Genesis, Noah was warned by God of a coming almighty flood, and he therefore gathered animals and his family into a huge ark so as to survive the great calamity

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

pinion = a bird’s wing; in more specific usage, the outer section of a bird’s wing; in broader usage, “pinions” refers to the wings of a bird (“pinion” may also refer specifically to a feather, especially a flight feather, or a quill)

wo = archaic spelling of “woe”

Old spelling in the original text:
art (are)
bringest (bring)
look’st (look)
thee (you)
thine (your)
thou (you)
thy (your)

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