Under the Trees [poem by Mowbray Morris, 26 April 1871]

[Editor: This poem (also known as “The Voice from the Bush”), by Mr. Mowbray Morris, was included, with an introductory note, in Geoffry Crabthorn’s column “Echoes from the bush”. Published in The South Australian Register, 26 April 1871.]

My Portfolio.

[Although not in your Geoffry’s style, my Public, the following deserves a place in his portfolio as a veritable “Echo from the Bush” — a melancholy echo, too — telling of a wasted life and unavailing regrets— not the less melancholy in that the singer has not fathomed the depths of his own failure. How many be there through the length and breadth of this Australian Continent who could fittingly subscribe to my correspondent’s mournful musings? How many be there who have lavishly spent their one talent on themselves, and then wondered that it did not fructify? Enough, I fear me, to make an appreciable item in the census returns, had their names been separately gathered in.]

Under the Trees.

High noon, and not a cloud in the sky to break this blinding sun;
Well, I’ve half the day before me still, and most of my journey done —
There’s little enough of shade to be sure, but I’ll take what I can get,
For I’m not as hearty as once I was, although I’m a young man yet.

Young — Oh, yes, I suppose so, as far as the seasons go —
Tho’ there’s many a man far older than I down there in the town below.
Older, aye, but to whom, in the pride of his manhood strong,
The hardest work is never too hard, nor the longest day too long.

I’ve ate my cake, so I can’t complain; and I’ve only myself to blame.
Yes, that was always their tale at home, and here it’s just the same.
Of the seed I sowed in pleasure the harvest I’m reaping in pain —
Could I put my life a few years back, would I live that life again?

Of course — we all of us would. What glorious days they were!
It sometimes seems but the dream of a dream that life could have been so fair;
So sweet, but a short while back — and now, if one can call
This life, at times I doubt if life be worth the living at all.

One of the poets — which is it? — somewhere or other sings
That the crown of a sorrow’s sorrow is to remember happier things.
What the crown of a sorrow’s sorrow may be I know not, but this I know,
That it lightens the years that are now sometimes to think of the years ago.

Where are they now, I wonder, with whom these years were passed?
The pace was a little too good, I fear, for many of them to last.
And there’s always plenty to take their place when the leaders begin to decline —
Still I wish them well, wherever they be, for the sake of “Auld lang syne.”

Jack Villiers — galloping Jack — what a fellow he was to ride —
Was shot in a gambling row last year on the Californian side;
And Byng, the best of the lot, who was “broke” on the Derby of fifty-eight,
Is keeping sheep with Harry Lepell somewhere on the River Plate.

Do they ever think of me at all, and the fun we used to share?
It gives me a pleasant hour or two, and I’ve none too many to spare —
This dull blood runs as it used to run, and the spent flame flickers up,
As I think on the cheers that rang in my ears when I won the Garrison Cup.

And how the regiment roared to a man, while the voice of the fielders shook,
As I swung in my stride, six lengths to the good, hard held, over Brixworth Brook.
Instead of the parrot’s screech I seem to hear the twang of the horn,
And once again from Barkby Holt I “set” the pick of the Quorn.

Ah! those were harmless pleasures enough — for I hold him worse than an ass
Who shakes his head at a “neck on the post,” or a quick thing over the grass.
Ride for yourself, and ride to win, and you can’t very well go wrong;
’Gad, if I’d only stuck to that, I’d be singing a different song.

As to the one I’m singing now, that’s pretty well known to all.
We knew too much, but not quite enough, and so we went to the wall;
While those who cared not, if the work was done, how dirty their hands might be,
Went up on our shoulders, and kicked us down when they reached the top of the tree.

But though it relieves one’s mind at times, there’s little good in a curse;
One comfort is, if I’m not well off, I might be a great deal worse.
A roof to my head, and a bite to my mouth, and no one likely to know
In “Bill the Bushman” the “Dandy” who went to the dogs some years ago.

Out there on the station, among the lads, I get along pretty well.
It’s only when I get down in the town that I feel this life such a hell.
Booted, and bearded, and burned to a brick as I loaf along the street,
I watch the ladies tripping by, and I bless their dainty feet.

I watch them here and there, with a bitter feeling of pain.
What wouldn’t I give to touch a lady’s hand again.
They used to be glad to see me once — they might have been so to-day,
But we never know the worth of a thing until we have thrown it away.

I watch them — but from afar — and I pull my “cabbage-tree” over my eyes,
Partly to hide the tears that, rough and rude as I am, will rise:
And partly because I cannot bear that such as they should see
The man that I am, when I know — though they don’t — the man I ought to be.

* * * * *

Puff! with the last whiff of my pipe I blow these fancies away.
I must be moving along if I want to get down into town to-day;
As I know I shall reach my journey’s end, though I travel not over fast,
So the end of that longer journey will come in its own good time at last.

The South Australian Register (Adelaide, SA), 26 April 1871, p. 5

Also published in:
Wagga Wagga Advertiser and Riverine Reporter (Wagga Wagga, NSW), 10 May 1871, [p. 3]
The Australasian (Melbourne, Vic.), 27 May 1871, p. 647
The Burrowa News (Burrowa, NSW), 12 November 1880, p. 4 [under the title of “A Voice from the Bush, Or Under the Trees”]
The Freeman’s Journal (Sydney, NSW), 12 November 1908, p. 3 [under the title of “A Voice from the Bush”]

Editor’s notes:
The author of this poem was Mr. Mowbray Morris, an Englishman who worked for several years in Australia as aide-de-camp to Sir James Fergusson (Governor of South Australia, 1869-1872).
See: 1) The South Australian Chronicle and Weekly Mail (Adelaide, SA), 2 October 1880, p. 11
2) The South Australian Register (Adelaide, SA), 24 June 1884, p. 6
3) The Brisbane Courier (Brisbane, Qld.), 20 December 1892, p. 4
4) The Barrier Miner (Broken Hill, NSW), 30 August 1904, p. 2
5) The Australasian (Melbourne, Vic.), 14 November 1908, p. 1257
6) The Register (Adelaide, SA), 23 June 1923, p. 4
7) The Register (Adelaide, SA), 9 July 1927, p. 5
8) V. A. Edgeloe, “Fergusson, Sir James (1832–1907)”, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University (accessed 14 October 2014)

auld lang syne = (Scottish) “times long past” (literally, “old long since”), similar to “the good old days”; commonly known in relation to the song “Auld Lang Syne”, being the poem written by Robert Burns (and later set to music) which was based upon an old Scottish song

cabbage tree = in the context of headwear, this is a reference to a cabbage tree hat (a type of straw hat, made from the leaves of the Australian cabbage tree; they were commonly worn in colonial Australia)

dandy = a man who places a lot of emphasis on being fashionable and stylish in clothes and manners; a fop

fielder = field gun (cannon)

quorn = a protein-rich food made from fungus, used in cooking as a meat substitute

went to the dogs = the phrase “went to the dogs” (or similar, such as “gone to the dogs”) refers to a situation or entity (e.g. a business, organisation, or country) which has become much worse in character or quality

Speak Your Mind