Where the Saltbush Grows [poem by E. J. Brady]

[Editor: This poem by E. J. Brady was published in Bells and Hobbles (1911).]

Where the Saltbush Grows.

I am sitting in a garden, by a harbor prospect fair,
And a green world glows around me into distance ev’rywhere;
And the petals fall in showers
Like a snowstorm of dead flowers,
Where a young Spring trips the orchards with the south wind in her hair.

Here glad buttercups unfold burnished cups of floral gold;
To the nectars of the morning, and the pine trees, tall and old,
Lift their heads to greet September —
Like knights errant, who remember
Courts and tournaments of Nature, in the ancient years untold.

Now the florists’ windows gleaming are bedecked with spoil of Spring,
Now the maiden waiteth blushing for a lover — and a ring.
Now the matron, laughing gaily,
Treads her path of pleasure daily,
While our city sparrows twitter, and our caged canaries sing.

But a rude, uncultured longing through my inward fancy flows;
I am restless and uneasy; far too well my spirit knows
That the wizard West is calling,
With a siren voice enthralling,
From her free, unpastured places, where the stunted saltbush grows!

From her plains, outspreading lonely under cloudless skies away,
Comes a summons to my garden by the hill-surrounded bay:
“Come, oh come again, my rover;
Come, oh come again, my lover;
Come out and see the glory and the grandeur of the day.”

“Will your city give nepenthe?” cries the spirit of the West —
“Will its markets fill the chalice of the longings in your breast?
Is the traffic in its thunder
Like that still and quiet wonder
Of the moon above the mulga where the weary riders rest?”

Then my garden in the suburbs grows as narrow as a tomb,
Then the woof and warp of Commerce on its ever-whirling loom,
Like a web of evil fairies,
Like a garment of despair is,
Like a cerement swiftly woven by the cogs and wheels of Doom.

We can never rest in cities, as our wise Bush Mother knows;
Let the merchant to his markets where the golden current flows;
But the bushman’s feet must wander
In the open over yonder,
Where old myall droops his branches and the silver saltbush grows.

Not in crowded squares or highways; not in terraces in rows,
Not in tiled suburban cages shall our life days surely close,
When the old Bush voices woo us,
When the West-land whispers to us,
From her free and trackless places where the silver saltbush grows.

E. J. Brady, Bells and Hobbles, Melbourne: George Robertson & Co., 1911, pp. 63-65

Editor’s notes:
cerement = a burial shroud or burial garment; a cerecloth, a waxed waterproof cloth used for wrapping a corpse

ev’rywhere = (vernacular) everywhere

mulga = a small Acacia (wattle) tree or shrub, especially Acacia aneura (known as “true mulga”), although also referring to similar Acacia species, such as Acacia brachystachya (umbrella mulga), Acacia citrinoviridis (black mulga), Acacia craspedocarpa (hop mulga), and Acacia cyperophylla (red mulga); can be prevelant in arid areas of Australia, such as the mulga shrublands of Western Australian (“mulga” may also refer to the wood from a mulga)

myall = an acacia tree (wattle tree), especially the Acacia pendula (weeping myall) which has gray or silver foliage, drooping branches, and which can grow up to 10 metres in height (with a hard heavy fine-grained wood that is especially used for carving and fine woodworking); in another context “myall” can refer to an uncivilized or wild person (from the Aboriginal word “miyal” for stranger)

nepenthe = an ancient drug (mentioned in Book 4 of Homer’s Odyssey) which gives its users a pleasurable sensation, enabling them to forget their troubles and worries, banishing grief and woes; may also refer to something which causes a similar effect (properly, the word should be rendered with an “s”, from the Latin “nepenthes”, however the “s” was dropped in the mistaken belief that it indicated a plural)

siren = in Greek mythology, the Sirens were dangerous island creatures who lured sailors to them, by using magically-enhanced beautiful singing voices and enchanting music, so that ships would be shipwrecked on the rocky coast of their island, with the sailors being so enraptured by their singing that they would forget all else, even failing to eat, so that any shipwrecked survivors would die of starvation whilst listening to the Sirens (alternatively, it was said that the Sirens would kill any surviving sailors); the Sirens were described as being part-human and part-bird, although they were also portrayed as part-human and part-fish (perhaps a forerunner of the mermaids of mythology)

waiteth = (archaic) waits

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