Cloud Conjuring [poem by Menie Parkes]

[Editor: This poem by Menie Parkes was published in Poems (1867).]

Cloud Conjuring.

The sun had lit his dying flame,
More Phoenix-like to pass away;
Triumphant o’er his bier had swept
Fair Luna’s lovelier sway.
One cloud, on which the sun had thrown
Its last deep golden glare,
Hung ’neath the moon that gentler shone,
Softening the twilight air.

With thought in heavy loveliness
Upon their foreheads fair,
And light with in their truthful eyes,
Dark-deep and radiant-rare,
The mighty bards whom ages bless
Sat solemn — silent there;
High-throned upon the rosy cloud,
Amid the stilly air.
One held the silver pen of thought,
And one the wingéd barb,
A third the golden crown aloft,
A fourth the purple garb.
I knelt before them tremblingly,
And pressed my beating brow;
I chased my quivering fears away —
Decision, help me now!

“Oh, give, ye mighty men!” I cried,
“Give to my care yon steed;
And give me yonder purple robe
To hide me if I bleed;
For, though the world may wound my soul,
The fiery flame must burn,
And I must trace on Time’s fair scroll
Thoughts for the world to learn:
And give me yonder golden crown —
’Twill stamp me of your race,
And men, who else might sneer and frown,
Will bow before my face:
And give to me that small, frail pen;
I vow its stroke shall make
The world in transport hold its breath,
And with dumb wonder shake!”

I paused: and heavy fell the sound —
“Go! get thee back to earth again!
Content thee, boy, amid thy kind;
’Tis calm upon the plain.
If thou wouldst reach the mountain-top,
And ride upon the cloud,
Lonely thy soul must tread the track,
To reach that station proud:
And thou must meet the thunders’ roar,
And face the lightnings’ glare,
And stand amidst the mighty winds
That dash thy forehead bare.
Go back, go back: bethink thee: go:
Content thee in the world below.”

“I will not go,” I cried aloud,
“Unless ye thrust me from your throne;
I will not mix in yonder crowd,
Amid its din to be more lone.
I’ll tread the mountain-path in glee,
With murmuring thoughts that wait on me;
I’ll ride the cloud, the thunders’ face,
And meet the lightnings with a glance;
And cool me in the winds’ embrace,
As stormily around they dance;
Dark thunder-cloud and lightning-glare,
And rampant winds that shriek and moan,
Shall teach me lessons grand and rare,
Which they can teach, and they alone.
I will not go. I claim my right.
Arm me, oh, arm me for the fight!”

Low came the answer, stern and low,
“As thou hast chosen, rash youth, go!
We may not give the crown and robe —
They are the victor’s meet reward! —
We freely give the steed to thee,
And silver pen, and kindly word.
But, list thee, boy! if e’er that steed
Be ridden for unholy aim,
Come not to claim the victor’s meed!
Dare not to ask the poet’s fame!
If e’er that silver pen is stained
With falsehood and with malice mean,
Go, hide thee, boy, beneath the earth;
Let men forget that thou hast been.
Men may, deceived, admire gilt dross —
Not so shall we who see the truth!
If thou shouldst fail thy high resolves,
Go, hide and die in fear and ruth.”

I sprang upon the noble steed,
The golden reigns I caught;
I snatched the little silver pen —
’Twas new-tipped with a thought.
“I vow,” I cried, “ye ancient bards!
I’ll bring this proud steed back
Fresher and nobler for his race
Upon my life’s high track.
I’ll give you back this gleaming pen,
Twice brightened o’er with truth,
When I, ere many years have flown,
Shall claim immortal youth.
I’ll grasp the robe and golden crown,
And — stay me, if you dare! —
I’ll seat me midst your glorious throng,
And not the lowliest there.”

“Go forth to conquer!” said the bards.
“To victory sure!” I cried;
And turned in flight, when sank the cloud
Amid the heaving tide.
I lay alone, enswathed in gloom,
Under the wild gum-trees;
Above me shone the beckoning stars,
Played round me the salt breeze.
Was this a dream? Oh, Fancy, kind,
Awhile to earth mine eyes to blind,
And bring me dreams like these.

Menie Parkes, Poems, F. Cunninghame, Sydney, [1867], pages 75-78

Editor’s notes:
bier = a stand upon which a coffin is placed prior to burial

gilt = a thin layer or covering of gold, or of something that looks like gold, or has the colour of gold; the practice of covering items of little worth with gold or gilt, or having the color of gold, meant that “gilt” was also used in a negative context regarding a deceptively attractive or showy appearance that concealed something of little worth

list = (archaic) listen

Luna = the Moon; in Roman Mythology, Luna was the goddess of the moon, although Luna could also refer to an aspect of Diana and Juno, who were regarded as goddesses of the Moon

meed = a fitting recompense

meet = (archaic) suitable, fit, or proper; also, something having the proper dimensions, or being made to fit; can also mean mild or gentle
See: James A. H. Murray (editor), A New English Dictionary on Historical Principles: Founded Mainly on the Materials Collected by the Philological Society, volume 6, part 2, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1908, p. 304

transport = enraptured or full of joy, emotionally carried away (also, to carry or move something from one place to another, or a vehicle used for transport)

[Editor: Corrected “Sate solemn” to “Sat solemn”; “thunders face” to “thunders’ face”.]

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