Like Cleopatra’s neck incurved,
Or Phryne’s arms of snow,
From Bastion Rock to Gabo swerved
And bended as a bow;
It offers to the Austral sun
It’s miles of silvern sand,
In virgin beauty, yet unwon
By any spoiler’s hand.
At night I hear the ancient seas —
White-headed seers, along
These darkened shores their memories
Pour forth in epics long
Of years primeval. And in strange,
Soft, minor chords reply
Old pilgrim winds that reef and range,
Unrested, wander by.
Deep secrets theirs — of æons gone,
When suns and systems, worn
By endless forces, fiercely shone
In nascent strength newborn;
When gave the seventh Pleiad out,
Unshamed, her starry boon;
And glowed, o’er jungles north and south,
A tropic polar moon.
Time’s burdens and the yoke of years
Have tamed their early might;
No more the cow’ring caveman hears
The storm gods in the night;
No more do chartless shallops hie
A furtive course from shore;
And in their quiet havens lie
The dead ships evermore.
But they who nursed the germ of life,
The new amœboid cell,
From which, or Science errs, the strife
Of all that follows fell.
What marvels have they locked within
Their ocean hearts? What dreams
Of empire and of effort in
Their world-encircling streams?
* * * * * *
Betimes, a-dreaming, when my camp-
Fire reds the foreland, I
Can dimly hear with Titan tramp
The Ages marching by;
And, scroll by scroll, the Eras, rolled
On mighty parchments, pearled
With priceless truths, to me unfold
The Story of the World.
Then deep-sea voices faint recall,
And deep-sea echoes bring
The roar of monsters and the fall
Of preying foot and wing;
These pass and perish at a breath,
Their weaker types remain —
Slow evolution armed with death
From bulk, reduces brain!
I hear wild winds primeval fan
Volcanic mountains steep,
Where, in the quiet future, Man
His fertile tilth will reap.
I see an Everlasting Force
Re-mould, destroy, re-shape;
Give firmer foothold to the horse
And forehead to the ape.
* * * *
Anon these songs of effort cease
And kinder themes outpour,
In turn, the diva-throated seas
Unto a listening shore.
Aye, then methinks, I hear retold
Old stories ever new,
Of Jason and the heroes bold
Red-hearted, proud, and true.
Old galleys dip their carven beaks
Into the azure brine,
That in their Delphic feasts fair Greeks
May pour the Samian wine.
In rose gondolas, silken-sailed
The royal Doges go,
And young Crusaders silver-mailed,
With bannerets of snow.
Rome’s daring eagles, flaunting high
Their wings of blood, go on.
Fair burn across a sunset sky
Brave banners of St. John.
Columbus, peering through the dusk,
I see fare forth amain —
A glory harvest from the husk
Of Littleness to gain.
I glimpse John Cabot with his white
Hair rimed by northern spray;
And grandly through the awful night
I hear his courage say:
“As near to Heaven, friends, by sea —
Though Death wait either hand —
As near to Heaven now we be
As e’er we’ll be on land.”
I hear Magellan dauntless cry,
“Not if we eat the hides
From off this vessels’s yards shall I
Turn back, whate’er betides,
Till these new seas are conquered!” Drake,
A-roaring down the main,
With gallant ruffians in his wake
I see go out again.
Aye, out again and home again,
Along historic years,
For either glory, love, or gain,
Go forth these buccaneers;
The pirate brood, with laden chests,
Outspilling plundered toll;
The black sea eagles in their nests,
Blood-stained, but brave of soul.
The saucy sloop, the frigate gay,
The fighting forty-four;
The oaken hulls of Nelson’s day,
The ships of trade and war —
Night long the roving waters bring
Their ghostly memories;
Night long the ancient surges sing
High human histories.
* * * *
But when the east, attendant, waits
Her mansions to adorn,
And with skilled magic decorates
The bridal couch of Morn;
With royal purple drapes each plinth
Of frowning rock, and fills
With topaz and with hyacinth
The hollows of the hills.
When low the inlet and its isles,
In Asiatic guise,
Salaam with soft and pliant smiles
The Sultan of the Skies;
As from the lakes a silver veil
Of mist is deftly drawn,
An Amazon in golden mail
The Beach salutes the Dawn.
White lace of foam around her knees,
She flutters like a girl;
And threads her blue embroideries
With seaweed and with pearl.
The spotted cowrie and the fair,
Frail nautilus are hers,
Rose spirals and the shining, rare
Sea shells and mariners.
The jewel caskets of the deeps
Lie ready to her hand,
In ev’ry tropic wave that leaps
Foam-freighted to the sand.
And, now, in cadence, measured, slow,
From minstrels submarine
Sweet rhymes and rondels gaily flow
Across this sunlit scene.
Of Life and Now these minstrels chant —
A pagan song of old,
The song dark lovers of Levant
Outsang in hours of gold. . . .
A radiance now, a rare delight,
A dream of love and wine,
She lieth in the morning light
This Austral beach of mine.
E. J. Brady, Bells and Hobbles, Melbourne: George Robertson & Co., 1911, pp. 150-156
aeon = (æon; also spelt “eon”) an immeasurably long period of time; (in geology) a period of one thousand million years
Austral = of or relating to Australia or Australasia; Australian, Australasian; an abbreviation of Australia, Australian, Australasia, Australasian; in a wider context, of or relating to the southern hemisphere; southern, especially a southern wind
aye = yes (may also be used to express agreement, assent, or the acceptance of an order)
azure = the blue of a clear unclouded sky
cow’ring = (vernacular) cowering
e’er = (vernacular) a contraction of “ever”
ev’ry = (vernacular) every
Gabo = Gabo Island, an island off the eastern coast of Victoria (Australia)
gay = happy, joyous, carefree (may also mean well-decorated, bright, attractive) (in modern times it may especially refer to a homosexual, especially a male homosexual; may also refer to something which is no good, pathetic, useless)
hie = hurry; to go quickly
John Cabot = Giovanni Caboto (ca.1450-ca.1500), an Italian explorer and navigator
lieth = (archaic) lies
main = the high sea, the open ocean
methinks = (archaic) I think (sometimes used in the sense of “it seems to me”)
morn = morning
o’er = (archaic) over (pronounced the same as “oar”, “or”, and “ore”)
seer = someone who foretells the future; a mystic with supernatural insight into the future; a wise man; a prophet (in the modern sense, an expert who predicts the economic, political, or social future) [however, in the context of this poem, it refers to waves in the ocean]
whate’er = (vernacular) whatever