[Editor: An eight-page booklet of an anonymously-authored poem regarding the Burke and Wills expedition.]
Burke and Wills
a Series of Poems,
A Native of Australia.
Printed and published by Henry S. Ward,
89, Little Collins-street East.
The following Poem is the production of a young man, who has not yet attained his twenty-third year; and has been written under the most trying circumstances by a self-acquired knowledge. It would be superfluous at present to state more of the Author: nor is this stated as a shield to protect him from the keen-edged sword of censure — for he would rather be hurled back into the darkest shade of oblivion than accept a single laurel to wreath his brow that might be gained by a grovelling act!
Burke and Wills Expedition.
If aught’s a tribute to a memory dear,
It is the pang that starts the feeling tear —
The pang that wakes, and to the bosom’s core,
Is felt by all, for those who breathe no more.
We mark not shrouded wisdom’s faded brow;
Yet deep the thoughts, which memory doth avow,
Profound, aye! with the inner eye we view,
All that can to hallowed thoughts accrue:
The potent souls, who stemm’d the waves of time,
Steered by the compass, fame, to acts sublime,
Spurned human tempests in the course they ran,
To pay that duty due to God and man.
Success beams bright, that beacon oft portends
Obstruction none, enamoured of the end —
The soul is fired, and nobly strives the brave,
But strikes the rock that points it to the grave:
And those bright dreams, that did the bosom gild,
Withers, when scattered on the desert wild.
Alone, there lies the remnant of the great,
A shattered wreck upon the rock of fate
The cloud of sorrow cannot reach the form,
But dews the memory with its weeping storm.
Victoria saw in one auspicious hour,
Her brightest hope, arrayed in all its power;
Men had who sprang to answer when she called,
To pierce those depths, where nature gazed appalled.
Many a beauty trembling for the brave,
The press of silent speech at parting gave;
And many a heart that day had loosed its well,
That choked the tone which fain would speak farewell;
And many an emulating soul
Flashed boldly forth from eyes, upon the whole.
Not sordid minds who envied lucre’s claim:
But those who go to stamp a country’s fame —
A country young, too young their birth to know,
Whose genial clime exotic beauties show —
Had bound their hearts by that cementing tie,
Which cannot break till all that’s holy die.
Hark! to the shout that rends th’ empyreal vault,
And brings the astonished passer to a halt;
The objects saved from wondering labours hit,
And stooping toil on shoulders ceased to sit,
The languid eye, from apathy’s dull dream,
Is roused to stretch and let its iris beam;
E’en paleness flits from beauty’s forehead fair,
And all elate, irradiates it there.
The lisping infant’s shrilly notes in vain
Essays to rival, mid the coarser strain;
And Sol, who beautifies the stormy past,
Had deigned on all his shooting rays to cast!
Behold, how proudly rears that mounted fane,
’Tis Burke! with head erect, who leads the train,
Whose noble soul, too mighty for its frame,
(Panting for deeds well worthy of the name,
That graced the past immortal child of fame,)
Has sworn to cross the desert’s trackless waste,
Or perish in the cause it has embraced.
Not least in the procession, moves elate
That youthful form, impelled on to his fate
By all that latent in the bosom burns;
And for itself the name of noble earns.
In every lineament of that fine face; —
That glance of fire, — those firm set lips we trace
The will of Wills, whose heart expands to do,
And yearns to trace the sylvan lab’rinths through,
Whose unimaginable space would awe
A brow more carved by time than that he bore.
Thus would it read, to a keen gazer’s scan:
I’ll “do, or die,” as Britons only can!
And there were more — but stay my theme — forbear!
For why, a pyramid of names uprear!
Enough that all, mutual obedience do
Pay to the mandates which their chief’s issue.
And now receding from the vast concourse,
They take their way — an unknown land to cross
The farewell blaze of glory’s past away;
Now every glance beams forth a smiling ray,
And softly dries the flowing rivers when
Their beds are crossed by countless passing men;
But there are streams unseen which cannot dry
Whose source so pure, the power of smiles defy.
* * * * *
’Tis done and past — the oath was sworn and kept —
The forest wild, the desert tracts were swept.
At what a price — yes! fame hurled to their doom
Earth’s noblest works, in manhood’s freshest bloom
Oh! what a crash! when those bold fabrics fell,
And all immortal bade decay farewell.
Victoria felt, did to her centre quake
At that dire work herself had helped to make.
Thus the bold miner views the glittering ore;
And pants the soul, that’s ravished to its core; —
The widen’d breach quick unperceived is made,
To grasp the magnet, thus attractive laid.
Too much absorbed, too eager for their gain,
They still pursue their toiling course amain
Without support; — till in a fatal hour
The mighty mass comes crashing with a power,
Which makes the men, with bloodless cheeks to view
The mischief done; — too late now to undo!
Illustrious men! yours was an envious death,
All nature smiled, as heaven caught your breath!
As bright, small stars, enamoured of the earth,
Holdly attempt to show their tiny worth;
The dazzling radiance of a fulgent crowd
Essays to blind them in a sheeny shroud,
But vain their efforts to their utmost strained.
The envied beams, their favorite orb has gained!
Strained to excess they meet and dare the worst,
The mighty struggles o’er, when lo! they burst!
The vast and gleaming host look with amaze
On the bright halo which surrounds the blaze —
Devoted Wills! to court what others shun
With noble zeal ere thy last sand was run,
With those pale lips that smiled to meet the foe,
Of all mankind didst bid thy chieftain go,
And strive with one bold effort more to ’scape,
The fiend who held thee in its ghastly shape —
Leave thee to die — and make one effort more
Himself to save; and for a country’s gloire
The minutes of your wanderings to preserve,
Which shall mankind through future ages serve,
Thine was a soul, till then unknown its worth,
A hidden fire which warmed that fane of earth,
And could not (till that one expiring ray)
Beam forth the worth of him whose passed away.
Perchance the grace which did thy last breath see
Consoled thy chieftain till he ceased to be!
For souls like yours could neither one survive —
They, perhaps, might live: but ’twere a death alive!
Fit spirits ye, the empyreal space to ride,
To realms eternal swiftly side by side.
Oh! glorious Burke! truly did instinct say
That something great had burst its bonds of clay;
Yes, nature wrote (what only she could see)
On thy chill brow: in calm serenity.
That all which ’flamed it with a rapturous glow
Had lost its seat by death’s insatiate blow,
Clouding the wild barbarians sable brow,
And e’en make savage virtue to avow
Its trembling thoughts. With one convulsive pang
The embosom’d fount forth from its prison sprang.
The savage eye in pity’s dew is steeped —
Ah! perhaps, till then they knew not how to weep
The hovering gems drop with incessant flow,
And sparkles on the pallid mass below.
That! that’s a death the grovelling cannot know:
Who would not die a solitary death?
Who would redeem one hour of parting breath?
To mark the grief corruption wildly feigns,
Without a pang to pierce their tainted veins.
But that which chills them at the thought alone —
What wealth ’twill cost to decorate the gone!
Relation — friend — the circling crowd will view,
Mistaken sorrow — how they pity you.
But to my theme: it was thy spirit, Gray,
That led thy leaders to the realms of day:
And to the host of deeds recorded there
Performed on earth; thou was’t the first to bear
That potent one — yes, th’ ethereal scroll
Of the supernal archives has the whole.
And King! ah, there my muse has failed to find
A name for thee from out its infant mind:
Of manners modest, with a honest heart,
Those only did commend thee to thy part.
Th’ elective powers of thy mind did spurn
Base life to purchase at another’s harm.
Unknown to fame, thy soul obtuse to praise,
Reck’d not ’twas kindling an eternal blaze.
When impotent, still, with a mother’s care,
How surely did’st thou keep thy vigils there;
As surely catch from thy egregious chief,
The every word which bounded from the thief —
The thief of death, who robs all of their all;
Before whose ghastly brand the noblest fall.
Yes, ’twas thou, who from the explorer Burke,
(When he performed his last of earthly work.)
Caught his last sounds, and round thy heart they wreath’d:
For priceless gems, are last words great men breathe.
Modest King! that unephemeral act,
When famine, the gaunt fiend, pursued thy track,
Has taught a world, a world of pride to own,
The tenants the enobler of its home.
To what height can moral courage raised lie,
Thou well has taught the sons of men to see.
Yes! thou should’st know what is beatitude,
That is, if such can spring from solitude —
To be alone — to hover o’er the dead —
To feel that inward chill of darksome dread
That chains the eye in vacancy’s wide realm;
To start amid reality’s stern dream,
To see the sun pursuing slow the dawn,
Fling his gold tresses on the brow of morn;
To trace him through his sheeny course on high,
’Till his crimson crest droops in the western sky,
And gilds eve’s bosom with a mellow dye
To know he’s gone; to say, perchance, no more
Shall I behold on ether pinions soar
That glorious orb; — then turn, the dead is there —
The last of Wills! the living is — ah where?
To meet the sable brow of gloomy night,
And, perhaps, no more to view an earthly light.
Romantic fools! go to a place like this,
There’s nature — solitude — but where is bliss?
We need no Epitaph their deeds to tell,
They are engraven on our memory well:
Priceless are those intrinsic names to all, —
Priceless, for deeds which made such heroes fall;
Deeds which enhanced the lustre of their shine;
And cannot dim by th’ ’facing hand of time;
The goblet’s drained, their memory to revere.
Oh! wonder not each bosom holds them dear,
Victoria! when thou ’rt in thy loftiest state,
And fame proclaims afar, that thou art great:
E’en then, thy sparkling tear will gem the stone,
That sepulchres the remnant of the gone.
Great God! they’ve gone to thee — Burke, Wills, and Gray,
On high, give them the meed Earth cannot pay!
March 10, 1862.
A Native of Australia, The Burke and Wills Expedition: One of a Series of Poems, Melbourne: Henry S. Ward, 1863
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.”) [see: Rev. Lyman Abbott, “Conversion”, The Australian Town and Country Journal (Sydney, NSW), Saturday 13 August 1892, page 9]
egregious = conspicuously or outstandingly bad, shocking, outrageous (an archaic meaning is to be distinguished, eminent, very good)
empyreal = regarding the sky or heaven
ethereal = insubstantial, light, tenuous, or lacking material substance; heavenly, otherworldly, spiritual; or something very delicate or refined
fain = happily or gladly; ready or willing; obliged or compelled
fane = temple, church
fulgent = dazzling, radiant, shining brightly; something emitting or reflecting a lot of light
gild = to cover something with a thin layer of gold, or to make something look that way (an archaic meaning is to make something bloody or red)
gloire = (French) glory
Gray = Charles Gray, a member of the Burke and Wills expedition
King = John King, a member of the Burke and Wills expedition
lucre = money, financial gain, or wealth, especially used in a negative sense, such as when money has been obtained in a distasteful or dishonourable fashion
meed = a fitting recompense
Sol = the Sun; in Roman mythology, Sol was god of the Sun; in Norse mythology, Sól was goddess of the Sun
sylvan = regarding a wood or forest (although often a reference to something living within a wood, referring to person, spirit, or tree)
[Editor: Corrected “manhoods” to “manhood’s”; added full stop after “trembling thoughts”.]