[Editor: This poem by E. J. Brady was published in Bells and Hobbles (1911).]
The Dead Tree.
It knew a life of leaf and bough
That sapless stands, laid naked now
To Time’s cold scorning.
Once, in its deep, ambrosial shade,
The Wind, a wizard Harper, played
By night and morning.
Once, from its branches, skyward flung,
In green and gold the parrots hung
A spoil de-flowering
From snow-white blossoms honey-sweet;
While overnight, about its feet,
Fell manna showering.
Red sap — that at the touch unseen
Of Spring slow-dripped — bestained the green
Grass growing under,
As if by some sharp inward thorn
Its forest heart were pierced and torn
In grief asunder.
Then, too, the young spring leaves became,
Like woodland virgins, red with shame
Of Love’s undoing,
And blushed in high retreat to see,
With dance of drunken ecstacy,
A world gone wooing.
When Winter walked with prim July,
As wolf winds harried o’er the sky
Cloud fleeces airy,
Its boughs, like penitents ashamed
Of Summer’s wantoning, proclaimed
When moonlit saplings threw their length
Of shadow ’neath its buttressed strength,
And bush-land, gleaming
In midnight splendor, mocked the day
With silver replica, ’twould sway,
A tired knight, dreaming,
In frosted mail, until the East
At last the Maid of Dawn released
From night’s dominion;
And home the night birds ’plaining drew
And forth the song birds gaily flew —
On burnished pinion.
Though o’er the teeming lands and seas
The sky with its infinities
Still bluely aches;
Though yet in golden casque and helm
The Sovran sun a daily realm
Of azure marches;
Though round his fiery throne be whirled
This wondrous atom of a world
Through years unending;
No more a wizard wind shall play
Aeolian songs by night or day
On green boughs bending.
Now from its fertile height the meed
Of honeyed flower and wrinkled seed
Fall earthward never.
This edifice that some Great Hand
For its brief tenant, nobly planned,
Lies prone for ever.
So reads the law! Birds, bards, and bees,
Fair ladies, lions, toads and trees
In turn must perish. . . . . .
Of all the living host that pains
To live, not ONE the life retains
That all lives cherish!
E. J. Brady, Bells and Hobbles, Melbourne: George Robertson & Co., 1911, pp. 133-135
Aeolian = of or relating to the wind; especially a moaning or sighing sound or musical tone produced by, or as if by, the wind (derived from Aeolus, god of the winds, in Greek mythology)
ambrosial = having a very pleasant smell, exceptionally fragrant; having a very pleasant taste, exceptionally delicious, succulently sweet; divine; fit for the gods, worthy of the gods (in Greek mythology and Roman Mythology, ambrosia was the food of the gods)
azure = the blue of a clear unclouded sky
casque = (French) helmet; an open-faced helmet with a nose guard; a hard structure (thought to resemble a helmet) on the head of some birds (e.g. on the bill of hornbills, and on the head of cassowaries); a helmet-like part, structure, or head covering
helm = (archaic) a helmet (can also refer to: a steering mechanism used to control the direction of a boat or a ship; a nautical tiller or wheel; a position of control or leadership in an organisation or state)
manna = something gained freely and unexpectedly; in the Bible it refers to the food bestowed upon the Israelites in their journey from Egypt, hence the expression “manna from heaven” (also refers to spiritual nourishment; also refers to the substance exuded or excreted by certain insects and plants)
meed = a fitting recompense
miserere = a spoken complaint or lament; a psalm in which mercy is asked for, particularly Psalm 51 of the Book of Psalms (in the Bible), the Latin version of which begins with the words “Miserere mei, Deus” (“Have mercy upon me, O God”) [in the Latin Vulgate Bible, this is Psalm 50, as the numbering of the Psalms varies between different versions of the Bible]; Psalms 51, 56, and 57 of the Book of Psalms [Psalms 50, 55, and 56 in the Latin Vulgate Bible], each of which begin with asking God for mercy; can also refer to music written for the 51st psalm
See: 1) “Miserere”, Encyclopædia Britannica
2) “Psalm 51”, Wikipedia
3) “Miserere”, Catholic Culture
4) Hugh Henry, “Miserere” (The Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 10, New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911), New Advent
’neath = (vernacular) beneath
o’er = (archaic) over (pronounced the same as “oar”, “or”, and “ore”)
penitent = someone who repents their actions or faults and seeks forgiveness; someone of the Christian faith who repents their sins and seeks forgiveness from God, especially under direction of a minister of the Church, which may include the performing of specified formal religious acts (may also mean: to feel regret or shame over one’s actions; repentant)
pinion = a bird’s wing; in more specific usage, the outer section of a bird’s wing; in broader usage, “pinions” refers to the wings of a bird (“pinion” may also refer specifically to a feather, especially a flight feather, or a quill)
sovran = an archaic spelling of “sovereign” (a ruler who possesses supreme political power and authority, particularly a monarch; a ruler who possesses supreme power over a limited area or sphere, e.g. a lord)
’twould = (vernacular) a contraction of “it would”
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