The Lonely Crossing.
A man on foot came down to the river,
A silent man, on the road alone,
And dropped his swag with a chill-born shiver,
And sat to rest on a wind-worn stone.
He slid then down to the long grass, bending
His arms above as the resting do,
And watched a snow-white chariot trending
Its wind-made way o’er the wedgewood blue.
In it sat one of the fairest ladies
That mind could mould, in a crown of white,
But close beside came a fiend from Hades
In a chariot black as the heart of night.
The man, he sighed as the fiend would clasp her,
Then smiled as the wind by a wise decree
Her white steeds turned to the streets of Jaspar,
And Satan drave to a sin-black sea.
The wattles waved, and their sweet reflection
In crystal fathoms responses made;
The sunlight silted each soft inflection
And fretted with silver the short’ning shade.
A restless fish made the thin reeds shiver,
A waking wind made the willows moan,
But the resting man by the noon-bright river
Lay dreaming on, in the long grass prone.
* * * *
The bell-bird called to its tardy lover,
The grebe clouds all to the west had sped,
But the river of death had a soul crossed over,
The man with the swag on the bank was dead.
Louisa Lawson, “The Lonely Crossing” and Other Poems, Sydney: Dawn Office, , pp. 1-2
drave = (archaic) past tense of “drive”
o’er = (archaic) over (pronounced the same as “oar”, “or”, and “ore”)
grebe = several species of waterbirds from the family Podicipedidae (usually grey or brown in colour, and considered somewhat similar to a duck) [in the context of this poem, “grebe clouds” may be a reference to bird-like clouds, or (less likely) to “clouds”, or groups, of flying grebes]
Hades = Hell; in Greek mythology, the underworld home of the dead
Jaspar = Jasperware, or Jasper Ware, is a type of pottery developed by Josiah Wedgwood (1730-1795) in the 1770s; jasperware has an unglazed matte finish, incorporates relief decorations (moulded to be raised decorations, rather than painted on), and is manufactured in a variety of colours, although it is especially well-known for wedgewood blue (a greyish-blue colour) [in the context of this poem, “Jaspar” is possibly a reference to a dream inspired by the decorations of a jasperware product]
short’ning = (vernacular) shortening
wedgewood blue = a greyish-blue colour, characteristic of Wedgewood pottery, named after Josiah Wedgwood (1730-1795), the founder of the Wedgewood pottery company [in the context of this poem, “wedgewood blue” may be a reference to the sky]