The Minstrel’s Last Lay [poem by Charles Harpur, 23 May 1835]

[Editor: A poem by Charles Harpur.]

The Minstrel’s Last Lay.

Yet once again my broken lyre,
I strike thy one remaining string ;
But not with aught of minstrel fire,
Fan’d high by fancy’s wing,
That did with all of hope expire ;
Or ‘neath contumely’s sting.
Despair is King of this last strain,
A broken heart—a phrensied brain,
That as swan-like thou diest, — would fain
Thou should’st their sorrows sing
For they suspect,
That soon neglect,
O’er thee a shroud will fling.

Thou whom the wrench of Want doth wring,
And meaner men despise ;
To whom unmark’d the breeze may sing;
And rising — to your eyes
Sol’s but a tasteless cold round thing
That daily doth arise.
Come thou and listen to my song,
Or bear its flattering notes alone;
Until, perchance, some peerless wrong —
Beguile thee with surprise
Or heavier moan,
In contrast shown,
Some peace for thine, devise.

And thou, who cannot look upon,
The Princess of the Night ;
But straight must wail of blisses gone,
And woman’s broken plight ;
And mind her of the time she shone
Upon some past delight.
Which never, never, may return,
Come — for congenially forlorn —
We will together weep and burn.
Together shun the light.
For earth can have,
Else than the grave,
For us, no lovely site.

Then wake my harp! thy stranding chord,
Can yield another song ;
Such notes (as wild withal) afford
As when, sorrowless and young
I strung in staves each burning word,
That leap’d from Phrensy’s tongue.
Sound !—and yon hollow manaic wretch
That staggers woe-struck o’er yon beech,
Concordant with each note shall screech.
And yon funeral throng
Shall swell the cry
In passing by,
And wheel thy lay along.

And who art thou with pale cold cheek,
And hollow, sunken eye ?
That deignest nort to look or speak,
As Love thou passest by.
Another’s woe can’st thou not reck ?
Or feel my dirge-like lay?
Ah! these I were, tho’ much opprest —
Tho’ there’s a fire within thy breast —
And in thy joints but little rest,
Thy lot were heaven to me.
For I presume,
The future’s womb,
Enshrines a hope for me.

But ah ! the present’s all I have ;
Albeit—a scorpion’s sting ;
For desolation’s harp, this stave,
Doth o’er my pathway fling.
“The future e’en a decent grave
May fail at last to bring.”
Then, as escaping thro’ the shock
Of breakers — where his bark had broke —
Some sailor clasps a pointed rock ;
I to the present cling.
And list the roars
Of hostile shores,
Upon the future ring.

Tho’ in the morning of my day ;
And ‘counted strong of heart ;
I’ve felt my spirit ebb away —
Yea, e’en my pride depart.
And honesty, my last, last stay,
Alone would not desert
Altho’ amid penurious strife,
I’ve seen exposed to scorner’s knife,
Each little decency of life
On Desolation’s mart.
But that is past,
I’ve writhed my last,
Forgotten be the smart.

Away !— can still my bosom swell ?
Was latent but my pride ?
Nay, tell me not, I know it well —
Thou art another’s bride.
And could not truth with beauty dwell ?
Yea, smile, and turn aside.
Yet shall the ghost of murdered faith,
Be stalking ever in thy path,
And o’er thy slumbers howl in wrath —
The name of him betrayed.
When woes disease,
Hath wrought him peace,
Beneath the cypress shade.

’Twas the bard’s last effort — He arose ;
His harp’s responsive powers hath flown,
Sable oblivion’s hand doth close,
The volume of his moan ;
Despair’s last petrific repose
Hath turn’d his head to stone.
For he hangs his harp on the cypress tree,
And he breathes not a sigh as he turns away,
From the suppliant Spirit of Poesy —
His sympathy is gone.
And his purpose is now,
In the valley of woe,
To wander in silence alone.

C. Harpur

The Sydney Monitor (Sydney, NSW), Saturday 23 May 1835, page 4

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