The Nearing Drums [poem by C.J. Dennis]

[Editor: This poem by C.J. Dennis was published in Backblock Ballads and Other Verses (1913). Most of the poetry of C.J. Dennis is written in the style of the Australian vernacular. See the Glossary for explanations of words and phrases.]

The Nearing Drums.

Beside my own house-door am I
With all the world at peace.
A little cloud against the sky
Trails by its tattered fleece,
The sunlight sports amid the tossing trees,
Their leaves now dark, now silver in the breeze.

The brown-tipped saplings bend and sway
As in a mimic strife,
Like merry children at their play,
Aglow with careless life. . . .
And, muffled, like the roll of distant drums,
A drone of waters from the gully comes.

The Jack has laughed the whole day long —
A jocund bird is he!
This eve, a thrush his even song
Pipes merrily to me.
He pipes of idle hours, of pleasant days,
Of lives cast blessedly in tranquil ways.

With peace and freedom over all
The summer day has flown;
And well content am I to call
This happy land mine own.
Mine own! . . . And in the thrush’s careless song
I mark a changing note: “How long? How long?”

How long? The saplings bend and toss
Like heedless boys at play;
The clouds trail by their snowy floss,
And bird-songs grace the day. . . .
And we? — My countrymen, we glean the joys
Of this glad summer-time like heedless boys.

How long? And, as the years march on,
Shall it be e’er as this?
Or shall some alien look upon
These scenes we love — as his?
Still from the gully sounds that rhythmic beat:
The menace of the drums; the marching feet!

Shall this dear land we call our own
Be ours one other year?
Mark how the drums have louder grown!
The tramping feet draw near!
And thro’ the drone breaks forth a warning voice:
“Yours be the sacrifice! Yours is the choice!”

* * * *

The challenge of a bugle blast!
The thrush’s song is lost.
Pale, stern-faced men march grimly past
Where saplings swayed and tossed;
And where the peaceful clouds sailed slowly by,
I see black smoke of cannon in the sky.

I mark the smoke of cannon rise
To hide the summer sun;
I hear the soldiers’ fighting-cries,
The booming of a gun.
My countrymen! Our summer day has flown!
To-morrow! — shall this loved land be our own?

* * * * *

Ours is the choice. And shall our sons,
When those dark days are o’er —
When stilled again are drums and guns —
Sit each beside his door? —
Beside his own house-door and proudly say,
“’Tis to our sires we owe this summer day?”

Or shall they, vanquished and enslaved,
Mourn for a country lost —
The land their fathers might have saved
Who meanly shirked the cost?
And shall they curse, upon that evil day,
The dolts who dreamed one summer time away?

Beside mine own house-door am I,
With all the world at peace,
A little cloud trails slowly by
Its torn and tattered fleece,
And sweetly, to my idle ear there comes
The note of happy bird-talk in the gums.

The brown-tipped saplings bend and gleam,
Like careless boys at play:
Like careless boys we laugh, we dream
The livelong summer day. . . . .
Louder the sound from out the gully comes:
The marching feet; the sullen roll of drums.

C.J. Dennis. Backblock Ballads and Other Verses, E. W. Cole, Melbourne, [1913], pages 126-128

Editor’s notes:
Jack = jackass (kookaburra)

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