Australia to her Children

I am so old, oh very old, my children,
   Ye that are so young,
And I have seen the weary centuries
   Like endless camels strung.

The shy unpractised sun could scarcely make
   A smooth arc in the sky
When first I knew and loved him. We were young
   Together, he and I.

I am not of these great new continents,
   All my folk are fled.
Atlantis was my sister, long ago,
   And she, I know, is dead.

And while the sun has taken from the years
   Manhood more glorious-bright,
I am grown grey, and all my youthful beauty
   Dimmed to your questing sight.

Yea, of a truth, my face is now grown quiet,
   Saddened and smoothed with age;
Brown plains and sombre trees and smoke-blue hills –
   These are your heritage.

Spent are my rivers and my hills bowed low,
   My pastures brown and burnt;
No soft green garments clothe my agèd limbs,
   This truly have ye learnt.

I cannot give you those. They are of youth,
   And I am very old.
But have ye seen the glory of my skies
   At eve, like wings, unfold?

And have ye loved my dreamy distances,
   The breathless mysteries
Of my hushed forests? But ye, too, are young,
   Your thoughts are not for these.

Go, fare you forth; I would not have you stay;
   Go to your lover ’s arms;
To England; she is young and very fair,
   Oh very sweet her charms.

Joyful her face, and tender vivid beauty
   In all her gracious parts;
Green fields are hers and colours of the seasons;
   Oh she will steal your hearts

I bid you seek her, for my heart can tell
   Your weary heads will rest
At length all passion spent and travail ended
   Here, on my agèd breast.

School poems

  • Now virgin forest

    Where now the virgin forest reigns
    In solitary state

  • Quiet

    Where wooded hills run downward to the sea,
    Beside a land-locked harbour, still and deep

  • Voyages

    A merchant ship came sailing here today,
    Her timbers stained, her cordage worn and old

  • Sunday morning

    I wake to the sound of the chapel Bell,
    And I roll from my bed at dawning

  • Re-Awakening

    The dappled sunlight heard those airy footsteps on the grass,
       Rustling in the coppice and
       Dancing on the sward.

  • The Saturday Party

    The dusky storm and the grey half-light,
    The whispered word and a muffled tread

  • Grimy ships

    When the grimy ships go down,
    Down the river to the sea
    Dirty decks and funnels brown

  • Cambyses

    Cambyses is the name men call me. King
    Of Persia once and Egypt.

  • Pirates’ chorus

    We sing of sunken treasure-ships in coral-girt lagoons,
    And ancient casquets burst with weight of ducats and dubloons,

  • Life and Death

    Look where he lies, a clod of earth at best,
    Yet colder than a clod, for where there shone

  • Lines written in meditation upon the recent moth plague

    Moths! Moths! Moths!
    In trouser-leg, singlet and shirt..

  • Easter

    I stood in the street in the morning,
    On a blue and shiny day.

  • Ballade of Suburbia

    I’ve never killed a Marquis in a fight,
    Nor led a lovely lady’s feet astray

  • On first venturing upon a switchback railway

    O mortal man, how fleeting is true bliss,
    So eager sought, so often seeming found

  • To A. E. Houseman

    Full many wise old men have said
       That this world has more ill than good

  • Australia to her Children

    I am so old, oh very old, my children,
       Ye that are so young,

  • Timber

    “Up here the schooners used to come
      For timber, years ago,

  • Music

    He spoke with eager grace, and learnedly,
    Of matters strange, dark, wonderful to me

Richard’s choice

  • Australia to her Children

    I am so old, oh very old, my children,
       Ye that are so young,

  • Music and the Heart

    Music and the Heart run hand in hand
    Naked over the shining sand,

  • Chemistry

    In the summit song of youth
    A quiet quick catch of the breath.

  • Colours

    Before I loved or knew you were
       I spoke as I had eyes,

  • After

    Out of this questioning, eventual truth;
    Out of this doubt, faith rooted in the rock;

  • Acknowledgements…

    Not vile, body, nor foe, flesh,
    Your joys deluding, triumphs trash,
    Fit to be foiled your every wish.

  • Alone

    Alone to walk the dripping woods of spring
       While daisies spy you?

  • Mutability

    ‘All things are flux: there’s nothing fast,’
    Said Heraclitus, ages past,

  • Detachment

    …the thunder growling,
    And winds mounting, and the sky falling,
    And night, and you not here.

  • The Tunnel

    This is where the water hurries under the archway,
    This is where we enter the long tunnel,

  • Australia 1914

    Gone away, away,
    Suddenly at a word departed,

  • Come Death Suddenly

    Come death suddenly from the sea or cloud,
    With the blast of thunder and the blinding shroud,

  • The Tactician

    Spring held her fire
    So long, the long pursuit, the watchers wondered
    Would there be ever an end

  • Coming into the Clyde

    Part of me for ever is the January morning
    Coming into the Clyde in the frosty moonlight

  • The Jervis Bay

    ..The fifth day of November, Fifty North and Forty West,
    Was edging to its departure, like an undecided guest,

  • A Vision of Degree Day

    The drowsy air, the throngs that gaze,
    The ceremonial stir,
    Mixed with the drone of Latin phrase..

  • Flying to New Zealand

    Hauled headlong starward by the quadruple conviction
    Of lion-lunged engines in their pride of power

  • My nine-hours son

    My nine-hours son, so wrinkle-faced
    Wry concentration of distaste
    To find your Person so displaced,

  • Autumn Song

    The sun like a centaur leaping the ranges
    Shoots to the heart my garden, shatters
    The dew in a volley of wild carillons

  • The Gull

    Riding the wind, in planetary sweep,
    The gull wheels on the radius of a wing.

  • Creation

    Straggling off the highway in search of firewood
    Past the tins and bottles, through the rusty wire,

  • The Last Enemy

    Could we locate the enemy of mankind
    (I mean the GHQ, the Centre itself,

  • Genesis

    You spoke, after long years, about the morning
    That followed the night your first-born son was born:

  • Rain after Drought

    Waking to a diapason in the downpipe
    I peer through curtained panes to a curtained sky

  • A Talk to the Willow

    When you were caught red-rooted in the drain
    You wept of course, but did the same again

  • The Honey Man

    Like liquid silk in golden eddies
    the honey laps into my tin.

  • Pause

    You are late coming home
    To the house we share
    An audible silence
    Chills the air

  • Splitting the Red Box

    The tree-trunk rounds, a fallen Doric column,
    are tumbled on the grass beside my gate.

  • Sea Waif

    No dolphin it was, but a six-month suckling whale
    gashed and shark-mauled, tribeless, motherless,

  • Farewell to Skye

    Little death of a little dog
    In a death-wish world of news by body-count

  • Ballad of Old Sox

    They’re burning Old Sox’s shack
    Just two weeks since he died.

  • Airport Departure

    My love, I watch you thread your way, and turn
    with a small timeless smile, and trail your trolley
    unhurried through the gate of no return.

  • Yin Barun Road

    Crossing the highway, furtive as a snake,
    it slips through bush towards indeterminate hills.

  • Willow Tree: Two Years After    

    Spring, at a bound. Once more the colourful chorus,
    Daffodils first declare their lyric yellow,

  • Canberra Autumn

    Land of the singing light
    Light that first I saw
    Eighty years and more

  • For HMST – 1996

    Now for your birthday the single prunus bough,
    by neighbour ’s kindness spared on a sentenced tree

  • Tsunami

    … obliterating in instant mini-time
    a universe of suns and planets
    with or without their myriad forms of life,

  • For HMST – 1997

    Always a step ahead, you’re eighty-three,
    My life-support, contending other me,

  • Just Coming

    Down arches of the years I hear your voice
    explaining serials of our late departures,

  • HMST – 1999

    Six years since your last birthday in our midst
    seems yesterday, in this same so-loved house,

  • Encounter Recalled

    Wrapped in my gown of self-regard sublime
    I heard your voice arrive from outer space.

  • Going up to the Rocks

    Knowing the time was short
    Yours was the instant thought
    ‘Let’s go up to the Rocks!’

  • Mousetrap

    With joyless spade I dig the tiny grave
    Asking, who made me lord of life or death?

  • Away Day – Ten Years After

    Ten years since that incalculable day
    When from all worlds we know you slipped away

Poems of Australia