For Yarmuk, Elder of the Ulupna Tribe

buried at Cummeragunja on the Murray, 14th August 1959

A worn-out body laid in quiet earth,
Attendant trees, a wattle’s throb of gold,
The unhurried river hollowing its path,
Wind in the grass – what more is to be told?

You, last of all that knew your tribal tongue,
Rest now with them in this ancestral ground.
Above your grave the towering ancient wrong
Speaks in a silence pregnant and profound.

For named and nameless ills your people bore
From us, who killed by bullet, axe, and pride,
For our stone blindness; for the day we tore
In kindness’ name your children from your side,

What could we answer if your ghost should rise
To curse our children’s children from the grave?
You rise, but with compassion in your eyes.
Before we knew to ask it, you forgave.

A fire of truth and love was lit in you
Who unembittered fought with bitter fate.
We took the land and life your fathers knew,
You never claimed your heritage of hate,

But poured your life unstinted for the sake
Of those you loved, caught in the world’s dark mesh.
Sleep well: but let your burning spirit wake
Till hearts of stone are melted into flesh.

Tributes

  • Relativity

    “Boy killed on Bicycle”; smallest print, four lines
    Islanded in a tossing sea of type,

  • Surmise

    My little son, whose face I never saw,
    Who could not wait to bless your father ’s eyes

  • Coming into the Clyde

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

  • For Yarmuk, Elder of the Ulupna Tribe

    A worn-out body laid in quiet earth,
    Attendant trees, a wattle’s throb of gold,

  • For James Ralph Darling

    In that keen morning it was good to wake.
    The sun that roused the swans on the lagoon

  • Boris Pasternak

    This death of a man, this sudden stop of life,
    Such total end, or such a faring forth
    Into what regions?

  • Post-mortem

    When a man dies
    We find that suddenly there’s time to praise him.

  • A Message to my Grandson

    You chose a marvellous morning to be born,
    The orange edge of dawn, the stars paling,

  • Bamboo: A Portrait

    The bamboo cut to suit you from our garden
    Has become your favourite stick – dried and varnished

  • Fragment of a Chinese Classic

    Catching the distinctive T’ang of old China
    She chooses for herself the character of Punctual Autumn

  • The Honey Man

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

  • For my brother: Ave atque Vale

    Brother fare well, journeying to that Kingdom
    Of faithful servants, and of work fulfilled

  • 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.

  • A Lambeth Garland

    A garden gracious, serene and spacious at Lambeth –
    This is the dream, the vision that shall be its crown

  • Banquet

    ..You they found fallen, holding a garden hose,
    Where, year on year, you watered, weeded, nurtured things to grow.

  • Taking Leave

    Ninety years youthful, questing through generations,
    historian of two hemispheres, quickener of other minds,

  • Anna-versary

    Anna is one
    What fun, what fun

  • Fred Hollows

    Raged, raged against the death of others’ light,
    Toiled, fought, till sick and blind received their sight.

  • Yudina

    I praise a heroine of the Soviet Union,
    pianist Yudina, through Moscow’s gloom
    spelling a Mozart magical concerto.

  • Letter to Judith Wright

    ..apartness conquered by the power of love.
    Carry us with you as you journey on.

  • For Nkosi Johnson

    His question ranged the echoing galaxies
    of empty cold unanswering space, returning
    home to our earth.

Poems of Australia