Life and Death

Look where he lies, a clod of earth at best,
Yet colder than a clod, for where there shone
Life at its noonday now is empty West,
The sun that was his life has come and gone.

Life that so long pursued him like a hawk,
Chivvied and chased him down the windy skies,
Followed his every twisting, turn and balk,
Now baffled, circles up with angry cries.

For him, to live was only not to die,
Like some bewildered beast, that from its lair
Warned out by flames and smoke, yet makes no cry,
Speeds dumbly on, wild eyes and burning hair.

Lost in a world he knew not, nor could know,
Who knew the stars and breathed their finer air,
Who in a sunset only saw the glow,
Blind to Night’s hand behind it. He lies there.

An hour ago he was a living man;
Walked, breathed, and had his being like the rest;
Now he has ceased so utterly. How can
The pulse beat on so smooth in Nature’s breast?

Who was, is not, has ceased; and yet the wheels
Turn on unheeding as an hour ago;
From yonder boughs the joyous thrush still peals,
And never blazed the Spring’s first wild-flowers so.

I said, “What creature is there will befriend
In this wide world things hunted or oppressed?
Death is a midnight slumber without end,
Death and oblivion is the only rest.

Nature a kindly mother? Rather say
A heartless harpy, fickle, and that sings
The while her children suffer.” Bitter grey
My heart was at the sadness of these things.

I dreamed I found a door, and passing through,
Came to a garden cool with walks and trees,
And in a corner heard a voice I knew,
Turned, and saw God, and fell upon my knees.

And there, about his robe’s edge, round his feet,
Sported and gambolled, freely, unafraid,
All the wild timid creatures that here beat
Their frightened wings and, hunted, cry for aid.

Great helpless beasts, and tiny bright-eyed birds,
Things that the world gave nothing but despair,
Found there a haven filled with friendly words,
Joy of the morning, and peace-breathing air.

And sometimes as they sported round His feet,
He laughed, and reached a playful hand to send
Them rolling joyous in the grasses sweet.
And in the midst I sought and found my friend.

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

Poems of the Spirit

  • Life and Death

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

  • After

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

  • The Old Convict Church, Port Arthur

    ..By a blue winking sea,
    The church stands in a green place,
    Green as Calvary.

  • Relativity

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

  • Easter Hymn

    Out of the cloud my Lord the Sun,
    Out of the earth my Lady Spring,

  • Milton Blind

    That dreaming day it was, the bell-like air
    Unclosed the naked admirable heaven,

  • Come Death Suddenly

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

  • If I should die

    If I should die, grieve not for youth
    Blighted, and towers of hope that fell

  • To J.S. Bach

    Now, when the smoking ruins smoulder low
    Of what was Europe once

  • On Cathedral Mountain

    This mountain means discovery, since the day
    I climbed it first in boyhood and alone,

  • The Prodigal Son

    The ancient art of story-telling charms
    The ear, keeps its first hold on men
    The whole world over.

  • The Last Enemy

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

  • Post-mortem

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

  • Space Window

    Waylaid by Handel’s theme, I think of you
    Now half a world away, and hear you say
    ‘His music always seems like coming home.’

  • Christmas Tree

    You hold the timeless in your brief green boughs
    The cardboard angels, home-made crib, the straw,
    The new-born baby older than Abraham

  • Passover

    Between the tumult of crucifixion
    and the diapason of resurrection
    that bar of absolute silence.

  • Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto

    …Listening,
    I am bereft, lost in the mystery
    of music leaping quenchless, undefiled

  • Astronomy

    ‘The love that moves the sun and all the stars’ –
    When Dante wrote there was no telescope:

  • The Honey Man

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

  • Last Stand

    These trees reached up for light
    when Jesus walked on earth,

  • The Child and the World

    It was a terrible world
    And into it came a child

  • For Australia

    Lord of earth and all creation
    let your love possess our land;

  • Last Post

    Heard how often, still the notes compel
    Unused to awe, we stand listening.

  • Christmas Gift

    ..stamped with a star, but posted beyond the stars,
    marked ‘No Commercial Value’, signed, with a cross,

  • Farewell

    Fare well. We come to send you on the way
    we all must walk, so final, secret, strange.

  • The Word

    The greatest word in the greatest book
    is that conjunction, ‘Nevertheless’,

  • Extraterrestrial Report

    Arrived at the heavenly mansions, the blessed Saint
    (female on earth) was welcomed by St Peter

  • Canberra Autumn

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