He spoke with eager grace, and learnedly,
Of matters strange, dark, wonderful to me;
On flowed his words, a clear and active stream
Unfalteringly; and Music was his theme.
He spoke of what we were to hear, and moved
Swiftly about the city that he loved,
Pausing to point each street and dome and spire –
The wonders that we too should soon admire.
He spoke of Form, Construction, Change of Key,
Mood, the Composer’s calm audacity
Treading the verge of musical damnation
With devilish yet inspired orchestration.
“Subject”… “Sonata Form”… “the Minor third” …
“Brass and wood-wind”… “first movement”… these I heard
As one in a dream, and “Strings begin”… “motif
Tossed back from clarinet to horns”… “a brief
Adagio for the flutes…” I had not known
One man might boast such wisdom for his own.
But listened rapt and marvelling; last he bade
Us mark and give such wonder as we had
To the composer’s insolent, amazing,
But quite consummate contrapuntal phrasing.

He ceased: and then the music woke
In the sounding heart of oak,
With its limpid first caress
Shut the gates of consciousness –
Sight and smell and touch all drowned
In the conquering tide of sound
That rose and flowed and filled my sense
With gentle cool omnipotence,
While all my being drank delight
As a pool drinks stars at night.

Not that in the living sound
Things of otherwhere I found –
Human joy or human grief
Or the twirling of a leaf;
Earth’s consummate mysteries
Hills, or Autumn-fired trees;
Men’s strong passions, or the quiet
Of a stream with willows by it.
Not of such I thought, or knew
Whence the old composer drew
His inspiration: God’s good grace
Or some lovely woman’s face.
Only this for truth I know
That it had endured so
For the things he loved: for wife,
Or friends, or little things of life –
Colours, perhaps, and birds in flight,
And the pale throat of early night.
What the world gave to him his mind
Changed in form, though not in kind,
Made his music of, and sent
To be his perfect instrument.

And so, although I could not guess
It’s source, I felt the loveliness
Moving within and round, as sleep
Softly potent, and as deep.
It was not rosy joy that welled
In my being’s core and held
The spirit poised and breathless there
Like an eagle in the air,
But some far sad infinity
Of happiness too full to be
Parted from sorrow, sister grey
Walking beside him all the way;
Some breath of more than earthly grace
Moving upon the waters’ face :
Some glimpse of clouds, and over them
The towers of New Jerusalem.

Silence: the people stirred, awoke, began
To rustle, talk, and laugh. I saw the man
Of wisdom beaming down in rich delight
Upon them all. But I, as best I might,
Crept out unseen, unnoticed, and afraid
To think how I had failed, had disobeyed
Those kind injunctions; had not even harked
To the composer’s use of brass, nor marked
The themes that with such marvellous cunning he
Had interwoven contrapuntally.

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