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Fytte VII: Cito Pede Preterit Aetas

[A Philosophical Dissertation]

 

'Gillian's dead, God rest her bier—

How I loved her many years syne ;

Marion's married, but I sit here,

Alive and merry at three-score year,

Dipping my nose in Gascoigne wine.'

(Wamba's Song—Thackeray)

A MELLOWER light doth Sol afford,

His meridian glare has pass'd

And the trees on the broad and sloping sward

Their length'ning shadows cast.

'Time flies.'  The current will be no joke,

If swollen by recent rain,

To cross in the dark, so I'll have a smoke,

And then I'll be off again.

 

What's up, old horse ? Your ears you prick,

And your eager eyeballs glisten ;

'Tis the wild dog's note in the tea-tree thick,

By the river, to which you listen.

With head erect, and tail flung out,

For a gallop you seem to beg,

But I feel the qualm of a chilling doubt

As I glance at your fav'rite leg.

 

Let the dingo rest, 'till all for the best,

In this world there's room enough

For him and you and me and the rest,

And the country is awful rough.

We've had our gallop in days of yore,

Now down the hill we must run ;

Yet at times we long for one gallop more,

Although it were only one.

 

Did our spirits quail at a new four-rail,

Could a 'double' double-bank us,

Ere nerve and sinew began to fail

In the consulship of Plancus ?

When our blood ran rapidly, and when

Our bones were pliant and limber,

Could we stand a merry cross-counter then,

A slogging fall over timber ?

 

Arcades ambo ! Duffers both

In our best of days, alas !

(I tell the truth, though to tell it loth)

'Tis time we were gone to grass ;

The young leaves shoot, the sere leaves fall,

And the old gives way to the new,

While the preacher cries, ' 'Tis vanity all,

And vexation of spirit, too.'

 

Now over my head the vapours curl

From the bowl of the soothing clay,

In the misty forms that eddy and whirl

My thoughts are flitting away ;

Yes, the preacher's right, 'tis vanity all,

But the sweeping rebuke he showers

On vanities all may heaviest fall

On vanities worse than ours.

 

We have no wish to exaggerate

The worth of the sports we prize,

Some toil for their Church, and some for their State,

And some for their merchandise ;

Some traffic and trade in the city's mart,

Some travel by land and sea,

Some follow science, some cleave to art,

And some to scandal and tea ;

 

And some for their country and their queen

Would fight, if the chance they had,

Good sooth, 'twere a sorry world, I ween,

If we all went galloping mad ;

Yet if once we efface the joys of the chase

From the land, and outroot the Stud,

GOOD-BYE TO THE ANGLO-SAXON RACE !

FAREWELL TO THE NORMAN BLOOD !

 

Where the burn runs down to the uplands brown,

From the heights of the snow-clad range,

What anodyne drawn from the stifling town

Can be reckon'd a fair exchange

For the stalker's stride, on the mountain side

In the bracing northern weather,

To the slopes where couch, in their antler'd pride,

The deer on the perfum'd heather.

 

Oh ! the vigour with which the air is rife !

The spirit of joyous motion ;

The fever, the fulness of animal life,

Can be drain'd from no earthly potion !

The lungs with the living gas grow light,

And the limbs feel the strength of ten,

While the chest expands with its madd'ning might,

GOD'S GLORIOUS OXYGEN.

 

Thus the measur'd stroke, on elastic sward,

Of the steed three parts extended,

Hard held, the breath of his nostrils broad,

With the golden ether blended ;

Then the leap, the rise from the springy turf,

The rush through the buoyant air,

And the light shock landing—the veriest serf

Is an emperor then and there.

 

Such scenes ! sensation and sound and sight,

To some undiscover'd shore

On the current of Time's remorseless flight

Have they swept to return no more ?

While, like phantoms bright of the fever'd night,

That have vex'd our slumbers of yore,

You follow us still in your ghostly might,

Dead days that have gone before.

 

Vain dreams, again and again re-told,

Must you crowd on the weary brain,

Till the fingers are cold that entwin'd of old

Round foil and trigger and rein,

Till stay'd for ay are the roving feet,

Till the restless hands are quiet,

Till the stubborn heart has forgotten to beat,

Till the hot blood has ceas'd to riot ?

 

In Exeter Hall the saint may chide,

The sinner may scoff outright,

The Bacchanal steep'd in the flagon's tide,

Or the sensual Sybarite ;

But NOLAN'S name will flourish in fame,

When our galloping days are past,

When we go to the place from whence we came,

Perchance to find rest at last.

 

Thy riddles grow dark, oh ! drifting cloud,

And thy misty shapes grow drear,

Thou hang'st in the air like a shadowy shroud,

But I am of lighter cheer ;

Though our future lot is a sable blot,

Though the wise ones of earth will blame us,

Though our saddles will rot, and our rides be forgot,

'DUM VIVIMUS, VIVAMUS !'

 

Published in 'Sea Spray and Smoke Drift' (1867).