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Fytte VIII: Finis Exoptatus

[A Metaphysical Song]

 

'There's something in this world amiss

Shall be unriddled by and bye.'—Tennyson.

 

BOOT and saddle, see, the slanting

Rays begin to fall,

Flinging lights and colours flaunting

Through the shadows tall.

Onward ! onward ! must we travel ?

When will come the goal ?

Riddle I may not unravel,

Cease to vex my soul.

 

Harshly break those peals of laughter

From the jays aloft,

Can we guess what they cry after ?

We have heard them oft ;

Perhaps some strain of rude thanksgiving

Mingles in their song,

Are they glad that they are living ?

Are they right or wrong ?

Right, 'tis joy that makes them call so,

Why should they be sad ?

Certes ! we are living also,

Shall not we be glad ?

Onward ! onward ! must we travel ?

Is the goal more near ?

Riddle we may not unravel,

Why so dark and drear ?

 

Yon small bird his hymn outpouring,

On the branch close by,

Recks not for the kestrel soaring

In the nether sky,

Though the hawk with wings extended

Poises over head,

Motionless as though suspended

By a viewless thread.

See, he stoops, nay, shooting forward

With the arrow's flight,

Swift and straight away to nor'ward

Sails he out of sight.

Onward ! onward ! thus we travel,

Comes the goal more nigh ?

Riddle we may not unravel,

Who shall make reply ?

 

Ha ! Friend Ephraim, saint or sinner,

Tell me if you can—

Tho' we may not judge the inner

By the outer man,

Yet by girth of broadcloth ample,

And by cheeks that shine,

Surely you set no example

In the fasting line—

 

Could you, like yon bird, discov'ring,

Fate as close at hand,

As the kestrel o'er him hov'ring,

Still, as he did, stand ?

Trusting grandly, singing gaily,

Confident and calm,

Not one false note in your daily

Hymn or weekly psalm ?

 

Oft your oily tones are heard in

Chapel, where you preach,

This the everlasting burden

Of the tale you teach :

We are d———d, our sins are deadly,

You alone are heal'd—

'Twas not thus their gospel redly

Saints and martyrs seal'd.

You had seem'd more like a martyr,

Than you seem to us,

To the beasts that caught a Tartar,

Once at Ephesus !

Rather than the stout apostle

Of the Gentiles, who,

Pagan-like, could cuff and wrestle,

They'd have chosen you.

 

Yet, I ween, on such occasion,

Your dissenting voice

Would have been, in mild persuasion,

Raised against their choice ;

Man of peace, and man of merit,

Pompous, wise, and grave,

Ephraim ! is it flesh or spirit

You strive most to save ?

Vain is half this care and caution

O'er the earthly shell,

We can neither baffle nor shun

Dark-plumed Azrael.

Onward ! onward ! still we wander,

Nearer draws the goal ;

Half the riddle's read, we ponder

Vainly on the whole.

 

Eastward ! in the pink horizon,

Fleecy hillocks shame

This dim range dull earth that lies on,

Tinged with rosy flame.

Westward ! as a stricken giant

Stoops his bloody crest,

And tho' vanquished, frowns defiant,

Sinks the sun to rest.

Distant, yet approaching quickly,

From the shades that lurk,

Like a black pall gathers thickly,

Night, when none may work.

Soon our restless occupation

Shall have ceas'd to be ;

Units ! in God's vast creation,

Ciphers ! what are we ?

Onward ! onward ! oh ! faint-hearted ;

Nearer and more near

Has the goal drawn since we started,

Be of better cheer.

 

Preacher ! all forbearance ask, for

All are worthless found,

Man must ay take man to task for

Faults while earth goes round.

On this dank soil thistles muster,

Thorns are broadcast sown ;

Seek not figs where thistles cluster,

Grapes where thorns have grown.

 

Sun and rain and dew from heaven,

Light and shade and air,

Heat and moisture freely given,

Thorns and thistles share.

Vegetation rank and rotten

Feels the cheering ray ;

Not uncared for, unforgotten,

We, too, have our day.

Unforgotten ! though we cumber

Earth, we work His will.

Shall we sleep through night's long slumber

Unforgotten still ?

Onward ! onward ! toiling ever,

Weary steps and slow,

Doubting oft, despairing never,

To the goal we go !

 

Hark ! the bells on distant cattle

Waft across the range,

Through the golden-tufted wattle,

Music low and strange ;

Like the marriage peal of fairies

Comes the tinkling sound,

Or like chimes of sweet St. Mary's

On far English ground.

How my courser champs the snaffle,

And with nostril spread,

Snorts and scarcely seems to ruffle

Fern leaves with his tread ;

Cool and pleasant on his haunches

Blows the evening breeze,

Through the overhanging branches

Of the wattle trees :

Onward ! to the Southern Ocean,

Glides the breath of Spring.

Onward, with a dreary motion,

I, too, glide and sing—

Forward ! forward ! still we wander—

Tinted hills that lie

In the red horizon yonder—

Is the goal so nigh ?

 

Whisper, spring-wind, softly singing,

Whisper in my ear ;

Respite and nepenthe bringing,

Can the goal be near ?

Laden with the dew of vespers,

From the fragrant sky,

In my ear the wind that whispers

Seems to make reply—

 

'Question not, but live and labour

Till yon goal be won,

Helping every feeble neighbour,

Seeking help from none ;

Life is mostly froth and bubble,

Two things stand like stone :

KINDNESS in another's trouble.

COURAGE in your own.'

 

Courage, comrades, this is certain,

All is for the best—

There are lights behind the curtain—

Gentiles let us rest.

As the smoke-rack veers to seaward

From 'the ancient clay',

With its moral drifting leeward,

Ends the wanderer's lay.

 

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