A Vision out West

Original Text: 
Where the Dead Men Lie and Other Poems, ed. A.G. Stephens (Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1897): 52. Internet Archive. Sydney Electronic Text and Image Service (SETIS), digital text sponsored by AustLit: http://setis.library.usyd.edu.au/oztexts
2And yet whose billows seem to be for ever heaving toward the west
3The tiny fieldmice make their nests, the summer insects buzz and hum
4Among the hollows and the crests of this wide ocean stricken dumb,
5Whose rollers move for ever on, though sullenly, with fettered wills,
6To break in voiceless wrath upon the crumbled bases of far hills,
7Where rugged outposts meet the shock, stand fast, and hurl them back again,
8An avalanche of earth and rock, in tumbled fragments on the plain;
9But, never heeding the rebuff, to right and left they kiss the feet
10Of hanging cliff and bouldered bluff till on the farther side they meet,
11And once again resume their march to where the afternoon sun dips
12Toward the west, and Heaven's arch salutes the Earth with ruddy lips.
13Such is the scene that greets the eye: wide sweep of plain to left and right:
14In front low hills that seem to lie wrapped in a veil of yellow light--
15Low peaks that through the summer haze frown from their fancied altitude,
16As some small potentate might gaze upon a ragged multitude.
17Thus does the battlemented pile of high-built crags, all weather-scarred,
18Where grass land stretches mile on mile, keep scornful solitary guard;
19Where the sweet spell is not yet broke, while from her wind-swept, sun-kissed dream
20Man's cruel touch has not yet woke this Land where silence reigns supreme:
21Not the grim silence of a cave, some vaulted stalactited room,
22Where feeble candle-shadows wave fantastically through the gloom--
23But restful silence, calm repose: the spirit of these sky-bound plains
24Tempers the restless blood that flows too fiery through the swelling veins;
25Breathes a faint message in the ear, bringing the weary traveller peace;
26Whispers, "Take heart and never fear, for soon the pilgrimage will cease!
27Beat not thy wings against the cage! Seek not to burst the padlocked door
28That leads to depths thou canst not gauge! Life is all thine: why seek for more?
29Read in the slow sun's drooping disc an answer to the thoughts that vex:
30Ponder it well, and never risk the substance for its dim reflex."
31Such is the silent sermon told to those who care to read this page
32Where once a mighty ocean rolled in some dim, long-forgotten age.
33Here, where the Mitchell grass waves green, the never-weary ebb and flow
34Of glassy surges once was seen a thousand thousand years ago:
35To such a sum those dead years mount that Time has grown too weary for
36The keeping of an endless count, and long ago forgot their score.
37But now--when, hustled by the wind, fast-flying, fleecy cloud-banks drift
38Across the sky where, silver-skinned, the pale moon shines whene'er they lift,
39And throws broad patches in strange shapes of light and shade, that seem to meet
40In dusky coastline where sharp capes jut far into a winding-sheet
41Of ghostly, glimmering, silver rays that struggle 'neath an inky ledge
42Of driving cloud, and fill deep bays rent in the shadow's ragged edge--
43Sprung from the gloomy depths of Time, faint shapes patrol the spectral sea,
44Primeval phantom-forms that climb the lifeless billows silently,
45Trailing along their slimy length in thirst for one another's blood,
46Writhing in ponderous trials of strength, as once they did before the flood.
47They sink, as, driven from the North by straining oar and favouring gale,
48A misty barge repels the froth which hides her with a sparkling veil:
49High-curled the sharpened beak doth stand, slicing the waters in the lead;
50The low hull follows, thickly manned by dim, dead men of Asian breed:
51Swift is her passage, short the view the wan moon's restless rays reveal
52Of dusky, fierce-eyed warrior crew, of fluttering cloth and flashing steel;
53Of forms that mouldered ages past, ere from recesses of the sea,
54With earthquake throes this land was cast in Nature's writhing agony.
55As the warm airs of Spring-time chase reluctant snows from off the range,
56And plant fresh verdure in their place, so the dimvisioned shadows change;
57And glimpses of what yet shall be bid the past fly beyond all ken,
58While rising from futurity appear vast colonies of men
59Who from the sea-coast hills have brought far-quarried spoils to build proud homes
60Of high-piled palaces, all wrought in sloping roofs and arching domes,
61Smooth-pillared hall, or cool arcade, and slenderest sky-piercing spire,
62Where the late-sinking moon has laid her tender tints of mellow fire,
63And golden paves the spacious ways where, o'er the smoothen granite flags,
64The lightning-driven car conveys its freight with force that never lags.
65A goodly city! where no stain of engine-smoke or factory grime
66Blemishes walls that will retain their pristine pureness for all time:
67Lying as one might take a gem and set it in some strange device
68Of precious metal, and might hem it round with stones of lesser price--
69So from encircling fields doth spring this city where, in emerald sheen,
70Man hath taught Nature how to bring a mantle of perennial green--
71Hewing canals whose banks are fringed by willows bending deeply down
72To waters flowing yellow-tinged beneath the moon toward the town--
73Filling from mighty reservoirs, sunk in the hollows of the plain,
74That flood the fields without a pause though Summer should withhold her rain.
75Labour is but an empty name to those who dwell within this land,
76For they have boldly learnt to tame the lightning's flash with iron hand:
77That Force, the dartings from whose eyes not even gods might brave and live,
78The blasting essence of the skies, proud Jupiter's prerogative--
79His flashing pinions closely clipt, pent in a cunning-fashioned cage,
80Of all his flaming glory stript--these men direct his tempered rage:
81A bondman, at their idlest breath with silent energy he speeds,
82From dawn of life to hour of death, to execute their slightest needs.
83Slow to her couch the moon doth creep, but, going, melts in sparkling tears
84Of dew, because we may not keep this vision of the future years:
85Swiftly, before the sunrise gleam, I watch it melting in the morn--
86The snowy city of my dream, the home of nations yet unborn!

Notes

1] The Mitchell Grass Downs across central Queensland is a vast region of tussock grasslands traditionally used to pasture cattle, now threatened with drought. Beginning at the end of the Proterozoic period 2500 to 542 million years ago, vast, growing seas covered the Downs. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
1897
Publication Notes: 
Where the Dead Men Lie and Other Poems, ed. A.G. Stephens (Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1897).
RPO poem Editors: 
Cameron La Follette
RPO Edition: 
2011
Form: