The Drowned, Alive

The Drowned, Alive

Original Text

The Poetical Works of Charles Harpur, ed. Elizabeth Perkins (London, Sydney and Melbourne: Angus & Robertson, 1984): 273. Online at the University of Sydney Library at

1I was once so deeply drowned,
2That when the drag my body found,
3'Twas void of motion, void of breath,
4And, to sensation, dead as Death.
5In a languid summer mood,
6Lo, I plunge into a flood,
7That to the low sun's slanting beams
8Gleameth only quiet gleams,
9Each, with a wide flicker, sheeting
10Up from its still floor -- fast and fleeting:
11Even such a flood as one would say
12Could never, or by night or day,
13Have drenched a man's warm life away.
14Though oft indeed, things deadly will
15Be thereto in proportion still.
16But what are these, down in its bed,
17That trail so long and look so red,
18Moving as in conscious sport --
20But I'll dive to them, and see
21Into all their mystery.
22Down I dive. -- A plenteous crop!
23Some shall with me to the top:
24For here there is too dim a light,
25To show their character aright.
26I wind them in my arms, intent
27To root them up in my ascent:
28But they resist me, and again
29I tug them with a stronger strain!
31Gripping fast each bedded stone
33Thence down through the stiff slime below.
34 -- Well, the upshot is, that I
35Must leave them -- But in vain I try!
36Fierce as lightning on my brain
37Smites the dread truth -- I try in vain!
38Yea, more and more, in coils and flakes,
39Like long blood-red water snakes,
40The deadly things around me clasp,
41The more I tug, the more they grasp!
43Explodes with a dull booming din,
44While through my unclenched teeth, the wave
45Comes drenching! Is there none to save?
46None near to see -- to guess -- to trace
47Under the water's gleaming face,
48As by sudden whirl-rings shown,
49Or rush of bubbles upward thrown,
50The dread extremity of one
51Thus fastened down? Ah! Is there none?
52Wild as vain my struggles grow --
53Horror! horror! is it so?
54Hope gives up her ghost -- Despair!
55And as a fish dies in the air,
56In its element deep drowned,
57I am dying. All around
59Look, even where nearest, grey as lead,
60As 'mid them, settling down, I sway
61To and fro, and fast away
62Life keeps bubbling -- bubbling aye
63Through my cold lips wide a-gape
64And stiffening into that white shape
65They take at last (when done with breath)
66In the rigid face of Death.
67And now, while sullen drummings make
68My spirit through mine ears to ache,
70With all I ever felt or thought --
71Sacred fancies, hidden long
72Lest the world should do them wrong --
73Held back feelings that for years
74Just below the source of tears
77Over which some Orient stream
78Floweth with a golden gleam; --
79Taking instantaneous wings,
80With a million other things,
81All at once -- (yet each its own
82Shape keeping --marked, as if alone)
84Through my drowning consciousness!
85All in the same instant, so
86Do they come, and do they go:
87Leaving one mixed thought to reign
88Sole within my failing brain --
89Full of pity, full of pain!
90One mixed thought of how my doom
91Must wrap my Mother in its gloom;
92And give my Sire to hold his breath
93For anguish, hearing of my death;
94And to all home relations be
95Always a dread memory;
96And wound one fond heart to the core
97In the wide world evermore:
98Making Love to her appear
99Even when alive and near,
100Too fatal, and too full of fear --
101Or seen through tears by Memory shed,
102But the wild manes of a dead
103Ideal of the soul -- a glow
104That, like a sunset, long ago
105Went down into the dark of woe.
106Lastly, a drear stupor, blent
107With a cold comfortless content,
108Into one mass of clammy clay
109Kneads body and mind. Thus drenched away,
110With one faint shudder, one last throe,
111Life stagnates, and its shell lies low,
112Swaying, weed-bound, to and fro,
113Void of all feeling, as of breath, --
114How die we, if this be not Death?
115Ah, what thrilling, thrilling pain
116Kindles through my heart and brain!
117Ah, what horrors, vague and fell,
118Come shadowing o'er me, as from hell!
119Ah, those sudden glares of light,
120They fall like fire-brands on my sight!
121Ah, what vast and heavy world
122Is all at once upon me hurled,
123Massing into one immense
124Oppression, every tortured sense!
125Yes; I now remember well
126How my sudden fate befell!
127And are we then, in death's grim thrall,
128Thus conscious of our funeral?
129But where are they who most should mourn
130When my bier is graveward borne?
131With her whose face I yearn to see --
132Where are they? and where is she?
133Where the crape-trimmed followers all?
134Where the coffin and the pall?
135Or do Death and Nature strive
136Within me? -- Is the drowned alive?


19] "This kind of water-weed is somewhat rare, and it is well that it is so. It is of a deep blood colour, very long, pipy, and sensitive. So sensitive indeed is it, that if any part of it is touched, while protending in the water with a sinuous motion, -- say by a stick pushed down for the purpose, the whole of its length beyond the part thus touched will begin to lap about it in regular coils, -- the result being nearly the same in the event of its coming in contact with the limb of a bather. And from this curious circumstance, it is a weed which is exceedingly dangerous to weak swimmers, where it happens to abound, as in some parts of the South Coast near Windsor -- having concurred, in fact, in the drowning of many such." (poet's note) Back to Line
30] trow: to think or believe. Back to Line
32] tuby: tubelike in shape. Back to Line
42] pent: closely confined or held back. Back to Line
58] erst: long ago, formerly. Back to Line
69] interwrought: interwoven, twined together. Back to Line
75] perdu: lost. Back to Line
76] unespied: unseen. Back to Line
83] interthronging: to flock together in great numbers. Back to Line
Publication Start Year
Publication Notes

Poems (Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide: George Robinson, 1883).

RPO poem Editors
Cameron La Follette
Data entry: Sharine Leung
RPO Edition