Ye Wearie Wayfarer, Hys Ballad - (In Eight Fyttes)

A poem by Adam Lindsay Gordon

Fytte I
By Wood and Wold
[A Preamble]

“Beneath the greenwood bough.”
- W. Scott.


Lightly the breath of the spring wind blows,
Though laden with faint perfume,
’Tis the fragrance rare that the bushman knows,
The scent of the wattle bloom.
Two-thirds of our journey at least are done,
Old horse! let us take a spell
In the shade from the glare of the noonday sun,
Thus far we have travell’d well;
Your bridle I’ll slip, your saddle ungirth,
And lay them beside this log,
For you’ll roll in that track of reddish earth,
And shake like a water-dog.

Upon yonder rise there’s a clump of trees,
Their shadows look cool and broad,
You can crop the grass as fast as you please,
While I stretch my limbs on the sward;
’Tis pleasant, I ween, with a leafy screen
O’er the weary head, to lie
On the mossy carpet of emerald green,
’Neath the vault of the azure sky;
Thus all alone by the wood and wold,
I yield myself once again
To the memories old that, like tales fresh told,
Come flitting across the brain.



Fytte II
By Flood and Field
[A Legend of the Cottiswold]

“They have saddled a hundred milk-white steeds,
They have bridled a hundred black.” Old Ballad.
“He turned in his saddle, now follow who dare.
I ride for my country, quoth * *.”
- Lawrence.


I remember the lowering wintry morn,
And the mist on the Cotswold hills,
Where I once heard the blast of the huntsman’s horn,
Not far from the seven rills.
Jack Esdale was there, and Hugh St. Clair,
Bob Chapman and Andrew Kerr,
And big George Griffiths on Devil-May-Care,
And, black Tom Oliver.
And one who rode on a dark-brown steed,
Clean jointed, sinewy, spare,
With the lean game head of the Blacklock breed,
And the resolute eye that loves the lead,
And the quarters massive and square,
A tower of strength, with a promise of speed
(There was Celtic blood in the pair).

I remember how merry a start we got,
When the red fox broke from the gorse,
In a country so deep, with a scent so hot,
That the hound could outpace the horse;
I remember how few in the front rank shew’d,
How endless appeared the tail,
On the brown hill-side, where we cross’d the road,
And headed towards the vale.
The dark-brown steed on the left was there,
On the right was a dappled grey,
And between the pair, on a chestnut mare,
The duffer who writes this lay.
What business had “this child” there to ride?
But little or none at all;
Yet I held my own for a while in “the pride
That goeth before a fall.”
Though rashness can hope for but one result,
We are heedless when fate draws nigh us,
And the maxim holds good, “Quem perdere vult
Deus, dementat prius.”

The right hand man to the left hand said,
As down in the vale we went,
“Harden your heart like a millstone, Ned,
And set your face as flint;
Solid and tall is the rasping wall
That stretches before us yonder;
You must have it at speed or not at all,
’Twere better to halt than to ponder,
For the stream runs wide on the take-off side,
And washes the clay bank under;
Here goes for a pull, ’tis a madman’s ride,
And a broken neck if you blunder.”

No word in reply his comrade spoke,
Nor waver’d nor once look’d round,
But I saw him shorten his horse’s stroke
As we splash’d through the marshy ground;
I remember the laugh that all the while
On his quiet features play’d:
So he rode to his death, with that careless smile,
In the van of the “Light Brigade”;
So stricken by Russian grape, the cheer
Rang out, while he toppled back,
From the shattered lungs as merry and clear
As it did when it roused the pack.
Let never a tear his memory stain,
Give his ashes never a sigh,
One of many who perished, not in vain,
As a type of our chivalry.

I remember one thrust he gave to his hat,
And two to the flanks of the brown,
And still as a statue of old he sat,
And he shot to the front, hands down;
I remember the snort and the stag-like bound
Of the steed six lengths to the fore,
And the laugh of the rider while, landing sound,
He turned in his saddle and glanced around;
I remember, but little more,
Save a bird’s-eye gleam of the dashing stream,
A jarring thud on the wall,
A shock and the blank of a nightmare’s dream,
I was down with a stunning fall.



Fytte III
Zu der edlen Yagd
[A Treatise on Trees, Vine-tree v. Saddle-tree]

“Now, welcome, welcome, masters mine,
Thrice welcome to the noble chase,
Nor earthly sport, nor sport divine,
Can take such honourable place.”
- Ballad of the Wild Huntsman. (Free Translation.)


I remember some words my father said,
When I was an urchin vain;
God rest his soul, in his narrow bed
These ten long years he hath lain.
When I think one drop of the blood he bore
This faint heart surely must hold,
It may be my fancy and nothing more,
But the faint heart seemeth bold.

He said that as from the blood of grape,
Or from juice distilled from the grain,
False vigour, soon to evaporate,
Is lent to nerve and brain,
So the coward will dare on the gallant horse
What he never would dare alone,
Because he exults in a borrowed force,
And a hardihood not his own.

And it may be so, yet this difference lies
’Twixt the vine and the saddle-tree,
The spurious courage that drink supplies
Sets our baser passions free;
But the stimulant which the horseman feels
When he gallops fast and straight,
To his better nature most appeals,
And charity conquers hate.

As the kindly sunshine thaws the snow,
E’en malice and spite will yield,
We could almost welcome our mortal foe
In the saddle by flood and field;
And chivalry dawns in the merry tale
That “Market Harborough” writes,
And the yarns of “Nimrod” and “Martingale”
Seem legends of loyal knights.

Now tell me for once, old horse of mine,
Grazing round me loose and free,
Does your ancient equine heart repine
For a burst in such companie,
Where “the powers that be” in the front rank ride,
To hold your own with the throng,
Or to plunge at “Faugh-a-Ballagh’s” side
In the rapids of Dandenong.

Don’t tread on my toes, you’re no foolish weight,
So I found to my cost, as under
Your carcase I lay, when you rose too late,
Yet I blame you not for the blunder.
What! sulky old man, your under-lip falls!
You think I, too, ready to rail am
At your kinship remote to that duffer at walls,
The talkative roadster of Balaam.



Fytte IV
In Utrumque Paratus
[A Logical Discussion]

“Then hey for boot and horse, lad!
And round the world away!
Young blood will have its course, lad!
And every dog his day!”
- C. Kingsley.


There’s a formula which the west country clowns
Once used, ere their blows fell thick,
At the fairs on the Devon and Cornwall downs,
In their bouts with the single-stick.
You may read a moral, not far amiss,
If you care to moralise,
In the crossing-guard, where the ash-plants kiss,
To the words “God spare our eyes”.
No game was ever yet worth a rap
For a rational man to play,
Into which no accident, no mishap,
Could possibly find its way.

If you hold the willow, a shooter from Wills
May transform you into a hopper,
And the football meadow is rife with spills,
If you feel disposed for a cropper;
In a rattling gallop with hound and horse
You may chance to reverse the medal
On the sward, with the saddle your loins across,
And your hunter’s loins on the saddle;
In the stubbles you’ll find it hard to frame
A remonstrance firm, yet civil,
When oft as “our mutual friend” takes aim,
Long odds may be laid on the rising game,
And against your gaiters level;
There’s danger even where fish are caught,
To those who a wetting fear;
For what’s worth having must aye be bought,
And sport’s like life and life’s like sport,
“It ain’t all skittles and beer.”

The honey bag lies close to the sting,
The rose is fenced by the thorn,
Shall we leave to others their gathering,
And turn from clustering fruits that cling
To the garden wall in scorn?
Albeit those purple grapes hang high,
Like the fox in the ancient tale,
Let us pause and try, ere we pass them by,
Though we, like the fox, may fail.

All hurry is worse than useless; think
On the adage, “’Tis pace that kills”;
Shun bad tobacco, avoid strong drink,
Abstain from Holloway’s pills,
Wear woollen socks, they’re the best you’ll find,
Beware how you leave off flannel;
And whatever you do, don’t change your mind
When once you have picked your panel;
With a bank of cloud in the south south-east,
Stand ready to shorten sail;
Fight shy of a corporation feast;
Don’t trust to a martingale;
Keep your powder dry, and shut one eye,
Not both, when you touch your trigger;
Don’t stop with your head too frequently
(This advice ain’t meant for a nigger);
Look before you leap, if you like, but if
You mean leaping, don’t look long,
Or the weakest place will soon grow stiff,
And the strongest doubly strong;
As far as you can, to every man,
Let your aid be freely given,
And hit out straight, ’tis your shortest plan,
When against the ropes you’re driven.

Mere pluck, though not in the least sublime,
Is wiser than blank dismay,
Since “No sparrow can fall before its time”,
And we’re valued higher than they;
So hope for the best and leave the rest
In charge of a stronger hand,
Like the honest boors in the far-off west,
With the formula terse and grand.

They were men for the most part rough and rude,
Dull and illiterate,
But they nursed no quarrel, they cherished no feud,
They were strangers to spite and hate;
In a kindly spirit they took their stand,
That brothers and sons might learn
How a man should uphold the sports of his land,
And strike his best with a strong right hand,
And take his strokes in return.
“’Twas a barbarous practice,” the Quaker cries,
“’Tis a thing of the past, thank heaven”,
Keep your thanks till the combative instinct dies
With the taint of the olden leaven;
Yes, the times are changed, for better or worse,
The prayer that no harm befall
Has given its place to a drunken curse,
And the manly game to a brawl.

Our burdens are heavy, our natures weak,
Some pastime devoid of harm
May we look for? “Puritan elder, speak!”
“Yea, friend, peradventure thou mayest seek
Recreation singing a psalm.”
If I did, your visage so grim and stern
Would relax in a ghastly smile,
For of music I never one note could learn,
And my feeble minstrelsy would turn
Your chant to discord vile.

Tho’ the Philistine’s mail could not avail,
Nor the spear like a weaver’s beam,
There are episodes yet in the Psalmist’s tale,
To obliterate which his poems fail,
Which his exploits fail to redeem.
Can the Hittite’s wrongs forgotten be?
Does he warble “Non nobis Domine”,
With his monarch in blissful concert, free
From all malice to flesh inherent;
Zeruiah’s offspring, who served so well,
Yet between the horns of the altar fell,
Does his voice the “Quid gloriaris” swell,
Or the “Quare fremuerunt”?
It may well be thus where David sings,
And Uriah joins in the chorus,
But while earth to earthy matter clings,
Neither you nor the bravest of Judah’s kings
As a pattern can stand before us.



Fytte V
Lex Talionis
[A Moral Discourse]

“And if there’s blood upon his hand,
‘Tis but the blood of deer.”
- W. Scott.


To beasts of the field, and fowls of the air,
And fish of the sea alike,
Man’s hand is ever slow to spare,
And ever ready to strike;
With a license to kill, and to work our will,
In season by land or by water,
To our heart’s content we may take our fill
Of the joys we derive from slaughter.

And few, I reckon, our rights gainsay
In this world of rapine and wrong,
Where the weak and the timid seem lawful prey
For the resolute and the strong;
Fins, furs, and feathers, they are and were
For our use and pleasure created,
We can shoot, and hunt, and angle, and snare,
Unquestioned, if not unsated.

I have neither the will nor the right to blame,
Yet to many (though not to all)
The sweets of destruction are somewhat tame
When no personal risks befall;
Our victims suffer but little, we trust
(Mere guess-work and blank enigma),
If they suffer at all, our field sports must
Of cruelty bear the stigma.

Shall we, hard-hearted to their fates, thus
Soft-hearted shrink from our own,
When the measure we mete is meted to us,
When we reap as we’ve always sown?
Shall we who for pastime have squander’d life,
Who are styled “the Lords of Creation”,
Recoil from our chance of more equal strife,
And our risk of retaliation?

Though short is the dying pheasant’s pain,
Scant pity you well may spare,
And the partridge slain is a triumph vain,
And a risk that a child may dare;
You feel, when you lower the smoking gun,
Some ruth for yon slaughtered hare,
And hit or miss, in your selfish fun
The widgeon has little share.

But you’ve no remorseful qualms or pangs
When you kneel by the grizzly’s lair,
On that conical bullet your sole chance hangs,
’Tis the weak one’s advantage fair,
And the shaggy giant’s terrific fangs
Are ready to crush and tear;
Should you miss, one vision of home and friends,
Five words of unfinished prayer,
Three savage knife stabs, so your sport ends
In the worrying grapple that chokes and rends;
Rare sport, at least, for the bear.

Short shrift! sharp fate! dark doom to dree!
Hard struggle, though quickly ending!
At home or abroad, by land or sea,
In peace or war, sore trials must be,
And worse may happen to you or to me,
For none are secure, and none can flee
From a destiny impending.

Ah! friend, did you think when the London sank,
Timber by timber, plank by plank,
In a cauldron of boiling surf,
How alone at least, with never a flinch,
In a rally contested inch by inch,
You could fall on the trampled turf?
When a livid wall of the sea leaps high,
In the lurid light of a leaden sky,
And bursts on the quarter railing;
While the howling storm-gust seems to vie
With the crash of splintered beams that fly,
Yet fails too oft to smother the cry
Of women and children wailing?

Then those who listen in sinking ships
To despairing sobs from their lov’d one’s lips,
Where the green wave thus slowly shatters,
May long for the crescent-claw that rips
The bison into ribbons and strips,
And tears the strong elk to tatters.

Oh! sunderings short of body and breath!
Oh! “battle and murder and sudden death!”
Against which the Liturgy preaches
; By the will of a just, yet a merciful Power,
Less bitter, perchance, in the mystic hour,
When the wings of the shadowy angel lower,
Than man in his blindness teaches!



Fytte VI
Potters’ Clay
[An Allegorical Interlude]

“Nec propter vitam vivendi perdere causas.”


Though the pitcher that goes to the sparkling rill
Too oft gets broken at last,
There are scores of others its place to fill
When its earth to the earth is cast;
Keep that pitcher at home, let it never roam,
But lie like a useless clod,
Yet sooner or later the hour will come
When its chips are thrown to the sod.

Is it wise, then, say, in the waning day,
When the vessel is crack’d and old,
To cherish the battered potters’ clay,
As though it were virgin gold?
Take care of yourself, dull, boorish elf,
Though prudent and safe you seem,
Your pitcher will break on the musty shelf,
And mine by the dazzling stream.



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, ’tis 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 aye 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!”



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 aye 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.

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