Verse > Anthologies > Walter Murdoch, comp. > The Oxford Book of Australasian Verse
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Walter Murdoch (1874–1970).  The Oxford Book of Australasian Verse.  1918.
 
21. Finis Exoptatus
 
By Adam Lindsay Gordon
 
 
BOOT and saddle, see the slanting
  Rays begin to fall,
Flinging lights and colours flaunting
  Through the shadows tall,
Onward! onward! must we travel?        5
  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,        10
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?        15
  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?        20
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        25
  On the branch close by
Recks not for the kestrel soaring
  In the nether sky,
Though the hawk with wings extended
  Poises overhead,        30
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        35
  Sails he out of sight.
Onward! onward! thus we travel,
  Comes the goal more nigh?
Riddle we may not unravel,
  Who shall make reply?        40
 
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,        45
  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        50
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        55
  Hymn or weekly psalm?
 
Oft your oily tones are heard in
  Chapel, where you preach,
This the everlasting burden
  Of the tale you teach:        60
‘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        65
  Than you seem to us,
To the beasts that caught a Tartar
  Once at Ephesus;
Rather than the stout apostle
  Of the Gentiles, who,        70
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,        75
  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?        80
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 wonder,        85
  Nearer draws the goal;
Half the riddle’s read, we ponder
  Vainly on the whole.
 
Eastward! in the pink horizon,
  Fleecy hillocks shame        90
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,        95
  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,        100
Soon our restless occupation
  Shall have ceased to be;
Units! in God’s vast creation,
  Ciphers! what are we?
Onward! onward! oh! faint-hearted;        105
  Nearer and more near
Has the goal drawn since we started,
  Be of better cheer.
 
Preacher! all forbearance ask, for
  All are worthless found,        110
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,        115
  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.        120
Vegetation rank and rotten
  Feels the cheering ray;
Not uncared for, unforgotten,
  We too have our day.
Unforgotten! though we cumber        125
  Earth, we work His will.
Shall we sleep through night’s long slumber
  Unforgotten still?
Onward! onward! toiling ever,
  Weary steps and slow,        130
Doubting oft, despairing never,
  To the goal we go!
 
Hark! the bells on distant cattle
  Waft across the range,
Through the golden-tufted wattle,        135
  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.        140
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        145
  Blows the evening breeze,
Through the overhanging branches
  Of the wattle trees:
Onward! to the Southern Ocean,
  Glides the breath of Spring,        150
Onward, with a dreamy motion,
  I, too, glide and sing—
Forward! forward! still we wander—
  Tinted hills that lie
In the red horizon yonder—        155
  Is the goal so nigh?
 
Whisper, spring-wind, softly singing,
  Whisper in my ear;
Respite and nepenthe bringing,
  Can the goal be near?        160
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        165
  Till yon goal be won,
Helping every feeble neighbour,
  Seeking help from none;
Life is mostly froth and bubble,
  Two things stand like stone,        170
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—        175
  Gentles, let us rest,
As the smoke-rack veers to seaward,
  From ‘the ancient clay’,
With its moral drifting leeward,
  Ends the wanderer’s lay.        180
 

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