22 Poems by Judith Wright

22 Poems by Judith Wright

22 Poems by Judith Wright

1. Lyrebirds

Over the west side of the mountain,
that’s lyrebird country.
I could go down there, they say, in the early morning,
and I’d see them, I’d hear them.

Ten years, and I have never gone.
I’ll never go.
I’ll never see the lyrebirds –
the few, the shy, the fabulous,
the dying poets.

I should see them, if I lay there in the dew:
first a single movement
like a waterdrop falling, then stillness,
then a brown head, brown eyes,
a splendid bird, bearing
like a crest the symbol of his art,
the high symmetrical shape of the perfect lyre.
I should hear that master practising his art.

No, I have never gone.
Some things ought to be left secret, alone;
some things – birds like walking fables –
ought to inhabit nowhere but the reverence of the
heart.

2. Magpies

Along the road the magpies walk
with hands in pockets, left and right.
They tilt their heads, and stroll and talk.
In their well-fitted black and white.

They look like certain gentlemen
who seem most nonchalant and wise
until their meal is served — and then
what clashing beaks, what greedy eyes!

But not one man that I have heard
throws back his head in such a song
of grace and praise — no man nor bird.
Their greed is brief; their joy is long.
For each is born with such a throat
as thanks his God with every note.

3. Metho Drinker

Under the death of winter’s leaves he lies
who cried to Nothing and the terrible night
to be his home and bread. “O take from me
the weight and waterfall ceaseless Time
that batters down my weakness; the knives of light
whose thrust I cannot turn; the cruelty
of human eyes that dare not touch nor pity.”
Under the worn leaves of the winter city
safe in the house of Nothing now he lies.

His white and burning girl, his woman of fire,
creeps to his heart and sets a candle there
to melt away the flesh that hides from bone,
to eat the nerve that tethers him in time.
He will lie warm until the bone is bare
and on a dead dark moon he wakes alone.
It was for Death he took her; death is but this;
and yet he is uneasy under her kiss
and winces from that acid of her desire.

4. Naked Girl And Mirror

This is not I. I had no body once-
only what served my need to laugh and run
and stare at stars and tentatively dance
on the fringe of foam and wave and sand and sun.
Eyes loved, hands reached for me, but I was gone
on my own currents, quicksilver, thistledown.
Can I be trapped at last in that soft face?

I stare at you in fear, dark brimming eyes.
Why do you watch me with that immoderate plea-
“Look under these curled lashes, recognize
that you were always here; know me-be me.”
Smooth once-hermaphrodite shoulders, too tenderly
your long slope runs, above those sudden shy
curves furred with light that spring below your space.

No, I have been betrayed. If I had known
that this girl waited between a year and a year,
I’d not have chosen her bough to dance upon.
Betrayed, by that little darkness here, and here
this swelling softness and that frightened stare
from eyes I will not answer; shut out here
from my own self, by its new body’s grace-

for I am betrayed by someone lovely. Yes,
I see you are lovely, hateful naked girl.
Your lips in the mirror tremble as I refuse
to know or claim you. Let me go-let me be gone.
You are half of some other who may never come.
Why should I tend you? You are not my own;
you seek that other—he will be your home.

Yet I pity your eyes in the mirror, misted with tears;
I lean to your kiss. I must serve you; I will obey.
Some day we may love. I may miss your going, some day,
though I shall always resent your dumb and fruitful years.
Your lovers shall learn better, and bitterly too,
if their arrogance dares to think I am part of you.

5. Niggers Leap, New England

The eastward spurs tip backward from the sun.
Nights runs an obscure tide round cape and bay
and beats with boats of cloud up from the sea
against this sheer and limelit granite head.
Swallow the spine of range; be dark. O lonely air.
Make a cold quilt  across the bone and skull
that screamed falling in flesh from the lipped cliff
and then were silent, waiting for the flies.

Here is the symbol, and climbing dark
a time for synthesis. Night buoys no warning
over the rocks that wait our keels; no bells
sound for the mariners. Now must we measure
our days by nights, our tropics by their poles,
love by its end and all our speech by silence.
See in the gulfs, how small the light of home.

Did we not know their blood channelled our rivers,
and the black dust our crops ate was their dust?
O all men are one man at last. We should have known
the night that tidied up the cliffs and hid them
had the same question on its tongue for us.
And there they lie that were ourselves writ strange.

Never from earth again the coolamon
or thin black children dancing like the shadows
of saplings in the wind. Night lips the harsh
scarp of the tableland and cools its granite.
Night floods us suddenly as history
that has sunk many islands in its good time.

6. Northern River

When summer days grow harsh
my thoughts return to my river,
fed by white mountain springs,
beloved of the shy bird, the bellbird,
whose cry is like falling water.
O nighted with the green vine,
lit with the rock-lilies,
the river speaks in the silence,
and my heart will also be quiet.

Where your valley grows wide in the plains
they have felled the trees, wild river.
Your course they have checked, and altered
your sweet Alcaic metre.
Not the grey kangaroo, deer-eyes, timorous,
will come to your pools at dawn;
but, their tamed and humbled herds
will muddy the watering places.
Passing their roads and cities
you will not escape unsoiled.

But where, grown old and weary,
stagnant among the mangroves,
you hope no longer – there on a sudden
with a shock like joy, beats up
the cold clean pulse of the tide,
the touch of sea in greeting;
the sea that encompasses
all sorrow and delight
and holds the memories
of every stream and river.

7. Request To A Year

If the year is meditating a suitable gift,
I should like it to be the attitude
of my great- great- grandmother,
legendary devotee of the arts,

who having eight children
and little opportunity for painting pictures,
sat one day on a high rock
beside a river in Switzerland

and from a difficult distance viewed
her second son, balanced on a small ice flow,
drift down the current toward a waterfall
that struck rock bottom eighty feet below,

while her second daughter, impeded,
no doubt, by the petticoats of the day,
stretched out a last-hope alpenstock
(which luckily later caught him on his way).

Nothing, it was evident, could be done;
And with the artist’s isolating eye
My great-great-grandmother hastily sketched the scene.
The sketch survives to prove the story by.

Year, if you have no Mother’s day present planned,
Reach back and bring me the firmness of her hand.

8. Sonnet For Christmas

I saw our golden years on a black gale,
our time of love spilt in the furious dust.
“O we are winter-caught, and we must fail,”
said the dark dream, “and time is overcast.”
-And woke into the night; but you were there,
and small as seed in the wild dark we lay.
Small as seed under the gulfs of air
is set the stubborn heart that waits for day.
I saw our love the root that holds the vine
in the enduring earth, that can reply,
“Nothing shall die unless for me it die.
Murder and hate and love alike are mine”;
and therefore fear no winter and no storm
while in the knot of earth that root lies warm.

9. Sonnet

Now let the draughtsman of my eyes be done
marking the line of petal and of hill.
Let the long commentary of the brain
be silent. Evening and the earth are one,
and bird and tree are simple and stand still.
Now, fragile heart swung in your webs of vein,
and perilous self won hardly out of clay,
gather the harvest of last light, and reap
the luminous fields of sunset for your bread.
Blurs the laborious focus of the day
and shadow brims the hillside slow as sleep.
Here is the word that, when all words are said,
shall compass more than speech. The sun is gone;
draws on the night at last; the dream draws on.

10. South Of My Days

South of my days’ circle, part of my blood’s country,
rises that tableland, high delicate outline
of bony slopes wincing under the winter,
low trees, blue-leaved and olive, outcropping granite-
clean, lean,  hungry country. The creek’s leaf-silenced,
willow choked, the slope a tangle of medlar and crabapple
branching over and under, blotched with a green lichen;
and the old cottage lurches in for shelter.

O cold the black-frost night. The walls draw in to the warmth
and the old roof cracks its joints; the slung kettle
hisses a leak on the fire. Hardly to be believed that summer will turn up again some day in a wave of rambler-roses,
thrust it’s hot face in here to tell another yarn-
a story old Dan can spin into a blanket against the winter.
Seventy years of stories he clutches round his bones.
Seventy years are hived in him like old honey.

Droving that year, Charleville to the Hunter,
nineteen-one it was, and the drought beginning;
sixty head left at the McIntyre, the mud round them
hardened like iron; and the yellow boy died
in the sulky ahead with the gear, but the horse went on,
stopped at Sandy Camp and waited in the evening.
It was the flies we seen first, swarming like bees.
Came to the Hunter, three hundred head of a thousand-
cruel to keep them alive – and the river was dust.

Or mustering up in the Bogongs in the autumn
when the blizzards came early. Brought them down; we
brought them down, what aren’t there yet. Or driving for Cobb’s on the run
up from Tamworth-Thunderbolt at the top of Hungry Hill,
and I give him a wink. I wouldn’t wait long, Fred,
not if I was you. The troopers are just behind,
coming for that job at the Hillgrove. He went like a luny, him on his big black horse.

Oh, they slide and they vanish
as he shuffles the years like a pack of conjuror’s cards.
True or not, it’s all the same; and the frost on the roof
cracks like a whip, and the back-log break into ash.
Wake, old man. This is winter, and the yarns are over.
No-one is listening
South of my days’ circle
I know it dark against the stars, the high lean country
full of old stories that still go walking in my sleep.

11. The Bull

In the olive darkness of the sally-trees
silently moved the air from night to day.
The summer-grass was thick with honey daisies
where he, a curled god, a red Jupiter,
heavy with power among his women lay.

But summer’s bubble-sound of sweet creek-water
dwindles and is silent, the seeding grasses
grow harsh, and wind and frost in the black sallies
roughen the sleek-haired slopes. Seek him out, then,
the angry god betrayed, whose godhead passes,

and down the hillsides drive him from his mob.
What enemy steals his strength – what rival steals
his mastered cows? His thunders powerless,
the red storm of his body shrunk with fear,
runs the great bull, the dogs upon his heels.

12. The Company Of Lovers

We meet and part now over all the world;
we, the lost company,
take hands together in the night, forget
the night in our brief happiness, silently.
We, who sought many things, throw all away
for this one thing, one only,
remembering that in the narrow grave
we shall be lonely.

Death marshalls up his armies round us now.
Their footsteps crowd too near.
Lock your warm hand above the chilling heart
and for a time I live without my fear.
Grope in the night to find me and embrace,
for the dark preludes of the drums begin,
and round us round the company of lovers,
death draws his cordons in.

13. The Killer

The day was clear as fire,
the birds sang frail as glass,
when thirsty I came to the creek
and fell by its side in the grass.

My breast on the bright moss
and shower-embroidered weeds,
my lips to the live water
I saw him turn in the reeds.

Black horror sprang from the dark
in a violent birth,
and through its cloth of grass
I felt the clutch of earth.

O beat him into the ground.
O strike him till he dies-
or else your life itself
drains through those colourless eyes.

I struck again and again
Slender in black and red
he lies, and his icy glance
turns outward clear and dead.

But nimble my enemy
as water is, or wind.
He has slipped from his death aside
and vanished into my mind

He has vanished whence he came,
my nimble enemy;
and the ants come out to the snake
and drink at his shallow eye.

14. The Old Prison

The rows of cells are unroofed,
a flute for the wind’s mouth,
who comes with a breath of ice
from the blue caves of the south.

O dark and fierce day:
the wind like an angry bee
hunts for the black honey
in the pits of the hollow sea.

Waves of shadow wash
the empty shell bone-bare,
and like a bone it sings
a bitter song of air.

Who built and laboured here?
The wind and the sea say
-Their cold nest is broken
and they are blown away-

They did not breed nor love,
each in his cell alone
cried as the wind now cries
through this flute of stone.

15. The Sisters

In the vine-shadows on the veranda;
under the yellow leaves, in the cooling sun,
sit two sisters. Their slow voices run
like little winter creeks, dwindled by frost and wind,
and the square of sunlight moves on the veranda.

They remember the gay young men on their tall horses
who came courting; the dancing and the smells of leather
and wine, the girls whispering by the fire together;
even their dolls and ponies, all they have left behind
moves in the yellow shadows on the veranda.

Thinking of their lives apart and the men they married
thinking  of the marriage-bed and the birth of their first
child,
they look down smiling. “My life was wide and wild,
and who can know my heart? There in that golden jungle
I walk alone,” say the old sisters on the veranda.

16. The Surfer

He thrust his joy against the weight of the sea;
climbed through, slid under those long banks of
foam—-
(hawthorn hedges in spring, thorns in the face stinging).
How his brown strength drove through the hollow and coil
of green-through weirs of water!
Muscle of arm thrust down long muscle of water;
and swimming so, went out of sight
where mortal, masterful, frail, the gulls went wheeling
in air as he in water, with delight.

Turn home, the sun goes down; swimmer, turn home.
Last leaf of gold vanishes from the sea-curve.
Take the big roller’s shoulder, speed and serve;
come to the long beach home like a gull diving.

For on the sand the grey-wolf sea lies, snarling,
cold twilight wind splits the waves’ hair and shows
the bones they worry in their wolf-teeth. O, wind blows
and sea crouches on sand, fawning and mouthing;
drops there and snatches again, drops and again snatches
its broken toys, its whitened pebbles and shells.

The Trains

Tunnelling through the night, the trains pass
in a splendour of power, with a sound like thunder
shaking the orchards, waking
the young from a dream, scattering like glass
the old mens’ sleep, laying
a black trail over the still bloom of the orchards;
the trains go north with guns.

Strange primitive piece of flesh, the heart laid quiet
hearing their cry pierce through its thin-walled cave
recalls the forgotten tiger,
and leaps awake in its old panic riot;
and how shall mind be sober,
since blood’s red thread still binds us fast in history?
Tiger, you walk through all our past and future,
troubling the children’s sleep’; laying
a reeking trail across our dreams of orchards.

Racing on iron errands, the trains go by,
and over the white acres of our orchards
hurl their wild summoning cry, their animal cry….
the trains go north with guns.

18. To a Child

When I was a child I saw
a burning bird in a tree.
I see became I am,
I am became I see.

In winter dawns of frost
the lamp swung in my hand.
The battered moon on the slope
lay like a dune of sand;

and in the trap at my feet
the rabbit leapt and prayed,
weeping blood, and crouched
when the light shone on the blade.

The sudden sun lit up
the webs from wire to wire;
the white webs, the white dew,
blazed with a holy fire.

Flame of light in the dew,
flame of blood on the bush
answered the whirling sun
and the voice of the early thrush.

I think of this for you.
I would not have you believe
the world is empty of truth
or that men must grieve,

but hear the song of the martyrs
out of a bush of fire-
“All is consumed with love;
all is renewed with desire.”

19. Train Journey

Glassed with cold sleep and dazzled by the moon,
out of the confused hammering dark of the train
I looked and saw under the moon’s cold sheet
your delicate dry breasts, country that built my heart;
and the small trees on their uncoloured slope
like poetry moved, articulate and sharp
and purposeful under the great dry flight of air,
under the crosswise currents of wind and star.
Clench down your strength, box-tree and ironbark.
Break with your violent root the virgin rock.
Draw from the flying dark its breath of dew
till the unliving come to life in you.
Be over the blind rock a skin of sense,
under the barren height a slender dance…
I woke and saw the dark small trees that burn
suddenly into flowers more lovely that the white moon.

20. Trapped Dingo

So here, twisted in steel, and spoiled with red
your sunlight hide, smelling of death and fear,
they crushed out your throat the terrible song
you sang in the dark ranges. With what crying
you mourned him! – the drinker of blood, the swift death-bringer
who ran with you so many a night; and the night was long.
I heard you, desperate poet, Did you hear
my silent voice take up the cry? – replying:
Achilles is overcome, and Hector dead,
and clay stops many a warrior’s mouth, wild singer.

Voice from the hills and the river drunken with rain,
for your lament the long night was too brief.
Hurling your woes at the moon, that old cleaned bone,
till the white shorn mobs of stars on the hill of the sky
huddled and trembled, you tolled him, the rebel one.
Insane Andromache, pacing your towers alone,
death ends the verse you chanted; here you lie.
The lover, the maker of elegies is slain,
and veiled with blood her body’s stealthy sun.

21. Turning Fifty

Having known war and peace
and loss and finding,
I drink my coffee and wait
for the sun to rise,

With kitchen swept, cat fed,
the day will quiet,
I taste my fifty years
here in the cup.

Outside the green birds come
for bread and water.
Their wings wait for the sun
to show their colours.

I’ll show my colours too.
Though we’ve polluted
even this air I breathe
And spoiled green earth;

though, granted life or death,
death’s what we’re chosing,
and though these years we live
scar flesh and mind,

still, as the sun comes up
bearing my birthday,
having met time and love
I raise my cup –

dark, bitter, neutral, clean,
sober as the morning –
to all I’ve seen and known –
to this new sun.

20. Woman To Child

You who were darkness warmed my flesh
where out of darkness rose the seed.
Then all a world I made in me;
all the world you hear and see
hung upon my dreaming blood.

There moved the multitudinous stars,
and coloured birds and fishes moved.
There swam the sliding continents.
All time lay rolled in me, and sense,
and love that knew not its beloved.

O node and focus of the world;
I hold you deep within that well
you shall escape and not escape-
that mirrors still your sleeping shape;
that nurtures still your crescent cell.

I wither and you break from me;
yet though you dance in living light
I am the earth, I am the root,
I am the stem that fed the fruit,
the link that joins you to the night.

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