A Digger to His Son (Anzac 1938) by C. J. Dennis

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Yes, son; we march again in the old formation,   
   We queer old buffers, some grown grey and bent.
So strangely prone to solemn veneration,
   So wed to sentiment
For a past cause, and an old creed, now half hidden,
   And lost mates, long, long ago gone West,
And olden memories that rise, unbidden   
   And will not rest.

We march for memory, old dreams, untarnished   
   By time's march, or the tale of a changing earth ---     
A bitter tale, with many a strange herb garnished
   Since nationhood found birth.
For the years go, and times change, and the fashions   
   In thoughts of men and dreams they once held dear;
And other dawns make other hopes and passions   
   And a new-found fear.

And you, my son. You watch the old men marching,     
   Less briskly now to the blare of a martial band,
Thro' peaceful streets with a peaceful sky o'er-arching,
   And but half understand
The vague urge that comes, part hope, part warning,
   With a clamorous kinship not to be denied,   
That wakes in you upon this Anzac morning
   Vicarious pride.

I have watched you, son, as you grew and I have pondered ---   
   Flesh of my flesh, waxing in mind and thew ---
Too foolishly, mayhap, my hope has wandered
   To a happier day for you,
When man's mind in a new world, forsaking
   The crazy quest that Might may ne'er attain,
Seeks worthier gifts that earth holds for the taking.
   Have I hoped in vain?

And I have dreamed, as a foolish man falls dreaming ---     
   As a man must dream who knows the filth of war ---       
That all those horrors, born of envious scheming,     
   Might foul the earth no more.   
Oh, the brave young and the bright hope in their faces!   
   I would not have these know what I have known,           
Of harvests sprung from seeds of dread disgraces               
   Past men have sown.     

So had we dreamed who marched, in the days long vanished,     
   To wage a war that was to make an end   
To all earth's wars, that enmity be banished   
   And Man be all men's friend.   
Then peace came; but a strange peace, fearing, failing,   
   A savage peace, as ruthless as the gun,   
Till all they paid who fell seemed unavailing   
   For you, my son.     

I have watched you grow, hoping that life might shield you,   
   Seen your strength bloom, and prayed, as still I pray,   
That, even yet, some turn of fate might yield you   
   Peace unto your last day.     
But doubt grows, and the drums call. He who hearkens,   
   Out of a wisdom grimly gained of yore,   
Marks portents all too plain, as broad skies darken     
   With clouds of war.   

Yes, son; we march again; but our strength is going.   
   For the strongest tree grows old and soon must fall;   
But the brave young sapling, ever waxing, growing,   
   Preserves the forest wall.   
And a new hope, and a new pride, and a glory   
   Comes to uplift them who must soon be gone,   
Knowing that, while stout sons take up the story,       
   Anzac lives on.    

First published in The Herald,
The Courier-Mail, 25 April 1938;
and later in
Random Verse, edited by Margaret Herron, 1952.

Author reference sites: C.J. Dennis, Austlit, Australian Dictionary of Biography, Australian Poetry Library

See also.

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This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on April 25, 2011 8:32 AM.

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