The Song of the Surf by Adam Lindsay Gordon

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White steeds of ocean, that leap with a hollow and wearisome roar
On the bar of ironstone steep, not a fathom's length from the shore.
Is there never a seer nor sophist can interpret your wild refrain,
When speech the harshest and roughest is seldom studied in vain?
My ears are constantly smitten by that dreary monotone,
In a hieroglyphic 'tis written --- 'tis spoken in a tongue unknown;
Gathering, growing, and swelling, and surging, and shivering, say!
What is the tale you are telling? What is the drift of your lay?

You come, and your crests are hoary with the foam of your countless years;
You break, with a rainbow of glory, through the spray of your glittering tears.
Is your song a song of gladness? a paean of joyous might?
Or a wail of discordant sadness for the wrongs you never can right?
For the empty seat by the ingle? for children 'reft of their sire?
For the bride, sitting, sad and single and pale, by the flickering fire?
For your ravenous pools of suction? for your shattering billow swell?
For your ceaseless work of destruction? for your hunger insatiable?

Not far from this very place, on the sand and the shingle dry,
He lay, with his battered face upturned to the frowning sky.
When your waters washed and swilled high over his drowning head,
When his nostrils and lungs were filled, when his feet and hands were as lead.
When against the rock he was hurled, and sucked again to the sea,
On the shores of another world, on the brink of eternity,
On the verge of annihilation, did it come to that swimmer strong,
The sudden interpretation of your mystical weird-like song?

"Mortal! that which thou askest, ask not thou of the waves;
Fool! Thou foolishly taskest us --- we are only slaves;
Might, more mighty, impels us --- we must our lot fulfil,
He who gathers and swells us curbs us too at His will.
Think'st thou the wave that shatters questioneth His decree?
Little to us it matters, and nought it matters to thee.
Not, thus murmuring idly, we from our duty would swerve.
Over the world spread widely, ever we labour and serve."

First published in The Queenslander, 31 March 1883;
and later in
Sea Spray and Smoke Drift by Adam Lindsay Gordon, 1909;
Bush Ballads and Galloping Rhymes: Poetical Works of Adam Lindsay Gordon by Adam Lindsay Gordon, 1970; and
A Collection of Australian Bush Verse, 1989.

Author reference sites: Austlit, Australian Dictionary of Biography

See also.

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This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on March 31, 2012 8:45 AM.

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