Night Piece by Christopher Brennan

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The yellow gas is fired from street to street
   Past rows of heartless homes and hearths unlit,
Dead churches, and the unending pavement beat
   By crowds (say, rather, haggard shades that flit

Round nightly haunts of their delusive dream
   Where'er our paradisal instinct starves)
Till on the utmost post, its sinuous gleam
   Crawls in the oily water of the wharves,

Where Homer's sea loses his keen breath, hemm'd
   What place rebellious piles were driven down:
The priest-like waters to this task condemn'd
   To wash the roots of the inhuman town!

Where fat and strange-eyed fish that never saw
   The outer deep, broad halls of sapphire light,
Glut in the city's draught each nameless maw:
   And there, wide-eyed unto the soulless night,

Methinks a drown'd maid's face might fitly show
   What we have slain, a life that had been free,
Clean, large, nor thus tormented - even so
   As are the skies, the salt winds and the sea.

Ay, we had saved our days and kept them whole,
   To whom no part in our old joy remains --
Had felt those bright winds sweeping thro' our soul
   And all the keen sea tumbling in our veins;

Thrill'd to the harps of sunrise, when the height
   Whitens, and dawn dissolves in virgin tears;
Or caught, across the hush'd ambrosial night,
   The choral music of the swinging spheres;

Or drunk the silence, if nought else -- But no!
   And from each rotting soul distils in dreams
A poison, o'er the old earth creeping slow,
   That kills the flowers and curdles the live streams,

That taints the fresh breath of re-risen day
   And reeks across the pale bewildered moon...
Shall we be cleans'd and how?  I only pray,
   Red flame or deluge, may that end be soon!

First published in The Bulletin, 11 July 1896 and again in the same magazine on 28 August 1897;
and later in
The Golden Treasury of Australian Verse edited by Bertram Stevens, 1909;
The Verse of Christopher Brennan edited by A.R. Chisholm and John Joseph Quinn, 1960';
Poems [1913] by Christopher Brennan, 1972;
Selected Poems edited by G.A. Wilkes, 1973;
Christopher Brennan edited by Terry Sturm, 1984;
My Country: Australian Poetry and Short Stories, Two Hundred Years edited by Leonie Kramer, 1985;
The Macmillan Anthology of Australian Literature edited by Ken L. Goodwin and Alan Lawson, 1990;
The Penguin Book of 19th Century Australian Literature edited by Michael Ackland, 1993;
Australian Verse: An Oxford Anthology edited by John Leonard, 1998;
Our Country: Classic Australian Poetry: From the Colonial Ballads to Paterson & Lawson edited by Michael Cook, 2004; and
The Puncher & Wattmann Anthology of Australian Poetry edited by John Leonard, 2009.

Note: this poem is also known by the titles "Cities" and "The Yellow Gas".

Author reference sites: 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 July 11, 2012 8:45 AM.

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