Old Nell Dickerson by John Shaw Neilson

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The young folk heard the old folk say
   'twas long ago she came;
Some said it was her own, and some
   it was another's shame.
All pleasantly the seasons passed
   in gray and gold and green,
But the heart of old Nell Dickerson
   no one had ever seen.

They said that when a baby crowed
   she turned her head away,
And when delightful lovers kissed
   her sallow face went gray:
Some say she laughed at love and death
   and every man-made law --
But the heart of old Nell Dickerson
   no babbler ever saw.

October ran with greenery
   and blossoms white and fair;
The poorest soul had time to feast
   on beauty everywhere;
A thousand anthems rose to God
   through the uproarious blue,
But the heart of old Nell Dickerson
   no singer ever knew.

The summer sauntered in with wheat
   and forest fire and haze,
And the white frocks of white girls,
   and lads with love ablaze;
Sweet sighs were in the high heavens
   and upon the warm ground --
But the heart of old Nell Dickerson
   it never yet was found.

The winter came with wistful talk
   of water-birds in tune,
And while their snowy treasures slept
   did mother ewes commune;
In every wind and every rain
   some daring joys would climb --
But the heart of old Nell Dickerson
   was prisoner all the time.

The streamers stood across the sky
   one evening clear and warm;
The old folk said the streamers come
   foretelling strife and storm.
When old Nell laughed her hollow laugh
   the neighbours looked in awe,
But the heart of old Nell Dickerson
   no neighbour ever saw.

And with the night came thundering
   like Evil wandering near,
And the tender little children wept
   and the women shook with fear;
Out on the night went one stern soul --
   along the wind it blew;
Oh, the heart of old Nell Dickerson
   no babbler ever knew!

Softly they sought her little room,
   and she was blue and cold;
Upon the wall some straggling words
   her last poor wishes told:
Nothing she gave, and little begged --
   they read there mournfully:
"Bitter and black was all my life,
   but wear no black for me."

'Twas a green day and a wild day
   and lovers walked along,
And the old men, the grey men,
   the ruddy men and strong,
And the tenderest of pale girls
   in pink and green and blue
Walked mournfully behind the heart
   that no one ever knew.

And there were many dropping tears
   on sashes red and wide,
And more hot prayers were said that day
   than if a king had died;
And some wore white and yellow frocks
   and some wore blue and green,
But the heart of old Nell Dickerson
   no one had ever seen.

First published in The Sun (Sydney), 6 August 1911;
and later in
The Bookfellow, 15 June 1914;
Green Days and Cherries: the early verse of Shaw Neilson edited by Hugh Anderson and Leslie James Blake, 1981; and
John Shaw Neilson: Poetry, Autobiography and Correspondence edited by Cliff Hanna, 1991.

Author reference sites: Austlit, Australian Dictionary of Biography, Australian Poetry Library

See also.

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