I heard a blackbird in the hush of dawn, and started at the sound,
The echoes of that golden bell pealed from some kingdom that might well
Be still enchanted ground.
And all the world was somehow changed, it even seemed that, overseas,
All on a sudden it should be May, as well as August's break-o'-day,
In the Antipodes.
There were no blackbirds in the bush, among the gums and sassafras
Of those lost days the rocky tiers that rounded off my childhood years,
The plains of tussock grass.
Only the native birds, I wish that I could hear them now.
The wattle-doves that fall and rise all morning with their plaintive cries
About some golden bough.
Down gullies where the tree-ferns raised green arches and umbrellas,
At dusk the bronze-wing pigeon cooed and many a lively brotherhood
Of little green rosellas
Fled forth at morning on the wings of any wind that blew;
And from the sombre hills would sail, with melancholy screech and wail,
The strange black cockatoo.
Ground-larks ran through the tussock-tufts and played at hide-and-seek
In tawny reeds where, cold as ice, quicksilver springs would suddenly rise
And race to catch the creek.
The Whistling Dicks, from slope to slope called sweetly, lover to lover,
Sang their incomparable song, and wooing owls said all night long
The same thing, over and over.
Before the Derwent Jackass set his jester's-bells a-jingle,
The butcher-bird, Duke William sang, till the enchanted gullies rang
With echoes, double and single.
Where winking fairy waterfalls fluttered in silver inches
Blue-caps and redbreast robins would splash and sometimes one would catch a flash
Of hurrying fire-tail finches.
The magpies in a ringbarked gum bereft of bark or sheath
Warbled like souls in Kingdom-come; sang like seraphs from the dumb
Ivory-tower of death.
Oh blackbird on the blossoming rod sing once again; assuage
Dull days with hints of worlds to come, half-promise and half-premise; some
Improbable Golden Age!
Sing to me, alien bird, and if old songs have been denied
So long, as long as you can raise past magic with that matchless phrase
I shall be satisfied!
First published in The Bulletin, 27 October 1954