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Collected Poems

Later Poems

page 183

Later Poems

Wandering Willie's Song

Parting they say is such sweet sorrow
that there's never a lad lifts up his pack
and takes to the hills, but a hundred voices
cry to him softly, calling him back.

And I know when I rode under the lilacs
and out of the gate, the eastern way,
taking the road and vagabond's luck
for good or ill, for a year or a day,

I was sick with the longing in my heart
for the green garden, and my little room;
I would have given my horse and bridle
for one last look at the cherry in bloom.

And even now, on a wild spring night
when the rain has ceased, I wake sometimes
from a dream of children playing in a garden
by an old grey wall where nasturtium climbs

I was too young to be living on memories,
too old to be happy the way I'd known:
so I shut my heart against the crying voices
and lifted my head, and rode forth alone.

But oh, when I pass from the light of the sun
let no slight memory, no scent nor savour
of the things I loved go with me then,
or I shall be restless in my grave forever.

page 184

All I have Desired

I have found sanctuary
under the blossoms
where the bees make music
in a white spring.

I have found rest
where the sea
unravels her foam
over the black rocks.

But the bee is a glutton,
clamorous, bloated with honey,
a fool, an unwitting pandar
to the blossoms;
and the sea is a very resdess woman,
a weeping strumpet, who in vain importunes
the race of men,
seeking a lover to her bed.

And all I have desired on earth,
all I have longed for really,
is the peace
and the forgetting
of the instant of love;
and the flat calm of death.

The Runner

I have heard soft lutes
sob their ecstasies,
and the thrush's notes
tumble from the rain-wet trees.

I have heard the ocean's song
rise like a flame
with cold blue tongue
from the swirling foam,

and from the sky far whispers,
not tunes, not words,
the dim, mournful vespers
of homing birds.

page 185

Sea-chime, and fluting bird,
and tune from smitten strings,
all these are lovely, but I have heard
more lovely things:

There are songs that beat
and throb along the blood
when our flying feet
on the greensward thud,

and pipes that shrill
as with labouring step
we clamber up the hill,
pause, and then dip

down through the sweet
grass-scented air
with flying feet
and flying hair…

Lovely are the birds, and the sobbing
of lutes, but braver far
is the voiceless music throbbing
in the runner's ear.


I would rid myself of an old way of life
that has clung about me since the day I was born,
covering me with its cloak of smiling hatred,
with its shield of nonchalance and easy scorn.

I have worn this armour, kept my soul inviolate,
mocking the estate of kings with cool bravado;
but I am tired now; I have lain too long
in the gutter of the world, crossed by a King's shadow.

I have done, indeed: as well be a whining moralist,
vile slave to a viler god, picking a sermon
from every cruel stone, as waste my breath
on this abominable world and all its vermin.

page 186

I would escape all this, and all things else;
I would creep within my life, and lie there curled
like a flower in ice, or a Pharaoh in his tomb,
lulled in a sleep that should outlast the world.


I shall not decry the dust, for the dust is immortal.
It rises not to Heaven nor descends into Hell.
Whatever befall the soul beyond the sombre portal,
for the dust there is neither flames nor asphodel.

I shall not decry the dust, for the world's storms
may harry the soul, and the last tempest break it;
but the dust flows on forever, through intricate forms,
and never the winds of time and chance may shake it.

The lamp may shine in the darkness, it may endure
eternally, or cease with death's cold gust.
I know not, care not. Of this alone am I sure—
that the dust is immortal: I shall not decry the dust.


I have come back as a stone falls to earth.
I have come back from the loneliness of the world
to the sunlit hills and meadows that gave me birth.
My heart is a ship, and all her sails are furled.

I have grown old in the wilderness of the seas;
I have felt the world slipping from; under my feet;
but now I am home at last where the olive trees
sleep in the silver dusk, and the flowers are sweet.

For though the heart grow desolate, though it roam
forever in vain the ways of earth, in quest
of high and lovely things, yet it comes home
in the end to the waiting arms, and finds its rest.

page 187

But I shall hear in dreams the sea that swirls
about those hungry rocks, and the wild gulls' cries;
and always I'll remember the singing girls—
the pale beseeching hands, and the pitiful eyes.


With shadows in the sky
enshrouding elm and oak
the dusk comes silently.
Now wreathed chimney-smoke

with thin blue mist is curled,
and lights begin to gleam
about the hollow world
of hamlet, vale and stream.

Here in this hour of dreams
earth's muted voices throng
to build me quiet hymns;
and a little flower-like song

love's silver-throated birds
sang in my forest once
comes now with sharpened chords
to stir my sleepy sense;

and the returning flood,
the spirit's urgent pulse,
moves all my sensuous blood
with stories sweet and false

of how love was a string
that snapped when Life was player,
but still the echoes ring
for loveless hearts to hear.

Let the night fall, calm and sweet,
I would not hear this thing.
Let the darkness smother it,
and hush its whispering.

page 188

Night on the Water

Now are there candles lit in the water
where the stars have dropped their shadows
like sparks from some Olympian crater
glowing on cool green meadows.

A thousand fireflies shiver and float,
and the moon in silver bars
is spilt and broken where the boat
lies dim in a heaven of stars.

The Stoic

The lion, the rhinoceros and the boar
are gentle playmates—nothing more;
the bitterest wind to me is warm
and calm the most outrageous storm.

Fire and pestilence move me not
nor bate my bravery one jot;
sweet is vinegar, sweet the lemon;
but God preserve me from candid women.


Odysseus, the old wanderer,
came home at last from the long voyagings,
and those world-shaking wars, and reigned once more
a King in Ithaca.

And so the years slid by,
lapping his soul about with quietness:
until in the end, they say,
he fell to weariness and discontent,
grew tired of gentle living…could not sleep
for thinking, always thinking.

page 189

In the midst of merriment and song
he would fall silent, sit with clouded eyes
dreaming of war and pillage, of what had been
and might not come again…
hearing the clash of steel…the tempest's roar….
the wind that breathed in Circe's shadowed grove….
the voice of old Tiresias… the swift
crackling rush of foam under the prows,
and the screaming gulls, and the high song of the waves ….
and ever again, deep in his troubled heart,
that song that Sirens sang, that wild sweet song
that would not let him be,
calling him to the world's far ends….

* * *

It's only a fool who lets his dreams come true.
Who'd think the dream of twenty lovely years
(such a great, glowing dream
of love, and peace, and rest for the tired heart)
would swell in beauty like a golden bubble…
and then touch life, and break, and shine no more?
This narrow island sleeping in summer seas,
for all its calm,
its peace and loveliness beyond desiring,
left much to be desired … much indeed ….
and he was tired … so tired …
too much droning of bees in summer grass …
too many mumbling women about the castle …
even Penelope …
and a tinkle of pipes from the barn, that made him drowsy ….
The tall blade flaked with rust,
and the string of the great bow,
that sang shrill death of old, dribbled slack
as a loose sandal-thong….
This brooding peace, this heavy idleness
rotted the spirit, all but quenched the fire
that smouldered in his breast….
Better the dark clutch of the ravenous sea—
to lie in the cool depths, and far above,
a white agony of broken water …
better the hand of death
than this soft-dreaming ease under unclouded skies …
And if not death … then life …
out there in the cold and darkness
page 190 dreams never came true … were always dreams
lovely and inviolable …

* * *

And so (the story goes) one day he rises,
and shakes himself like a great dog roused from the hearth,
and bellows to the henchmen, bids them bring
fresh meat, and bales of corn, fat sheep and kine,
and skins of wine and water;
then calls to the young men with restless hearts,
gathers a hundred, bids them launch the ships
and lade them for a voyage,
for a long voyage, and there's no knowing where
it will all lead to, or what the end will be …
and then he gives them "glory or the grave",
and sets his prows
into the golden west, and sails away
to seek the Happy Isles or come what will…

* * *

And thus Odysseus, Lord of Ithaca,
he of the strong heart and the wily hand,
the ravager of cities, the feared of men,
passed to the shadows …
                                    … and there the legend fails,
and no man knows, nor ever shall know,
whither he journeyed,
what strange seas he crossed … or did not cross.
whether he died in battle,
or reached the Happy Isles, and ruled once more
a prince among men ….

But I have sometimes mused,
in the dark hour between the sun and moon,
upon this tale …
have played with fancy, led the wandering ships
through storm and sunlight, over desperate seas,
and brought them to this land
whose hills and streams and meadow-paths I know
better than the dark paths of my own heart.
And I have seen Odysseus and his men
(some morning in the yellow summertime)
swing shoreward with slack sails and weary oars,
ride the long wave, and beach the golden ships,
and stretch their limbs, and dance upon the sands
page 191 like happy children … I have seen them lie
taking their ease beneath the gnarled black boughs
of giant pohutukawas, bursting red
for joy and honour … I have seen them bind
the red blooms in their hair, and walk like gods,
laughing, upon this shore…
And I have seen them, after many days,
when the sea called once more,
clamber aboard and hoist the storm-torn sails,
swing from the land, and melt upon the brink
of sea and sky, to roam and ever roam
upon their endless quest…

Whether this tale be true or false I know not.
Nor do I care at all. The old blind poet
never heard it… or hearing it, forgot…
or kept it to himself …
or maybe it fell out some other way …
nobody knows… But I have dreamed it so
in the dark hour between sun and moon,
when all tales are true
so far as they are strange and beautiful.


Along your starry ways
I used to rove;
you were my earliest love
in boyhood days.

Over the silvern pool
bending quietly,
O most despised tree,
yet loveliest of all,

you'd toss a flower down
anon, as a woman might
to her lover in the night
a rose have thrown.

page 192

Often when I was tired,
seeking for rest,
under your dark breast
I'd sink and find quiet.

And in your skies there were
star-flowers, white and soft,
and little winds would waft
your vague scent on the air.

And I would lie there curled
happily for hours,
then rise, shake off your flowers,
and creep back to the world.

The Pomegranate Tree

Where the wild red rata
and clematis grow
and the drooping kowhai
lets fall her golden snow,
once I found a pomegranate,
leafless, unburgeoning,
lonely as a captive
Eastern king.

So amazed was I
that this strange, bizarre,
magical tree
should have strayed so far,
that I laid me in the grass
for a couple of hours,
forgetting I had come
to gather flowers.

Then I bethought me
of a thousand things,
of dark Arabian tales,
and forgotten kings,
of a prophet's vision,
page 193 and a moon that shone
in the silver forests
of Lebanon.

I thought of a poet,
of two long dead—
a storied Princess
and her Grecian lad
who loved in deep meadows
and by woodland streams,
and built tall castles
of their slender dreams.

All these whimsies
came floating to me,
as I lay enchanted
by that Eastern tree.
But the pomegranate stood
stock still in despair,
with her buds all frozen
and her branches bare.

The Old Man

His white lips move, whispering, My time is short,
I would be gone.
O Lord, Lord! now let thy servant depart!
I am left alone
an old man with thin hands and a dry heart
sitting in the sun.

I am grown sadder than the gust that shakes
dead leaves in May,
lonelier than the sea that breaks
her heart in spray;
now, O Lord, ere another morrow wakes,
I would away.

For the spring returning moves not as before
this dolorous clay,
love is forgotten, a bright cloak I wore
and cast away;
page 194 the stars are dumb, the heavens resound no more
in this dark day;
I am old, I am old: thine ancient peace restore,
O Lord, I pray!

Dead Man's Tale

Daylong I dream in pleasant sloth
garmented in white cloth
where no wind murmureth
save the swart wind of death.

Lust of limb nor lust of food
mar the lovely solitude;
yet there stirreth in my clay
memory of an older day.

Love unhandselled, passion lost,
make a music in the dust,
and I hear, but all unmoved,
echoes of a voice I loved.

An Old Woman

The years have stolen
all her loveliness,
her days are fallen
in the long wet grass
like petals shaken
from the lilac's bosom
when the winds have broken
her tangled blossom.

Her youth like a dim
cathedral lies
under the seas
of her life's long dream,
yet she hears still
in her heart, sometimes,
the far sweet chimes
of a sunken bell.

page 195

In the Younger Land

This stubborn beach, whereon are tossed
white roses from the seas's green bough,
has never sheathed a Norman prow
nor flinched beneath a Roman host;

yet in my bones I feel the stir
of ancient wrongs and vanished woes,
and through my troubled spirit goes
the shadow of an old despair.


When the candles burn again in the kowhai tree,
I shall return, remembering older springs
when the sky was a blue pool where dreamily
clouds floated like silver swans with folded wings.

I shall return, remembering how Love
fulfils in the spring her immortal trust,
and builds her leafy temple in the kowhai grove,
scorning the dull remonstrance of the dust.

I shall lie on the cliffs under the small gold flowers,
and smell wild honeysuckle, and hear the chime
of the waves, like bells ringing in the shadowy towers
of some grey village of the olden time.

I shall return. But oh, the spring will falter …
yield her green faith to summer's unbelief,
and the kowhai will darken the candles on her altar,
and strew on the grey winds her golden grief.