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Kowhai Gold

[Alan Mulgan]

Dead Timber
These are not ours—the isles of columned whiteness,
Set in an old and legend-whispering sea;
Nor crowning domes that take the morning's brightness,
Praising the Lord in open majesty;
Nor arches' hushed, eternal invocation;
Nor windows glowing with the love of God;
Nor slender minarets that take their station,
Like spears ascending where the faithful trod.

There, on the hillside, is our nation's building,
The tall dead trees so bare against the sky.
They neither kisst he morn nor take the sunset's gilding,
They hear no brimming prayer, no sinner's cry.
But in the desolation of our making,
Where prey at will the sun and wind and rain,
They call the sky to witness of our breaking,
They tell the stars the story of our gain.

Unranked and formless, stark they stand, unheeding
The whisper of their brothers, soon to die.
Their hearts are dry from the bright axe's bleeding,
And dead the music of their leaves' long sigh.
page 109 Mute in their misery of devastation,
They hold between us and the living light,
In twisted agony of revelation,
The lifeless litter of the field of fight.

Yet if some ask: "Where is your art, your writing
By which we know that you have aught to say?"
We shall reply: "Yonder, the hillcrest blighting,
There is our architecture's blazoned way.
This monument we fashioned in our winning,
A gibbet for the beauty we have slain;
Behold the flower of our art's beginning,
The jewel in the circlet of her reign!"

Yet so doth patient beauty work, subduing
The very husks of death to gracious ends;
The heavy, plodding days, their task pursuing,
Slowly transmute these victims into friends.
Dwelling with them, we take them to our living;
Looking on them, we wed them to our sight;
Resting with us, they grant us their forgiving,
And creep into the round of our delight.

Less were the dawn in miracle unfolding,
Did these return not to the breathless hill.
Disturbed the heart, known loveliness beholding,
Did these not watch us as the hours fill.
Strange were the hush of eve by mists enchanted,
Did these not stand to catch the floating flowers.
Common the moonlight by the shadows haunted
But for the mystery of these lightless towers.

page 110

Some day our feet may walk where art is golden;
Then round our hearts will lap the tides of time.
We shall be one with dwellings rich and olden,
And fragrant prospects sweet with ancient rhyme.
Yet, though we go where memories come thronging,
And wonder leads us wheresoe'er we roam,
Through our delight will creep the voice of longing—
O dear, dead timber on the hills of home!

Soldier Settlement
In Comfort Street the shop-fronts blaze;
The well-fed people laugh and drift
Along the smooth, enticing ways,
And wear their fortune as a gift.

Here wheels in cushioned service purr,
And buttons pressed command delight;
And soft, obsequious odours stir
The languors of an ordered night.

And in the frippery of talk
You catch: "Here's butter down again—
Poor farmers! "—"Yes, I think The Hawk
Will win … Ten quid on Lover's Lane."

Haggard he looks about his world—
The leaning shack, the broken fence,
The little flag of green unfurled
Before the forest's walled defence;

page 111

The dwindling, unconditioned herd
Nosing about the barren burn;
The mocking of the care-free bird;
The creeping barrage of the fern.

Without, the hidden enemy
That strikes beneath its green deceit;
Within, the long-drawn agony
When love and hope may never meet.

He looks along the bitter years
To when the myriad bugles thrilled;
When duty banked the fount of tears,
And life with high adventure filled.

In that unfathomable pit
Of blasting death or doom long drawn,
Where anguish of a night was lit
By presage of a dreadful dawn,

He saw beyond the murdered earth
And moaning of the tortured skies,
The promise of his place of birth,
A dream-home to his weary eyes.

And over all the undying Cause,
And goodly fellowship of kin.
"If I should die 'twould make no pause
In certainty's long reckoning."

For there death could not conquer hope,
Master of faith was never found,
And on the long, red battle slope
The soldier fell, but won his ground.

page 112

But here, in this remote reward,
No banner flies aloft to cheer;
The arm that, stricken, drops the sword
Sinks in a common black despair.

Resolve with love high-hearted went
To fame this gift of wilderness;
Now high is low and hearts are spent
And lord of all is sharp distress.

All this he sees, and turns again
To face dear eyes that love but dread—
Hunger and want, the deeper pain
That knows at last that hope is dead.

Dully by fire's caprice he reads
In news prepared by comfort's hands,
Of how the city over-breeds—
"The land, young man! Go on the land!"