Adam Lindsay Gordon

(19 October 1833 – 24 June 1870 / Azores)

De Te Poem by Adam Lindsay Gordon


A burning glass of burnish'd brass,
The calm sea caught the noontide rays,
And sunny slopes of golden grass
And wastes of weed-flower seem to blaze.
Beyond the shining silver-greys,
Beyond the shades of denser bloom,
The sky-line girt with glowing haze,
The farthest faintest forest gloom,
And the everlasting hills that loom.

We heard the sound beneath the mound,
We scared the swamp hawk hovering nigh—
We had not sought for what we found—
He lay as dead men only lie,
With wan cheek whitening in the sky,
Through the wild heath flowers, white and red.
The dumb brute that had seen him die,
Close crouching, howl'd beside the head,
Brute burial service o'er the dead.

The brow was rife with seams of strife—
A lawless death made doubly plain
The ravage of a reckless life ;
The havoc of a hurricane
Of passions through that breadth of brain,
Like headlong horses that had run
Riot, regardless of the rein—
'Madman, he might have lived and done
Better than most men,' whisper'd one.

The beams and blots that Heaven allots
To every life with life begin.
Fool! would you change the leopard's spots.
Or blanch the Etheopian's skin ?
What more could he have hoped to win,
What better things have thought to gain,
So shapen—so conceived in sin ?
No life is wholly void and vain,
Just and unjust share sun and rain.

Were new life sent, and life misspent,
Wiped out (if such to God seemed good),
Would he (being as he was) repent,
Or could he, even if he would,
Who heeded not things understood
(Though dimly) even in savage lands
By some who worship stone or wood,
Or bird or beast, or who stretch hands
Sunward on shining Eastern sands ?

And crime has cause. Nay, never pause
Idly to feel a pulseless wrist ;
Brace up the massive, square-shaped jaws,
Unclench the stubborn, stiff'ning fist,
And close those eyes through film and mist
That kept the old defiant glare ;
And answer, wise Psychologist,
Whose science claims some little share
Of truth, what better things lay there ?

Aye ! thought and mind were there,—some kind
Of faculty that men mistake
For talent when their wits are blind,—
An aptitude to mar and break
What others diligently make.
This was the worst and best of hi—
Wise with the cunning of the snake,
Brave with the she wolf's courage grim,
Dying hard and dumb, torn limb from limb.

And you, Brown, you're a doctor ; cure
You can't, but you can kill, and he—
'Witness his mark'—he signed last year,
And now he signs John Smith, J.P.
We'll hold our inquest now, we three ;
I'll be your coroner for once ;
I think old Oswald ought to be
Our foreman—Jones is such a dunce,—
There's more brain in the bloodhound's sconce.

No man may shirk the allotted work,
The deed to do, the death to die ;
At least I think so,—neither Turk,
Nor Jew, nor infidel am I,—
And yet I wonder when I try
To solve one question, may or must,
And shall I solve it by and by,
Beyond the dark, beneath the dust ?
I trust so, and I only trust.

Aye, what they will, such trifles kill,
Comrade, for one good deed of yours,
Your history shall not help to fill
The mouths of many brainless boors.
It may be death absolves or cures
The sin of life. 'Twere hazardous
To assert so. If the sin endures,
Say only, 'God, who has judged him thus,
Be merciful to him and us.'

Submitted: Friday, February 26, 2010

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