Charles Harpur

(23 January 1813 – 10 June 1868 / Windsor, New South Wales)

Description of a Tropical Island


Behold an Indian isle, reposed
Upon the deep’s enamoured breast,
Even like a royal bride, be-rosed
With passion in her happy rest.
Or, when the morn is there disclosed,
Or eve is robing in the west,
The deep, as by that isle embossed
With central gauds of sumless cost,
And else outspread in circuit—wide
And round as heaven from side to side—
Might figure to a fancy bold
A wide vast shield of fretted gold,
Dropped by some conquer’d elder god,
When on his track, where’er he trod,
Jove’s chasing thunders rolled.
Or in the broad noon domed with heaven,
A world-wide temple’s marble floor
It seemeth, with one alter graven
From the rude mass of things terrene,
By Time inspired with Eden lore;—
An isle-like alter, sculptured o’er
With craggy hills and valleys green,
And heaping forests hung between:
By Time, with an old love enthralled,
Wrought thus in living emerald;—
And after nature’s earliest style
Is shaped that wondrous Indian isle.
Or circling out beneath the moon,
Or sowed with all the stars of night,
And by the lamp-like planets strewn
With long and flame-like tracks of light,
Might seem it to a watcher fond,
Grey Time’s broad seal of diamond,
Enchased by nature, memory-taught,
With one most rich and rare device,
A haunting isolated thought
Of her sin-ruined Paradise.

A summer island! There the trees,
Of glorious forms, unseen elsewhere,
Hang forth in golden congeries
Their fruit through all the purple year;
And flowers of every sunset hue,
And peerless plants of stateliest stem,
Fresh-showered each morn with honey-dew,
Voluptuously impave and gem
The pillary aisles of primal groves
That skirt the sunny sea-board coves,
Or hang in their umbrageous crowds
From coasting slopes like verdant clouds:
While from the craggy midland hills,
Out of their gelid springs, the rills
Leap, as exulting to be free,
And thence in their bright liberty
Through glades and cultured valleys vast,
And many a wide pasture lea,
Come murmurously winding, fast
And flashing to the sea.

There, too, what birds on plain and mountain,
The fairest creatures of the earth,
The deepest dipt in beauty’s fountain,
(The summer’s loveliest birth),
Flock round, and vividly unfold
Their fulgent wings of feathery gold;
Bedropt with gem-like lustres, which
All interbeaming in their flight
Break, as they pass, into a rich
Flame-vision on the sight.
Thus fly they, and with splendours rare
Emblaze the warm and genial air.

Such is the summer wealth and worth
Of that bright isle I’d picture forth:
Nor wants it fields that well afford
The yellow grain and mellow gourd;
With many a cultivated plain
Prolific of the luscious cane
And mealy root: for all things there
Are bounteous in their kind, and fair
And genial; all but the bad mind
Of recreant man! And this hath made
Its very beauty seem designed
To deepen Evil’s deadly shade,
And given its repute to be
Borne far abroad by every wind
That wafts a white sail o’er the sea,
Even like the savour, damp with doom,
Of some o’ergorged though costly tomb.
O learn how, like a Upas-tree,
(Not fabled) his dread cruelty
Can make a scene that else might tell
Of Paradise, a type of hell!



Submitted: Thursday, January 01, 2004

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