Kenneth Slessor (27 March 1901 – 30 June 1971 / Orange, New South Wales)
(To the etchings of Norman Lindsay)
Now the statues lean over each to each, and sing,
Gravely in warm plaster turning; the hedges are dark.
The trees come suddenly to flower with moonlight,
The water-gardens to glassy fire, and the night, the night,
Breaks in a rain of stars. O, now the statues wake,
Poise on their leaden stems, and dive into the lake—
And the old Gardener, who has grown old with raking,
Bends by his flickering candle, and hears the noise,
And is nodding his head at a music of copper shaking,
And Mercury whispering to some little graven Boys.
And Venus with Venus is walking in a misty grove,
Their mouths breathless with great lies of Jove,
And the green-silver moon flows quivering down their sides,
Till each is lined in light.
'And this Brass Tower?' she said—
But a stone Faun, clawed to the branches overhead,
Could hold his breath no longer, downward slides,
And crashes in a storm of leaves.—O, look, the lake!
O, the great dolphins from the fountain-rim,
And the rusty Tritons—and O, the branches break—
A flute of ivory shines—it is Apollo come to swim!
Then the skies open with a light from no moon or star,
The dark terraces tremble, melt in a shower of petals;
Flowers turn to faces; faces, like small gold panes,
Are bodied with a mist of limbs—no dark remains,
Nor silence, but there is laughter like bells in air,
A rushing wind of music, torches, dancers everywhere,
And lovers no farther. It is not night nor day,
The world's tissue has utterly crumbled away,
Time is a crusty pond, and that old Mirror, Life,
Has broken, and the ghosts of flesh are stirred
With a new blood, the fluid of eternity,
And mouths that have never spoken, ears that have never heard,
Eyes that have never seen, speak now, and hear, and see.
And I, who have climbed in these unrooted boughs
Behind the world, find substance there and flesh,
Thoughts more infrangible than windy vows,
Love that's more bodily, and kisses longer,
And Cythera lovelier, and the girls of moonlight stronger
Than all earth's ladies, webbed in their bony mesh.
The statues dance, and the old Gardener is asleep,
And golden bodies tread the paths—O, happy shapes,
O, shining ones! Could I for ever keep
Within your radiance, made absolute at last,
No more amongst earth's phantoms to be cast,
No more in the shadowy race of the world exist,
But, born into reality, remember Life
As men see ghosts at midnight—so with me
Might all those aery textures, the world's mist,
Melt into Beauty's actuality!
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