Christopher John Brennan

(1 November 1870 – 5 October 1932 / Sydney / Australia)

Ii. The Quest Of Silence - Poem by Christopher John Brennan

Secreta Silvarum: Prelude

Oh yon, when Holda leaves her hill
of winter, on the quest of June,
black oaks with emerald lamplets thrill
that flicker forth to her magic tune.
At dawn the forest shivers whist
and all the hidden glades awake;
then sunshine gems the milk-white mist
and the soft-swaying branches make
along its edge a woven sound
of legends that allure and flit
and horns wound towards the enchanted ground
where, in the light moon-vapours lit,
all night, while the black woods in mass,
serried, forbid with goblin fear,
fay-revels gleam o'er the pale grass
till shrill-throats ring the matins near.
Oh there, oh there in the sweet o' the year,
adventurous in the witching green,
last feal of the errant spear,
to seek the eyes of lost Undine
clear blue above the blue cold stream
that lingers till her plaint be done,
oh, and perchance from that sad dream
to woo her, laughing, to the sun
and that glad blue that seems to flow
far up, where dipping branches lift
sidelong their soft-throng'd frondage slow
and slow the thin cloud-fleecelets drift.
Oh, there to drowse the summer thro'
deep in some odorous twilit lair,
swoon'd in delight of golden dew
within the sylvan witches hair;
the while on half-veil'd eyes to feel
the yellow sunshafts broken dim,
and seldom waftures moth-like steal
and settle, on the bare-flung limb:
or under royal autumn, pall'd
in smouldering magnificence,
to feel the olden heart enthrall'd
in wisdoms of forgotten sense,
and mad desire and pain that fill'd
red August's heart of throbbing bloom
in one grave hour of knowledge still'd
where glory ponders o'er its doom:
and, when the boughs are sombre lace
and silence chisels silver rime,
o'er some old hearth, with dim-lit face,
to dream the vanish'd forest prime,
the springtime's sweet and June's delight,
more precious now that hard winds chill
the dews that made their mornings bright,
and Holda sleeps beneath her hill.

I
What tho' the outer day be brazen rude
not here the innocence of morn is fled:
this green unbroken dusk attests it wed
with freshness, where the shadowy breasts are nude,
hers guess'd, whose looks, felt dewy-cool, elude —
save this reproach that smiles on foolish dread:
wood-word, grave gladness in its heart, unsaid,
knoweth the guarded name of Quietude.
Nor start, if satyr-shapes across the path
tumble; it is but children: lo, the wrath
couchant, heraldic, of her beasts that pierce
with ivory single horn whate'er misplaced
outrageous nears, or whinny of the fierce
Centaur, or mailed miscreant unchaste.

II
O friendly shades, where anciently I grew!
me entering at dawn a child ye knew,
all little welcoming leaves, and jealous wove
your roof of lucid emerald above,
that scarce therethro' the envious sun might stray,
save smiling dusk or, lure for idle play,
such glancing finger your chance whim allows,
all that long forenoon of the tuneful boughs;
which growing on, the myriad small noise
and flitting of the wood-life's busy joys,
thro' tenuous weft of sound, had left, divined,
the impending threat of silence, clear, behind:
and, noon now past, that hush descended large
in the wood's heart, and caught me in its marge
of luminous foreboding widely flung;
so hourlong I have stray'd, and tho' among
the glimpsing lures of all green aisles delays
that revelation of its wondrous gaze,
yet am I glad to wander, glad to seek
and find not, so the gather'd tufts bespeak,
naked, reclined, its friendly neighbourhood —
as in this hollow of the rarer wood
where, listening, in the cool glen-shade, with me,
white-bloom'd and quiet, stands a single tree;
rich spilth of gold is on the eastward rise;
westward the violet gloom eludes mine eyes.
This is the house of Pan, not whom blind craze
and babbling wood-wits tell, where bare flints blaze,
noon-tide terrific with the single shout,
but whom behind each bole sly-peering out
the traveller knows, but turning, disappear'd
with chuckle of laughter in his thicket-beard,
and rustle of scurrying faun-feet where the ground
each autumn deeper feels its yellow mound.
Onward: and lo, at length, the secret glade,
soft-gleaming grey, what time the grey trunks fade
in the white vapours o'er its further rim.
'Tis no more time to linger: now more dim
the woods are throng'd to ward the haunted spot
where, as I turn my homeward face, I wot
the nymphs of twilight have resumed, unheard,
their glimmering dance upon the glimmering sward.

III
The point of noon is past, outside: light is asleep;
brooding upon its perfect hour: the woods are deep
and solemn, fill'd with unseen presences of light
that glint, allure, and hide them; ever yet more bright
(it seems) the turn of a path will show them: nay, but rest;
seek not, and think not; dream, and know not; this is best:
the hour is full; be lost: whispering, the woods are bent,
This is the only revelation; be content.

IIII
The forest has its horrors, as the sea:
and ye that enter from the staling lea
into the early freshness kept around
the waiting trunks that watch its rarer bound,
after the glistening song that, sprinkled, leaves
an innocence upon the glancing leaves;
O ye that dream to find the morning yet
secret and chaste, beside her mirror set,
some glimmering source o'ershadow'd, where the light
is coolness felt, whom filter'd glints invite
thro' the slow-shifting green transparency;
O ye that hearken towards pale mystery
a rustle of hidden pinions, and obey
the beckoning of each little leaf asway:
return, return, or e'er to warn you back
the shadow bend along your rearward track
longer and longer from the brooding west;
return, and evening shall bosom your rest
in the warm gloom that wraps the blazing hearth:
there hear from wither'd lips long wean'd of mirth
the tale that lulls old watches; — How they rode,
brave-glittering once, where the brave morning glow'd
along the forest-edges, and were lost
for ever, where the crossing trunks are most;
and, far beyond the dim arcades of song,
where moon-mist weaves a dancing elfin throng,
and far beyond the luring glades that brood
around a maiden thought of Quietude,
the savage realm begins, of lonely dread,
black branches from the fetid marish bred
that lurks to trap the loyal careless foot,
and gaping trunks protrude a snaky root
o'er slinking paths that centre, where beneath
a sudden rock on the short blasted heath,
bare-set, a cavern lurks and holds within
its womb, obscene with some corroding sin,
coil'd on itself and stirring, a squat shade
before the entrance rusts a broken blade.
The forest hides its horrors, as the sea.

V
No emerald spring, no royal autumn-red,
no glint of morn or sullen vanquish'd day
might venture against this obscene horror's sway
blackly from the witch-blasted branches shed.
No silver bells around the bridle-head
ripple, and on no quest the pennons play:
the path's romance is shuddering disarray,
or eaten by the marsh: the knights are dead.
The Lady of the Forest was a tale:
of the white unicorns that round her sleep
gamboll'd, no turf retains a print; and man,
rare traveller, feels, athwart the knitted bale
watching, now lord of loathly deaths that creep,
maliciously the senile leer of Pan.
Fire in the heavens, and fire along the hills,
and fire made solid in the flinty stone,
thick-mass'd or scatter'd pebble, fire that fills
the breathless hour that lives in fire alone.
This valley, long ago the patient bed
of floods that carv'd its antient amplitude,
in stillness of the Egyptian crypt outspread,
endures to drown in noon-days tyrant mood.
Behind the veil of burning silence bound,
vast life's innumerous busy littleness
is hush'd in vague-conjectured blur of sound
that dulls the brain with slumbrous weight, unless
some dazzling puncture let the stridence throng
in the cicada's torture-point of song.

Peace dwells in blessing o'er a place
folded within the hills to keep
and under dark boughs seawind-frayd:
and the kind slopes where soothings creep,
in the gold light or the green shade,
wear evermore the ancient face
of silence, and the eyes of sleep;
because they are listening evermore
unto the seawinds what they tell
to the wise, nodding, indifferent trees
high on the ridge that guard the dell,
of wars on many a far grey shore
and how the shores decay and fade
before the obstinate old seas:
and all their triumphing is made
a tale that dwindles with the eves,
while the soft dusk lingers, delay'd,
and drifts between the indolent leaves.

A gray and dusty daylight flows
athwart the shatter'd traceries,
pale absence of the ruin'd rose.
Here once, on labour-harden'd knees,
beneath the kindly vaulted gloom
that gather'd them in quickening ease,
they saw the rose of heaven bloom,
alone, in heights of musky air,
with many an angel's painted plume.
So, shadowing forth their dim-felt prayer,
the daedal glass compell'd to grace
the outer days indifferent stare,
where now its disenhallow'd face
beholds the petal-ribs enclose
nought, in their web of shatter'd lace,
save this pale absence of the rose.

Breaking the desert's tawny level ring
three columns, an oasis; but no shade
falls from the curl'd acanthus-leaves; no spring
bubbles soft laughter for its leaning maid.
The cell is waste: where once the god abode
a burning desolation furls its wing:
enter, and lo! once more, the hopeless road
world-wide, the tawny desert's level ring.

Before she pass'd behind the glacier wall
that hides her white eternal sorceries
the northern witch, in clinging ermine pall,
cast one last look along the shallow seas,
a look that held them in its numbing thrall
and melted onward to the sandy leas
where our lorn city lives its lingering fall
and wistful summer shrinks in scant-clad trees.
Hence came one greyness over grass and stone:
the silent-lapping waters fade and tone
into the air and into them the land;
and all along our stagnant waterways
a drown'd and dusky gleaming sleeps, unbann'd,
the lurking twilight of her vanish'd gaze.

Out of no quarter of the charted sky
flung in the bitter wind intolerably,
abrupt, the trump that sings behind the end
exults alone. Here grass is none to bend:
the stony plain blackens with rapid night
that best reveals the land's inflicted blight
since in the smitten hero-hand the sword
broke, and the hope the long-dumb folk adored,
and over all the north a tragic flare
told Valhall perish'd and the void's despair
to dwell as erst, all disinhabited,
a vault above the heart its hungering led.
The strident clangour cuts; but space is whole,
inert, absorb'd in dead regret. Here, sole,
on the bare uplands, stands, vast thro' the gloom
staring, to mark an irretrievable doom,
the stranger stone, sphinx-couchant, thunder-hurl'd
from red star-ruin o'er the elder world.

This night is not of gentle draperies
or cluster'd banners where the star-breaths roam,
nor hangs above the torch a lurching dome
of purple shade that slips with phantom ease;
but, on our apathy encroaching, these,
stable, whose smooth defiance none hath clomb,
basalt and jade, a patience of the gnome,
polish'd and shadow-brimm'd transparencies.
Far, where our oubliette is shut, above,
we guess the ample lids that never move
beneath her brows, each massive arch inert
hung high-contemptuous o'er the blatant wars
we deem'd well waged for her, who may avert
some Janus-face that smiles on hidden stars.

Lightning: and, momently, the silhouette,
flat on the far horizon, comes and goes
of that night-haunting city; minaret,
dome, spire, all sharp while yet the levin glows.
Day knows it not; whether fierce noon-tide fuse
earth's rim with sky in throbbing haze, or clear
gray softness tinge afresh the enamell'd hues
of mead and stream, it shows no tipping spear.
Night builds it: now upon the marbled plain
a blur, discern'd lurking, ever more nigh;
now close against the walls that hem my reign
a leaguer-town, threatening my scope of sky.
So late I saw it; in a misty moon
it bulk'd, all dusky and transparent, dumb
as ever, fast in some prodigious swoon:
its battlements deserted — who might come?
— ay, one! his eyes, 'neath the high turban's plume,
watch'd mine, intent, behind the breast-high stone:
his face drew mine across the milky gloom:
a sudden moonbeam show'd it me, my own!

ONE! an iron core, shock'd and dispers'd
in throbs of sound that ebb across the bay:
I shudder: the one clang smites disarray
thro' all my sense, that starts awake, inhears'd
in the whole lifeless world: and some accurs'd
miasma steals, resumed from all decay,
where the dead tide lies flat round the green quay,
hinting what self-fordone despairs it nurs'd.
The corpse of time is stark upon the night:
my soul is coffin'd, staring, grave-bedight,
upon some dance of death that reels and feasts
around its living tomb, with vampire grin,
inverted sacraments of Satan's priests —
and, mask'd no more, the maniac face of sin.

There is a far-off thrill that troubles me:
a faint thin ripple of shadow, momently,
dies out across my lucid icy cell.
I am betrayed by winter to the spell
of morbid sleep, that somewhere rolls its waves
insidiously, gather'd from unblest graves,
to creep above each distant crumbled mole.
When that assault is full against my soul,
I must go down, thro' chapels black with mould,
past ruin'd doors, whose arches, ridged with gold,
catch, in their grooves, a gloom more blackly dript,
some stairway winding hours-long towards the crypt
where panic night lies stricken 'neath the curse
exuding from the dense enormous hearse
of some old vampire-god, whose bulk, within,
lies gross and festering in his shroud of sin.


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Poem Submitted: Monday, March 1, 2010



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