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Kowhai Gold

[Ishbel Veitch]

page 83

When the vision is upon me
I, that have known only these green hills,
And the wet bush tracks, and the lonely country roads
…See, in the spare grey light of another day,
Waves of a sea that is only a name to me,
Fretting against a cliff where it never stills,
Brittle, and green, and cold.
A stony way
I see, and a woman there with a red mouth fair
And a chain of gold about her slender neck
(I have only known gold on a kowhai flower).
Quiet she is and still by the clashing sea,
Her red-gold hair is heavy about her there
(My hair is black and close-cropped short and high),
And in some strange way, she that is there is I!
When the vision is upon me,
Shaking, I see the splendour in the eyes
Of the woman that is I, and cry aloud,
"Cha till!" 1 I cry, "Cha till!" in unknown tongue,
I, who have known only red day's rise
Upon this fresh young land, seen sun and cloud
Within one little sky, cry out, "Cha till!"
When the vision is upon me.

You have lost the dear delight of little things
—Sweet sounds that do not reach to your dimmed ears,
A red leaf on the concrete path that sings
A little rustle as the winter nears.

page 84

You still delight in watching from the room,
Lamp-lit, the slender spears of summer rain,
But your fine face holds just a little gloom
To think you'll never hear their sound again.

And if Love walks beside you silently,
And murmurs through your hair that you are dear
(Sweet words that must be spoken quietly),
You do not heed him, for you cannot hear!

The oil-lamp on the table by my bed,
In this my quiet room,
Makes a small circle, warm and softly red,
Within the pressing gloom
That floods this lonely house, waits in the night,
Outside the glowing circle of my light.

And when I must put out this flame at last
(This steadfast flame), I lie
On pillows where the shaded light is cast,
And watch it slowly die,
Fading and sinking to a tiny spark,
One leaping gleam—and then the engulfing dark.

"So!" says a thought, "And that is how you'll die!
And you'll be lonely, too,
When in the dark, the folding dark, you lie."
Ah, that isn't true!
Now that this little lamp is out, I see
The radiance of the skies spilt in on me.

page 85

O, Earth beloved, the laughing waters lean,
Russet and burnished gold, to kiss your lips,
While from the hedge, where scarlet berries glow,
A dragon-fly, on golden meshed wings, slips,
O, Earth, the autumn dreams in robes of fire,
And shining splendour of a frosted morn,
Red berries flaunt where once the rose was gay—
O, Earth beloved, the year has passed so soon.

O, Earth beloved, the years are placid grey,
But Memory, with silvered fingers, swings
Back her dark curtain, and the thoughts of youth
Speed, like the dragon-fly,… on golden wings.
O, Earth, and I have loved, have loved you so—
Red berries, birds, the bronze and blue lagoon—
And I must leave you when the winter comes—
O, Earth beloved, the years have gone too soon!

There was a hidden bird
Before the dawn
Crying his pain towards the waking sky
(Why should a bird know pain?) in tumbling notes,
Crying … and singing … and a clean wind high
Swept all the clouds afar, and left the day,
And the bird flew up a shining, spearlike way,

page 86

There was a hidden song
Ere I was born,
Woven of pain against a waiting heart
(Why should a girl bear pain?), a leaping song,
Pulsing … and singing … till the notes grew strong,
And swept, triumphant, all the pain away…
And now I lift my hands towards the day, Singing.

Man that is born of Woman lifts his eyes
To the unmeasured skies,
And seeks for Beauty in a strange place;
Not the remembered line of limb or face,
That swiftly dies;
But Beauty, yet ungrasped, beyond the sun,
In which to merge his soul, when life is done.

Man that is born of Woman lifts his hands
From the unnumbered sands
Which are his world, and asks for something more
Than shining streams and slim trees at his door,
Than pastured lands…
Searching for Beauty where it never dies,
Lonely and still, beyond the endless skies.

Man that is born of Woman lifts his face
From the remembered place
Where the unknown calls with mystic lure
page 87 To leave behind the things grown old and sure
For the strange grace
Of Beauty that is out beyond the ken
And the small, dark thinking of a world of men.

Man that is born of Woman bows his head
With the uncounted dead,
And if he finds his vision, no one knows,
Or if the dream ends with the daylight's close,
The yearning fled.…
Man, seeking Beauty, asks for more than bread—
How shall we know if this strange need is fed?

1 "Cha till": gaelic, "I return."