Poems from Hell and After

The following poems are taken from Hell and After: Four early English-language poets of Australia, selected, edited and introduced by Les Murray.

The book is a sort of prequel to Fivefathers, published a decade ago, which presents work by Australian poets active from the 1930s to the 1960s (see Biobliography). Les Murray describes Hell and After as a "volume of epitomes" featuring work by "four early English-language poets of Australia", reaching as far back as the convict poetry of McNamara, which dates from the middle of the nineteenth century.

In his introductions Les Murray celebrates the unelitist character of the verse. Many of the poems first appeared in an Australia where poetry was dominated by a sort of snobbery which "taught disdain for all 'colonial' art as against imported and Classical works. Then, as now," he says, "poetry depended on a self-selected small public of those who loved it, plus those they could recruit to their ranks."

Introduction to Hell and After



For the Company Underground
Francis McNamara of Newcastle to J. Crosdale Esq. greeting

When Christ from Heaven comes down straightway,
All His Father's laws to expound,
McNamara shall work that day
For the Company underground.

When the man in the moon to Moreton Bay
Is sent in shackles bound,
McNamara shall work that day
For the Company underground.

When the Cape of Good Hope to Twofold Bay
Comes for the change of a pound,
McNamara shall work that day
For the Company underground.

When cows in lieu of milk yield tea,
And all lost treasures are found,
McNamara shall work that day
For the Company underground.

When the Australian Co.'s heaviest dray
Is drawn eighty miles by a hound,
McNamara shall work that day
For the Company underground.

When a frog, a caterpillar and a flea
Shall travel the globe all round,
McNamara shall work that day
For the Company underground.

When turkey cocks on Jew's harps play
And mountains dance at the Sound,
McNamara shall work that day
For the Company underground.

When milestones go to church to pray
And whales are put in the Pound,
McNamara shall work that day
For the Company underground.

When Christmas falls on the lst of May
And O'Connell's King of England crown'd.
McNamara shall work that day
For the Company underground.

When thieves ever robbing on the highway
For their sanctity are renowned,
McNamara shall work that day
For the Company underground.

When the quick and the dead shall stand in array
Cited at the trumpet's sound,
Even then, damn me if I'd work a day
For the Company underground.

                       Nor over ground.

– Francis McNamara (1811-c.1880)

 

The Little Shoes that Died

These are the little shoes that died.
    We could not keep her still,
But all day long her busy feet
    Danced to her eager will.

Leaving the body's loving warmth,
    The spirit ran outside;
Then from the shoes they slipped her feet,
    And the little shoes died.

– Mary Gilmore (1865-1962)

 

You, and Yellow Air

I dream of an old kissing-time
    And the flowered follies there;
In the dim place of cherry-trees,
    Of you, and yellow air.

It was an age of babbling,
    When the players would play
Mad with the wine and miracles
    Of a charmed holiday.

Bewildered was the warm earth
    With whistling and sighs,
And a young foal spoke all his heart
    With diamonds for eyes.

You were of Love's own colour
    In eyes and heart and hair;
In the dim place of cherry-trees
    Ridden by yellow air.

It was the time when red lovers
    With the red fevers burn;
A time of bells and silver seeds
    And cherries on the turn.

Children looked into tall trees
    And old eyes looked behind;
God in His glad October
    No sullen man could find.

Out of your eyes a magic
    Fell lazily as dew,
And every lad with lad's eyes
    Made summer love to you.

It was a reign of roses,
    Of blue flowers for the eye,
And the rustling of green girls
    Under a white sky.

I dream of an old kissing-time
    And the flowered follies there,
In the dim place of cherry-trees,
    Of you, and yellow air.

– John Shaw Neilson (1872-1942)

 

The Invisible People

When I go into town at half past seven
Great crowds of people stream across the ways,
Hurrying, although it's only half past seven.
They are the invisible people of the days.

When you go in to town about eleven
The hurrying, morning crowds are hid from view.
Shut in the silent buildings at eleven
They toil to make life meaningless for you.

– Lesbia Harford (1891-1927)

 




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