A Treasury of South African Poetry and Verse/W. E. Hunter


Hearken! 'tis the Nightingale
O'er the silence doth prevail,
Ravishing the listening air
With his solo rich and clear,
With his exquisite delight
Thrilling all the heart of night.
Surely naught akin to pain
Is the theme of such a strain:
Only love's divinest treasure,
Only love's unshadowed pleasure
Can give birth to such a measure;
Love, without its care and pain,
Such as others seek in vain,
Surely is this creature's gain!
Love we dream of, pining, yearning,
To be lost within its burning!

The mysterious music falls
Now at wayward intervals:
Now a rivulet of song,
As from springs of Helicon,
Through the darkness bubbles on—
Bubbles through the breathless air
In notes so full, so rich, so clear,
Angels lean from heaven to hear,
Lean until their listening faces
Light the interstellar spaces,
As they whisper their surmise:
"'Tis a sister in disguise,
Singing for the world's delight,
The cantata she, by right,
Should have sung in Heaven to-night."

Now the witching rhythm flows
Softly to a perfect close,
In severed notes that drowse and swoon,
If for ever, ah, too soon!
And we sigh the song should be
So fugitive, when suddenly
A swift, aerial round
Of voluptuous, throbbing sound
Flows again in wild delight
Through the enamoured hush of night,
On and on, as if to drain
His heart of music in one strain
The bird, if bird it be, were fain.
'Tis a bird, and nothing more,
With one song, his only store,
And he repeats it o'er and o'er
To be more perfect than before.
But that bird in heavenly spheres,
Singing to angelic cars,
That did never suffer wound
From a false discordant sound,
For his singing would be crowned.

A pause—and now the vale is full
Of intermittent, musical
Trills of rapture, beautiful!
Rippling in the dreamy sky,
How they flow, and ebb, and die!
How they revel, toy and tarry,
Falter with the bliss they carry!
Tremble, with excess of gladness,
On the narrow brink of sadness!
Till the serenade appears
But to bubble up through tears;
And the music's tender stress
Yields again to silentness:
And the artful bird capricious,
In a reverie delicious,
Mute upon the star-lit spray,
Meditates his winsome lay:
Or, perchance, 'twere sooth to say,
He pauses to rejoice,
And marvel at his matchless voice,
And so awhile forgets to sing
For his own music listening:
And hence the hush, while leaf and wing,
Shadow, starlight, everything,
In this mystical recess
Amid the hills is motionless,
Lest the timid creature hear,
Rise and vanish into air;
Nor thereafter dare nor deign,
Here to fold his wings again.

Ah, their vigil is not vain!
Hark ! the music falls like rain,
When in heaven's bright abyss,
One lone cloud and no wind is.
So waywardly, so tenderly,
Note by note the melody
On th' absorbing silence falls
At divinest intervals,
Wherein bird and music seem
The creation of some dream.
Oh, but hearken! clear and strong
Again the swift notes throb and throng,
Rejoicing in a rush of song,
Sweet and passionate above
All that words can tell of love,
Flowing on and on, as tho'
It would never cease to flow,
For the singer, in his gladness,
Sings himself to very madness,
And, to share his heart's delight
With all around, would flood the night
With music, as the perfect moon
Floods it with her stintless boon
Of splendour, when she hovers bright,
Pure and naked in the height
Of heaven's dome of crystallite.
But not the minstrel's utmost art
Can fully to the world impart
The song he sings within his heart;
And here, here too, the real
Reaches not its dream-ideal;
And the birth so long o'erwrought
By incommunicable thought,
Yearns, until his voice is fraught
With sobs and tears and notes that wane,
And the wild impassioned strain
Dies away, nor wakes again.

W. E. Hunter.


How dreamlike, strange, is this
Reprieve to happiness
And life! to sit at ease
In comfort of green trees!
And marvelling hear
Thrush and blackbird piping near;
Whilst, thro' every passive sense,
Creeps a healing influence,
That, baptizing heart and brain,
Renews and makes me whole again!

No more, like one for whom
There is nor light nor gloom,
Silence nor sound,
His sleep is so profound,
I lie, in seeming rest,
With hands prayer-folded on my breast,
Silent, as slow nights and days
Pass on undistinguished ways,
Silent, tho' my heart made moan,
Sadly to herself alone,
Saying, "Now, dissolves the snow;"
Saying, "Now, the violets blow;—
Ah, when I am laid more low,
They will blow more close to me,
Closer still and I not see,

Not know."—
But lo!
I wile away
Once again a summer's day,
In this pleasant sylvan place,
Where the alders interlace
Their boughs above me, and the blue
Bells and flowers of purple hue
Make beautiful the lone recess
With glamour of their loveliness.

—Nature for herself against
All the world this valley fenced.
For her own delight she wrought
In sculpture her poetic thought:
Then she breathed upon it, till
It breathed to her again, and rill
And herb and flower returned the smile
Of love, that lit her face the while.
How beautiful it is! How meet,
For the solace of retreat!
Guardian hills have charge to keep
Watch around it, steep on steep,
Save, to westward, where a space
Opens in their green embrace,
And, behind, the ocean paves
The chasm with protecting waves.

Thro' the tranquil, sylvan valley
Toys a streamlet musically;
All too happy to haste on,
Such sweet themes it dwells upon,

With a low and inward voice
To itself it doth rejoice;
And the little sedge-birds sit
In the reeds and hark to it;
And from banks of mossy green,
Flowers that love it droop and lean,
As it lingers, winds, and wanders
Under willow trees and alders—
As it lingers, winds and flows
'Neath the lilies' driven snows,
And a yellow dragon-fly
Crosses it incessantly.
—Ever may the streamlet be
Clear as snow, untainted, free!
And the vale,—may no men win it
From the blackbird and the linnet,
And the thrush that harbour in it!

Now the song-birds throng the bushes,
And the water-birds the rushes;
And thro' golden haze, the bee
Darting, seeks her treasury
With what nectar she could win
From the tired flowers folding in;
And the landscape all alight
With rose and amber, depth and height,
Burns beneath the fiery sky;
And the radiant waters vie
With heaven's splendour, where the sun,
Now his western goal is won,
Stands upon the molten wave,
Magician-like, as if he gave

A farewell blessing to the earth,
And foretold to-morrow's birth,
Ere lowlier, on the ocean's breast,
He bows in worship, and to rest
Sinks beyond our vision's quest.
—How calm it is! Earth, sea and air,
Hush with, him in silent prayer!
So awhile,—then clear and strong
A sweet gush of vesper song!
All the heart of music throbbing
In a bird's ecstatic sobbing,
As the purple shadows close
Over amber, over rose,
And a chime from far away
Rings the passing of the day.

—As a lover, tired of roaming,
Who returneth in the gloaming;
Who returneth home at last,
After months and perils past,
As with gentle hand he presses
Back the loved one's silken tresses,
Gazes earnestly a space,
On her dear familiar face,
Reads it fondly o'er and o'er,
And finds it fairer than before.
Nature, thus I gaze on thee,
Gaze on earth and sky and sea,
Gaze and gaze, until my sight
Is tear-clouded by delight,
To pain united, in the stress
Of mystery and loveliness.

W. E. Hunter.


Maidens, on this narrow bed,
Drop the flowers, but do not tread;
All that earth knew how to keep
Of Margaret is fast asleep.
Underneath the sod it lies,
With death's darkness in those eyes
That were wont to show at dawn,
Blue depths where our light was born;
For the radiant spirit flown,
Still our hearts unceasing moan—
For the radiant inmate dear,
That for one elysian year
Tarried on the earth, to see
If it might fit dwelling be
For a guest as pure as she,—
Then affrighted (woe the day!)
On swift wings, she fled away
To that country lying far,
Where the other angels are—
Fled! and left us nothing, save
To protect this little grave,
Which we keep, for love of her,
Ever unprofaned and fair.
Softly on her sacred bed
Scatter flowers, but do not tread.

W. E. Hunter.