Songs from the Southern Seas and Other Poems
SONGS FROM THE SOUTHERN SEAS.
And Other Poems.
Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1873, by
JOHN BOYLE O'REILLY,
In the Office of the Librarian of Congress, at Washington.
PRESS OF JOHN WILSON AND SON.
CAPTAIN DAVID E. GIFFORD,
OF THE WHALING BARQUE "GAZELLE," OF NEW BEDFORD.
I DEDICATE THIS BOOK.
In February, 1869, I left the coast of Western Australia in a small boat without a sail. Peculiar circumstances rendered it impossible that I should return: my only path lay across the Indian Ocean. It pleased God that my boat was seen from the masthead of the "Gazelle," commanded by Captain Gifford, who picked me up and treated me with all kindness during a seven months' whaling cruise. On parting with him at the Cape of Good Hope, he lent me twenty guineas to help me on my way to America. One of the greatest pleasures this little book can ever afford me is the writing of this dedication.
It may be well to say in the opening of this book that many of the scenes therein shown are taken from a land blessed by God and blighted by man,—a Penal Colony. Western Australia, the poorest and the loveliest of all the Australias, has received from the mother country only her shame and her crime.
I cannot write excuses for the many faults and crudities in this first book: if nobody else can prize the volume, I myself can. Not for its literary worth, indeed; but for many hours of pleasure which its composition has given to me. Whatever merit it may be denied, it must certainly possess that, if merit it be, of realism. Many of the scenes shown are memories, not imaginings,—things which clamored for recognition, and I have written them here.
Delightful land, in wildness even benign,
The glorious past is ours, the future thine!
As in a cradled Hercules, we trace
The lines of empire in thine infant face.
What nations in thy wide horizon's span
Shall teem on tracts untrodden yet by man!
What spacious cities with their spires shall gleam
Where now the panther laps a lonely stream,
And all but brute or reptile life is dumb!
Land of the free! thy kingdom is to come.
Nor gold nor silver are the words set here,
Nor rich-wrought chasing on design of art;
But rugged relics of an unknown sphere
"Where fortune chanced I played one time apart.
I say not this to pity move, or praise,—
This little, faulty book is all my own.
In which I've writ of men and things and ways
Uncouth and rough as Austral ironstone.
It may be, I have left the higher gleams
Of shies and flowers unheeded or forgot,
It may be so,—but, looking back, it seems
When I was with them I beheld them not.
I was no rambling poet, but a man
Hard-pressed to dig and delve, with naught of ease
The hot day through, save when the evening's fan
Of sea-winds rustled through the kindly trees.
It may be so; but when I think I smile
At my poor hand and brain to paint the charms
Of God's first-blazoned canvas! here the aisle
Moonlit and deep of reaching gothic arms
From towering gums, mahogany, and palm,
And odorous jam and sandal; there the growth
Of arm-long velvet leaves grown hoar in calm,—
In calm unbroken since their luscious youth.
How can I show you all the silent birds
With strange metallic glintings on the wing?
Or how tell half their sadness in cold words,—
The poor dumb lutes, the birds that never sing?
Of wondrous parrot-greens and iris hue
Of sensuous flower and of gleaming snake,—
Ah! what I see I long that so might you,
But of these things what picture can I make?
Sometime, maybe, a man will wander there,—
A mind God-gifted, and not dull and weak;
And he will come and paint that land so fair.
And show the beauties of which I but speak.
But in the hard, sad days that there I spent.
My mind absorbed rude pictures: these I show
As best I may, and just with this intent,—
To tell some things that all folk may not know.