Christopher Brennan

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    Biographical information

  1. Autumn
  2. Because she Would Ask Me Why I Loved her
  3. Epilogue 1908
  4. Fire in the Heavens
  5. I Am Shut out
  6. Spring Breezes
  7. Sweet Silence after Bells
  8. The Wanderer
  9. The Yellow Gas




    Biographical information

      Name: Christopher Brennan
      Place and date of birth: Sydney (Australia); November 1, 1870
      Place and date of death: Sydney (Australia); October 5, 1932 (aged 61)

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      Because she Would Ask Me Why I Loved her

        If questioning would make us wise
        No eyes would ever gaze in eyes;
        If all our tale were told in speech
        No mouths would wander each to each.

        Were spirits free from mortal mesh
        And love not bound in hearts of flesh
        No aching breasts would yearn to meet
        And find their ecstasy complete.

        For who is there that lives and knows
        The secret powers by which he grows?
        Were knowledge all, what were our need
        To thrill and faint and sweetly bleed?

        Then seek not, sweet, the "If" and "Why"
        I love you now until I die.
        For I must love because I live
        And life in me is what you give.

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      Autumn

        Autumn: the year breathes dully towards its death,
        Beside its dying sacrificial fire;
        The dim world's middle-age of vain desire
        Is strangely troubled, waiting for the breath
        That speaks the winter's welcome malison
        To fix it in the unremembering sleep:
        The silent woods brood o'er an anxious deep,
        And in the faded sorrow of the sun,
        I see my dreams' dead colours, one by one,
        Forth-conjur'd from their smouldering palaces,
        Fade slowly with the sigh of the passing year.
        They wander not nor wring their hands nor weep,
        Discrown'd belated dreams! but in the drear
        And lingering world we sit among the trees
        And bow our heads as they, with frozen mouth,
        Looking, in ashen reverie, towards the clear
        Sad splendour of the winter of the far south.

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      Fire in the Heavens

        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-day's 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.

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      I Am Shut out

        I am shut out of mine own heart
        Because my love is far from me,
        Nor in the wonders have I part
        That fill its hidden empery:

        The wildwood of adventurous thought
        And lands of dawn my dream had won,
        The riches out of Faery brought
        Are buried with our bridal sun.

        And I am in a narrow place,
        And all its little streets are cold,
        Because the absence of her face
        Has robb'd the sullen air of gold.

        My home is in a broader day:
        At times I catch it glistening
        Thro' the dull gate, a flower'd play
        And odour of undying spring:

        The long days that I lived alone,
        Sweet madness of the springs I miss'd,
        Are shed beyond, and thro' them blown
        Clear laughter, and my lips are kiss'd:

        And here, from mine own joy apart,
        I wait the turning of the key: -
        I am shut out of mine own heart
        Because my love is far from me.

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      Sweet Silence after Bells

        Sweet silence after bells!
        Deep in the enamour'd ear
        Soft incantation dwells.

        Filling the rapt still sphere
        A liquid crystal swims,
        Precarious yet clear.

        Those metal quiring hymns
        Shaped ether so succinct:
        A while, or it dislimns,

        The silence, wanly prinkt
        With forms of lingering notes,
        Inhabits, close. distinct;

        And night, the angel, floats
        On wings of blessing spread
        O'er all the gather'd cotes

        Where meditation, wed
        With love, in gold-lit cells,
        Absorbs the heaven that shed

        Sweet silence after bells.

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      The Yellow Gas

        The yellow gas is fired from street to street
        Past rows of heartless homes and hearths unlit,
        Dead churches, and the unending pavement beat
        By crowds - say rather, haggard shades that flit

        Round nightly haunts of their delusive dream,
        Where'er our paradisal instinct starves: -
        Till on the utmost post, its sinuous gleam
        Crawls in the oily water of the wharves;

        Where Homer's sea loses his keen breath, hemm'd
        What place rebellious piles were driven down -
        The priestlike waters to this task condemn'd
        To wash the roots of the inhuman town! -

        Where fat and strange-eyed fish that never saw
        The outer deep, broad halls of sapphire light,
        Glut in the city's draught each nameless maw:
        -And there, wide-eyed unto the soulless night,

        Methinks a drown'd maid's face might fitly show
        What we have slain, a life that had been free,
        Clean, large, nor thus tormented - even so
        As are the skies, the salt winds and the sea.

        Ay, we had saved our days and kept them whole,
        To whom no part in our old joy remains,
        Had felt those bright winds sweeping thro' our soul
        And all the keen sea tumbling in our veins,

        Had thrill'd to harps of sunrise, when the height
        Whitens, and dawn dissolves in virgin tears,
        Or caught, across the hush'd ambrosial night,
        The choral music of the swinging spheres,

        Or drunk the silence if nought else - But no!
        And from each rotting soul distil in dreams
        A poison, o'er the old earth creeping slow,
        That kills the flowers and curdles the live streams,

        That taints the fresh breath of re-risen day
        And reeks across the pale bewildered moon:
        -Shall we be cleans'd and how? I only pray,
        Red flame or deluge, may that end be soon!.

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      Epilogue 1908

        The droning tram swings westward: shrill
        The wire sings overhead, and chill
        Midwinter draughts rattle the glass
        That shows the dusking way I pass
        To yon four turreted square tower
        That still exalts the golden hour
        Where youth, initiate once, endears
        A treasure richer with the years.

        Dim-seen, the upper stories fleet
        Along the twisting shabby street;
        Beneath, the shop-fronts' cover'd ways
        Bask in their lampions' orange blaze,
        Or stare phantasmal, weirdly new,
        In the electrics' ghastly blue:
        And, up and down, I see them go,
        Along the windows pleas'd and slow
        But hurrying where the darkness falls,
        The city's drift of pavement thralls
        Whom the poor pleasures of the street
        Lure from their niggard homes, to meet
        And mix, unknown, and feel the bright
        Banality 'twixt them and night:
        So, in my youth, I saw them flit
        Where their delusive dream was lit;
        So now I see them, and can read
        The urge of their unwitting need
        One with my own, however dark,
        And questing towards one mother-ark.
        But, past the gin-shop's ochrous flare,
        Sudden, a gap of quiet air
        And gather'd dark, where, set a pace
        Beyond the pavement's coiling race
        And mask'd by bulk of sober leaves,
        The plain obtruncate chancel heaves,
        Whose lancet-windows faintly show
        Suffusion of a ruddy glow,
        The lamp of adoration, dim
        And rich with unction kept for Him
        Whom Bethlehem's manger first made warm,
        The sweetest god in human form,
        Love's prisoner in the Eucharist,
        Man's pleading, patient amorist:
        And there the sacring laver stands
        Where I was brought in pious hands,
        A chrisom-child, that I might be
        Accepted of that company
        Who, thro' their journeying, behold
        Beyond the apparent heavens, controu'd
        To likeness of a candid rose,
        Ascending where the gold heart glows,
        Cirque within cirque, the blessed host,
        Their kin, their comfort, and their boast.

        With them I walk'd in love and awe
        Till I was ware of that grim maw
        And lazar-pit that reek'd beneath:
        What outcast howlings these? what teeth
        Gnashing in vain? and was that bliss
        Whose counter-hemisphere was this?
        And could it be, when times fulfill'd
        Had made the tally of either guild,
        That this mid-world, dredgd clean in both,
        Should no more bar their gruesome troth?
        So from beneath that choiring tent
        I stepp'd, and tho' my spirit's bent
        Was dark to me as yet, I sought
        A sphere appeas'd and undistraught;
        And found viaticum and goal
        In that hard atom of the soul,
        That final grain of deathless mind,
        Which Satan's watch-fiends shall not find
        Nor the seven mills of darkness bruise,
        For all permission to abuse;
        Stubborn, yet, if one seek aright,
        Translucent all within and bright
        With sheen that bath no paradigm,
        Not where our proud Golcondas brim,
        Tho' sky and sea and leaf and flower,
        In each rare mood of virtual power,
        Sleep in their gems' excepted day:
        And so, nor long, the guarded ray
        Broke on my eagerness, who brought
        The lucid diamond-probe of thought
        And, driving it behind, the extreme
        Blind vehemence of travailing dream
        Against the inhibitory shell:
        And found, no grim eternal cell
        And presence of the shrouded Norn,
        But Eden, clad in nuptial mom,
        Young, fair, and radiant with delight
        Remorse nor sickness shall requite.

        Yes, Eden was my own, my bride;
        Whatever malices denied,
        Faithful and found again, nor long
        Absent from aura of wooing song:
        But promis'd only, while the sun
        Must travel yet thro' times undone;
        And life must guard the prize of youth,
        And thought must steward into truth
        The mines of magian ore divined
        In rich Cipangos of the mind:
        And I, that made my high attempt
        No bliss whence any were exempt,
        Their fellow-pilgrim, I must greet
        These listless captives of the street,
        These fragments of an orphan'd drift
        Whose dower was our mother's thrift,
        And, tho' they know it not, have care
        Of what would be their loving prayer
        If skill bestow'd might,help them heed
        Their craving for the simple meed
        To be together in the light
        When loneliness and dark incite:
        Long is the way till we are met
        Where Eden pays her hoarded debt
        And we are orb'd in her, and she
        Hath still'd her hungering to be,
        With plentitude beyond impeach,
        Single, distinct, and whole in each:
        And many anevening hour shall bring
        The dark crowd's dreary loitering
        To me who pass and see the tale
        Of all my striving, bliss or bale,
        Dated from either spire that strives
        Clear of the shoal of shiftless lives,
        And promise, in all years' despite,
        Fidelity to old delight.

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      Spring Breezes

        Spring breezes over the blue,
        Now lightly frolicking in some tropic bay,
        Go forth to meet her way,
        For here the spell hath won and dream is true.

        O happy wind, thou that in her warm hair
        Mayst rest and play!
        Could I but breathe all longing into thee,
        So were thy viewless wing
        As flame or thought, hastening her shining way.

        And now I bid thee bring
        Tenderly hither over a subject sea
        That golden one whose grace hath made me king,
        And, soon to glad my gaze at shut of day,
        Loosen'd in happy air
        Her charmed hair.

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      The Wanderer

        When window-lamps had dwindled, then I rose
        And left the town behind me; and on my way
        Passing a certain door I stopt, remembering
        How once I stood on its threshold, and my life
        Was offer'd to me, a road how different
        From that of the years since gone! and I had but
        To rejoin an olden path, once dear, since left.
        All night I have walk'd and my heart was deep awake,
        Remembering ways I dream'd and that I chose,
        Remembering luridly, and was not sad,
        Being brimm'd with all the liquid and clear dark
        Of the night that was not stirr'd with any tide;
        For leaves were silent and the road gleam'd pale,
        Following the ridge, and I was alone with night.
        But now 1 am come among the rougher hills
        And grow aware of the sea that somewhere near
        Is restless; and the flood of night is thinn'd
        And stars are whitening. 0, what horrible dawn
        will bare me the way and crude lumps of the hills
        And the homeless concave of the day, and bare
        The ever-restless, ever-complaining sea?.

        *

        Each day I see the long ships coming into port
        And the people crowding to their rail, glad of the shore:
        Because to have been alone with the sea and not to have known
        Of anything happening in any crowded way,
        And to have heard no other voice than the crooning sea's
        Has charmed away the old rancours, and the great winds
        Have search'd and swept their hearts of the old irksome thoughts:
        So, to their freshen'd gaze, each land smiles a good home.
        Why envy I, seeing them made gay to greet the shore?
        Surely I do not foolishly desire to go
        Hither and thither upon the earth and grow weary
        With seeing many lands and peoples and the sea:
        But if I might, some day, landing I reck not where
        Have heart to find a welcome and perchance a rest,
        I would spread the sail to any wandering wind of the air
        This night, when waves are hard and rain blots out the land.

        *

        I am driven everywhere from a clinging home,
        0 autumn eves! and I ween'd that you would yet
        Have made, when your smouldering dwindled to odorous fume,
        Close room for my heart, where I might crouch and dreamv
        Of days and ways I had trod, and look with regret
        On the darkening homes of men and the window-gleam,
        And forget the morrows that threat and the unknown way.
        But a bitter wind came out of the yellow-pale west
        And my heart is shaken and fill'd with its triumphing cry:
        You shall find neither home nor rest: for ever you roam
        With stars as they drift and wilful fates of the sky!.

        *

        O tame heart, and why are you weary and cannot rest?
        Here is the hearth with its glow and the roof that forbids the rain,
        A swept and a garnish'd quiet, a peace: and were you not fain
        To be gather'd in dusk and comfort and barter away the rest?.

        And is your dream now of riding away from a stricken field
        On a lost and baleful eve, when the world went out in rain,
        One of some few that rode evermore by the bridle-rein
        Of a great beloved chief, with high heart never to yield?.

        Was that you? and you ween you are back in your life of old
        When you dealt as your pride allow'd and reck'd not of other rein?
        Nay, tame heart, be not idle: it is but the ardent rain
        That minds you of manhood foregone and the perilous joy of the bold.

        *

        Once I could sit by the fire hourlong when the dripping caves
        Sang cheer to the shelterd, and listen, and know that the woods drank fig
        And think of the mom that was coming and how the freshen'd leaves
        Would glint in the sun and the dusk beneath would be bright and cool.

        Now, when I hear, I am cold within: for my mind drifts wide
        Where the blessing is shed for naught on the salt waste of the sea,
        On the valleys that hold no rest and the hills that may not abide:
        And the fire loses its warmth and my home is far from me.

        *

        How old is my heart, how old, how old is my heart,
        And did 1 ever go forth with song when the morn was new?
        I seem to have trod on many ways: I seem to have left
        I know not how many homes; and to leave each
        Was still to leave a portion of mine own heart,
        Of my old heart whose life I had spent to make that home
        And all I had was regret, and a memory.
        So I sit and muse in this wayside harbour and wait
        Till I hear the gathering cry of the ancient winds and again
        I must up and out and leave the embers of the hearth
        To crumble silently into white ash and dust,
        And see the road stretch bare and pale before me: again
        My garment and my home shall be the enveloping winds
        And my heart be fill'd wholly with their old pitiless cry.

        *

        I sorrow for youth - ah, not for its wildness (would that were dead!)
        But for those soft nests of time that enticed the maiden bloom
        Of delight and tenderness to break in delicate air
        - 0 her eyes in the rosy face that bent over our first babe!
        But all that was, and is gone, and shall be all forgotten;
        It fades and wanes even now: and who is there cares but I?
        And I grieve for my heart that is old and cannot cease from regret.
        Ay, might our harms be haven'd in some deathless heart:
        But where have I felt its over-brooding luminous tent
        Save in those eyes of delight (and ah! that they must change)
        And of yore in her eyes to whom we ran with our childish joy?
        0 brother! if such there were and each of us might lead each
        To lean above the little pools where all our heart
        Lies spilt and clear and shining along the dusky way,
        And dream of one that could save it all and salve our ache!.

        *

        You, at whose table I have sat, some distant eve
        Beside the road, and eaten and you pitied me
        To be driven an aimless way before the pitiless winds,
        How much ye have given and knew not, pitying foolishly!
        For not alone the bread I broke, but I tasted too
        All your unwitting lives and knew the narrow soul
        That bodies it in the landmarks of your fields,
        And broods dumbly within your little season:? round,
        Where, after sowing, comes the short-lived sunune?s mirth,
        And, after harvesting, the winter's lingering dream,
        Half memory and,regret, half hope, crouching beside
        The hearth that is your only centre of life and dream.
        And knowing the world how limitless and the way how long,
        And, the home of man how feeble and builded on the winds,
        I have lived your life, that eve, as you might never live
        Knowing, and pity you, if you should come to know.

        *

        I cry to you as I pass your windows in the dusk;

        Ye have built you unmysterious homes and ways in the wood
        Where of old ye went with sudden eyes to the right and left;
        And your going was now made safe and your staying comforted,
        For the forest edge itself, holding old savagery
        In unsearch'd glooms, was your houses' friendly barrier.
        And now that the year goes winterward, ye thought to hide
        Behind your gleaming panes, and where the hearth sings merrily
        Make cheer with meat and wine, and sleep in the long night,
        And the uncared wastes might be a crying unhappiness.
        But I, who have come from the outer night, I say to you
        The winds are up and terribly will they shake the dry wood:
        The woods shall awake, hearing them, shall awake to be toss'd and riven,
        And make a cry and a parting in your sleep all night
        As the wither'd leaves go whirling all night along all ways.
        And when ye come forth at dawn, uncomforted by sleep,
        Ye shall stand at amaze, beholding all the ways overhidden
        With worthless drift of the dead and all your broken world:
        And ye shall not know whence the winds have come, nor shall ye know
        Whither the yesterdays have fled, or if they were.

        *

        Come out, come out, ye souls that serve, why will ye die?
        Or will ye sit and stifle in your prison-homes
        Dreaming of some master that holds the winds in leash
        And the waves of darkness yonder in the gaunt hollow of night?
        Nay, there is none that rules: all is a strife of the winds
        And the night shall billow in storm full oft ere all be done.
        For this is the hard doom that is laid on all of you,
        To be that whereof ye dream, dreaming against your will.
        But first ye must travel the many ways, and your close-wrapt souls
        Must be blown thro' with the rain that comes from the homeless dark:
        For until ye have had care of the wastes there shall be no truce
        For them nor you, nor home, but ever the ancient feud;
        And the soul of man must house the cry of the darkling waves
        As he follows the ridge above the waters shuddering towards night,
        And the rains and the winds that roam anhunger'd for some heart's warmth.
        Go: tho' ye find it bitter, yet must ye be bare
        To the wind and the sea and the night and the wail of birds in the sky;
        Go: tho' the going be hard and the goal blinded with rain
        Yet the staying is a death that is never soften'd with sleep.

        *

        Dawns of the world, how I have known you all,
        So many, and so varied, and the same!
        Dawns o'er the timid plains, or in the folds
        Of the arm'd hills, or by the unsleeping shore;
        A chill touch on the chill flesh of the dark
        That, shuddering, shrinks from its couch, and leaves
        A homeless light, staring, disconsolate,
        On the drear world it knows too well, the world
        It fled and finds again, its wistful hope
        Unmet by any miracle of night,
        That mocks it rather, with its shreds that hang
        About the woods and huddled bulks of gloom
        That crouch, malicious, in the broken combes,
        Witness to foulnesses else unreveal'd
        That visit earth and violate her dreams
        In the lone hours when only evil wakes.

        *

        What is there with you and me, that I may not forget
        But your white shapes come crowding noiselessly in my nights,
        Making my sleep a flight from a thousand beckoning hands?
        Was it not enough that your cry dwelt in my waking ears
        That now, seeking oblivion, I must yet be haunted
        By each black maw of hunger that yawns despairingly
        A moment ere its whitening frenzy bury it?
        0 waves of all the seas, would I could give you peace
        And find my peace again: for all my peace is fled
        And broken and blown along your white delirious crests!.

        *

        0 desolate eves along the way, how oft,
        Despite your bitterness, was I warm at heart!
        Not with the glow of rememberd hearths, but warm
        With the solitary unquenchable fire that bums
        A flameless heat deep in his heart who has come
        Where the formless winds plunge and exult for aye
        Among the naked spaces of the world,
        Far past the circle of the ruddy hearths
        And all their memories. Desperate eves,
        When the wind-bitten hills tum'd violet
        Along their rims, and the earth huddled her heat
        Within her niggard bosom, and the dead stones
        Lay battle-strewn before the iron wind
        That, blowing from the chill west, made all its way
        A loneliness to yield its triumph room;
        Yet in that wind a clamour of trumpets rang,
        Old trumpets, resolute, stark, undauntable,
        Singing to battle against the eternal foe,
        The wronger of this world, and all his powers
        In some last fight, foredoom'd disastrous,
        Upon the final ridges of the world:
        A war-wom note, stem fire in the stricken eve,
        And fire thro' all my ancient heart, that sprang
        Towards that last hope of a glory won in defeat,
        Whence, knowing not sure if such high grace befall
        At the end, yet I draw courage to front the way.

        *

        The land I came thro' last was dumb with night,
        A limbo of defeated glory, a ghost:
        For wreck of constellations flickerd perishing
        Scarce sustained in the mortuary air,
        And on the ground and out of livid pools
        Wreck of old swords and crowns glimmer'd at whiles;
        I seem'd at home in some old dream of kingship:
        Now it is clear grey day and the road is plain,
        I am the wanderer of many years
        Who cannot tell if ever he was king
        Or if ever kingdoms were: I know I am
        The wanderer of the ways of all the worlds,
        To whom the sunshine and the rain are one
        And one to stay or hasten, because he knows
        No ending of the way, no home, no goal,
        And phantom night and the grey day alike
        Withhold the heart where all my dreams and days
        Might faint in soft fire and delicious death:
        And saying this to myself as a simple thing
        I feel a peace fall in the heart of the winds
        And a clear dusk settle, somewhere, far in me.

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