The Old Man of South Head accosteth Ernest Ivors.
SIT thee by me, ERNEST IVORS,
Sit thee on this crag of sandstone,
On this smooth and speckled sandstone,
With the flame-marks red upon it,
While the wanton winds of evening
Wander o’er the water’s surface,
O’er the sooming sea’s broad bosom,
Dance and sing on ocean’s bosom,
As it blusheth in the sunset:
Sit thee here and listen to me,
Heedless of the day’s departure,
Of the fire-eyed day’s red exit,
As he rolleth, drunk with odours,
From the golden Bush inspired
To the mystical embraces,
To the cryptic deep embraces
Of the Night, his queenly mistress:
Sit thee still and sagely listen,
Conning well the weird narration;
And be sure you interrupt not
While I tell the strange revealment,
Which, while dreaming, was vouchsafed me—
Nay, I am not dazed, nor brain-mad
With the spirit of the fire-cup.
Ivors sitteth and hearkeneth.
‘Twas, in very truth, revealed me
In yon nook, agone ten summers,
While among the ferns I slumbered
On a bed of fragrant grasses,
Mixed with golden moss and lichen—
Pensile parasites, in flower,
From the summer-flame my covert.
The Old Man describeth the advent of a Spirit.
From yon line of hills cerulean,
Through the valleys’ purple shadows
And the rivers’ mists of opal,
O’er the golden-brown expanses
Of the still and sombre forest;
Past the towered, spired city,
To the very marge of ocean—
Of this calcined, caverned coastline—
Came a Form—immense, majestic—
But, on nearing me, its mist-robes
Blended with the circling ether;
And instead of Moving Shadow,
Stood a bronze-browed human Figure,
Ebon-hued and silver-bearded,
Eyes a-flame in sunken sockets,
Sockets dark with grizzly shading.
Lo! this mighty Form came near me,
And his spectre gaze fixed on me,
And his arms he raised above me,
While his presence thrilled all through me.
Then, eftsoons, he raised his right hand,
Pointed starkly to the southward,
With the left towards the Harbour,
Also stiffly, starkly, pointed.
Standing this-wise, thus he spoke me,
In a kind of song sepulchral,
In a sort of runic hymning,
In a deep-toned, wizard croaking,
Interspersed with fitful breathings
Of impassioned mournful cadence.
This is what the Spirit told me,
What he murmured and recited,
Of the wondrous Yallahs’ labours,
Of dark Yumulu’s deep hatreds,
Of dread Murrurun’s red vengeance,
Of the Story of the Ages.
What the Spirit told him.
“Yumulu, the Ocean Spirit,
“Saw the Yallahs working ever:
“Race on race, through myriad races,
“Working on, and working ever:
“Grinding, kneading, weaving, spinning;
“Toiling on and toiling ever,
“These most marvellous tiny Yallahs!
“To upraise a mighty fabric,
“To perform a work colossal,
“Thus they toiled, these myriad millions,
“Through a lapse of countless ages,
“Till they laid the land’s foundations,
“Till they made the earth’s stone centre,
“Till they stored its heart with treasure,
“Till above the world of waters
“Peered a pinnacle of coral!
“Then the winged winds of ether,
“Then the wingëd birds of heaven,
“Then the witless, wandering billows
“Brought, in turn, unto the Yallahs
“Sands and seeds, with moulding juices,
“Salts and sea-fire, ores and acids,
“Till, at last, the rocks were covered,
“Till at last the land was piled up,
“Clothed with herbage and with frondage,
“Made a home for walking creatures,
“Made a home for living spirits!
“Yumulu, the Ocean Spirit,
“Hated them and their vast labours,
“Hated them for their encroachment
“On his rough and vast dominion:
“So he said he’d crush the Yallahs,
“That he’d sweep away their labours.
“And he roused himself to fury,
“And he seethed and raved in phrenzy,
“And he rushed with hugest billows
“’Gainst the tiny workers’ wonder!
“How he leaped, and lashed, and thundered,
“How he sapped, and clawed, and splintered,
“How he warred, with hate unsated!
“Still he could not, and he did not,
“Rend the Yallahs’ works asunder,
“Scatter them abroad the ocean,
“Scatter them like dust on ocean.
“Murrurun, the Empyrean,
“Murrurun, the Air-fire Spirit,
“Eldest-born of red Aroshin,
“Saw that Yumulu was flouted—
“Beaten by the Yallahs—atoms!
“Now, the Yallahs had imprisoned,
“While they formed their caverned kingdom,
“Deep adown in closest dungeon
“Sphal, his daughter, eldest-born;
“And, with Yumulu united,
“On these Yallahs he’d take vengeance:
“So he offered instant aidance,
“If that Yumulu would promise
“Service to his sire and Dhalla,
“To Aroshin and white Dhalla;
“Ever yield them due allegiance,
“Ever show them meet submission,
“Ever flow whenever ordered,
“Here and there at each one’s bidding.
“This he promised: nay, he swore it
“By upheaving a huge billow,
“Which he hurled against the Yallahs.
“So the Fire-god called his spirits,
“And his spirits came about him,
“And wild winds came rushing with them.
“Yumulu’s vast force being ready,
“Murrurun flung out his thunder,
“Told in thunder he was coming!
“In a burst of living splendour,
“In a bolt of awful swiftness,
“In a broken stream of fire,
“Followed by his vengeful furies,
“By his red winged, black-winged furies,
“Trumpeted by tempests shrieking,
“Welcomed by the roaring billows,
“Down he leaped from out the thunder!
“And he smote the Yallahs’ labours,
“And he rent their walls of purple,
“And he pierced the land’s stone bosom,
“And he rushed towards his daughter,
“To his daughter in her prison.
“She, of Fire the active offspring,
“Sprung delighted through the fissure
“Which her sire for her had formëd;
“Rushed into that sire’s embraces.
“When they met, there spread around them
“Spheric wreaths of fire quenchless;
“And anon the Yallahs’ new world
“Was enwrapt by fiery breathings,
“Fused or calcined by those breathings,
“Licked by tongues of lurid lightning,
“Shrivelled up by fire-streams livid,
“Made an altar of the Fire-god,
“Made a victim to the Fire-god!
“Yumulu the land-rent seeing,
“Rent of Murrurun’s fierce smiting,
“Burst he, in concentred fury,
“With full tide and ravening billow,
“In upon the Yallahs’ new land,
“Twisting here, to shun the eddies
“Of the fire around him raging;
“Running there among the hollows—
“Winding, rolling, clawing, rushing;
“Till the fire-lines full engirt him!
“But the Fire burns on—consumeth
“All the labours of the Yallahs,
“Save the deep, huge, rock foundations,
“Which the flames can never get at!
“Earth, though charred and flame-invested,
“Fused, transmuted, blurred, and blackened,
“Once again was shaped and decked out;
“When the Fire-god and his furies
“Upwards went unto Aroshin.
“Once again the Yallahs formed it,
“Once again their world called forth they!
“This is how the Ocean Spirit,
“Yumulu, the Ocean Spirit,
“Here, about you, made his entrance;
“Here, before you, made encroachment;
“At these rock-heads broke his way in,
“Rocks by Murrurun first shattered!”
The Old Man saith for himself:—
So the Presence said and left me,
Through yon gap of cliff he vanished;
And I woke from out my dreaming,
With great weight of noon-heat on me,
With the zenith sun just o’er me.
You may deem this revelation
But a phantasy of fancy:
Deem it so, if it shall please you;
You may think me dazed or crazy,
Doubt of yours no unbelieving
Spirit in me waketh! May I
Often dream in this wise wisely.
Fare thee well, good ERNEST IVORS.
Thus he spake the old narrator;
Thus he said, and crept off from me—
Sighed and bowed, and gently left me—
Passed towards a fragrant thicket,
Tottering through the stunted gum-trees,
Tripped by sinuous, serpont runners,
Till he reached his lowly log-hut,
‘Neath a shadowy mimosa.
Since, I have not met or seen him,
Met or seen that quaint narrator.
Shall I meet or see him ever?
© J. Sheridan Moore