At Dawn and Dusk

The River Maiden

Victor James Daley

HER gown was simple woven wool,
    But, in repayment,
Her body sweet made beautiful
    The simplest raiment:

For all its fine, melodious curves
    With life a-quiver
Were graceful as the bends and swerves
    Of her own river.

Her round arms, from the shoulders down
    To sweet hands slender,
The sun had kissed them amber-brown
    With kisses tender.

For though she loved the secret shades
    Where ferns grow stilly,
And wild vines droop their glossy braids,
    And gleams the lily,

And Nature, with soft eyes that glow
    In gloom that glistens,
Unto her own heart, beating slow,
    In silence listens:

She loved no less the meadows fair,
    And green, and spacious;
The river, and the azure air,
    And sunlight gracious.

I saw her first when tender, wan,
    Green light enframed her;
And, in my heart, the Flower of Dawn
    I softly named her.

The bright sun, like a king in state,
    With banners streaming,
Rode through the fair auroral gate
    In mail gold-gleaming.

The witch-eyed stars before him paled—
    So high his scorning!—
And round the hills the rose-clouds sailed,
    And it was morning.

The light mimosas bended low
    To do her honour,
As in that rosy morning glow
    I gazed upon her.

My boat swung bowward to the stream
    Where tall reeds shiver;
We floated onward, in a dream,
    Far down the River.

The River that full oft has told
    To Ocean hoary
A many-coloured, sweet, and old
    Unending story:

The story of the tall, young trees,
    For ever sighing
To sail some day the rolling seas
    ’Neath banners flying.

The Ocean hears, and through his caves
    Roars gusty laughter;
And takes the River, with his waves
    To roll thereafter.

But Love deep waters cannot drown;
    To its old fountains
The stream returns in clouds that crown
    Its parent mountains.

The River was to her so dear
    She seemed its daughter;
Her deep translucent eyes were clear
    As sunlit water;

And in her bright veins seemed to run,
    Pulsating, glowing,
The music of the wind and sun,
    And waters flowing.

The secrets of the trees she knew:
    Their growth, their gladness,
And, when their time of death was due,
    Their stately sadness.

Gray gums, like old men warped by time,
    She knew their story;
And theirs that laughed in pride of prime
    And leafy glory;

And theirs that, where clear waters run,
    Drooped dreaming, dreaming;
And theirs that shook against the sun
    Their green plumes gleaming.

All things of gladness that exist
    Did seem to woo her,
And well that woodland satirist,
    The lyre-bird, knew her.

And there were hidden mossy dells
    That she knew only,
Where Beauty born of silence dwells
    Mysterious, lonely.

No sounds of toil their stillness taunt,
    No hearth-smoke sullies
The air: the Mountain Muses haunt
    Those lone, green gullies.

And there they weave a song of Fate
    That never slumbers:
A song some bard shall yet translate
    In golden numbers.

A blue haze veiled the hills’ huge shapes
    A misty lustre—
Like rime upon the purple grapes,
    When ripe they cluster:

’Twas noon, and all the Vale was gold—
    An El Dorado:
The damask river seaward rolled,
    Through shine and shadow.

And, gazing on its changing glow,
    I saw, half-sighing,
The wondrous Fairyland below
    Its surface lying.

There all things shone with paler sheen:
    More softly shimmered
The fern-fronds, and with softer green
    The myrtles glimmered:

And—like that Fisher gazing in
    The sea-depths, pining
For days gone by, who saw Julin
    Beneath him shining,

With many a wave-washed corridor,
    And sea-filled portal,
And plunged below, and nevermore
    Was seen of mortal—

So I, long gazing at the gleam
    Of fern and flower,
Felt drawn down to that World of Dream
    By magic power:

For there, I knew, in silence sat,
    With breasts slow-heaving,
Illusion’s Queen Rabesquerat,
    Her web a-weaving.

But when the moon shone, large and low,
    Against Orion,
Then, as from some pale portico
    Might issue Dian,

She came through tall tree-pillars pale,
    A silver vision,
A nymph strayed out of Ida’s vale
    Or fields Elysian.

White stars shone out with mystic gleams
    The woods illuming:
It seemed as if the trees in dreams
    Once more were blooming.

And all beneath those starry blooms,
    By bends and beaches,
We floated on through glassy glooms,
    Down moonlit reaches.

Ah, that was in the glad years when
    Joys ne’er were sifted,
But I on wilder floods since then
    Have darkly drifted.

Yet, River of Romance, for me
    With pictures glowing,
Through dim, green fields of Memory
    Thou still art flowing.

And still I hear, thy shores along,
    All faintly ringing,
The notes of ghosts of birds that long
    Have ceased their singing.

Was she, who then my heart did use
    To touch so purely,
A mortal maiden—or a Muse?
    I know not, surely.

But still in dreams I see her stand,
    A fairer Flora,
Serene, immortal, by the strand
    Of clear Narora.

At Dawn and Dusk - Contents

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