Extract from From an Upper Verandah

What happier haunt could the gods allot
For loftiest musing to sage or bard?-
Yet I would that this upper verandah did not
Look down on my beautiful Neighbour’s Back-yard!

I stir the afflatus: Descend, O ye Nine!
Let the crystalline gates of the soul be unbarred!
No. My thought will keep running in one fixed line-
The clothesline that hangs in my Neighbour’s Back-yard

Let me gaze on the hills; let me think of the sea;
Of the dawn rosy-fingered – the night silver-starred:-
(What dear little feet must the owner’s be
Of those stockings that hang in my Neighbour’s Back-yard!)

………..

I will shut my eyes fast – I have hit it at last,
Now my purest Ideals flit by me unmarred;
And odours of memory rise from the past,
(And an odour of suds from my Neighbour’s Back-yard!)
…………….

Oh, shame on my rapidly silvering hairs!
Oh, shame on this veteran battered and scarred!
I to be witched with these frilled – affairs!
Confound my neighbour! Confound her backyard!

Why seek for the blossoms of Auld Lang Syne,
When the boughs where they budded are blasted and charred?-
Faugh! The whole concern’s too alkaline-
It’s washing day in my Neighbour’s Back-yard!

                                             James Brunton Stephens (1875)

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The Gentle Anarchist

I am a gentle Anarchist,
I couldn't kick a dog,
Nor ever would for sport assist
To pelt the helpless frog.
I'd shoot a Czar, or wreck a train,
Blow Parliament sky-high,
But none would call me inhumane;
I wouldn't hurt a fly.
                I wouldn't hurt a fly.
               And why indeed should I?
               It has neither land nor pelf
               That I covet for myself,
               Then wherefore should I hurt a fly?

I am a gentle Anarchist,
I live on herbs and fruits;
It don't become a communist
To eat his fellow-brutes.
I'd fire a town, upset a State,
Make countless widows weep,
Yet I am so compassionate
I wouldn't kill a sheep.
              I wouldn't hurt a fly;
              And why indeed should I?
              If it doesn't interfere
              With my personal career,
              Why the dickens should I hurt a fly?

I'm such a gentle Anarchist
I hate all hunting men;
I couldn't hook a fish, or twist
The neck of cock or hen.
I'd level gaols, let scoundrels loose,
Blow priests and churches up-
But, oh, my pity's so profuse
I couldn't down a pup.
               I wouldn't hurt a fly;
              And why indeed should I?
              Unless, that is to say,
               I found it in my way,
               And then it's all up with the fly.

                James Brunton Stephens (1888)

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from The Famine in Ireland, 1879-80

They shall not perish! Not if help can save
Our hunger-stricken brethren from the grave!
They shall not perish! With no impious breath
We vow that Love shall stronger prove than Death!
Say not, 'Tis vain to strive against the Hand
That writeth Judgment o'er a mourning land!-
Say not, 'Tis Heav'n that worketh good or ill;
And if our brother die – it is God's will;
Say not, if He is pleased to hide His face,
'Tis our and theirs to wait returning grace;
Nor, listless, into prayerful chambers creep,
And be content to weep with those who weep;-
Say not that Nature but fulfils her plan,
Through righteous retribution teaching man;
Nor round your easy acquiescence draw
The curtain of inexorable Law.
Say rather, We are now the hands of God
To pour our fruits upon their fruitless sod!
Say rather, We are God's incarnate Will
To feed His lambs, His children's mouths to fill,
And in our very plenty read the sign
That we are chos'n as instruments Divine!

..........


Ye little ones, whose raiment, rent and old,
Scarce hides the forms that tremble in the cold;
Whose play is silenced; all whose frolic wiles
Are turned to weariness; whose sunny smiles
Have vanished from the hunger-wasted mouth,-
Be warmed and fed: Help cometh from the South!
Say we too much? Nay, less than this would shame
Alike our hearts, our honour, and our name.
Nothing too much while Famine stalks abroad,
And Winter grips the shivering lambs of God!
Nothing too much while weeping kindred cry
To happier kindred, "Save us, or we die!"
Nothing too much while we whose bread is sure
Have hearts to pity, hands to help, the poor-
And eyes in Ireland's hour of need to see
Queensland's Australia's opportunity!

                                          James Brunton Stephens

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