James Brunton Stephens
A Brisbane Reverie
As I sit beside my little study window, looking down
From the heights of contemplation (attic front) upon the town
(Attic front, per week — with board, of course — a sov'reign and a crown);—
As I sit—(these sad digressions, though, are much to be deplored)—
In my lonely little attic—(it is all I can afford;
And I should have mentioned, washing not included in the board);—
As I sit—(these wild parentheses my very soul abhors)—
High above the ills of life, its petty rumours, paltry wars—
(The attic back is cheaper, but it wants a chest of drawers);—
In the purpling light of half-past six before the stars are met,
While the stricken sun clings fondly to his royal mantle yet,
Dying glorious on the hill-tops in reluctant violet,—
Just the time that favours vision, blissful moments that unbar
The inner sight (assisted by a very mild cigar),
To behold the things that are not, side by side with those that are,—
Just the very light and very time that suit the bard's complaint,
When through present, past, and future, roams his soul without restraint—
When no clearer are the things that are than are the things that ain't;—
With a dual apperception, metaphysical, profound,
Past and present running parallel, I scan the scene around—
(Were there two of us the attic front would only be a pound).—
Beneath mine eyes the buried past arises from the tomb,
Not cadaverous or ghostly, but in all its living bloom—
(I would rather pay the odds than have a partner in my room).
How the complex now contrasteth with the elemental then!
Tide of change outflowing flow of ink, outstripping stride of pen!
(Unless it were . . . . but no . . . . they only take in single men).
Where trackless wilderness lay wide, a hundred ages through—
I can see a man with papers, from my attic point of view,
Who for gath'ring house assessments gets a very decent screw.
Where forest-contiguity assuaged the summer heats,
It is now an argued question, when the City Council meets,
If we mightn't buy a tree or two to shade the glaring streets.
Where no sound announced the flight of time, not even crow of cock,
I can see the gun that stuns the town with monitory shock,
And a son of that same weapon hired to shoot at one o'clock.
Where the kangaroo gave hops, the “old man” fleetest of the fleet,
Mrs. Pursy gives a “hop” to-night to all the town's élite,
But her “old man” cannot hop because of bunions on his feet.
Where the emu, “at its own sweet will,” went wandering all the day,
And left its bill-prints on whate'er came handy in its way,
There are printed bills that advertise “The Emu for the Bay.”
Where of old, with awful mysteries and diabolic din,
They “kippered” adolescents in the presence of their kin,
There's a grocer selling herrings kippered, half-a-crown per tin.
Where the savage only used his club to supplement his fist,
The white man uses his for friendly intercourse and whist,
Not to mention sherry, port, bordeaux, et cetera—see list.
Where dress was at a discount, or at most a modest “fall,”
Rise “Criterion,” “Cosmopolitan,” and “City Clothing Hall,”
And neither men nor women count for much—the dress is all.
Where a bride's trousseau consisted of an extra coat of grease,
And Nature gave the pair a suit of glossy black apiece,
Now the matrimonial outfit is a perfect golden fleece.
Where lorn widows wore the knee-joints of the late lamented dead,
We have dashing wives who wear their living husbands' joints instead—
Yea, their vitals, for embellishment of bosom, neck, and head.
Where the blacks, ignoring livers, lived according to their wills,
Nor knew that flesh is heir to quite a lexicon of ills,
Five white chemists in one street grow rich through antibilious pills.
Where the only bell was the bell-bird's note, now many mingling bells
“Make Catholic the trembling air,” as famed George Eliot tells
Of another town somewhere between more northern parallels.
(But in case the name of Catholic offend protesting ear,
Let Wesleyan or Baptist be interpolated here,
Or that bells make Presbyterian the trembling atmosphere.)
Where the savage learned no love from earth, nor from the “shining frame,”
And merely feared the devil under some outlandish name,
There are heaps of Britishers whose creed is—very much the same!
Where the gin was black—(methinks'tis time the bard were shutting up:
The bell is ringing for the non-inebriating cup,
And even attic bards must have their little “bite and sup.”)
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(March 26, 1874 – January 29, 1963)
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