Jessie Mackay

(1864 - 1938 / Rakaia Gorge)

The Grey Company


O the grey, grey company
   Of the pallid dawn!
O the ghostly faces,
   Ashen-like and drawn!
The Lord's lone sentinels
   Dotted down the years,
The little grey company
   Before the pioneers.

Dreaming of Utopias
   Ere the time was ripe,
They awoke to scorning,
   The jeering and the strife.
Dreaming of millenniums
   In a world of wars,
They awoke to shudder
   At a flaming Mars.

Never was a Luther
   But a Huss was first --
A fountain unregarded
   In the primal thirst.
Never was a Newton
   Crowned and honoured well,
But first, alone, Galileo
   Wasted in a cell.

In each other's faces
   Looked the pioneers;
Drank the wine of courage
   All their battle years.
For their weary sowing
   Through the world wide,
Green they saw the harvest
   Ere the day they died.

But the grey, grey company
   Stood every man alone
In the chilly dawnlight,
   Scarcely had they known
Ere the day they perished,
   That their beacon-star
Was not glint of marsh-light
   In the shadows far.

The brave white witnesses
   To the truth within
Took the dart of folly,
   Took the jeer of sin;
Crying "Follow, follow,
   Back to Eden gate!"
They trod the Polar desert,
   Met a desert fate.

Be laurel to the victor,
   And roses to the fair,
And asphodel Elysian
   Let the hero wear;
But lay the maiden lilies
   Upon their narrow biers --
The lone grey company
   Before the pioneers.

Submitted: Saturday, January 04, 2003

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