Stateliest covert, cedar, pine, or palm.
MAGPIES! With your mist of music fill
That aloof theocracy of trees
Over Towong Hill,
Hand-gift of Bramh; most sacred cedars,
From old God-mould of Asian mysteries.
While we footle through our follies, led and leaders,
You, birds unburdened with our plundering
Banditry of trouble-breeders,
Pure alkahest of happiness distil—
Harboured in that sultanate of cedars
Over Towong Hill.
Ah! Your wonderful awaking,
That half-hour before day-breaking
In the season of mate-making,
When suddenly it seems all the hidden host of dreams
In that fore-flow of song auroral.
As the heavenly stars are over-borne
By the mere earthly miracle of morn
So you, void of care, will bully and over-bear
‘The little nimble musicians of the air’,
Whose subtle shimmerings under-sing
The great vainglories of your triumphing.
(Only the kookaburras rabelaisian
Baffle by times your best occasion.)
Though your crowded quirings grow less loud
Beneath the over coming of a cloud,
Seldom there seems an utter muting
Of your world-wondrous fluting;
Your revelry of Revelations:
Australia’s apocalypse of song
Among the multitude of nations
Where does such another choir belong?
Is it unconscious, your contest continental?
Wherever waters reach, or ranges;
Tall tree, scant shrub or rock-wrack yields you shade;
By infinite imperceptible changes
From a first motif elemental
New innumerable joy-jewellries are made,
And still, nightlong,
Earth-folk may unheeding catch your call;
A bold bravura, a ringing rouse;
Whenas amid the throbbing throngs of trees
Flockings of gauzy ghosts, moon-magical,
Struggle against some huge unbridled breeze,
Tossing your wedding bedding of topmost boughs.
I) In my restricted travels – say from Melbourne to Brisbane – I have always been struck by the remarkable differences in the magpies’ notes in different districts. Especially between those in eastern Monaro and the Murray Valley. 2) Henry Kingsley – (if I remember rightly in Geoffrey Hamlyn) said boldly that having heard the famous songsters of the world he considered there is nothing to equal a massed choir of ‘piping crows.’ I have heard one such choir – that which congregate in the willow-wood of Welaregang – at a distance of fully four miles. Kingsley would have heard that choir, as he used to visit his relations, the Grays, who owned Welaregang and Yndi. Old Bazil Gray told my father that the first draft of Geoffrey Hamlyn was written at Yndi. 3) Magpies have a predilection for camping on the top-most branches of the tallest tree they can find. Which is handy for the owls to pick ’em up from. —S.J.
The poet, Sydney W. Jephcott, and his habitat, the steep valley of the Upper Murray, have long been legendary, which also means remote. Jephcott’s Secrets of the South appeared early enough to catch the outspoken welcome of Francis Adams, who died in 1894. His Penetralia was published with an air of finality in 1909. Yet he had not ended his singing, and now at the age of eighty-three he catches fresh madrigals and choruses from the superb heights and valleys that have surrounded almost the whole of his days. When the Upper Murray becomes familiar, it may well be known as the background for Jephcott’s Morning Mists and Sunset Clouds. —N.P.
Image credit: Quartl