Verse > Anthologies > Walter Murdoch, comp. > The Oxford Book of Australasian Verse
Walter Murdoch (1874–1970).  The Oxford Book of Australasian Verse.  1918.
79. Proletaria
By Bernard O’Dowd
THE SUNNY rounds of Earth contain
  An obverse to its Day,
Our fertile Vagrancy’s domain,
  Wan Proletaria.
From pole to pole of Poverty        5
  We stumble through the years,
With hazy-lanterned Memory
  And Hope that never nears.
Wherever Plenty’s crop invites
  Our pitiful brigades,        10
Lurk cannoneers of Vested Rights,
  Juristic ambuscades;
And here hangs Rent, that squalid cage
  Within which Mammon thrusts,
Bound with the fetter of a wage,        15
  The helots of his lusts.
With palsied Doubt as guide, we wind
  Among the lanes of Need,
Where meagre Hungers scouting find
  But slavered baits of Greed.        20
The wet-lipped Lamias of Caste,
  Awaiting our advance,
Our choicest squadrons’ fealty blast
  With magic smile and glance:
Delilah-limbed temptations flit        25
  Among our drowsy rows,
And on our willing captains fit
  The badges of our foes.
What wonder sometimes if in stealth
  Our starker outposts wait,        30
And, in the prowling eyes of Wealth,
  Dash vitriol of Hate;
Or if our Samsons, ere too late,
  Their treasons should make good
By whelming in the temple’s fate        35
  Their viper owners’ brood!
Our polyandrous dam has borne
  To Satan and to God
The hordes of Night, the clans of Morn,
  That through our valleys plod.        40
Ah, motherhood of misery
  For Christ-child as for pest!
The greater her fertility
  The drier grows her breast!
Too many linger on the track;        45
  A few outstrip the time:
Some, God has tattooed yellow, black,
  And some disguised with crime.
Art’s living archives here abound,
  Carraras of Despair,        50
And those weird masks of Sight and Sound
  The Tragic Muses wear.
Tho’ blind and dull, ’tis we supply
  The Painter’s dazzling dreams;
The rolling flood of Poetry        55
  From our dumb chaos streams.
Nay, when your world is over-tired,
  And Genius comatose,
Our race, by Nemesis inspired,
  Old Order overthrows:        60
With earthquake-life we thrill your land,
  Refill the cruse of Art,
Revitalize spent Wisdom, and—
  Resume our weary part.
The palace of successful Guilt        65
  Is mortared with our shame;
On hecatombs of Us are built
  The soaring towers of Fame.
We are the gnomes of Titan works
  Whose throbbings never cease;        70
Our unregarded signet lurks
  On every masterpiece.
The floating isles, that shuttling tie
  All peoples into one
By adept steermen’s sorcery        75
  Of magnet, steam, and sun;
Religion’s dolmens, Sphinxes, spires,
  Her Biblic armouries;
The helot lightning of the wires
  That mesh your lands and seas;        80
The viaducts ’tween Near and Far,
  Whereon, o’er range and mead,
Bacchantic Trade’s triumphant car
  And iron tigers speed;
The modern steely crops that rise        85
  Where technic Jasons sow:
—All these but feebly symbolize
  The largesse we bestow.
And our reward? In this wan land,
  In clientage of Greed,        90
Despised, polluted, maimed and banned,
  To wander and—to breed.


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