The Magic Island
Not a wind o’er the still Pacific, not a light on the dreaming bay,
Save the tapers the starmen carry as they follow the bier of day.
And I crouch in the night concealed that the mad mothers may not hear
What the murmuring sea-shell whispers as I hold it against mine ear.
For it tells me a wondrous story that only the mermen know,
And the souls of the little children who are drowned in the pools below.
But the mothers are always listening – that they haply may understand –
To the tales that the shells are telling to each other upon the sand.
And they grasp at the mystic meaning as a child at a dancing beam,
When it dapples the beach a moment in its play on a sunflecked stream.
And the babbling sea-shell murmurs with its lips to my eager ear –
Very close, for the mothers listen – very low, for the waves might hear:
“In a moon in the far-off ages, ’neath the glitter of stars like these,
Like the waste of a leafless garden lay the leagues of the lone South Seas;
“Till the Grey Wizard said to the Ocean: ‘Oh, barren thy fields, and bare
Is the waste of thy rolling acres – I shall plant me an island there.”
“And the veins of her throbbed and quivered with the pulse of a life to be,
As the seed of the Wizard quickened in the womb of the desert sea;
“And it throve in the great Pacific, till the cliffs of that sea-girt keep
Like the leaves of a flower unfolded in the soil of the untilled deep.
“And ‘twas thus in the distant ages that the chattering sea-fowl flew
O’er the shores of the magic Island as out of the waves it grew.”
“Said the Wizard Grey to the Ocean: ‘It is far from the prying ken
Of the tribes of the mean Earth people, of the race of the pigmy men,
”’Who would plunder her woods for cities, and for ships with their merchandise.’
But the men of the earth are cunning, though they may not be over-wise.
“So they built them a fair, great galley where the bergs of the North Sea toss,
And they steered for the mystic Island by the light of a strange white cross,
“Till they swarmed on her shining beaches, as an eagle swoops on a crag,
And they builded a spacious city ’neath the flaunt of a flaring flag.
“But the children came from the galley, and the Grey Wizard watched their play,
As they paddled among the shallows on the sands of a golden bay;
“Until into the deeps he lured them, by the craft of the sly green waves,
And with sinuous seaweed bound them in the slime of the unsunned caves.
“But the little earth men are valiant, and they followed the children’s track –
And the Grey Wizard laughed in the breakers as he battled and hurled them back!
“And he scoffed at the weak white swimmers, for he swam as a sea-god swims –
And he marked how they stained the billows when he scattered their puny limbs.
“And the wailing of women reached him as he sat where the waters slide –
As he dozed like a demon sated on the lap of the dipping tide.
“But some night in the unborn ages, in a mystical moon to be,
Shall the beautiful island vanish in the depths of the desert sea;
“And the mothers shall reach their kingdom when the sea hath her own again,
And the Grey Wizard holds his treasure from the tribes of the pigmy men.”
And this is the wond’rous story murmured into my eager ear –
Very close, lest the mermen listen – very low, lest the waves might hear.
I shall whisper it to the mothers as they roam by the booming bars
Till their hollow eyes gleam and glisten with a light that shall reach the stars.
For ’tis not but the sheen of waters that they see when the sunsets flare,
But the locks of the little children and their glittering wave-wet hair.
And ‘tis not but the stars’ reflection that they see when the sunset cools,
But the eyes of the little children that are drowned in the green sea pools.
‘The Magic Island,’ Bulletin 14 Dec 1905: 26. NSW.
See also Verses 1905: 91-93.