Muir Holburn - Selected Poems

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Behold beneath the spiked salt-crusted pine

Our sorrow, suburb-succoured, will recline.

Upon a grubby inexpensive gold

Each failure finds himself a sudden, bold

But temporary Earl. Smooth waves convey

Not only balmy vigour to the flesh,

But vivify the retina of the day,

Tinct the inconsequent brain, narrow heart’s mesh,

So that the ever-sifting disillusion

Is captured in suspension, fear’s intrusion

Barred at the boarder. Passions of the week,

The trivial struggle and the songless, bleak,

Hard metropolitan ache glide slowly out—

O frozen argosy,—towards the pole

Of endless privacy’s self-nourished thought.

Monday to Friday brings the psychic gout;

Litters the yards of the mind with sodden coal.

But Sunday; Beach and Sunlight form the port

That any tossed and flagless ship may seek

Therein to find a haven far an hour.

Tha Jew may bring his tortures to be laundered,

The raw recruit his barely schooled and weak

Young musculature. Sea’s surgery has power

To calm and shape the soul, soon to be squandered

In that most real and dreadful masquerade,

The battle. Fit or unfit they come, afraid

Of stone, of human face, of silhouette,

Craving their permits to dream and to forget.


O do not wonder that that lustful curve,

Which marks the land and ocean’s long embrace,

Will ever more excite the sullen nerve.

Nor will the image of the surfshed fade

With its phallic tower whence the inscrutable face

Of sea is scanned for cruise of shark, or tow

Of sudden warp of current through the jade

Midwaters. These become the glowing signs

In those dark latitudes where hate confines

All travellers. O nothing observed will be

Evicted from delight’s deep gallery—

Sand never, nor the barbed and bearded walk

Where timid cousins from the country pose,

Where the enfeebled sit, and babies squawk,

Where comatose nursemaids may be comatose

Uninterrupted. All have shaped the print

Of visionary peace, all newly mint

The drossy coins of ancient unbelief,

Construct brave causeways to the distant reef

Of each souls frail Nirvana. Here’s one gift

Most unconditionally bestowed on man.

This he may use with small regard for thrift.

Here he may gain a wisdom with his tan.

At the translucent margins where the sands

Are hard and moist, the children plot thair days

Inspect their Babylons and Samarcands.

See not in castle picture book distorted,

But vivid indices. Look in amaze

Upon soul’s groping charted in the dusty

Gulch and plateau. O sensuous and lusty

These tender hands! Though gravity has thwarted

Desire for bastion perched high upon

A dim weird cavern, battlements succeed,

Until their razed by surfers in their greed

For flood and foamwash. This phenomenon

Of brittle architecture is our guide.

By this we may learn how easily they ride

From helplessness to strength, from tenderness

To high fruition and its blessedness.

Their vague design and whimsy on this loose

Frailest of media will indicate

How much our impositions are of use,

If child will surge as tall, as free of hate,

Of craven urge and manacle as the pine

Which rings about this febrile, aged domain,

Token of all its love, its anodyne,

Its forthright roar, its whispering, its pain.


At points less peopled boy and girl may lie

And tap an antique wealth, to gratify

Youth’s illth and thwart. Its sequences of bliss

Delight those strollers on the Esplanade

For whom the life fulfilled is fierce and brave,

But anger Matron, Bachelor and Miss

Rising from learnt histories mauled and scarred,

Who can no more behave or misbehave,

Pretending to despise telegraphy

Of sound and glance and contact. These can see

A vile decay in fresh untangled limb

That skims and leaps and dances on the rim

Of sky and rock and water. So they go

To empty room and hollow corridor.

The selfish young love on: they cannot now know

How much the lavish antic they adore

Has wrecked a segment of the passers-by

That, desiccated, sees each scene awry.


Upon the lover who coming alone this beach

Can only scowl and thunder as in winter.

Be the beloved dead or years past reach

Of touch or hope, or yet a glistening splinter

Snapped from the polished timber of a dream,

The pine

The pines are hearsed. Rank is the gaiety.

While laughters restless rich cacophony

Is measured dirge. Surf’s verve and voltage drops.

The gales muratic revelry will seem

An automatic card trick endlessly

Performed on cheerless evenings. So love lops

Each radiant branch of joy when evil storms

Tha busy junctions of soul and warmth and blood,

Breaks passion’s circuit, dams the moving flood.


On Sunday night above the Promenade

The band assembles, glittering and hard,

With brass and woodwind, manfully emitting

An anguished tune in toughly muscled punches

Among the deckchairs and discarded lunches.

The law declares the ritual is fitting.

A ’bus conductor from a Northern route

Commands the bells and drums, whereas the flute

Becomes articulate between the lips

Of Reginald who mixes the egg flips,

Cocktails and reputations in the bar

Of Manly’s best hotel, while Rex, the mute

Caretaker at the crumbling School of Arts

Treats his brass rough, and blasts away like hell

Upon the clarinet. No wonder tarts,

And virgins with corked tipped hearts will all rejoice

In the deep vibrant metal of his voice.


The twenty players give their labour free,

A rare prodigious generosity,

But bandsmen fight an ever losing war

With listener’s sleepiness and, with the hoar

Sad plainsongs of the churned and curdled seas

Songs harsh, psychotic evocative sublime

Burst plangent, thunder off, shatter and chime

Fanatically,? until the dreadful night

Has gorged both band and crowd, and a fitful breeze

Wanders surprised between the stairs and trees.









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