That shy mysterious poet Arthur Stace
Whose work was just one single mighty word
Walked in the utmost depths of time and space
And there his word was spoken and he heard
ETERNITY, ETERNITY, it banged him like a bell
Dulcet from heaven sounding, sombre from hell.
Sometimes it twinkled to him in the sand
As though God winked at him, and then he smiled
And scooped it up to sift it through his hand;
Sometimes it roared upon him vast and wild
When the green seas rolled heaving from the Gap;
Appalled he stood, to think a man might leap
And swim those waves, and could if he had strength,
Could count the sand, if he had time enough,
And yet the sea was not one inch in length
Against those endless miles his thought slid off, '
And though you counted the sand-grains ten times over
You'd not begun Eternity's awful number.
One two three four, sometimes he counted all day,
Five six seven eight, and on far into the night
By tens, by thousands, hoping to reach half way,
And still before his eyes like swans in flight
Though he got up to billions and to trillions
The numbers streamed away into the silence.
0 it was in the sky that had no end
Where fiery worlds hung glittering in the void;
He thought of Heaven where man had his big friend
And that was safe he knew and that was good,
But at the back of Heaven he felt, he feared,
The hellish dark ran on, the wild eyes glared.
And it was here in Monday, Tuesday, Friday,
In yesterday, tomorrow, morrow, morrow,
In Caesar's day, thought Arthur Stace, and my day;
It moved in him, it struck him deep with sorrow
That men should live in time with all its vanity
Or think they did, and yet were in Eternity.
For it was like a dark wind in their hair,
It burnt their eyes, it roared in their dull ears,
It flowed between their fingers with the air,
How could they be obsessed with worldly cares,
How could they sin, how waste one precious minute
When every step they took plunged deeper in it?
This must be told, he knew. But how to do it?
He was a quiet man and he was shy
And had no gift to speak, but like a poet
Must write the word that reached him from on high.
ETERNITY he'd heard great preachers shout
And shook to hear, but say it he could not.
No, it must come like moonlight or like frost
Silent at night like mushrooms quietly growing
To wake the wicked and redeem the lost;
Like a white feather in the dawn wind blowing,
Perfect and white, like copperplate in chalk...
And that was when Arthur Stace began to walk.
All night he walked and most nights of the week,
Treading with silent steps the silent town
Where none but drunks and whores were still awake,
His great word burning where he wrote it down;
ETERNITY he wrote, clear pure and pale,
And underlined it with the y's long tail,
No night-bird saw him for he was an angel
Or almost that, upon his holy mission;
Unseen he passed the copper with his cudgel,
Unseen he climbed the steps at Town Hall station,
Invisible, like ectoplasm, he swam
Where shops were empty and lights were dim.
Sometimes when midnight chimed in Martin Place
Behind the arches of the G.P.O.
A shadow moved, but was it Arthur Stace?
Some flickering thing perhaps crept soft and low
On the dark pavement by the Opera House
But was it hands that moved there or a mouse?
No one could say, one only knew for certain
That here, that there, in unexpected places
Somewhere that night the great word had been written
And Arthur Stace once more had left his traces
And bright and spry now like a leprechaun
Was stepping home to Pyrmont in the dawn.
ETERNITY, it lades like morning dew,
Like morning dew and he is lost in it;
Yet one can say, as one can say of few,
It was the greatest of all words he wrote
And if it hardly changed this wicked city
God rest his soul, his copperplate was pretty.
By Douglas Stewart