Australian poem 2008 series #23: George Essex Evans “The Women of the West”

14 Nov

Yes, one of my mother’s favourites, particularly for the middle stanzas. The 99th anniversary of the death of George Essex Evans was on 10 November. He was born in 1863. We can never return to the world he evokes, yet it is part of the streams that converge in us today and as such worth knowing, along with all those other streams some of which we now acknowledge rather better than we did.

Today Toowoomba is better known, perhaps, as the long-term home of another poet, Bruce Dawe.

Women of the West
By George Essex Evans

They left the vine-wreathed cottage and the mansion on the hill,
The houses in the busy streets where life is never still,
The pleasures of the city, and the friends they cherished best:
For love they faced the wilderness – the Women of the West.

The roar, and rush, and fever of the city died away,
And the old-time joys and faces – they were gone for many a day;
In their place the lurching coach-wheel, or the creaking bullock-chains,
O’er the everlasting sameness of the never-ending plains.

In the slab-built, zinc-roofed homestead of some lately taken run,
In the tent beside the bankment of a railway just begun,
In the huts on new selections, in the camps of man’s unrest,
On the frontiers of the Nation, live the Women of the West.

The red sun robs their beauty and, in weariness and pain,
The slow years steal the nameless grace that never comes again;
And there are hours men cannot soothe, and words men cannot say
The nearest woman’s face may be a hundred miles away.

The wide bush holds the secrets of their longing and desires,
When the white stars in reverence light their holy altar fires,
And silence, like the touch of God, sinks deep into the breast
Perchance He hears and understands the Women of the West.

For them no trumpet sounds the call, no poet plies his arts,
They only hear the beating of their gallant, loving hearts.
But they have sung with silent lives the song all songs above
The holiness of sacrifice, the dignity of love.

Well have we held our fathers’ creed. No call has passed us by.
We faced and fought the wilderness, we sent our sons to die.
And we have hearts to do and dare, and yet o’er all the rest,
The hearts that made the Nation were the Women of the West.

The Queensland Museum has an online exhibition inspired by this poem.

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Posted by on November 14, 2008 in Australia, Australia and Australian, OzLit, poets and poetry


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