voices from the past


Ye Wearie Wayfarer

by Adam Lindsay Gordon (1833 - 1870)

Australian writer

The most often quoted words of Gordon's can be found in the second to the last stanza of this poem (marked in red). They are also engraved on his headstone and at the front of Adam Lindsay Gordon's cottage in the Botanical Gardens in Ballarat, Victoria.

A Word About the Title
You'll find this poem incorrectly listed with various titles such as Gordon's Creed and Finis Exopatus. The actual title of the entire poem is Ye Wearie Wayfarer. Gordon wrote the very long poem Ye Wearie Wayfarer in eight fyttes.

The poem below is the last fytte and called Finis Exoptatus. We listed the title below just as Gordon did.

Ye Wearie Wayfarer

hys Ballad in Eight Fyttes

Fyttes VIII
Finis Exoptatus
(A Metaphysical Song)

"There's something in this world amiss
Shall be unriddled by-and-bye." — Tennyson.

Boot and saddle, see, the slanting
Rays begin to fall,
Flinging lights and colours flaunting
   Through the shadows tall.
Onward! onward! must we travel?
   When will come the goal?
Riddle I may not unravel,
   Cease to vex my soul.

Harshly break those peals of laughter
   From the jays aloft,
Can we guess what they cry after?
   We have heard them oft;
Perhaps some strain of rude thanksgiving
   Mingles in their song,
Are they glad that they are living?
   Are they right or wrong?
Right, ’tis joy that makes them call so,
   Why should they be sad?
Certes! we are living also,
   Shall not we be glad?
Onward! onward! must we travel?
   Is the goal more near?
Riddle we may not unravel,
   Why so dark and drear?

Yon small bird his hymn outpouring,
   On the branch close by,
Recks not for the kestrel soaring
   In the nether sky,
Though the hawk with wings extended
   Poises over head,
Motionless as though suspended
   By a viewless thread.
See, he stoops, nay, shooting forward
   With the arrow’s flight,
Swift and straight away to nor’ward
   Sails he out of sight.
Onward! onward! thus we travel,
   Comes the goal more nigh?
Riddle we may not unravel,
   Who shall make reply?

Ha! Friend Ephraim, saint or sinner,
   Tell me if you can —
Tho’ we may not judge the inner,
   By the outer man,
Yet by girth of broadcloth ample,
   And by cheeks that shine,
Surely you set no example
   In the fasting line —

Could you, like yon bird, discov’ring.
   Fate as close at hand,
As the kestrel o’er him hov’ring,
   Still, as he did, stand?
Trusting grandly, singing gaily,
   Confident and calm,
Not one false note in your daily
   Hymn or weekly psalm?

Oft your oily tones are heard in
   Chapel, where you preach,
This the everlasting burden
   Of the tale you teach:
"We are d—d, our sins are deadly,
   You alone are heal’d" —
’Twas not thus their gospel redly
   Saints and martyrs seal’d.
You had seem’d more like a martyr,
   Than you seem to us,
To the beasts that caught a Tartar
   Once at Ephesus;
Rather than the stout apostle
   Of the Gentiles, who,
Pagan-like, could cuff and wrestle,
   They’d have chosen you.

Yet I ween on such occasion,
   Your dissenting voice
Would have been, in mild persuasion,
   Raised against their choice;
Man of peace, and man of merit,
   Pompous, wise, and grave,
Ephraim! Is it flesh or spirit
   You strive most to save?
Vain is half this care and caution
   O’er the earthly shell,
We can neither baffle nor shun
   Dark-plumed Azrael.
Onward! onward! still we wonder,
   Nearer draws the goal;
Half the riddle’s read, we ponder
   Vainly on the whole.

Eastward! in the pink horizon,
   Fleecy hillocks shame
This dim range dull earth that lies on,
   Tinged with rosy flame.
Westward! as a stricken giant
   Stoops his bloody crest,
And tho’ vanquished, frowns defiant,
   Sinks the sun to rest.
Distant yet, approaching quickly,
   From the shades that lurk,
Like a black pall gathers thickly,
   Night, when none may work.
Soon our restless occupation
   Shall have ceased to be;
Units! in God’s vast creation,
   Ciphers! what are we?
Onward! onward! oh! faint-hearted;
   Nearer and more near
Has the goal drawn since we started,
   Be of better cheer.

Preacher! all forbearance ask, for
   All are worthless found,
Man must aye take man to task for
   Faults while earth goes round.
On this dank soil thistles muster,
   Thorns are broadcast sown;
Seek not figs where thistles cluster,
   Grapes where thorns have grown.

Sun and rain and dew from heaven,
   Light and shade and air,
Heat and moisture freely given,
   Thorns and thistles share.
Vegetation rank and rotten
   Feels the cheering ray;
Not uncared for, unforgotten,
   We, too, have our day.

Unforgotten! though we cumber
   Earth we work His will.
Shall we sleep through night’s long slumber
   Unforgotten still?
Onward! onward! toiling ever,
   Weary steps and slow,
Doubting oft, despairing never,
   To the goal we go!

Hark! the bells on distant cattle
   Waft across the range;
Through the golden-tufted wattle,
   Music low and strange;
Like the marriage peal of fairies
   Comes the tinkling sound,
Or like chimes of sweet St. Mary’s
   On far English ground.
How my courser champs the snaffle,
   And with nostril spread,
Snorts and scarcely seems to ruffle
   Fern leaves with his tread;
Cool and pleasant on his haunches
   Blows the evening breeze,
Through the overhanging branches
   Of the wattle trees:
Onward! to the Southern Ocean,
   Glides the breath of Spring,
Onward, with a dreary motion,
   I, too, glide and sing —
Forward! forward! still we wander —
   Tinted hills that lie
In the red horizon yonder —
   Is the goal so nigh?

Whisper, spring-wind, softly singing,
   Whisper in my ear;
Respite and nepenthe bringing,
   Can the goal be near?
Laden with the dew of vespers,
   From the fragrant sky,
In my ear the wind that whispers
   Seems to make reply —

"Question not, but live and labour
   Till yon goal be won,
Helping every feeble neighbour,
   Seeking help from none;
Life is mostly froth and bubble,
   Two things stand like stone,
KINDNESS in another’s trouble,
   COURAGE in your own."

Courage, comrades, this is certain,
   All is for the best —
There are lights behind the curtain —
   Gentiles, let us rest,
As the smoke-rack veers to seaward,
   From "the ancient clay",
With its moral drifting leeward,
   Ends the wanderer’s lay.

About the Author

See our page on Adam Lindsay Gordon. Includes a linked list of all his writing available on our website.

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