by Adam Lindsay Gordon (1833 – 1870)
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
(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
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
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.