[Editor: This poem by Roderic Quinn was published in The Bulletin Reciter, 1901.]
The Currency Lass.
They marshalled her lovers four and four,
A drum at their head, in the days of old :
O, none could have guessed their hearts were sore ;
They marched with such gayness in scarlet and gold.
They came to the dance place on the hill
Where Death was the piper (he pipes full well !) ;
They grounded their arms and stood stock-still ;
And just why he sorrowed no one would tell.
O, some had been wed in distant lands,
And sweethearts had others — but let that pass ;
She held them at ease in snow-white hands,
For Queen over all was the Currency Lass.
They ushered her forth in all her charms —
Her eyes were alight and as gold her hair ;
She looked on the men and oped her arms —
What wonder if then they had wished them there ?
She hearkened the Preacher, thin and pale ;
His voice was as frost, yet his words were wise ;
But sin on the soul is like wrought mail,
And only a scorn of him fired her eyes.
“O, sorrow and pray ! the hour draws nigh.
The Lord in His justice shall question thee !”
The Preacher made prayer ’twixt sob and sigh.
And down dropped his soul on bended knee.
“He fashioned thee fair” — a sideways look—
“Red lipped and right royal to look upon,
A joy of the Earth” — his thin hands shook,
And passionate lights in his deep eyes shone.
In scarlet and gold her lovers stood,
A host under famine with heads out-thrust
Keen-flamed in the sun ran reddest blood
And lips that were thirsty grew dry as dust.
They loved her for years — their tangled souls
Like silvery fish in her beauty-mesh
All breathless reposed . . . A dull drum rolls,
And Death is at hand for the Flower of Flesh.
She lifted her head for one love-word
(Afar was a clamour of new-come ships),
Her hair in a cloud the low wind stirred,
And silent they marvelled at her red lips.
“A lover was I from youth,” she said ;
“And Love is my lord till I fill the grave” —
Then coyly she drooped her gold-haired head —
“Now, last of my lovers, a kiss I crave !”
The Preacher was whirled in Passion’s rout,
And dark was the stain on his soul’s white snow
Her lips were as life — his soul leapt out,
And sure there was laughter in Hell below !
“A singer was I these years,” she said,
“And so I must sing till my soul doth pass.”
Then forth from her sin-sweet lips there sped
The long-dead song of the Currency Lass.
The hands of the spoiler touch her throat ;
The noon grows near and the last sands run :
(Still over the scene her wild words float)
The noose is ready, the song is done.
“A dancer was I from birth,” she said ;
“A baby, I danced on my mother’s knee ;
Now whistle a jig, with swaying head,
And lovers of mine, I will dance for ye !”
Stood each with a droop, a cheated man,
While Sorrow went weaving an ice-cold spell . . .
Good-bye to the world ! The dance began
With Death for the piper — he piped full well !
A.G. Stephens (editor). The Bulletin Reciter: A Collection of Verses for Recitation from “The Bulletin” [1880-1901], The Bulletin Newspaper Company, Sydney, 1902 [first published 1901], pages 176-179