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The First Thrush

Dame Mary Gilmore 1865 (Crookwell, New South Wales) – 1962 (Sydney, New South Wales)



Though leaves have fallen long since,
The wagtails flirt and flit,
Glad in the morning sun;
While, on the knotted quince,
The dewdrops, pearled on it,
Bead to a little run. . . .

Soft as a breathing air
There came a lovely sound
Out of the branches bare;
So rich it was, and round,
Sense stood, in listening bound,
Stilled to its sweetness there!
It was the thrush's note,

That seemed as though his heart
On some loved thing did dote;
As though he yearned apart,
Knowing some hidden smart,
Pain in the long sweet rote.

There, as the spider hung
Grey-breasted 'gainst the brown
Skin of the quince, he sung
A song that o'er the town,
Rose up as though to crown
The tree-tops whence it sprung.

And now, it seems to me,
That long full breath he drew,
Like perfume shed on air,
Still dwells within the tree,
Though long ago he flew,
And left it naked there.

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Submitted on May 13, 2011

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Dame Mary Gilmore

Dame Mary Jean Gilmore (née Cameron) was an Australian writer and journalist known for her prolific contributions to Australian literature and the broader national discourse. She wrote both prose and poetry. Gilmore was born in rural New South Wales, and spent her childhood in and around the Riverina, living both in small bush settlements and in larger country towns like Wagga Wagga. Gilmore qualified as a schoolteacher at the age of 16, and after a period in the country was posted to Sydney. She involved herself with the burgeoning labour movement, and also became a devotee of the utopian socialism views of William Lane. In 1893, Gilmore and 200 others followed Lane to Paraguay, where they formed the New Australia Colony. She started a family there, but the colony did not live up to expectations and they returned to Australia in 1902. Drawing on her connections in Sydney, Gilmore found work with The Australian Worker as the editor of its women's section, a position she held from 1908 to 1931. She also wrote for a variety of other publications, including The Bulletin and The Sydney Morning Herald, becoming known as a campaigner for the welfare of the disadvantaged. Gilmore's first volume of poetry was brought out in 1910; she published prolifically for the rest of her life, mainly poetry but also memoirs and collections of essays. She wrote on a variety of themes, although the public imagination was particularly captured by her evocative views of country life. Her best known work is "No Foe Shall Gather Our Harvest", which served as a morale booster during World War II. Gilmore's greatest recognition came in later life. She was the doyenne of the Sydney literary world, and became something of a national icon, making frequent appearances in the new media of radio and television. Gilmore maintained her prodigious output into old age, publishing her last book of verse in 1954, aged 89. Two years earlier she had begun writing a new column for the Tribune (the official newspaper of the Communist Party), which she continued for almost a decade. Gilmore died at the age of 97 and was accorded a state funeral, a rare honour for a writer. She has featured on the reverse of the Australian ten-dollar note since 1993. more…

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