The River Maiden

The River Maiden


Leist was an Australian artist and illustrator. He was born in Surrey Hills, Sydney and studied at Sydney Art School under Julian Ashton. In the 1890s he worked as a black and white artist for The Bulletin and The Sydney Mail newspapers. After 1900 he was also the Sydney representative fro the Graphic magazine in London. In 1917 he was appointed an official war artist and served with the Australian Imperial Forces in France. He completed numerous paintings during the war and after his war service contributed two large murals for the Australian stand at the British Empire Exhibitions at Wembley in 1924. As a result of these he gained several commissions from the United States and toured the south west of America, including Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. He returned to Australia in 1926 and took up a position as Head of Painting at the East Sydney Technical College. He is represented in the collections of the Art Gallery of New South Wales; the Australian War Memorial in Canberra; Parliament House, Canberra and elsewhere. The present work illustrates two verses from The River Maiden by the Australian poet Victor Daley (1858-1905) and may have been used to illustrate its publication in The Bulletin magazine: Her gown was simple woven wool, But, in repayment, Her body sweet made beautiful The simplest raiment: For all its fine, melodious curves With life a-quiver Were graceful as the bends and swerves Of her own river. Her round arms, from the shoulders down To sweet hands slender, The sun had kissed them amber-brown With kisses tender. For though she loved the secret shades Where ferns grow stilly, And wild vines droop their glossy braids, And gleams the lily, And Nature, with soft eyes that glow In gloom that glistens, Unto her own heart, beating slow, In silence listens: She loved no less the meadows fair, And green, and spacious; The river, and the azure air, And sunlight gracious. I saw her first when tender, wan, Green light enframed her; And, in my heart, the Flower of Dawn I softly named her. The bright sun, like a king in state, With banners streaming, Rode through the fair auroral gate In mail gold-gleaming. The witch-eyed stars before him paled”” So high his scorning!”” And round the hills the rose-clouds sailed, And it was morning. The light mimosas bended low To do her honour, As in that rosy morning glow I gazed upon her. My boat swung bow-ward to the stream Where tall reeds shiver; We floated onward, in a dream, Far down the River. The River that full oft has told To Ocean hoary A many-coloured, sweet, and old Unending story: The story of the tall, young trees, For ever sighing To sail some day the rolling seas ’Neath banners flying. The Ocean hears, and through his caves Roars gusty laughter; And takes the River, with his waves To roll thereafter. But Love deep waters cannot drown; To its old fountains The stream returns in clouds that crown Its parent mountains. The River was to her so dear She seemed its daughter; Her deep translucent eyes were clear As sunlit water; And in her bright veins seemed to run, Pulsating, glowing, The music of the wind and sun, And waters flowing. The secrets of the trees she knew: Their growth, their gladness, And, when their time of death was due, Their stately sadness. Gray gums, like old men warped by time, She knew their story; And theirs that laughed in pride of prime And leafy glory; And theirs that, where clear waters run, Drooped dreaming, dreaming; And theirs that shook against the sun Their green plumes gleaming. All things of gladness that exist Did seem to woo her, And well that woodland satirist, The lyre-bird, knew her. And there were hidden mossy dells That she knew only, Where Beauty born of silence dwells Mysterious, lonely. No sounds of toil their stillness taunt, No hearth-smoke sullies The air: the Mountain Muses haunt Those lone, green gullies. And there they weave a song of Fate That never slumbers: A song some bard shall yet translate In golden numbers. A blue haze veiled the hills’ huge shapes A misty lustre”” Like rime upon the purple grapes, When ripe they cluster: ’Twas noon, and all the Vale was gold”” An El Dorado: The damask river seaward rolled, Through shine and shadow. And, gazing on its changing glow, I saw, half-sighing, The wondrous Fairyland below Its surface lying. There all things shone with paler sheen: More softly shimmered The fern-fronds, and with softer green The myrtles glimmered: And””like that Fisher gazing in The sea-depths, pining For days gone by, who saw Julin Beneath him shining, With many a wave-washed corridor, And sea-filled portal, And plunged below, and nevermore Was seen of mortal”” So I, long gazing at the gleam Of fern and flower, Felt drawn down to that World of Dream By magic power: For there, I knew, in silence sat, With breasts slow-heaving, Illusion’s Queen Rabesquerat, Her web a-weaving. But when the moon shone, large and low, Against Orion, Then, as from some pale portico Might issue Dian, She came through tall tree-pillars pale, A silver vision, A nymph strayed out of Ida’s vale Or fields Elysian. White stars shone out with mystic gleams The woods illuming: It seemed as if the trees in dreams Once more were blooming. And all beneath those starry blooms, By bends and beaches, We floated on through glassy glooms, Down moonlit reaches. Ah, that was in the glad years when Joys ne’er were sifted, But I on wilder floods since then Have darkly drifted. Yet, River of Romance, for me With pictures glowing, Through dim, green fields of Memory Thou still art flowing. And still I hear, thy shores along, All faintly ringing, The notes of ghosts of birds that long Have ceased their singing. Was she, who then my heart did use To touch so purely, A mortal maiden””or a Muse? I know not, surely. But still in dreams I see her stand, A fairer Flora, Serene, immortal, by the strand Of clear Narora.


Height 66.04 cm / 26 "
Width 36.83 cm / 14 "
Framed height 88.9 cm / 35 "
Framed width 60.96 cm / 24 "