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Personal Choice 19

I was eight years of age when the first cardboard boxes of books were brought into the little northern suburbs primary school classroom early that year. I remember as if it were yesterday being given a copy of my very first poetry collection Fresh Fields. A Longmans Australian edition it contained some of my still favourite verse and a quantity of Australian poetry for the first time for children. Grape Harvest by Brian Vrepont (today completely forgotten) was amongst them and just so saturated in imagery and a feast for all the senses. I loved it then as I do now.

Grape Harvest

There was a great heat on the land,

But crackle-dry as wing of a dragon-fly;

Breast-high over the baked brown earth

Stretched dappled green lines of dark flat leaves,

And, in the ponderous mass of light and shade,

The pulsing shapes of grapes. Cool from the white canal

Where I had swum beneath a cloudless sky,

Over a burning acre I came at a run

To the shaded tables on trestles, to the purple-white bunches

Each with a short brown curving stalk,

To the snip of wine-stained scissors, the dextrous fingers

Of women and men, the hot pulpy scent, to the bees

Clinging and humming, sipping sweet nectar,

And I thrilled as if I had come upon Heaven.

Down the long rows, thin in perspective,

Came the pickers with heavy full baskets

Out from the glare into awninged sharp shade,

The packers down bending to set the white paper,

With coarse-sensitive fingers layering the fruit,

Bunch on bunch of white-purple grapes; then hammer

And nails, a brand, and away to the horse-drawn carts;

And I said to myself, ‘0h man, what a world thou hast here

In thy two hands,’ for I knew full well

The labour of man and maiden,

the sweat of the labourer's brow,

Was keystone of all the heavens; and I said, again,

Watching the flash of limbs in the wide canal,

Dappled with light as the sun retreated-

‘What harvest as this have the cities?’

Brian Vrepont

Brian Vrepont (1882 - 1955), was an Australian poet who published his work under a pseudonym which was a ‘Frenchified version of Truebridge’ He was born in Carlton in 1882, the eldest of six children. After an early marriage and divorce, Truebridge worked his way around Australia and New Zealand for the next decade as fruit-picker, gold fossicker, music teacher, and masseur. During this time he began publishing in the pages of The Bulletin magazine. By 1934 Truebridge had settled in Brisbane and started writing prolifically, publishing his first collection that same year. In 1939 he won the C. J. Dennis memorial prize for The Miracle, a long philosophical poem. Then, in 1940 he helped found Meanjin Papers - still published today as Meanjin magazine.


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