Verse > Anthologies > Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. > Poems of Places > Oceanica
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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed.  Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Oceanica: Vol. XXXI.  1876–79.
 
Australia: Arrawatta, the Glen
Arrawatta
Henry Kendall (1839–1882)
 
(Excerpt)

A SKY of wind! And while these fitful gusts
Are beating round the windows in the cold,
With sullen sobs of rain, behold I shape
A settler’s story of the wild old times:
One told by camp-fires when the station-drays        5
Were housed and hidden, forty years ago;
While swarthy drivers smoked their pipes, and drew,
And crowded round the friendly-gleaming flame
That lured the dingo howling from his caves
And brought sharp sudden feet about the brakes.        10
 
A tale of love and death. And shall I say
A tale of love in death; for all the patient eyes
That gathered darkness, watching for a son
And brother, never dreaming of the fate—
The fearful fate he met alone, unknown,        15
Within the ruthless Australasian wastes?
 
For, in a far-off sultry summer rimmed
With thunder-cloud and red with forest-fires,
All day, by ways uncouth and ledges rude,
The wild men held upon a stranger’s trail        20
Which ran against the rivers and athwart
The gorges of the deep blue western hills.
 
And when a cloudy sunset, like the flame
In windy evenings on the Plains of Thirst
Beyond the dead banks of the far Barcoo,        25
Lay heavy down the topmost peaks, they came
With pent-in breath and stealthy steps, and crouched,
Like snakes, amongst the grasses, till the night
Had covered face from face and thrown the gloom
Of many shadows on the front of things.        30
 
There, in the shelter of a nameless glen
Fenced round by cedars and the tangled growths
Of blackwood stained with brown and shot with gray,
The jaded white man built his fire, and turned
His horse adrift amongst the water-pools        35
That trickled underneath the yellow leaves
And made a pleasant murmur, like the brooks
Of England through the sweet autumnal noons.
 
Then after he had slaked his thirst, and used
The forest-fare, for which a healthful day        40
Of mountain-life had brought a zest, he took
His axe, and shaped with boughs and wattle-forks
A wurley, fashioned like a bushman’s roof:
The door brought out athwart the strenuous flame:
The back thatched in against a rising wind.        45
 
And, while the sturdy hatchet filled the clifts
With sounds unknown, the immemorial haunts
Of echoes sent their lonely dwellers forth
Who lived a life of wonder: flying round
And round the glen,—what time the kangaroo        50
Leapt from his lair and huddled with the bats,—
Far-scattering down the wildly startled fells.
Then came the doleful owl; and evermore
The bleak morass gave out the bittern’s call,
The plover’s cry, and many a fitful wail        55
Of chilly omen, falling on the ear
Like those cold flaws of wind that come and go
An hour before the break of day.

                            Anon
The stranger held from toil, and, settling down,
He drew rough solace from his well-filled pipe        60
And smoked into the night: revolving there
The primal questions of a squatter’s life;
For in the flats, a short day’s journey past
His present camp, his station yards were kept
With many a lodge and paddock jutting forth        65
Across the heart of unnamed prairie-lands,
Now loud with bleating and the cattle bells
And misty with the hut-fire’s daily smoke.
 
Wide spreading flats, and western spurs of hills
That dipped to plains of dim perpetual blue;        70
Bold summits set against the thunder-heaps;
And slopes be-hacked and crushed by battling kine!
Where now the furious tumult of their feet
Gives back the dust, and up from glen and brake
Evokes fierce clamor, and becomes indeed        75
A token of the squatter’s daring life,
Which growing inland—growing year by year,
Doth set us thinking in these latter days,
And makes one ponder of the lonely lands
Beyond the lonely tracks of Burke and Wills,        80
Where, when the wandering Stuart fixed his camps
In central wastes afar from any home
Or haunt of man, and in the changeless midst
Of sullen deserts and the footless miles
Of sultry silence, all the ways about        85
Grew strangely vocal and a marvellous noise
Became the wonder of the waxing glooms.
*        *        *        *        *
Thus passed the time until the moon serene
Stood over high dominion like a dream
Of peace: within the white-transfigured woods,        90
And o’er the vast dew-dripping wilderness
Of slopes illumined with her silent fires.
Then far beyond the home of pale red leaves
And silver sluices, and the shining stems
Of runnel-blooms, the dreamy wanderer saw,        95
The wilder for the vision of the moon,
Stark desolations and a waste of plain
All smit by flame and broken with the storms:
Black ghosts of trees, and sapless trunks that stood
Harsh hollow channels of the fiery noise        100
Which ran from bole to bole a year before,
And grew with ruin, and was like, indeed,
The roar of mighty winds with wintering streams
That foam about the limits of the land,
And mix their swiftness with the flying seas.        105
 
Now, when the man had turned his face about
To take his rest, behold the gem-like eyes
Of ambushed wild things stared from bole and brake
With dumb amaze and faint-recurring glance,
And fear anon that drove them down the brash;        110
While from his den the dingo, like a scout
In sheltered ways, crept out and cowered near
To sniff the tokens of the stranger’s feast
And marvel at the shadows of the flame.
 
Thereafter grew the wind; and chafing depths        115
In distant waters sent a troubled cry
Across the slumberous forest; and the chill
Of coming rain was on the sleeper’s brow,
When, flat as reptiles hutted in the scrub,
A deadly crescent crawled to where he lay,—        120
A band of fierce fantastic savages
That, starting naked round the faded fire,
With sudden spears and swift terrific yells,
Came bounding wildly at the white man’s head,
And faced him, staring like a dream of hell!        125
 
Here let me pass! I would not stay to tell
Of hopeless struggles under crushing blows;
Of how the surging fiends with thickening strokes
Howled round the stranger till they drained his strength;
How Love and Life stood face to face with Hate        130
And Death; and then how Death was left alone
With Night and Silence in the sobbing rains.
 
So, after many moons, the searchers found
The body mouldering in the mouldering dell
Amidst the fungi and the bleaching leaves,        135
And buried it; and raised a stony mound
Which took the mosses: then the place became
The haunt of fearful legends, and the lair
Of bats and adders.
*        *        *        *        *
 
 
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