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: Paroo
On the Paroo
Henry Kendall (1839–1882)
 
(Excerpt)

AS when the strong stream of a wintering sea
Rolls round our coast, with bodeful breaks of storm,
And swift salt rain, and bitter wind that saith
Wild things and woeful of the White South Land
Alone with God and Silence in the cold,—        5
As when this cometh, men from dripping doors
Look forth, and shudder for the mariners
Abroad, so we for absent brothers looked
In days of drought, and when the flying floods
Swept boundless, roaring down the bald, black plains        10
Beyond the farthest spur of western hills.
 
For where the Barwan cuts a rotten land,
Or lies unshaken, like a great blind creek,
Between hot mouldering banks, it came to this,
All in a time of short and thirsty sighs,        15
That thirty rainless months had left the pools
And grass as dry as ashes; then it was
Our kinsmen started for the lone Paroo,
From point to point, with patient strivings, sheer
Across the horrors of the windless downs,        20
Blue-gleaming like a sea of molten steel.
 
But never drought had broke them, never flood
Had quenched them; they with mighty youth and health,
And thews and sinews knotted like the trees,—
They, like the children of the native woods,        25
Could stem the strenuous waters, or outlive
The crimson days and dull dead nights of thirst
Like camels! yet of what avail was strength
Alone to them—though it was like the rocks
On stormy mountains—in the bloody time        30
When fierce sleep caught them in the camps at rest,
And violent darkness gripped the life in them
And whelmed them, as an eagle unawares
Is whelmed and slaughtered in a sudden snare?
 
All murdered by the blacks! smit while they lay        35
In silver dreams, and with the far faint fall
Of many waters breaking on their sleep!
Yea, in the tracts unknown of any man
Save savages,—the dim-discovered ways
Of footless silence or unhappy winds,—        40
The wild men came upon them, like a fire
Of desert thunder; and the fine firm lips
That touched a mother’s lips a year before,
And hands that knew a dearer hand than life,
Were hewn like sacrifice before the stars,        45
And left with hooting owls, and blowing clouds,
And falling leaves, and solitary wings!
 
Ay, you may see their graves,—you who have toiled
And tripped and thirsted, like these men of ours;
For verily I say that not so deep        50
Their bones are that the scattered drift and dust
Of gusty days will never leave them bare.
O dear, dead, bleaching bones! I know of those
Who have the wild strong will to go and sit
Outside all things with you, and keep the ways        55
Aloof from bats, and snakes, and trampling feet
That smite your peace and theirs,—who have the heart
Without the lusty limbs to face the fire,
And moonless midnights, and to be indeed,
For very sorrow, like a moaning wind        60
In wintry forests with perpetual rain.
*        *        *        *        *
 
 
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