Henry Kendall

(18 April 1839 – 1 August 1882 / Ulladulla, New South Wales)

The Glen Of Arrawatta - Poem by Henry Kendall

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
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.

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,
Within the ruthless Australasian wastes?

For in a far-off, sultry summer, rimmed
With thundercloud and red with forest fires,
All day, by ways uncouth and ledges rude,
The wild men held upon a stranger’s trail,
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,
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.

There, in the shelter of a nameless glen,
Fenced round by cedars and the tangled growths
Of blackwood, stained with brown and shot with grey,
The jaded white man built his fire, and turned
His horse adrift amongst the water-pools
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
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.

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
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
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,
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
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;
Bold summits set against the thunder heaps;
And slopes behacked 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 clamour, and becomes indeed
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,
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
Grew strangely vocal, and a marvellous noise
Became the wonder of the waxing glooms.

Now, after darkness, like a mighty spell
Amongst the hills and dim, dispeopled dells,
Had brought a stillness to the soul of things,
It came to pass that, from the secret depths
Of dripping gorges, many a runnel-voice
Came, mellowed with the silence, and remained
About the caves, a sweet though alien sound;
Now rising ever, like a fervent flute
In moony evenings, when the theme is love;
Now falling, as ye hear the Sunday bells
While hastening fieldward from the gleaming town.

Then fell a softer mood, and memory paused
With faithful love, amidst the sainted shrines
Of youth and passion in the valleys past
Of dear delights which never grow again.
And if the stranger (who had left behind
Far anxious homesteads in a wave-swept isle,
To face a fierce sea-circle day by day,
And hear at night the dark Atlantic’s moan)
Now took a hope and planned a swift return,
With wealth and health and with a youth unspent,
To those sweet ones that stayed with want at home,
Say who shall blame him—though the years are long,
And life is hard, and waiting makes the heart grow old?

Thus passed the time, until the moon serene
Stood over high dominion like a dream
Of peace: within the white, transfigured woods;
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,
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,
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.

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 brush;
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
In distant waters sent a troubled cry
Across the slumb’rous 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—
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!

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
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,
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.

There he lies and sleeps
From year to year—in soft Australian nights,
And through the furnaced noons, and in the times
Of wind and wet! Yet never mourner comes
To drop upon that grave the Christian’s tear
Or pluck the foul, dank weeds of death away.

But while the English autumn filled her lap
With faded gold, and while the reapers cooled
Their flame-red faces in the clover grass,
They looked for him at home: and when the frost
Had made a silence in the mourning lanes
And cooped the farmers by December fires,
They looked for him at home: and through the days
Which brought about the million-coloured Spring,
With moon-like splendours, in the garden plots,
They looked for him at home: while Summer danced,
A shining singer, through the tasselled corn,
They looked for him at home. From sun to sun
They waited. Season after season went,
And Memory wept upon the lonely moors,
And hope grew voiceless, and the watchers passed,
Like shadows, one by one away.

And he
Whose fate was hidden under forest leaves
And in the darkness of untrodden dells
Became a marvel. Often by the hearths
In winter nights, and when the wind was wild
Outside the casements, children heard the tale
Of how he left their native vales behind
(Where he had been a child himself) to shape
New fortunes for his father’s fallen house;
Of how he struggled—how his name became,
By fine devotion and unselfish zeal,
A name of beauty in a selfish land;
And then of how the aching hours went by,
With patient listeners praying for the step
Which never crossed the floor again. So passed
The tale to children; but the bitter end
Remained a wonder, like the unknown grave,
Alone with God and Silence in the hills.


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Poem Submitted: Wednesday, April 7, 2010



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