On a Cattle Track

Original Text: 
The Poems of Henry Kendall, ed. Bertram Stephens (Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1920): 86-87. Sydney Electronic Text and Image Service (SETIS), digital text sponsored by AustLit: http://setis.library.usyd.edu.au/ozlit
1Where the strength of dry thunder splits hill-rocks asunder,
2    And the shouts of the desert-wind break,
3By the gullies of deepness and ridges of steepness,
4    Lo, the cattle track twists like a snake!
6    A plain to the left of it lies;
7And six fleeting horses dash down the creek courses
8    With the terror of thirst in their eyes.
9The false strength of fever, that deadly deceiver,
10    Gives foot to each famishing beast;
11And over lands rotten, by rain-winds forgotten,
12    The mirage gleams out in the east.
13Ah! the waters are hidden from riders and ridden
14    In a stream where the cattle track dips;
15And Death on their faces is scoring fierce traces,
18    Is a spectre that glooms in the way;
19Like a red smoke the air is, like a hell-light its glare is,
20    And as flame are the feet of the day.
21The wastes are like metal that forges unsettle
22    When the heat of the furnace is white;
23And the cool breeze that bloweth when an English sun goeth,
24    Is unknown to the wild Desert Night.
25A cry of distress there! a horseman the less there!
26    The mock-waters shine like a moon!
27It is "Speed, and speed faster from this hole of disaster!
28    And hurrah for yon God-sent lagoon!"
29Doth a devil deceive them? Ah, now let us leave them--
30    We are burdened in life with the sad;
31Our portion is trouble, our joy is a bubble,
32    And the gladdest is never too glad.
33From the pale tracts of peril, past mountain heads sterile,
34    To a sweet river shadowed with reeds,
35Where Summer steps lightly, and Winter beams brightly,
36    The hoof-rutted cattle-track leads.
37There soft is the moonlight, and tender the noon-light;
38    There fiery things falter and fall;
39And there may be seen, now, the gold and the green, now,
40    And the wings of a peace over all.
42    Away by the snow-smitten Pole!
43The rotten leaf falleth, the forest rain calleth;
44    And what is the end of the whole?
45Some men are successful after seasons distressful
46    [Now, masters, the drift of my tale]
47But the brink of salvation is a lair of damnation
48    For others who struggle, yet fail.

Notes

5] Decembers: the height of the hot season in Australia. Back to Line
16] drouth: drought, prolonged period without rainfall. Back to Line
17] Station: "the house with the necessary buildings and home-premises of a sheep-run", that is, the grass-lands for pasturing sheep owned by a homesteader ("station," OED n.1, 14, citation from 1898). Back to Line
41] bittern: a large marsh bird.
plover: a short-billed wading bird. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
1869
Publication Notes: 
Leaves from Australian Forests (1869)
RPO poem Editors: 
Cameron La Follette
RPO Edition: 
2011
Rhyme: