After the Flood [poem by Dora Wilcox]

[Editor: This poem by Dora Wilcox was published in The Bulletin Reciter, 1901.]

After the Flood.

Here, in this bend of the creek, in the rushes and long lush grasses,
Wild white violets nestle, and musk in the water- weeds;
Here there is stillness, and shelter — for the wandering wind as it passes
Is caught by the tall green flax, and dies in the raupo and reeds.

Only the roar of the creek, half-hidden in flax and toi,
Swirling in deep, dark pools under the nigger-head ;
Only the bleat of sheep, and the distant drover’s coo-ee,
Only the bark of dogs, to break the sleep of the dead !

Shelter, and stillness, else ; and over the level plain,
Over the hedges and homesteads, and paddocks of wheat and rye,
Shoulder and peak and glacier, range upon range again,
Blue rise the Alps in the distance, kissing the soft blue sky . . .

This is the place where we found him — here, with his face to the skies,
Cast by the furious flood like a broken straw on the bank ;
Here at the pitiless sun he stared with unseeing eyes —
Neither despairing nor pleading, but horribly, hopelessly blank.

Snow ? — we had plenty of snow that winter of ’seventy-one:
Snow on the lowlands, and snow on the highlands, and snow on the range ;
Never a month of spring, for all with a rush and a run,
Winter changed into summer — folk called it a cursed change :

For a warm nor’easter blew the whole of a windy week,
Melted the Alpine snows, and after a day of doubt,
We woke in the noisy night to the rush and roar of the creek —
Woke in the wild, wet night to know that the floods were out.

We in the homestead watched, after that weary night,
Waited and watched through the day while the water rose to the door ;
Watched, while the children shouted, and welcomed the flood with delight —
Sailed their paper-boats, and paddled about on the floor.

On rushed the yellow flood, crashing, and dashing, and hurling
Timber, and logs, and posts, in the whirl of the foaming deep ;
Then, as the day wore on, we heard thro’ the roar of the swirling,
Piteous, the low of cattle, and terrified bleat of sheep.

Then, when the flood went down, the road and the paddocks were strewn
With timber and broken branches, half-buried in silt and mud ;
Carcases hither and thither, palings and posts torn down,
And the wild flowers crushed and broken, to trace the course of the flood.

This is the place where he lay with his wan, white face to the skies,
Caught here against a gorse-stump amongst the reeds on the bank ;
Here to the pitiless sun he stared with unseeing eyes,
Neither despairing nor pleading, but horribly, hopelessly blank.

And here we stood in silence, the shepherd Jim and I —
Stood, and stared at the stillness in the staring face of the dead ;
And Jim knelt down in the rushes, and closed the expressionless eye.
And covered the corpse with his coat — “For the sake of the mother,” he said.

Only a pipe in his pocket, and matches sodden and damp ;
Never a mark nor sign to trace him, his home, or his name ;
“Only a swagger!” we heard; and nobody misses a tramp
Houseless and friendless— who cared whither he went or came ?

We buried him here where we found him, for the parson was miles away,
While the wild wind rustled the flax-blades, and gorse-blossoms scented the air ;
Here, with the drooping wild-flowers, that glorious sweet spring day,
We left the nameless swagger, with never a dirge nor prayer.

Gentleman, swagger, clown — what difference perishing thus ?
In the face of the pitiful present, what were the things of the past ?
Gentle or simple — what matter? it was nothing to him or to us:
We are all of us gentle, maybe, and simple too, at the last !

What were the odds to him ? Did it fare with him better or worse,
Rolled like a log down the creek, choked by the fierce yellow wave,
Flung in the ooze on the bank, caught in a snag of the gorse,
Laid by ungentle hands away in a nameless grave ?

Yet the shepherd Jim and I had looked on the face of the dead, —
Looked on the dogged jaw, and forehead solid and square :
There was will in the resolute mouth, and brain in the massive head —
Drowned like a rat in the creek, and that power and intellect there !

And somewhere, out in the distance, was there a mother or wife
Waiting, and watching, and praying, as only women can pray ;—
Waiting, and watching, and praying in vain for a wasted life,
For that unknown tramp who perished — how many miles away ?

What was the good of it all ? — of intellect, power and strength ?
What had he done with his life ? Why was he born to the world ?
What was the use of it all ? — to live for a space, and at length
Lie like a log in the mud where the refuse and rubbish are hurled ?

Ay, you may weep and pray, you women, and weep again,
Weep for the wasted talent, weep for the useless life !
The whole wide world weeps with you, the whole world’s tears are vain
Even as yours, O Mother ! even as yours, O Wife !

We plod through the daily routine, we see in our own dull way
That our useless lives are useful in the life of the human race ;
Our influence lasts for ever, our virtues and vices may
Bear fruit in our children’s children, and set them each in his place.

Oh, answerless riddle of riddles ! as the purposeless years rolled by
We also have vexed our souls since the human epoch began,
Who live, eat, drink, and are merry, who suffer, and sin, and die,
Content to be amongst many — then how for the hundredth man ?

The man who should rise and lead us, the many, the common crowd,
Who should leave his mark upon us by right of a stronger brain ;
The man who, with broader thought and higher feeling endowed,
Was — only an unknown swagger, whose existence was void and vain !

Ah, well ! let him sleep in peace where the water-weeds and the mosses
Nestle under the raupo in the quiet bend of the creek ;
Life is a difficult thing with its longings, its loves, and its losses . . .
May Death prove an easier matter to all of us, strong or weak.

Dora Wilcox.

A.G. Stephens (editor). The Bulletin Reciter: A Collection of Verses for Recitation from “The Bulletin” [1880-1901], The Bulletin Newspaper Company, Sydney, 1902 [first published 1901], pages 22-27


  1. Bill McMurray says:

    What a beautiful site I have stumbled on tonight. I’ll be back . Thank you, from Quebec, Canada.

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