Camels [poem by Rex Ingamells]

[Editor: This poem by Rex Ingamells was published in Gumtops (1935).]


The mighty desert country
Is treeless and quite bare,
Except for clumps of saltbush stumps
And spinifex and glare;
Yet swart and turbanned Afghans,
Lean Afghans, brown and strong,
With black boys, there lead camels
Untiringly along.

When far across the desert
Shines the first hint of light,
And scarce the sun has banished one
Clear star away from night;
With bales and packs and boxes
Lashed on securely, then,
The lengthy trains of camels
Prepare to start again.

And when the gloomy vastness
Of sandy solitude
Is smitten bright with morning light,
When, fiery and imbued
With strength, the sun has risen,
And scorches everywhere,
The camel trains go stringing
Amid the blinding glare.

The unflecked sky above them
Burns ever deeper blue;
The wavering heat-hazes bring
More, distant dunes to view;
And shimmering mirages
Like lakes and rivers brim,
Incessant in their mockery,
Round the horizon’s rim.

Along the blazing sand-crests
And down the ghostly vales,
The strings of slow brown camels go
Upon their winding trails.
Like dull, gigantic pythons
Does the black crow perceive
Them serpentine and quiver
And slowly dip and heave.

Across the desert country
The camels move all day;
With steadfast eyes from rise to rise
They keep their solemn way.
They bear their bulky burdens
In patience on and on,
With scarce a pause from daybreak
Until the sun is gone.

Their life, one weary journey,
Finds nothing new and strange;
Forlorn and drear the lines appear
Of some far mountain range.
Perchance awhile, when evening
In beauty lingers there,
And spreads across the sandhills,
They breathe some magic rare.

When on the desert country
The hues of evening fall;
When the hot sun, his venture done,
Rolls down, a fiery ball;
When wondrous colours filter;
That time of all is best,
For then, their backs unburdened,
The camels rove and rest.

Then orange, purple, crimson,
Creep o’er the sandhills bare,
Ere Night encroach with swift approach
And star-fires in her hair;
Then the red sandhills, gilded,
Burn up with copper fire,
While westward sparks and smoulders
The daylight’s brilliant pyre.

In that dream-hour the camels
Their hard-won respite know;
Their burdens gone, they range upon
Sand-ridges in the glow.
The glory pales and gutters,
The sandhill colours shrink,
And westward past the camels
The last grey-purples sink.

The ridges fade in darkness,
Or curve against the stars;
Night, cool and dim, hides all the grim
And ghastly desert scars.
And yet the desert’s vastness
Broods on eternally,
The home of all the camels,
As it will ever be.

Rex Ingamells. Gumtops, F. W. Preece & Sons, Adelaide, 1935, pages 7-10

Editor’s notes:
serpentine = having a winding course (can also mean to resemble a serpent, in form or movement, or by the mental characteristics attributed to serpents, such as cunning, shrewd, sneakily tempting, or wily)

swart = dark in color (as an adjective, “swarthy”)

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