Cooranbean [poem by Henry Kendall]

[Editor: This poem by Henry Kendall was published in Songs from the Mountains (1880).]


Years fifty, and seven to boot, have smitten the children of men
Since sound of a voice or a foot came out of the head of that Glen:
The brand of black devil is there — an evil wind moaneth around —
There is doom, there is death in the air: a curse groweth up from the ground!
No noise of the axe or the saw in that Hollow unholy is heard:
No fall of the hoof or the paw — no whirr of the wing of the bird;
But a gray mother down by the sea, as wan as the foam on the strait,
Has counted the beads on her knee these forty-nine winters and eight.

Whenever an elder is asked — a white-headed man of the woods —
Of the terrible mystery masked where the dark everlastingly broods,
Be sure he will turn to the bay with his back to the Glen in the range
And glide like a phantom away, with a countenance pallid with change.
From the line of dead timber that lies supine at the foot of the glade,
The fierce-featured eaglehawk flies — afraid as a dove is afraid;
But back in that wilderness dread are a fall and the forks of a ford —
Ah! pray and uncover your head, and lean like a child on the Lord.

A sinister fog at the wane — at the change of the moon cometh forth
Like an ominous ghost in the train of a bitter black storm of the North!
At the head of the Gully unknown, it hangs like a spirit of bale;
And the noise of a shriek and a groan strikes up in the gusts of the gale.
In the throat of a feculent pit is the beard of a bloody-red sedge;
And a foam like the foam of a fit sweats out of the lips of the ledge;
But down in the water of death, in the livid dead pool at the base —
Bow low with inaudible breath: beseech with the hands to the face!

A furlong of fetid black fen, with gelid green patches of pond,
Lies dumb by the horns of the Glen — at the gates of the Horror beyond;
And those who have looked on it tell of the terrible growths that are there —
The flowerage fostered by Hell — the blossoms that startle and scare;
If ever a wandering bird should light on Gehennas like this,
Be sure that a cry will be heard and the sound of the flat adder’s hiss.
But, hard by the jaws of the bend is a ghastly Thing matted with moss —
Ah, Lord! be a Father, a Friend, for the sake of the Christ of the Cross!

Black Tom with the sinews of five — that never a hangman could hang —
In the days of the shackle and gyve, broke loose from the guards of the gang.
Thereafter, for seasons a score, this devil prowled under the ban:
A mate of red talon and paw — a wolf in the shape of a man.
But, ringed by ineffable fire, in a thunder and wind of the North,
The sword of Omnipotent ire — the bolt of high heaven went forth!
But, wan as the sorrowful foam, a gray mother waits by the sea
For the boys that have never come home these fifty-four winters and three.

From the folds of the forested hills there are ravelled and roundabout tracks,
Because of the terror that fills the strong-handed men of the axe!
Of the workers away in the range, there is none that will wait for the night
When the storm-stricken moon is in change, and the sinister fog is in sight.
And later and deep in the dark, when the bitter wind whistles about,
There is never a howl or a bark from the dog in the kennel without;
But the white fathers fasten the door, and often and often they start
At a sound like a foot on the floor and a touch like a hand on the heart.

Henry Kendall, Songs from the Mountains, Sydney: William Maddock, 1880, pages 64-69

Editor’s notes:
fen = low-lying flat swampy land, which has been drained of water (usually for agricultural purposes); a marsh

fetid = having a heavily offensive or stale nauseating smell, like a smell of decay (also spelt “foetid”)

Gehenna = a place or state of torment or suffering, hell; a Latin word, from the Greek Geenna, which came from the Hebrew Gē’ Hinnōm, a reference to the valley of Hinnom (a valley south of Jerusalem) which had gained a fearsome and evil reputation among Jews because of barbarous events that took place there (by the time of the New Testament, it had come to mean a reference to Hell, e.g. Matthew 5:22, 5:29; Mark 9:43)

gyve = a U-shaped piece of metal secured with a metal pin or bolt across the opening, usually used to shackle the leg of a prisoner or slave

score = twenty (sometimes used in conjunction with a cardinal number, e.g. “threescore”, “fourscore”) (may also refer to an undefined large number)

sedge = a grass-like plant with a solid three-sided stem, which grows in tufts, typically found in wet ground or near water, such as marshes; any of the grass-like plants of the family Cyperaceae (especially those of the of the genus Carex)

wan = having a sickly or pale appearance; a poorly appearance suggestive of unhappiness or grief; a lack of energy or feeling (e.g. a smile or laugh, displaying little effort, energy, or enthusiasm); lacking good health or vitality (may also refer to something which is dim or faint, e.g. light, stars, sun)

Old spelling in the original text:
cometh (comes)
groweth (grows)
moaneth (moans)

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