Fainting by the Way
Inscribed to my friend, J. Sheridan Moore, Esq.
Swarthy wastelands, wide and woodless, glittering miles and miles away,
Where the south wind seldom wanders and the winters will not stay ;
Lurid wastelands, pent in silence, thick with hot and thirsty sighs,
Where the scanty thorn-leaves twinkle with their haggard hopeless eyes ;
Furnaced wastelands, hunched with hillocks like to stony billows rolled
Where the naked flats lie swirling, like a sea of darkened gold ;
Burning wastelands, glancing upward with a weird and vacant stare,
Where the languid heavens quiver o’er red depths of stirless air !
“O my brother, I am weary of this wildering waste of sand ;
In the noontide we can never travel to the promised land !
Lo, the desert broadens round us, glaring wildly in my face,
With long leagues of sunflame on it — O ! the barren, barren place !
See, behind us gleams a green plot : shall we thither turn and rest
Till a cold wind flutters over — till the day is down the west ?
I would follow, but I cannot ! Brother, let me here remain,
For the heart is dead within me, and I may not rise again.”
“Wherefore stay to talk of fainting ; rouse thee for awhile, my friend ;
Evening hurries on our footsteps, and this journey soon will end —
Wherefore stay to talk of fainting, when the Sun, with sinking fire,
Smites the blocks of broken thunder blackening yonder craggy spire.
Even now the far-off landscape broods and fills with coming change,
And a withered Moon grows brighter bending o’er that shadowed range ;
At the feet of grassy summits sleeps a water calm and clear,
There is surely rest beyond it ! comrade, wherefore tarry here ?
“Yet a little longer struggle ; we have walked a wilder plain,
And have met more troubles, trust me, than we e’er shall meet again !
Can you think of all the dangers, you and I are living through,
With a soul so weak and fearful — with the doubts I never knew ?
Dost thou not remember that the thorns are clustered with the rose ;
And that every Zinlike border may a pleasant land enclose ?
Oh ! across these sultry deserts, many a fruitful scene we’ll find ;
And the blooms we gather shall be worth the wounds they leave behind!”
“Ah, my brother, it is useless ! see, o’erburdened with their load,
All the friends who went before us fall or falter by the road ;
We have come a weary distance, seeking what we may not get,
And I think we are but children chasing rainbows through the wet !
Tell me not of vernal valleys ! Is it well to hold a reed
Out for drowning men to clutch at in the moments of their need ?
Go thy journey on without me, it is better I should stay,
Since my life is like an evening fading, swooning, fast away !
“Where are all the springs you talked of ? Have I not with pleading mouth
Looked to Heaven through a silence stifled in the crimson drouth ?
Have I not, with lips unsated, watched to see the fountains burst,
Where I searched the rocks for cisterns ? And they only mocked my thirst ?
Oh ! I dreamt of countries fertile, bright with lakes, and flashing rills
Leaping from their shady caverns, streaming round a thousand hills !
Leave me, brother, all is fruitless, barren, measureless, and dry ;
And my God will never help me, though I pray, and faint, and die.”
“Up ! — I tell thee this is idle ! O thou man of little faith ;
Doubting on the verge of Aidenn, turning now to covet death !
By the fervent hopes within me — by the strength which nerves my soul —
By the heart that yearns to help thee, we shall live and reach the goal !
Rise and lean thy weight upon me ! Life is fair, and God is just ;
And He yet will show us fountains, if we only look and trust ;
O ! I know it, and He leads us to the glens of stream and shade,
Where the low, sweet waters gurgle round the banks which cannot fade.”
“Thus he spake, my friend and brother ; and he took me by the hand,
And I think we walked the desert till the night was on the land ;
Then we came to flowery hollows, where we heard a far-off stream
Singing in the moony twilight like the rivers of my dream.
And the balmy winds came tripping softly through the pleasant trees,
And I thought they bore a murmur like a voice from sleeping seas.
So we travelled — so we reached it ; and I never more will part
With the peace, as calm as sunset, folded round my weary heart.”
Henry Kendall, Poems and Songs, J. R. Clarke, Sydney, 1862, pages 20-25
Aidenn = Eden (the Garden of Eden, from the Bible); paradise
drouth = drought (a prolonged period of no rain or an abnormally low amount of rain); or, in general terms, a prolonged shortage or lack of something
vernal = the spring season (or regarding, relating to, or occurring therein); fresh, new, young, youthful (like the new growth of the spring season)
Zinlike = (Zin-like) [unknown] [presumably not “zen-like” re. Buddhism, or “zin-like” re. Zinfandel wine]