Heat Wave [poem by C. J. Dennis]

[Editor: This poem by C. J. Dennis was published in The Singing Garden (1935).]

Heat Wave

Day after day, week after burning week,
A ruthless sun has sucked the forest dry.
Morn after anxious morn men’s glances seek
The hills, hard-etched against a harder sky.
Gay blossoms droop and die.
Menace is here, as day draws to its peak,
And, ’mid the listless gums along the creek,
Hot little breezes sigh.

To-day the threat took shape; the birds were dumb.
Once more, as sullen, savage morning broke,
The silence told that trembling fear had come,
To bird and beast and all the forest folk.
One little wisp of smoke
Far in the south behind the listless gum
Grew to a purple pall. Like some far drum,
A distant muttering broke.

Red noon beheld red death come shouting o’er
These once green slopes — a leaping, living thing.
Touched by its breath, tree after tall tree wore
A fiery crown, as tho’ to mock a king —
A ghastly blossoming
Of sudden flame that died and was no more.
And, where a proud old giant towered of yore,
Stood now a blackened thing.

Fierce raved the conquering flame, as demons rave,
Earth shook to thunders of the falling slain.
Brambles and bushes, once so gay and brave,
Shrank back, and writhed, and shrieked and shrieked again
Like sentient things in pain.
Gone from the forest all that kind spring gave . . .
And now, at laggard last, too late to save,
Comes soft, ironic rain.



Source:
C. J. Dennis, The Singing Garden, Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1935, pages 62-63

Editor’s notes:
gay = happy, joyous, carefree (may also mean well-decorated, bright, attractive) (in modern times it may especially refer to a homosexual, especially a male homosexual; may also refer to something which is no good, pathetic, useless)

’mid = an abbreviation of “amid” or “amidst”: of or in the middle of an area, group, position, etc.

morn = morning

o’er = over (pronounced the same as “oar”, “or”, and “ore”)

Vernacular spelling in the original text:
tho’ (though)

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