Lost in the Mallee [poem by Charles Allan Sherard, 20 September 1884]

[Editor: A poem by Charles Allan Sherard. Published in The Australasian, 20 September 1884.]

Lost in the Mallee.

Fraught with flame, and clad in crimson, ride the heralds of the morn;
While the sun-god jousts with darkness, at the tournament of dawn:
And gleams of gauntlets glittering through lists of azure glance;
And the golden-armoured champion showers sunbeams from his lance;
Till some starry queen of beauty bids night’s vanquisher advance.

A glorious golden glamour through the gloomy wildwood glints;
Till the sombre scrub is sparkling in a galaxy of tints:
And the morning, in the Mallee, is suffused with genial glow;
While the dying hound is watching o’er the sleeper, lying low,
Who is dreaming at the day-birth of the days of long ago.

Of the days of deep desire and dreams of doing doughty deeds;
Ere the flowers of hope were strangled with a multitude of weeds —
Of the morning of his springtime, that can never dawn again,
When the fields of his ambition promised crops of golden grain;
Ere he planted seeds of folly for a harvesting of pain.

Of the days when gallant comrades shared the glory of his youth,
And his bright ideal of woman seemed a warm and living truth —
Ah! that one love, ne’er forgotten through the good days or the ill!
On his earth-bed in the Mallee he is dreaming of her still;
Though what-might-have-been was never, and what-might-be never will.

And his sleeping fancy mocks him with the vision of a bride,
Tall and slender, golden-headed, snowy-browed, and violet-eyed.
Robed in white and orange blossoms — as he saw her, in the aisle,
That day he sent his papers in, with a curse for woman’s guile
And the Jews who long lamented his departure for the Nile.

Not a murmur breaks the silence in the solitude of scrub,
Where lies the whilom favourite of the messroom and the club,
With a ragged blanket round him, and the earth his only bed —
Not a murmur breaks the silence, as he lifts his weary head,
To find his dumb companion on the ground beside him — dead.

* * * * *

Through the madd’ning maze of Mallee, while the sun is at its worst,
Slowly staggers in a circle one, whose throat is parched with thirst —
Miles and miles he wanders onward, hearing nothing but the sound
Of his feeble, falt’ring footsteps on the broiled and burning ground;
And the dusk beholds him dying when the dawn beheld the hound.

Had the Russian claimed his lifeblood in the fury of the fight —
Had the savage sepoys struck him on that dark and deadly night,
When, as moment followed moment, came the whistling past his ears
Of the leaden rain that rattled from the murd’rous mutineers —
He had fallen as a hero, and been requiemed with tears.

Did the Angel of Destruction pass him by with dour disdain,
As unworthy of his sickle, when the bright and brave were slain,
So the voiceless bush might fold him in her arms of gruesome gloom?
Ah! a still small voice is asking, as the Stygian waters loom,
“Have you lived the life heroic that deserves the hero’s doom?”

“Was the faith, or was the falsehood of a callous, cold coquette
Worth the mad trust of your manhood, or the years of long regret?
Was the world without her worthless, that you travelled down the hill?”
In his death-throes, in the Mallee, he is raving of her still;
Though what-might-have-been was never, and what-might-be never will.

Cloud-shed tears, in silver torrents, wash the sombre stunted shrub
That sepulchres the stranger in the solitude of scrub —
Long forgotten by his comrades in the charge or in the camp,
He has dreed his doom in darkness, dreary, desolate, and damp —
Who twice scaped dying a hero, ere he perished as a tramp.


The Australasian (Melbourne, Vic.), 20 September 1884, p. 572

Editor’s notes:
broil = to cook by using direct exposure to radiant heat; grill; to be subjected to great or oppressive heat

doom = fate, destiny, especially adverse destiny or an unavoidable terrible fate (may also refer to death, destruction, downfall, ruin)

dreed = endured, suffered (especially regarding something burdensome or painful)

ere = before (from the Middle English “er”, itself from the Old English “aer”, meaning early or soon)

requiem = a song, chant, dirge, piece of music, or musical service, especially of a mournful nature and slow, used for a funeral, memorial, or commemoration, for the repose (peaceful rest) of the souls of the dead (especially regarding Christian ceremonies for the dead); a lamentation for the dead; a requiem mass for the repose of the souls of the dead

scape = (archaic) escape

sepoy = a native of the Indian subcontinent employed as a soldier in the service of a European power, particularly regarding the native soldiers used by the British; may also refer to a black person in general, especially black male fighters or military men

sepulchre = a repository for the dead; a burial place, grave, crypt, or tomb; also a receptacle for sacred relics, especially those placed in an altar (also spelt as sepulcher)

Stygian = very dark, gloomy; forbidding, hellish, unpleasantly dark; of or pertaining to the river Styx (in Greek mythology, a river which formed the boundary between the land of the living and the underworld)

whilom = formerly; former; erstwhile; in the past

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