Narrara Creek [poem by Henry Kendall]

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

Narrara Creek.

(Written in the Shadow of 1872.)

From the rainy hill-heads, where, in starts and in spasms,
Leaps wild the white torrent from chasms to chasms —
From the home of bold echoes, whose voices of wonder
Fly out of blind caverns struck black by high thunder —
Through gorges august, in whose nether recesses
Is heard the far psalm of unseen wildernesses —
Like a dominant spirit, a strong-handed sharer
Of spoil with the tempest, comes down the Narrara.

Yea, where the great sword of the hurricane cleaveth
The forested fells that the dark never leaveth —
By fierce-featured crags in whose evil abysses
The clammy snake coils and the flat adder hisses —
Past lordly rock temples, where Silence is riven
By the anthems supreme of the four winds of heaven —
It speeds with the cry of the streams of the fountains
It chained to its sides and dragged down from the mountains!

But when it goes forth from the slopes with a sally —
Being strengthened with tribute from many a valley —
It broadens, and brightens, and thereupon marches
Above the stream-sapphires and under green arches
With the rhythm of majesty — careless of cumber —
Its might in repose and its fierceness in slumber —
Till it beams on the plains where the wind is a bearer
Of words from the sea to the stately Narrara!

Narrara, grand son of the haughty hill torrent!
Too late in my day have I looked at thy current —
Too late in my life to discern and inherit
The soul of thy beauty — the joy of thy spirit!
With the years of the youth and the hairs of the hoary,
I sit like a shadow outside of thy glory;
Nor look with the morning-like feelings, O River,
That illumined the boy in the days gone for ever.

Ah! sad are the sounds of old ballads which borrow
One-half of their grief from the listener’s sorrow;
And sad are the eyes of the pilgrim who traces
The ruins of Time in revisited places;
But sadder than all is the sense of his losses
That cometh to one when a sudden age crosses
And cripples his manhood. So, stricken by fate, I
Felt older at thirty than some do at eighty.

Because I believe in the beautiful story —
The poem of Greece in the days of her glory —
That the high-seated Lord of the woods and the waters
Has peopled His world with His deified daughters —
That flowerful forests and waterways streaming
Are gracious with goddesses glowing and gleaming —
I pray that thy singing divinity, fairer
Than wonderful women, may listen, Narrara!

O Spirit of sea-going currents — thou being
The child of immortals all-knowing, all-seeing —
Thou hast at thy heart the dark truth that I borrow
For the song that I sing thee no fanciful sorrow;
In the sight of thine eyes is the history written
Of Love smitten down as the strong leaf is smitten;
And before thee there goeth a phantom beseeching
For faculties forfeited — hopes beyond reaching!

* * * * * *

Thou knowest, O sister of deities blazing
With splendour ineffable — beauty amazing,
What life the gods gave me — what largess I tasted —
The youth thrown away and the faculties wasted!
I might, as thou seest, have stood in high places
Instead of in pits where the brand of disgrace is:
A by-word for scoffers — a butt, and a caution,
With the grave of poor Burns and Maginn for my portion.

But the heart of the Father Supreme is offended,
And my life in the light of His favour is ended;
And, whipped by inflexible devils, I shiver
With a hollow “too late” in my hearing for ever;
But thou, being sinless, exalted, supernal,
The daughter of diademed gods — the eternal,
Shalt shine in thy waters when Time and Existence
Have dwindled like stars in unspeakable distance!

But the face of thy river — the torrented power
That smites at the rock while it fosters the flower —
Shall gleam in my dreams with the summer-look splendid,
And the beauty of woodlands and waterfalls blended;
And often I’ll think of far forested noises,
And the emphasis deep of grand sea-going voices;
And turn to Narrara the eyes of a lover
When the sorrowful days of my singing are over.



Source:
Henry Kendall, Songs from the Mountains, Sydney: William Maddock, 1880, pages 111-116

Editor’s notes:
Burns = Robert Burns (1759-1796), a famous Scottish poet

diadem = a type of crown or royal ornamental headband

hoary = a descriptive term for someone or something which is old or ancient; someone with grey or white hair; something grey or white in colour

Lord = in a religious context, and capitalized, a reference to God or Jesus

riven = cleaved, split, or torn apart

smite = strike, hit hard; attack; hurt; injure; kill

yea = yes; indeed; truly; an affirmation (especially an affirmative vote), an indication of assent

Old spelling in the original text:
cleaveth (cleaves)
goeth (goes)
hast (has)
knowest (knows)
leaveth (leaves)
seest (see)
shalt (shall)
thee (you)
thine (your)
thou (you)
thy (your)

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