On a Cattle Track [poem by Henry Kendall]

[Editor: This poem by Henry Kendall was npublished in Leaves from Australian Forests (1869).]

On a Cattle Track.

Where the strength of dry thunder splits hill-rocks asunder,
And the shouts of the desert-wind break,
By the gullies of deepness, and ridges of steepness,
Lo, the cattle-track twists like a snake!
Like a sea of dead embers burnt white by Decembers,
A plain to the left of it lies;
And six fleeting horses dash down the creek-courses,
With the terror of thirst in their eyes.

The false strength of fever, that deadly deceiver,
Gives foot to each famishing beast;
And over lands rotten, by rain-winds forgotten,
The mirage gleams out in the east.
Ah! the waters are hidden, from riders and ridden,
In a stream where the cattle-track dips;
And Death on their faces is scoring fierce traces,
And the drouth is a fire on their lips.

It is far to the Station, and gaunt Desolation
Is a spectre that glooms in the way;
Like a red smoke the air is, like a hell-light its glare is,
And as flame are the feet of the day.
The wastes are like metal that forges unsettle
When the heat of the furnace is white;
And the cool breeze that bloweth when an English sun goeth,
Is unknown to the wild Desert Night.

A cry of distress there! a horseman the less there!
The mock-waters shine like a moon!
It is “speed, and speed faster from this hole of disaster,
“And hurrah for yon God-sent lagoon!”
Doth a devil deceive them? Ah, now let us leave them,
We are burdened in life with the sad;
Our portion is trouble, our joy is a bubble;
And the gladdest is never too glad.

From the pale tracts of peril, past mountain heads sterile,
To a sweet river shadowed with reeds
Where Summer steps lightly, and Winter beams brightly,
The hoof-rutted cattle-track leads.
There soft is the moonlight, and tender the noonlight;
There fiery things falter and fall;
And there may be seen, now, the gold and the green, now,
And the wings of a peace over all.

Hush, bittern and plover! Go, wind, to thy cover
Away by the snow-smitten Pole!
The rotten leaf falleth, the forest rain calleth;
And what is the end of the whole?
Some men are successful after seasons distressful,
[Now, masters, the drift of my tale]
But the brink of salvation is a lair of damnation
For others who struggle, yet fail.

Henry Kendall, Leaves from Australian Forests, Melbourne: George Robertson, 1869, pages 39-41

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