Sinking [poem by Bendee]

[Editor: This poem by Bendee was published in The Bulletin Reciter, 1901.]


I had often faced a seeming
Certain death without a shiver,
And I boasted of my valour
In the pride that courts a fall —
Boasted vainly, little dreaming
That the Death-fear soon should quiver
Thro’ each nerve, and stamp the pallor
Of a quaking heart o’er all. . .

Lightning flashing, thunder growling,
Queensland rain in torrents pouring.
As the midnight shift makes ready
For the eight hours’ work below ;
Fierce wind, thro’ the whim-drum howling,
Shrieks thro’ poppet-heads, and roaring
’Cross the shaft’s mouth, drowns my “Steady!
Right, old man ; now let her go !”

Standing upright in the bucket,
Legs astride its mounted handle, —
With my right hand tightly gripping
The old rope Jack feared to trust
With our joint weight, — by bad luck it
Chanced a drip put out my candle.
And past slimy slabs I ’m slipping
Down in darkness and disgust.

Full three hundred feet beneath me,
Like a star, I catch the glimmer
Of Jack’s light, and hear him singing ;
But the powder-clouds that hang
In the shaft, and now enwreath me,
Make the distant light seem dimmer —
When my bucket, in its swinging,
Strikes a slab-ledge with a bang !

And the rope between my fingers
Turns from taut to slack instanter,
And I know my weight is resting
On a quarter inch of pine ;
And each second that it lingers.
With the whim-horse at a canter.
Brings a coil of slack, suggesting
That it ’s time to free the chine.

“Steady ! Heave up ! Ho ! on top, there !”
But my voice is lost in thunder,
And the slack comes coiling round me,
Reaching knee, and thigh, and hip :
And I curse, and scream out “Stop, there !
Heave-up ! Jack, lad, stand from under !”
For the stranded coils surround me
And I feel the bucket slip.

As the end draws near and nearer
All my bones seem turned to marrow,
And with fear and rage I ’m choking ;
For the drop means death, I know.
But one piercing shriek of terror,
Shooting upwards like an arrow,
Finds the braceman calmly smoking ;
And he drawls, “What ’s wrong below ?”

“HEAVE-UP ! May ten thousand cancers
Rot your leprous ears for ever !”
And my brain is fairly boiling,
For I hear the splinter crack.
Lower ? Right you are !” he answers,
And I rave as one in fever
As the slack comes coiling, coiling
Round my armpits — tons of slack !

As the bucket disengages,
Head and hands alike are busy ;
Still I shriek a malediction
As I gasp, and drop through space !
And the seconds seem as ages
In that downward rush and dizzy.
And I feel the fiery friction
Of the air against my face.

Then a sudden jerk that almost
Tears each arm from out its socket,
(But not death itself could sunder
Such a death-grip) brings relief.
Now ’t is Jack must fear the fall most,
For I hear the unhooked bucket
Crashing down below like thunder,
While I ’m trussed up like a sheaf.

Yes, the sturdy hempen strands that
Stood the fearful strain so stoutly
Still encircle me and save me.
After God, I thank the slack ;
And no doubt He understands that
I would thank Him more devoutly
For the lease of life He gave me,
If He ’d steered the cask off Jack !


A.G. Stephens (editor). The Bulletin Reciter: A Collection of Verses for Recitation from “The Bulletin” [1880-1901], The Bulletin Newspaper Company, Sydney, 1902 [first published 1901], pages 31-34

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