Skeleton Creek [poem by Kenneth Mackay]

[Editor: This poem by Kenneth Mackay was published in Stirrup Jingles from the Bush and the Turf and Other Rhymes (1887).]

Skeleton Creek.

Where leaves are wet with tears of spring,
And odours rare of wattle bloom
Float on the breath of winds that bring
From forest depths a strange perfume

Of scent distilled from tender leaves,
And waving grass and forest flowers; —
(For living mid them who believes
No fragrance fills the Austral bowers) —

By feet of gums whose topmost limbs
Debar the glare with ramparts green,
A silver streak of curves and whims,
The hurrying creek sings on unseen

Save by the birds who bathe them there,
Or skim athwart its rippling breast,
That from its bosom they may bear
Some insect to their leafy nest;

Or beasts that come when suns are low
From wilder depths of scrub and glen,
And barren plains where fancies glow,
And gleam, and break the hearts of men.

Who, lost amid the drear expanse,
Behold with eyes by torture dimned
Great phantom lakes whose waters dance
Through isles and trees, by demons limned

To lure them on with fevered haste
That they may find but sand and stones,
And help to fill the ghoulish waste
With broken hearts and bleaching bones.

Yet, it were wrong to say the creek
Knew only things that creep or fly,
For one who both could think and speak
Had come beside its stream to die.

Who he had been, or why he came
Through barren lands of sun and thirst,
It matters not, since praise or blame
For him had done its best or worst;

The form that once might laugh or weep
Has mingled with its parent clay;
In mouldering bones foul insects creep,
And mock their god of yesterday.

In days to come some other eyes
Perchance may find what I have seen;
But, to the one who vainly tries
To fathom what that past had been,

And strives to trace by place or sign
If days with him were good or ill —
How much of gall, and what of wine
Had gone his cup of life to fill —

I this would say: the past belongs
For ever to yon crumbling sod;
No part of thine his sins or wrongs, —
His final judge, not man, but God.

Kenneth Mackay, Stirrup Jingles from the Bush and the Turf and Other Rhymes, Sydney: Edwards, Dunlop & Co., 1887, pages 20-21

Editor’s notes:
Austral = of or relating to Australia or Australasia; Australian, Australasian; an abbreviation of Australia, Australian, Australasia, Australasian; in a wider context, of or relating to the southern hemisphere; southern, especially a southern wind

dimn = an archaic form of “dim”

limn = to draw or paint on a surface; or to outline in clear sharp detail; or describe in words (from Middle English “limnen”, to illuminate, with regard to manuscripts, possibly derived from the Latin “illuminare”)

mid = of or in the middle of an area, group, position, etc.

yon = an abbreviation of “yonder”: at a distance; far away

Old spelling in the original text:
thine (your; yours)

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