The Glen of the White Man’s Grave [booklet by Henry Kendall, 1865]

[Editor: This booklet by Henry Kendall was published in 1865. It contains two poems: “The Glen of the White Man’s Grave” and “Cui Bono?”.]

The Glen of the White Man’s Grave

A sky of wind! And while these July gusts
Are beating round the windows in the cold,
With sullen sobs of rain, behold I shape
A Settler’s story of the fierce old times;
One told by camp-fires, when the station-drays
Were housed and hidden, forty years ago,
While swarthy drivers smoked the pipe of cheer,
And crowded round the friendly-gleaming flame
That lured the dingo howling from his caves
And brought sharp sudden feet about the brakes.

A tale of Love and Death. And shall I say —
Of Love in Death, for all the patient eyes
That gathered darkness, watching for a son
And brother, never dreaming of the fate —
The fearful fate he met alone — unknown
Within the ruthless Australasian wastes?

For in a far-off sultry Summer, rimmed
With thundercloud and red with forest-fires,
All day by ways uncouth, and ledges rude
The wild men held upon a stranger’s trail
Which ran against the rivers and athwart
The gorges of the deep blue western hills.

And when a cloudy sunset (like the flame
In windy evenings on the plains of thirst
Beyond the dead banks of the far Barcoo)
Lay heavy down the topmost steeps, they came
With pent-in breath and stealthy steps, and crouched
Like snakes, amongst the grasses, till the Night
Had covered face from face, and thrown the gloom
Of many shadows on the front of things.

There, in the shelter of a nameless glen,
Fenced round by cedars and the tangled growths
Of blackwood stained with brown and shot with gray,
The jaded white man built his fire, and turned
His horse adrift amongst the water-pools
That trickled underneath the yellow leaves,
And made a pleasant murmur, like the brooks
Of England through the sweet autumnal noons.

Then after he had slaked his thirst, and used
The forest-fare, for which a healthful day
Of mountain-life had brought a zest, he took
His axe, and shaped, with boughs and wattle-forks,
A wurley, fashioned like a bushman’s roof:
The door brought out athwart the strenuous flame:
The back thatched in against a rising wind.

And, while the sturdy hatchet filled the clifts
With sounds unknown, the immemorial haunts
Of Echoes sent their lonely dwellers forth
Who lived a life of wonder; flying round
And round the glen, what time the kangaroo
Leapt from his lair and huddled with the bats
Far-scattering down the wildly-startled fells.
Then came the doleful owl; and, evermore,
The bleak morass gave out the bittern’s call;
The plover’s cry; and many a fitful wail
Of chilly omen, falling on the ear
Like those cold flaws of wind that come and go
An hour before the break of day. —

Anon
The stranger held from toil, and, settling down,
He drew rough solace from his well-filled pipe
And smoked into the night: revolving there
The primal questions of a squatter’s life,
For in the flats, a short day’s journey past
His present camp, his station-yards were kept
With many a lodge and paddock jutting forth
Across the heart of unnamed prairie-lands
Now loud with bleating and the cattle-bells,
And misty with the hut-fire’s daily smoke.

Wide-spreading flats, and western spurs of hills
That dipped to plains of dim perpetual blue.
Bold summits set against the thunder-heaps;
And slopes be-hacked and crushed by battling kine;
Where now the furious tumult of their feet
Gives back the dust and up from glen and brake
Evokes fierce clamour, and becomes indeed
A token of the squatter’s daring life,
Which, growing inland — growing year by year,
Doth set us thinking in these latter days,
And makes one ponder of the lonely lands
Beyond the lonely tracks of Burke and Wills;
Where, when the wandering Stuart fixed his camps
In central wastes, afar from any home
Or haunt of man, and in the changeless midst
Of daily deserts and the footless miles
Of sultry silence, all the ways about
Grew strangely vocal, and a marvellous noise
Became the wonder of the waxing glooms.

Now after Darkness, like a mighty spell
Amongst the hills and dim dispeopled dells,
Had brought a stillness to the soul of things,
It came to pass that from the secret depths
Of dripping gorges many a runnel-voice
Came, mellowed with the silence, and remained
About the caves, a sweet though alien sound:
Now rising ever, like a fluent flute,
In moony evenings, when the theme is love —
Now falling, as ye hear the Sunday bells
While hastening fieldward from the gleaming town.

Then fell a softer mood, and Memory paused
With faithful Love amidst the sainted shrines
Of Youth and Passion in the valleys past
Of dear delights which never grow again.
And if the Stranger (who had left behind
Far anxious homesteads in a wave-swept isle,
To face a fierce sea-circle day by day
And hear at night the dark Atlantic’s moan)
Now took a hope and planned a swift return
With wealth, and health, and with a youth unspent,
To those sweet ones that stayed with Want at home
Say who shall blame him — though the years are long,
And Life is hard and waiting makes the heart grow old?

Thus passed the time until the Moon serene
Stood over high dominion, like a Dream
Of Peace; within the white-transfigured woods;
And o’er the vast dew-dripping wilderness
Of slopes illumined with her silent fires.

Then far beyond the home of pale red leaves
And silver sluices and the shining stems
Of runnel-blooms, the dreamy wanderer saw,
The wilder for the vision of the Moon,
Stark desolations and a waste of plain
All smit by flame and broken with the storms:
Black ghosts of trees and sapless trunks that stood
Harsh hollow channels of the fiery noise
Which ran from bole to bole a year before
And grew with ruin, and was like indeed
The roar of mighty winds with wintering streams
That beat about the limits of the land
And mix their own foam with the yellower seas.

Now, when the man had turned his face about
To take his rest, behold the gem-like eyes
Of ambushed wild things stared from bole and brake
With dumb amaze, and faint-recurring glance,
And fear anon that drove them down the brush;
While from his den the dingo, like a scout
In sheltered ways, crept out and cowered near,
To sniff the tokens of the stranger’s feast
And marvel at the shadows of the flame.

Thereafter grew the wind; and chafing depths
In distant waters sent a troubled cry
Across the slumbrous Forest; and the chill
Of coming rain was on the sleeper’s brow,
When, flat as reptiles hutted in the scrub,
A deadly crescent crawled to where he lay —
A band of fierce fantastic savages,
That, starting, moon-mailed, round the dying fire,
With sudden spears and swift terrific yells,
Came bounding wildly at the white man’s head,
And faced him, staring, like a dream of hell!

Here let me pass! I would not stay to tell
Of hopeless struggles under crushing blows;
Of how the surging fiends, with thickening strokes,
Howled round the stranger till they drained his strength;
How Love and Life stood face to face with Hate
And Death; and then how Death was left alone
With Night and Silence in the sobbing rains.

So, after many moons, the searchers found
The body mouldering in the mouldering dell,
Amidst the fungi, and the bleaching leaves,
And buried it: and raised a stony mound
Which took the mosses: then the place became
The haunt of fearful legends, and the lair
Of bats and adders.

There he lies and sleeps
From year to year; in soft Australian nights;
And through the furnaced noons; and in the times
Of wind and wet; yet never mourner comes
To drop upon that grave the Christian’s tear,
Or pluck the foul dank weeds of death away.

But while the English Autumn filled her lap
With faded gold, and while the reapers cooled
Their flame-red faces in the clover-grass,
They looked for him at home; and when the frost
Had made a silence in the morning-lanes
And cooped the farmers by December fires,
They looked for him at home; and through the days
Which brought about the million-coloured Spring,
With moon-like splendours in the garden-plots,
They looked for him at home: while Summer danced,
A shining singer, through the tasselled corn,
They looked for him at home. From sun to sun
They waited! Season after season went,
And Memory wept upon the lonely moors,
And Hope grew voiceless, and the watchers passed,
Like shadows, one by one, away.

And he,
Whose fate was hidden under forest leaves,
And in the darkness of untrodden dells,
Became a marvel. Often by the hearths
In winter nights, and when the wind was wild
Outside the casements, children heard the tale
Of how he left their native vales behind
(Where he had been a child himself) to shape
New fortunes for his father’s fallen house;
Of how he struggled — how his name became,
By fine devotion and unselfish zeal,
A name of beauty in a selfish land;
And then, of how the aching hours went by
With patient listeners praying for the step
Which never crossed the floor again. So passed
The tale to children; but the bitter end
Remained a wonder, like the unknown grave
Alone with God and Silence in the hills.



[Editor: The poem “Cui Bono?” was printed on pages 7-8.]

Hanson and Bennett, Printers, Pitt-street, Sydney.



Source:
Henry Kendall, The Glen of the White Man’s Grave, Sydney: Hanson and Bennett, [1865?], pp. 1-6 [pp. 7-8 contain the poem “Cui Bono?”]

Also published (with some differences) in:
The Empire (Sydney, NSW), 10 July 1865, p. 3
Henry Kendall, Leaves from Australian Forests, Melbourne: George Robertson, 1869, pp. 130-138 [under the title of “The Glen of Arrawatta”]

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