The Old Shepherd [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).]

The Old Shepherd.

Deep in the shades of an Australian forest,
Built from such trees as round it shadows cast,
Stands a rude hut, now but a ruined relic
Of early station days for ever past.

Weird shreds of bark hang from the whitened rafters,
And, swinging by a withered thong of hide,
One of its roof-sheets moves with creaking cadence,
Urged by the winds that through the slab-cracks glide.

Gone the bark door, whence the hut-keeper nightly
Looked for the lagging shepherd’s slow return;
Mouldering the blackened logs on grass grown hearthstone,
Where once the crackling pine-sticks used to burn.

All speaks of solitude and long desertion;
Over yon fold the weeds grow rank and long,
Covered with moss lie broken hurdles, rotting,
Tokens of shepherd ways that now have gone.

Well I remember when its latest tenant
Left the lone hut to travel unknown lands;
Silent I watched his hour-glass swiftly running,
Till few and wavering were its fleeting sands.

Still was the sultry noon, except when broken
By the old shepherd’s wild uneven words,
As now again he drove his sheep to pasture,
Or scared the dingo from the sleeping herds;

Or shouted to his faithful dog, who sadly
Seemed to be brooding o’er its master’s pain,
Licking his hands, with anxious dumb affection —
To catch that master’s eye, but all in vain.

’Twas near the end, the old man’s troubles left him,
And o’er the sea his spirit seemed to steal —
To sit beside a long-forgotten mother,
And watch her swiftly spinning at the wheel.

For, when the summer sun, in splendour sinking,
About the distant hills appeared to cling,
And all the birds, in mighty concert, uttered
A noisy farewell to the dying king —

He whispered to his mother words of welcome,
While on his face a gleam of light was shed,
And, eager, stretching out his arms to clasp her,
The last sand vanished, and the spirit fled.

Kenneth Mackay, Stirrup Jingles from the Bush and the Turf and Other Rhymes, Sydney: Edwards, Dunlop & Co., 1887, pages 28-29

Editor’s notes:
dingo = wild dog, native to Australia, believed to have originated in Asia about 3000 A.D. and been brought to Australia with a migration of Aborigines

o’er = over (pronounced the same as “oar”, “or”, and “ore”)

slab = the walling for a “slab hut”, made from timber slabs (outside pieces cut from logs when squaring them for lumber)

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

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