When Old Man Carey Died [poem by John O’Brien]

[Editor: This poem by John O’Brien was published in Around the Boree Log and Other Verses, 1921.]

When Old Man Carey Died

A night of wind and driving rain,
No light on land or sky —
The sharp squalls shook the window-pane
And scurried loudly by,

When sped abroad the message stern
On cantering hoofbeats borne
That old man Carey “took a turn,”
And might not see the morn.

What though debarred from Carey’s set,
What though ’twas plainly seen
The new house and its etiquette
Had made a gulf between,

What matter if they passed us by
And scorned us heretofore —
We could not spurn a neighbour’s cry
When trouble found his door.

So through the dark, a swinging light
Beneath the axle tied,
The neighbours braved the stormy night
When old man Carey died.

All blank was Carey’s new brick place
As, entering through the gloom,
With noiseless step, we just might trace
Within a darkened room

The purple stole that purifies,
The old wife’s stricken head,
The Carey girls, with swollen eyes,
All kneeling round the bed —

We’d move the world to help them, then:
Our feuds were laid aside,
For all were neighbours once again
When old man Carey died.

And, when he’d paid the debt perforce
That every man must pay,
We came again with hearse and horse
To bear him on his way.

We left behind the new brick place
So strangely silent now,
The death-mask on its staring face,
The ashes on its brow;

Slow straggling down the winding road,
Past ripening crops a-sweep
Which old man Carey’s hands had sowed
But other hands would reap,

With slap and tap of unshod heels
We followed one by one,
And fifty sets of idling wheels
Were twinkling in the sun.

With many a tale of deeds unguessed,
Deeds of the early years,
We brought him to his long, long rest
Among the pioneers.



Published in:
John O’Brien. Around the Boree Log and Other Verses, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1921

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