The Cattle-Dog’s Death [poem by Henry Lawson]

[Editor: This poem by Henry Lawson was published in Verses Popular and Humorous, 1900.]

The Cattle-Dog’s Death

The plains lay bare on the homeward route,
And the march was heavy on man and brute ;
For the Spirit of Drouth was on all the land,
And the white heat danced on the glowing sand.

The best of our cattle-dogs lagged at last,
His strength gave out ere the plains were passed,
And our hearts grew sad when he crept and laid
His languid limbs in the nearest shade.

He saved our lives in the years gone by,
When no one dreamed of the danger nigh,
And the treacherous blacks in the darkness crept
On the silent camp where the drovers slept.

‘The dog is dying,’ a stockman said,
As he knelt and lifted the shaggy head ;
‘’Tis a long day’s march ere the run be near,
‘And he’s dying fast ; shall we leave him here ?’

But the super cried, ‘There’s an answer there !’
As he raised a tuft of the dog’s grey hair ;
And, strangely vivid, each man descried
The old spear-mark on the shaggy hide.

We laid a ‘bluey’ and coat across
The camping pack of the lightest horse,
And raised the dog to his deathbed high,
And brought him far ’neath the burning sky.

At the kindly touch of the stockmen rude
His eyes grew human with gratitude ;
And though we parched in the heat that fags,
We gave him the last of the water-bags.

The super’s daughter we knew would chide
If we left the dog in the desert wide ;
So we brought him far o’er the burning sand
For a parting stroke of her small white hand.

But long ere the station was seen ahead,
His pain was o’er, for the dog was dead ;
And the folks all knew by our looks of gloom
’Twas a comrade’s corpse that we carried home.

Henry Lawson. Verses Popular and Humorous, Angus and Robertson, Sydney, 1900, pages 71-72

Editor’s notes:
bluey = a blanket; also may refer to a swagman’s bundle, a “swag”, being a number of items rolled up in a blanket

descry = to see something, especially something difficult to detect (e.g. they descried a small scar on his body)

drouth = drought

fags = (to be fagged) to work to the point of exhaustion; to become tired or worn-out

nigh = almost or near, especially regarding time or place (e.g. “the time was nigh”)

rude = primitive, raw or rough, or in an unfinished state or natural condition (not to be confused with the modern usage of “rude” as someone being discourteous or ill-mannered)

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