[Editor: This poem by Henry Lawson was published in In the Days When the World Was Wide and Other Verses, 1896.]
The Sliprails and the Spur
The colours of the setting sun
Withdrew across the Western land —
He raised the sliprails, one by one,
And shot them home with trembling hand;
Her brown hands clung — her face grew pale —
Ah! quivering chin and eyes that brim! —
One quick, fierce kiss across the rail,
And, ‘Good-bye, Mary!’ ‘Good-bye, Jim!’
Oh, he rides hard to race the pain
Who rides from love, who rides from home;
But he rides slowly home again,
Whose heart has learnt to love and roam.
A hand upon the horse’s mane,
And one foot in the stirrup set,
And, stooping back to kiss again,
With ‘Good-bye, Mary! don’t you fret!
‘When I come back’ — he laughed for her —
‘We do not know how soon ’twill be;
‘I’ll whistle as I round the spur —
‘You let the sliprails down for me.’
She gasped for sudden loss of hope,
As, with a backward wave to her,
He cantered down the grassy slope
And swiftly round the dark’ning spur.
Black-pencilled panels standing high,
And darkness fading into stars,
And blurring fast against the sky,
A faint white form beside the bars.
And often at the set of sun,
In winter bleak and summer brown,
She’d steal across the little run,
And shyly let the sliprails down.
And listen there when darkness shut
The nearer spur in silence deep;
And when they called her from the hut
Steal home and cry herself to sleep.
* * * * * *
A great white gate where sliprails were,
A brick house ’neath the mountain brow,
The ‘mad girl’ buried by the spur
So long ago, forgotten now.
And he rides hard to dull the pain
Who rides from one that loves him best;
And he rides slowly back again,
Whose restless heart must rove for rest.
Henry Lawson. In the Days When the World Was Wide and Other Verses, Angus and Robertson, Sydney, 1903 [first published 1896], pages 72-73