Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Oceanica: Vol. XXXI. 1876–79.

Australia: Arrawatta, the Glen


By Henry Kendall (1839–1882)


A SKY of wind! And while these fitful gusts

Are beating round the windows in the cold,

With sullen sobs of rain, behold I shape

A settler’s story of the wild old times:

One told by camp-fires when the station-drays

Were housed and hidden, forty years ago;

While swarthy drivers smoked their pipes, and drew,

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

A tale 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 thunder-cloud 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 peaks, 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.


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 clamor, 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 sullen 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.


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 foam about the limits of the land,

And mix their swiftness with the flying 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 brash;

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 slumberous 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 naked round the faded 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.