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

Australia: Paroo

On the Paroo

By Henry Kendall (1839–1882)


AS when the strong stream of a wintering sea

Rolls round our coast, with bodeful breaks of storm,

And swift salt rain, and bitter wind that saith

Wild things and woeful of the White South Land

Alone with God and Silence in the cold,—

As when this cometh, men from dripping doors

Look forth, and shudder for the mariners

Abroad, so we for absent brothers looked

In days of drought, and when the flying floods

Swept boundless, roaring down the bald, black plains

Beyond the farthest spur of western hills.

For where the Barwan cuts a rotten land,

Or lies unshaken, like a great blind creek,

Between hot mouldering banks, it came to this,

All in a time of short and thirsty sighs,

That thirty rainless months had left the pools

And grass as dry as ashes; then it was

Our kinsmen started for the lone Paroo,

From point to point, with patient strivings, sheer

Across the horrors of the windless downs,

Blue-gleaming like a sea of molten steel.

But never drought had broke them, never flood

Had quenched them; they with mighty youth and health,

And thews and sinews knotted like the trees,—

They, like the children of the native woods,

Could stem the strenuous waters, or outlive

The crimson days and dull dead nights of thirst

Like camels! yet of what avail was strength

Alone to them—though it was like the rocks

On stormy mountains—in the bloody time

When fierce sleep caught them in the camps at rest,

And violent darkness gripped the life in them

And whelmed them, as an eagle unawares

Is whelmed and slaughtered in a sudden snare?

All murdered by the blacks! smit while they lay

In silver dreams, and with the far faint fall

Of many waters breaking on their sleep!

Yea, in the tracts unknown of any man

Save savages,—the dim-discovered ways

Of footless silence or unhappy winds,—

The wild men came upon them, like a fire

Of desert thunder; and the fine firm lips

That touched a mother’s lips a year before,

And hands that knew a dearer hand than life,

Were hewn like sacrifice before the stars,

And left with hooting owls, and blowing clouds,

And falling leaves, and solitary wings!

Ay, you may see their graves,—you who have toiled

And tripped and thirsted, like these men of ours;

For verily I say that not so deep

Their bones are that the scattered drift and dust

Of gusty days will never leave them bare.

O dear, dead, bleaching bones! I know of those

Who have the wild strong will to go and sit

Outside all things with you, and keep the ways

Aloof from bats, and snakes, and trampling feet

That smite your peace and theirs,—who have the heart

Without the lusty limbs to face the fire,

And moonless midnights, and to be indeed,

For very sorrow, like a moaning wind

In wintry forests with perpetual rain.