A Death in the Bush

The hut was built of bark and shrunken slabs,
That wore the marks of many rains, and showed
Dry flaws wherein had crept and nestled rot.
Moreover, round the bases of the bark
Were left the tracks of flying forest fires,
As you may see them on the lower bole
Of every elder of the native woods.

For, ere the early settlers came and stocked
These wilds with sheep and kine, the grasses grew
So that they took the passing pilgrim in
And whelmed him, like a running sea, from sight.

And therefore, through the fiercer summer months,
While all the swamps were rotten; while the flats
Were baked and broken; when the clayey rifts
Yawned wide, half-choked with drifted herbage past,
Spontaneous flames would burst from thence and race
Across the prairies all day long.

At night
The winds were up, and then, with four-fold speed
A harsh gigantic growth of smoke and fire
Would roar along the bottoms, in the wake
Of fainting flocks of parrots, wallaroos,
And 'wildered wild things, scattering right and left,
For safety vague, throughout the general gloom.

Anon the nearer hillside-growing trees
Would take the surges; thus from bough to bough
Was borne the flaming terror! Bole and spire,
Rank after rank, now pillared, ringed, and rolled
In blinding blaze, stood out against the dead,
Down-smothered dark, for fifty leagues away.

For fifty leagues; and when the winds were strong
For fifty more! But in the olden time
These fires were counted as the harbingers
Of life-essential storms, since out of smoke
And heat there came across the midnight ways
Abundant comfort, with upgathered clouds
And runnels babbling of a plenteous fall.

So comes the southern gale at evenfall
(The swift brick-fielder of the local folk),
About the streets of Sydney, when the dust
Lies burnt on glaring windows, and the men
Look forth from doors of drouth and drink the change
With thirsty haste, and that most thankful cry
Of 'Here it is - the cool, bright, blessed rain!'

The hut, I say, was built of bark and slabs,
And stood, the centre of a clearing, hemmed
By hurdle-yards, and ancients of the blacks;
These moped about their lazy fires, and sang
Wild ditties of the old days, with a sound
Of sorrow, like an everlasting wind
Which mingled with the echoes of the noon
And moaned amongst the noises of the night.

From thence a cattle track, with link to link,
Ran off against the fish-pools to the gap
Which sets you face to face with gleaming miles
Of broad Orara*, winding in amongst
Black, barren ridges, where the nether spurs
Are fenced about by cotton scrub, and grass
Blue-bitten with the salt of many droughts.

'Twas here the shepherd housed him every night,
And faced the prospect like a patient soul,
Borne up by some vague hope of better days,
And God's fine blessing in his faithful wife,
Until the humour of his malady
Took cunning changes from the good to bad,
And laid him lastly on a bed of death.

Two months thereafter, when the summer heat
Had roused the serpent from his rotten lair,
And made a noise of locusts in the boughs,
It came to this, that as the blood-red sun
Of one fierce day of many slanted down
Obliquely past the nether jags of peaks
And gulfs of mist, the tardy night came vexed
By belted clouds and scuds that wheeled and whirled
To left and right about the brazen clifts
Of ridges, rigid with a leaden gloom.

Then took the cattle to the forest camps
With vacant terror, and the hustled sheep
Stood dumb against the hurdles, even like
A fallen patch of shadowed mountain snow;
And ever through the curlew's call afar,
The storm grew on, while round the stinted slabs
Sharp snaps and hisses came, and went, and came,
The huddled tokens of a mighty blast
Which ran with an exceeding bitter cry
Across the tumbled fragments of the hills,
And through the sluices of the gorge and glen.

So, therefore, all about the shepherd's hut
That space was mute, save when the fastened dog,
Without a kennel, caught a passing glimpse
Of firelight moving through the lighted chinks,
For then he knew the hints of warmth within,
And stood and set his great pathetic eyes,
In wind and wet, imploring to be loosed.

Not often now the watcher left the couch
Of him she watched, since in his fitful sleep
His lips would stir to wayward themes, and close
With bodeful catches. Once she moved away,
Half-deafened by terrific claps, and stooped
And looked without - to see a pillar dim
Of gathered gusts and fiery rain.

An
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Henry Kendall

Thomas Henry Kendall was a nineteenth-century Australian author and bush poet, who was particularly known for his poems and tales set in a natural environment setting. more…

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"A Death in the Bush" Poetry.net. STANDS4 LLC, 2019. Web. 19 Jul 2019. <https://www.poetry.net/poem/17428/a-death-in-the-bush>.

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