Mount Erebus (A Fragment)

A poem by Henry Kendall

A mighty theatre of snow and fire,
Girt with perpetual Winter, and sublime
By reason of that lordly solitude
Which dwells for ever at the world’s white ends;
And in that weird-faced wilderness of ice,
There is no human foot, nor any paw
Or hoof of beast, but where the shrill winds drive
The famished birds of storm across the tracts
Whose centre is the dim mysterious Pole.
Beyond yea far beyond the homes of man,
By water never dark with coming ships,
Near seas that know not feather, scale, or fin,
The grand volcano, like a weird Isaiah,
Set in that utmost region of the Earth,
Doth thunder forth the awful utterance,
Whose syllables are flame; and when the fierce
Antarctic Night doth hold dominionship
Within her fastnessess, then round the cone
Of Erebus a crown of tenfold light
Appears; and shafts of marvellous splendour shoot
Far out to east and west and south and north,
Whereat a gorgeous dome of glory roofs
Wild leagues of mountain and transfigured waves,
And lends all things a beauty terrible.

Far-reaching lands, whereon the hand of Change
Hath never rested since the world began,
Lie here in fearful fellowship with cold
And rain and tempest. Here colossal horns
Of hill start up and take the polar fogs
Shot through with flying stars of fire; and here,
Above the dead-grey crescents topped with spires
Of thunder-smoke, one half the heaven flames
With that supremest light whose glittering life
Is yet a marvel unto all but One
The Entity Almighty, whom we feel
Is nearest us when we are face to face
With Nature’s features aboriginal,
And in the hearing of her primal speech
And in the thraldom of her primal power.

While like the old Chaldean king who waxed
Insane with pride, we human beings grow
To think we are the mightiest of the world,
And lords of all terrestrial things, behold
The sea rolls in with a superb disdain
Upon our peopled shores, omnipotent;
And while we set up things of clay and call
Our idols gods; and while we boast or fume
About the petty honours, or the poor,
Pale disappointments of our meagre lives,
Lo, changeless as Eternity itself,
The grand Antarctic mountain looms outside
All breathing life; and, with its awful speech,
Is as an emblem of the Power Supreme,
Whose thunders shake the boundless Universe,
Whose lightnings make a terror of all Space.

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