Old Stone Chimney

A poem by Henry Lawson

The rising moon on the peaks was blending
Her silver light with the sunset glow,
When a swagman came as the day was ending
Along a path that he seemed to know.
But all the fences were gone or going,
The hand of ruin was everywhere;
The creek unchecked in its course was flowing,
For none of the old clay dam was there.

Here Time had been with his swiftest changes,
And husbandry had westward flown;
The cattle tracks in the rugged ranges
Were long ago with the scrub o’ergrown.
It must have needed long years to soften
The road, that as hard as rock had been;
The mountain path he had trod so often
Lay hidden now with a carpet green.

He thought at times from the mountain courses
He heard the sound of a bullock bell,
The distant gallop of stockmen’s horses,
The stockwhip’s crack that he knew so well:
But these were sounds of his memory only,
And they were gone from the flat and hill,
For when he listened the place was lonely,
The range was dumb and the bush was still.

The swagman paused by the gap and faltered,
For down the gully he feared to go,
The scene in memory never altered,
The scene before him had altered so.
But hope is strong, and his heart grew bolder,
And over his sorrows he raised his head,
He turned his swag to the other shoulder,
And plodded on with a firmer tread.

Ah, hope is always the keenest hearer,
And fancies much when assailed by fear;
The swagman thought, as the farm drew nearer,
He heard the sounds that he used to hear.
His weary heart for a moment bounded,
For a moment brief he forgot his dread;
For plainly still in his memory sounded
The welcome bark of a dog long dead.

A few steps more and his face grew ghostly,
Then white as death in the twilight grey;
Deserted wholly, and ruined mostly,
The Old Selection before him lay.
Like startled spectres that paused and listened,
The few white posts of the stockyard stood;
And seemed to move as the moonlight glistened
And paled again on the whitened wood.

And thus he came, from a life long banished
To other lands, and of peace bereft,
To find the farm and the homestead vanished,
And only the old stone chimney left.
The field his father had cleared and gardened
Was overgrown with saplings now;
The rain had set and the drought had hardened
The furrows made by a vanished plough.

And this, and this was the longed-for haven
Where he might rest from a life of woe;
He read a name on the mantel graven,
The name was his ere he stained it so.
‘And so remorse on my care encroaches,
‘I have not suffered enough,’ he said;
‘That name is pregnant with deep reproaches,
‘The past won’t bury dishonoured dead!’

Ah, now he knew it was long years after,
And felt how swiftly a long year speeds;
The hardwood post and the beam and rafter
Had rotted long in the tangled weeds.
He found that time had for years been sowing
The coarse wild scrub on the homestead path,
And saw young trees by the chimney growing,
And mountain ferns on the wide stone hearth.

He wildly thought of the evil courses
That brought disgrace on his father’s name;
The escort robbed, and the stolen horses,
The felon’s dock with its lasting shame.
‘Ah, God! Ah, God! is there then no pardon?’
He cried in a voice that was strained and hoarse;
He fell on the weeds that were once a garden,
And sobbed aloud in his great remorse.

But grief must end, and his heart ceased aching
When pitying sleep to his eye-lids crept,
And home and friends who were lost in waking,
They all came back while the stockman slept.
And when he woke on the empty morrow,
The pain at his heart was a deadened pain;
And bravely bearing his load of sorrow,
He wandered back to the world again.

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