Where the strength of dry thunder splits hill-rocks asunder,
And the shouts of the desert-wind break,
By the gullies of deepness and ridges of steepness,
Lo, the cattle track twists like a snake!
Like a sea of dead embers, burnt white by Decembers,
A plain to the left of it lies;
And six fleeting horses dash down the creek courses
With the terror of thirst in their eyes.
The false strength of fever, that deadly deceiver,
Gives foot to each famishing beast;
And over lands rotten, by rain-winds forgotten,
The mirage gleams out in the east.
Ah! the waters are hidden from riders and ridden
In a stream where the cattle track dips;
And Death on their faces is scoring fierce traces,
And the drouth is a fire on their lips.
It is far to the station, and gaunt Desolation
Is a spectre that glooms in the way;
Like a red smoke the air is, like a hell-light its glare is,
And as flame are the feet of the day.
The wastes are like metal that forges unsettle
When the heat of the furnace is white;
And the cool breeze that bloweth when an English sun goeth,
Is unknown to the wild desert night.
A cry of distress there! a horseman the less there!
The mock-waters shine like a moon!
It is “Speed, and speed faster from this hole of disaster!
And hurrah for yon God-sent lagoon!”
Doth a devil deceive them? Ah, now let us leave them
We are burdened in life with the sad;
Our portion is trouble, our joy is a bubble,
And the gladdest is never too glad.
From the pale tracts of peril, past mountain heads sterile,
To a sweet river shadowed with reeds,
Where Summer steps lightly, and Winter beams brightly,
The hoof-rutted cattle track leads.
There soft is the moonlight, and tender the noon-light;
There fiery things falter and fall;
And there may be seen, now, the gold and the green, now,
And the wings of a peace over all.
Hush, bittern and plover! Go, wind, to thy cover
Away by the snow-smitten Pole!
The rotten leaf falleth, the forest rain calleth;
And what is the end of the whole?
Some men are successful after seasons distressful
[Now, masters, the drift of my tale];
But the brink of salvation is a lair of damnation
For others who struggle, yet fail.