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But beyond the northern skyline, past a wall of steep austere, Lay the land of light and coolness in an April-coloured year!
"Courage, brothers!" cried the leader. "On the slope of yonder peak There are tracts of herb and shadow, and the channels of the creek!"
So they made one last great effort-- haled their beasts through brake and briar, Set their feet on spurs of furnace, grappled spikes and crags of fire, Fought the stubborn mountain forces, smote down naked, natural powers, Till they gazed from thrones of Morning on a sphere of streams and flowers.
Out behind them was the desert, glaring like a sea of brass!
Here before them were the valleys, fair with moonlight-coloured grass!
At their backs were haggard waste-lands, bickering in a wicked blaze!
In their faces beamed the waters, marching down melodious ways!
Touching was the cool, soft lustre over laps of lawn and lea; And majestic was the great road Morning made across the sea.
On the sacred day of Christmas, after seven months of grief, Rested three of six who started, on a bank of moss and leaf-- Rested by a running river, in a hushed, a holy week; And they named the stream that saved them-- named it fitly--"Christmas Creek".
-- * Orara: A tributary of the river Clarence.
The strong sob of the chafing stream That seaward fights its way Down crags of glitter, dells of gleam, Is in the hills to-day.
But far and faint, a grey-winged form Hangs where the wild lights wane-- The phantom of a bygone storm, A ghost of wind and rain.
The soft white feet of afternoon Are on the shining meads, The breeze is as a pleasant tune Amongst the happy reeds.
The fierce, disastrous, flying fire, That made the great caves ring, And scarred the slope, and broke the spire, Is a forgotten thing.
The air is full of mellow sounds, The wet hill-heads are bright, And down the fall of fragrant grounds, The deep ways flame with light.
A rose-red space of stream I see, Past banks of tender fern; A radiant brook, unknown to me Beyond its upper turn.
The singing, silver life I hear, Whose home is in the green, Far-folded woods of fountains clear, Where I have never been.
Ah, brook above the upper bend, I often long to stand Where you in soft, cool shades descend From the untrodden land!
Ah, folded woods, that hide the grace Of moss and torrents strong, I often wish to know the face Of that which sings your song!
But I may linger, long, and look Till night is over all: My eyes will never see the brook, Or sweet, strange waterfall.
The world is round me with its heat, And toil, and cares that tire; I cannot with my feeble feet Climb after my desire.
But, on the lap of lands unseen, Within a secret zone, There shine diviner gold and green Than man has ever known.
And where the silver waters sing Down hushed and holy dells, The flower of a celestial Spring-- A tenfold splendour, dwells.
Yea, in my dream of fall and brook By far sweet forests furled, I see that light for which I look In vain through all the world--
The glory of a larger sky On slopes of hills sublime, That speak with God and morning, high Above the ways of Time!
Ah! haply in this sphere of change Where shadows spoil the beam, It would not do to climb that range And test my radiant Dream.
The slightest glimpse of yonder place, Untrodden and alone, Might wholly kill that nameless grace, The charm of the unknown.
And therefore, though I look and long, Perhaps the lot is bright Which keeps the river of the song A beauty out of sight.
The Curse of Mother Flood
Wizened the wood is, and wan is the way through it; White as a corpse is the face of the fen; Only blue adders abide in and stray through it-- Adders and venom and horrors to men.
Here is the "ghost of a garden" whose minister Fosters strange blossoms that startle and scare.
Red as man's blood is the sun that, with sinister Flame, is a menace of hell in the air.
Wrinkled and haggard the hills are--the jags of them Gape like to living and ominous things: Storm and dry thunder cry out in the crags of them-- Fire, and the wind with a woe in its wings.
Never a moon without clammy-cold shroud on it Hitherward comes, or a flower-like star!
Only the hiss of the tempest is loud on it-- Hiss, and the moan of a bitter sea bar.
Here on this waste, and to left and to right of it, Never is lisp or the ripple of rain: Fierce is the daytime and wild is the night of it, Flame without limit and frost without wane!
Trees half alive, with the sense of a curse on them, Shudder and shrink from the black heavy gale; Ghastly, with boughs like the plumes of a hearse on them: Barren of blossom and blasted with bale.
Under the cliff that stares down to the south of it-- Back by the horns of a hazardous hill, Dumb is the gorge with a grave in the mouth of it Still, as a corpse in a coffin is still.
Never there hovers a hope of the Spring by it-- Never a glimmer of yellow and green: Only the bat with a whisper of wing by it Flits like a life out of flesh and unseen.
Here are the growths that are livid and glutinous, Speckled, and bloated with poisonous blood: This is the haunt of the viper-breed mutinous: Cursed with the curse of weird Catherine Flood.
He that hath looked on it--hurried aghast from it, Hair of him frozen with horror straightway, Chased by a sudden strange pestilent blast from it-- Where is the speech of him--what can he say?
Hath he not seen the fierce ghost of a hag in it?
Heard maledictions that startle the stars?
Dumb is his mouth as a mouth with a gag in it-- Mute is his life as a life within bars.
Just the one glimpse of that grey, shrieking woman there Ringed by a circle of furnace and fiend!
He that went happy and healthy and human there-- Where shall the white leper fly to be cleaned?
Here, in a pit with indefinite doom on it, Here, in the fumes of a feculent moat, Under an alp with inscrutable gloom on it, Squats the wild witch with a ghoul at her throat!
Black execration that cannot be spoken of-- Speech of red hell that would suffocate Song, Starts from this terror with never a token of Day and its loveliness all the year long.
Sin without name to it--man never heard of it-- Crime that would startle a fiend from his lair, Blasted this Glen, and the leaf and the bird of it-- _Where is there hope for it, Father, O where?_
Far in the days of our fathers, the life in it Blossomed and beamed in the sight of the sun: Yellow and green and the purple were rife in it, Singers of morning and waters that run.
Storm of the equinox shed no distress on it, Thunder spoke softly, and summer-time left Sunset's forsaken bright beautiful dress on it-- Blessing that shone half the night in the cleft.
Hymns of the highlands--hosannas from hills by it, Psalms of great forests made holy the spot: Cool were the mosses and clear were the rills by it-- Far in the days when the Horror was not.
Twenty miles south is the strong, shining Hawkesbury-- Spacious and splendid, and lordly with blooms.
There, between mountains magnificent, walks bury Miles of their beauty in green myrtle glooms.
There, in the dell, is the fountain with falls by it-- Falls, and a torrent of summering stream: There is the cave with the hyaline halls by it-- Haunt of the echo and home of the dream.
Over the hill, by the marvellous base of it, Wanders the wind with a song in its breath Out to the sea with the gold on the face of it-- Twenty miles south of the Valley of Death.