POEM: THE LATE HENRY KENDALL

THE LATE HENRY KENDALL
(Note differences to earlier version, in bold type)
He was born at the foot of the mountain,
He was taught his first letter in sand;
His companions – mimosas and gum trees,
And the beautiful birds of our land.
To his ear the wild scream of the curlew
Was sweeter than sweetest of flutes;
And the silvery tinkling of bell birds
More soothing than fair ladies’ lutes.
The despised aborigines loved him;
They partook of his dry crust of bread;
And he followed wherever they led him,
Without fear of peril or dread.
He grew up, ‘mid struggles, to manhood,
And then he burst forth into song
That will always be heard in Australia,
Its mountains and gullies among.
Then came to his heart a great first love,
Which could never be conquered by time;
Hence his muse was oft draped in sadness,
And she wore it sometimes in his rhymes.
A first disappointment is bitter,
And may bring in its train many woes;
Though it seems but a trifling matter
To be baulked in just plucking a rose.
But pride, with its wing, covered over
The vulture that tore at his breast;
None knew what it was but this writer
It was a sealed book to the rest.
Then that curse of all curses most cursed
That scourge of our fair native land
Seized its victim, securely it bound him,
He could find no escape from its hand.
The Eumenides closely pursued him,
They always seemed close on his track;
He feared to look upward or downward,
He dared not go forward or back.
Then, like Dante, he trod the “Inferno,”
When he lifted the maddening cup;
And now, what remained to him farther?
In despair, he must needs drink it up.
His physique, never strong at the best time,
Succumbed to this demon’s great power,
And caused the best fruit of his genius
Unheeded to lie in her bower.
But at last, he is quietly sleeping,
And the present will soon be the past;
If this thought can bring comfort in sorrow,
All wrong will be righted at last.
And now he can dream out his dreaming,
Away in those regions sublime,
Without fear of encountering a critic,
Or the tempting red juice of the vine.
And from thence like another Elija
His mantle on earth he may cast,
To be worn by a second Elisha,
Who will write his grand epic at last.
(Illawarra Mercury, April 19, 1884)

One thought on “POEM: THE LATE HENRY KENDALL”

  1. Bell-Birds
    By the channels of coolness the echoes are calling,
    And down the dim gorges I hear the creek falling;
    It lives in the mountain where moss and the sedges
    Touch with their beauty the banks and the ledges.
    Through breaks of the cedar and sycamore bowers
    Struggles the light that is love to the flowers;
    And, softer than slumber, and sweeter than singing,
    The notes of the bell-birds are running and ringing.

    The silver-voiced bell-birds, the darlings of day-time,
    They sing in September their songs of the May-time;
    When shadows wax strong, and thunder-bolts hurtle,
    They hide with their fear in the leaves of the myrtle;
    When rain and the sunbeams shine mingled together,
    They start up like fairies that follow fair weather;
    And straightway the hues of their feathers unfolden,
    Are the green and the purple, the blue and the golden.

    October, the maiden of bright yellow tresses,
    Loiters for love in the cool wildernesses;
    Loiters, knee-deep, in the grasses to listen.
    Where dripping rocks gleam and the leafy pools glisten:
    Then is the time when the water-moons splendid
    Break with their gold, and are scattered or blended
    Over the creeks, till the woodlands have warning
    Of songs of the bell-bird and wings of the morning.

    Welcome as waters unkissed by the summers
    Are the voices of bell-birds to thirsty far-corners,
    When fiery December sets foot in the forest,
    And the need of the wayfarer presses the sorest,
    Pent in the ridges for ever and ever,
    The bell-birds direct him to spring and to river,
    With ring and with ripple, like runnels whose torrents
    Are toned by the pebbles and leaves in the currents.

    Often I sit, looking back to a childhood
    Mixt with the sights and the sounds of the wildwood,
    Longing for power and the sweetness to fashion.
    Lyrics with beats like the heart-beats of passion;
    Songs interwoven of lights and of laughters
    Borrowed from bell-birds in far forest rafters;
    So I might keep in the city and alleys
    The beauty and strength of the deep mountain valleys,
    Charming to slumber the pain of my losses
    With glimpses of creeks and a vision of mosses.

    Henry Kendall

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19th-century Australian writer, pioneer, teacher. The site of the rambling research of Mr Knox's offsider.

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