THE saltbush steeped in drowsy stillness lies,
The mulga seems to swoon,
A hawk hangs poised within the burning skies,
And it is noon.
The river-gums, their leaf-pores closed, distil
No fresh and cooling breath;
I stand upon an old hard-bitten hill,
Wide plains beneath.
Here stood tall mountains when the world was young,
Their peaks uplifted high;
Here was the song of many waters sung
In days gone by.
The monarch Change, whose will no power withstands
Vast lord of might
At work by night and day, with tireless hands
Planed down their height.
With such to see, and seeing ponder on,
Such mighty ruin wrought,
Why should we wonder at proud Babylon
Brought down to nought?
Be not amazed, though princes be displaced
And kingdoms overcast;
Are empires more than mountains, basalt-based,
That they should last?
A sense of things unreal, seen in dream,
Is over plain and heights —
The time-worn rocks, the crumbled earth, the gleam
Of mirage lights;
The horseman riding with a slackened rein
Alone, a silent man;
The weird, dust-sprites that whirl across the plain
A little span;
The earth-hued lizard, on the sun-baked rock
Stretched out in stirless sleep;
The far-off drover and his dusty flock
Of travelling sheep;
The hidden birds that break the hush, and call,
And sink again to rest,
The dust-storm, hanging, like a crimson shawl,
Within the west;
The white quartz glittering on the umber track,
The claypans cracked and bare;
The poised hawk, hanging like a menace black
In middle air;
The wonder of the spacious plain and sky,
The splendour of it all;
The all that is not I — so wide, so high,
And I so small!
The sun swings on, and up the western verge
The great shawl-cloud spreads wide,
Till sky and plain in oneness meet and merge,
A wind, hell-hot and surged with fury, whips
The trees upon its path,
And all is sudden turmoil and eclipse,
And cries of wrath.
A choking darkness draws across the sun
And clouds his splendour o'er,
And though but half his pilgrimage be done,
'Tis noon no more.