Moyarra: An Australian Legend in Two Cantos/Canto I

Second edition


MOYARRA


I.


In that far isle which, long unknown,
Confesses now Britannia's throne,
The sun who flings his genial ray
O'er every clime from day to day.
Beheld one born to that dark race
Who hail the woods their dwelling place.
The opening buds upon the trees
Were gently waving in the breeze;
The flowerets round, of every hue,
Bent with full drops of morning dew;
The feathered choir to greet the day
Poured forth their merry roundelay;
The robin with his blood-red hue,
The warbler of cerulean blue.

And all the variegated kind
That haunt the grove or ride the wind,
All—all conspired with tuneful lays
To hymn their great Creator's praise;
Nature, and nature's voice were glad—
While man—doomed man—alone was sad.
But it is past,—one pilgrim more
Shall wear the chain his fathers wore:
He, too, affection's bonds shall nourish,
While yet, alas! their cause may flourish;—
And, when those links are rent in twain,
He, too, shall find the broken chain.
Which once had cheered his happier day,
Corrode his inmost heart away.
And is this all? And do we cherish
The flower that must to-morrow perish?
And is our earthly term so brief
Of bliss, so permanent of grief?
Affections blighted and decaying,
Hope once how bright! but still delaying;
Where'er our wanderings, shall show
This life a pilgrimage of woe.


II.

Moyarra lived a reckless child
And deemed, albeit a savage, wild:
His mimic spear was early sped
Far o'er each wondering comrade's head:
The eucalyptus on the hill
Was silent challenge to his skill:—
Did torrents deck the mountain's side,
Moyarra stemmed the foaming tide:—
If spies went forth to circumvent
The neighbouring tribes on plunder bent,
Moyarra clasped his hands in prayer
That he, though young, th' exploit might share.


III.

Long years have passed; those rites1 are done
Which, handed down from sire to son.
Still from that wandering people claim
Obeisance to religion's name:
Their temple is the earth, air, sky,
And through the gorgeous canopy
The moon, their priestess, wades in light—
While round her path, in order bright,

The stars, her ministers, array
Their gleaming ranks until the day,
Returning, chase their fires away.
Around, in frowning grandeur, stand
The forest patriarchs of the land;
In sullen sanction of the hour
They wave beneath the West wind's power,
Till the whole grove, with yielding grace,
Murmurs around the sacred place.
Moyarra felt his being thrill
Within him, as by magic spell;
Like lightning, through his sanguine frame
As the electric transport came,
In fuller tide his life-blood ran;
He knew—he felt himself, a man.
Then, by those lights which o'er him sparkled,
And by the woods which round him darkled.
By the blue arch extended o'er him,
And by the sacred rites before him.
He vowed to that dear mother earth
Which gave his ancestry their birth
To wage, till life's extremest close,
Unyielding warfare 'gainst her foes.
His conscious step, his haughty bearing

Bespoke a spirit proud and daring;
The flashing of his eye confessed
The courage mantling in his breast.
The hoary warriors round him smiled
Approval of his fervour wild;
Recounting deeds themselves had done
Ere yet their bloom of youth had flown.


IV.

Rise, Mytah! the graceful, and list to thy lover;
The day is declining, my toils are all over;
Fresh spoils from the stream and the forest I bring,
And flowers wet with dew of the fragrance of Spring.

As the young blade of grass to the swift kangaroo
So dear to me, Mytah, one kind glance from you:
As the flowers love the dew-drops which nightly they sip,
In thy smiles I would revel, and feast on thy lip.

Then haste thee thy faithful Moyarra to cheer
With the sound of that voice which is sweet to mine ear;

And the name of my Mytah shall ever remain
The home of my thoughts, and the theme of my strain.

   Ere the song had ceased the maiden's breast
Was throbbing with tumultuous passion,
   And at its close she gently rose
And glided to her lover's station.
   The hurried air of wild despair
      That o'er her face a tremor threw,
   The glossy orb that would absorb
      Ere he the falling tear might view—
   In eloquent language have conveyed
      A tale of anguish and of dread:
   And when she oped her lips to name
   The grief which thus had racked her frame.
   The impatient lover madly hung
   Upon the accents of her tongue;—
   Convulsive clenched within his hand
   More firmly his unfailing brand,
   As though the foe were now in sight
   On whom to wreak his wrath in fight.


V.

"Moyarra, I have trembled here
In agony of doubt and fear—
Mistrusting e'en thy constant heart;
Hear but the cause—thou wilt not start.
Thou know'st Muntookan (of the race
For whom the hills are dwelling-place);
Before our gathered tribe, this morn,—
E'en now I shudder:—he hath sworn
That, ere to-morrow's speeding rays
Are quenched in darkness, he will seize
Thine own loved Mytah for his bride."2
"Perish the thought!" Moyarra cried—
"Nay, hear my tale," she gently said;
"But late the tribe have onward strayed;—
E'en now, perchance, they seek for me,—
Oh ! bliss ! that I have met with thee!
I knew, I feared thy soul of flame
If sudden to the camp you came;—
I thought my o'er-strung heart would break"-
'Nay, weep not, Mytah! this is weak:
Am I not here thy cause to try
With him who thus hath dimmed thine eye?

Am I not here thy foes to chase
As thus the tear from thy dear face?
Methinks the caitiff I could bless
Who drove thee thus to my caress;
Who quelled for me those vain alarms
Which held thee from my longing arms."
The dark blood mantling in her face,
The maiden flew to his embrace;
Her head upon his breast reclining,
Her swimming eyes the while declining,
She lent his tale a willing ear,
And sighed, assenting to his prayer.
The night-enamoured cuckoo's call3
Aroused them from their pleasing thrall,—
One raptured glance around he took.
Then silence thus Moyarra broke:—
"Such was the night, and such the hour
My country to defend I swore;
That oath I've sacred kept, and now
I pledge me to a tenderer vow.
By those all-hallowed rites I swear,
Whose mysteries not thyself may'st share,
While yet within these throbbing veins
One feeble pulse of life remains.

Thee as my dearer self to cherish,
For thee to live, with thee to perish.
But haste thee;—ere to-morrow's sun
My native valley must be won:
Once-there, all danger we'll defy
To dim our hopes, or cloud our joy."
He said, and o'er the maiden threw
A furry robe which half concealed
Her graceful form, and half revealed
Its moulding and proportions due.
The mantle which a gift he brought
From wild beasts' skins himself had wrought.
The glimmering moonbeams faintly showed
Where lay the dreary, winding road;
But still his way through brake and fen
He followed on with watchful ken.
With faltering step, and anxious mind
Dark Mytah traced his steps behind.


VI.

"Brethren! full long the sun hath set,-
That brain-sick girl appears not yet.
If more she dallies thus——;howe'er,

The exerted voice she yet may hear."
The savage called, and a wilder cry
Ne'er thrilled upon Tartarean gloom,
Wrung from a soul in agony:—
You'd deem a voice from out the tomb
Alone could wake that echo shrill
Responsive from the neighbouring hill.
No voice replied. In baffled pride
Muntookan laid him by the side
Of the embers dim, which fitful showed
The swarthy forms around that glowed.
The gaunt white stems of the trees around
Moaned in the breeze with solemn sound:
The hoarse frog croaked in dismal tune
From the weedy shore of the near lagoon;
The mournful note of the cuckoo seemed
To wail a crime yet unredeemed,
As nightly here, exiled from home
The ghost of the spring bird wept its doom:
The hungered dog in the distant dell
Discordant howled with painful yell.
But darker than surrounding shade,
Than the gloomy sounds by night conveyed.
The mingled tide of wrath and pride

That raged within Muntookan's breast;
"So lightly prized! my love despised!
And who to me preferred? 'Twere best
He shun my path. The rifle bird4
To whom the serpent glides unheard,
Not surer rues the fatal spring
When vainly flaps its struggling wing
Than he shall rue the luckless hour
He trifled with Muntookan's power.
If curse availeth, mine shall cling
Worse than the soul's imagining.
Ye powers who rule the midnight air,5
Fell spirits! Hear, and grant my prayer!
His be the seared and lifeless heart
Jiist skilled to view its joys depart,
But sunk in hopelessness to save
Its dearest blossom from the grave;
Till nerveless, sapless as the oak
Scathed by the livid lightning stroke,
Fostering the canker which destroys.
His heart's core wither ere he dies."[1]


VII.

Ere yet the day's returning beam
Had crimson-tinged the distant hill,
Or, glancing on the bubbling stream
Lent joyous lustre to its rill.
The chieftain rose, and gloomy strode
Through twilight grey his lonely road.
Morn came; around their watch-fires mustered
The warrior chiefs: the children clustered
In playful groups; in mimic war
To combat some their brethren dare;
Quick wielded by the dexterous hand,
The club a fresh-peeled myrtle wand;
The well-poised reed a spear supplies.
While high, in rapid circles, flies
The crescent toy whose airy flight6
Full oft attracts the wanderer's sight.
Rapt in the counsels of the band
One fondly clasps his father's hand,
Each intimation of his will
Quick to receive and to fulfil.


VIII.

The sun had set; but, tremulously,
His rays yet gilt the western sky;
The stars with milder radiance shone
Beset with lustre not their own,
And faintly gleaming seemed to mourn
The light of which their spheres were shorn.
But in the east the azure sky
Wore purple of the deepest dye,
Save where the silver queen of night
Soothed its blue shade to tender light.
The stars in bright succession sprung
To light and life, and from them flung
That gentle influence which instils
Its power upon the soul, and fills
(Ah! sad but pleasing melancholy)
The heart with musings high and holy.
Yes! this the hour in mercy given
To wean the world- worn heart to heaven;
In aspiration rapt sublime
We commune with all space, all time;
In unison with the infinite whole

The heart accords to nature's soul
Of which it beats a fervent pulse
That time nor danger can convulse.
And if there be a dull alloy
To dim the gushing of our joy
It is that we must turn again
To smile, to weep, to herd with men
Who, swayed by passions which they share
With brutes by nature, day by day,
Contented, hug their bonds of clay;
Their sordid chains still let them wear;
Be ours the bliss; their punishment
Companion with their crime is sent;
To see, and not to feel such joy
May well avenge their apathy.
Ideal dreams of days gone by
Illume our night of lethargy,
And quelling dull mortality
Float o'er the enraptured brain.
When those bright spirits ranked on high
Whose beaming effluence gems the sky
A mortal penance doomed to try
Adorned this world of pain:
The fame to which they dared aspire

Shines through all time a beacon-fire
To light the enterprising few
To their celestial portion true
Which, in the dreariest hour can build
Hope, all ephemeral ills to gild.
Do patriots' laurels earn our praise?
Through the far mist of ancient days
Gleams a long line of Greece's martyrs
Who perished to defend her charters.
Their epitaph their country's groans—
Their fame a world's approving tones.
Doth wisdom claim our reverence? Ages
Yet mourn the loss of ancient sages.
And wisdom's goddess, drooping, flies
To plume her pinion in the skies.
Bend we at Poesy's sacred shrine?
Oh! thou, Mæonides divine,
Before whose throne the boldest falters
Ere he approach the Muses' altars,
Shed but one feather of that pinion
Which gaining thy sublime dominion
Gave thee to soar the upper air
And dwell in instellation there;
Oh! for the faintest colour given

To tint thy page with hues of heaven!
Ah! no! for thee reserved alone
Thy fire, and unapproached thy throne;
Thus Nature vows thy rights to guard,
Her earliest—her Grecian bard.


IX.

In frequent bands, the tribe, returning,
Bore home the produce of their toil,
And o'er their watch-fires brightly burning
Prepared for food the welcome spoil:
Then, gathering to the wild repast
The joke and mirthful taunt flew fast;
Not there the courtly, wreathed smile"7
With eye that dubious gleams the while,
And features tutored to beguile,
The mirth that nature felt, restrained:
Flashed many a dark and glittering eye,
Dusk faces were dissolved in joy.
And yielding to its subtlety
Wantoned in gladness unrestrained.


X.

The moon's chaste orb shone clear and cold;
Each emerald blade in the grassy glade
Sparkled with gems of nature's mould;
The fitful shade by light clouds made
Checking the smile the moon sent down,
And lending the scene a transient frown,
Gave to the eye the only token
That night's mild charm might e'er be broken,
And looking aye tranquillity
Partook of mutability.
With wary glance and noiseless tread
A swart form from the tall trees glided,
A moment paused—as if in dread,
Then to the nearest watch-fire strided:
It was Muntookan: brief reply
Explained the seeming mystery.
"The fugitive Mytah "he had" traced
From brake to fen, from waste to waste."
"Did Mytah wander then alone?"
"Alone! No—there was with her one;—
Vengeance I vowed when on his path,

And dearly he shall bide my wrath,"
"Who? who?" "Moyarra. Both I tracked;8
But 'tis enough; I know the fact;
And for the rest, my deeds shall prove
That hate most deadly sprung from love."
He ceased, and by the fire reclined,
Sought in sweet sleep to soothe his mind.
The silent chiefs around withdrew
Their several pleasures to renew.
Not theirs the prompt officious zeal
To probe the wound it cannot heal,
Question on question hurrying
To fan the flame that grows within:
By nature prompted they restrain
From tasking Sorrow to explain.
And leave to Time those wounds to soothe
Inflicted by Care's arrowy tooth.


XI.

Unconscious of a joy denied,
And at the wish each want supplied.
Dark Mytah with her lover passed
Hours which were all too sweet to last.

Those gentle feelings which alone
Are found where Love upbuilds his throne,—
Which can to trifles light impart
Grace unattained by measured art,
And, fill the soul with delicate sense
Of bliss, pervading and intense,—
Each moment ruled with grateful sway
Hearts which but throbbed such power to obey
Yes! if unnamed desires to guess,
To soothe the weary in distress,
Each fancied evil to beguile
With cheerful song or playful smile;
Expected joys to antedate.
To treasure brightest hours of fate.
And ever with remembrance dear
Suppress the sigh or starting tear;—
Yes! if such life be love—'twas proved
By Mytah and the one she loved.9
Aye! ye may smile whom fickle chance
Endows with wealth and arrogance;
Who deem that true love doth disdain
To quit refinement's courtly train.
But know! Love triumphs more in such
Harmonious response to his touch

Where hearts with mutual fervour beat,
Where hps with unchecked fondness meet,
Than when to transient rules of art
Fashion would mould the struggling heart.


XII.

Nor wanted they the joy of amity.
Koreungat claimed that social tie.
Koreungat and Moyarra grew
Alike in strength and friendship too;
And now, together to the field
They sallied forth with spear and shield :
Together to the river went
To rob the watery element;
And when, encumbered with their prey,
Homeward, at eve, they bent their way,
The tones of Mytah's voice were heard
Caroling like a summer bird,
As forth she bounded o'er the plain
And blithely hailed them home again.
Then would she urge the friends to tell
How, or by whom, their victim fell;
And with quick jibe and mock contempt

Taunt him who failed in his attempt.
Full often from the neighbouring stream
She caught unhoped repast for them;
Then, spreading out her little hoard,
Waited the coming of her lord,
And joyed to see the fond surprise
That glistened in his wondering eyes.


XIII.

"Koreungat! seest thou not? that light
That ever wont to shine so bright—
Sure, no mischance"——upon his tongue
With faltering tone the accents hung.
Hapless Moyarra! 'tis too true;
The fire that nightly beamed for you.
Trimmed by the fostering hand of love,
No longer glimmers through the grove;
The hands that nursed it, clasped in woe,
Plead vainly to the insulting foe;
The eyes that ached for thy return
Beneath the victor's thraldom mourn;
The heart in which thou wert enshrined,
Which in thine absence ever pined,

Shrinks, languishing as a blighted flower
Beneath the taint of lawless power.
He staggers on, his vision swims,
Fail in their task his struggling limbs;
But on, with desperate energy
He reels, the unwelcome truth to see:
He nears the spot of past delight,
Hence doubly charged with woe to-night;
One glance sufficed the tale to own—
The idol of his heart was gone,
And he dejected—and alone.
He spoke not, but his lips compressed,—
The throb convulsive of his breast—
The expanded nostril—gathered brow
Shading the glittering orb below,
Whose fiery and insatiate glow
Seemed avaricious of a foe—
His nervous hand's impatient grasp
His weapon seeming now to clasp —
All told, though now controlled his ire
Within it raged with fiercer fire.
Meanwhile, at distance from his friend,
(Not friendship now a balm could lend)
Koreungat, gloomy, turned to know

The guilty author of his woe.
The trembling women who had been
Powerless condemned to view the scene,
Yet awed by memory of their fears
With converse mingled frequent tears.
Two gloomy warriors from the wood
To Mytah, fierce and sudden, strode;
Dismayed, Muntookan's form she viewed
And fled, but swiftly they pursued:
The rest, as clouds by winds are shattered,
As kangaroos by dogs are scattered,
For safety tried each well-known path
Intent to shun the spoiler's wrath:
And, fearful of Muntookan's force,
Ntone knew, none guessed his homeward course.


XIV.

Ere yet the tale was at an end
Koreungat stood beside his friend;—
"Moyarra! this a time for grief!
While Mytah's woes demand relief?
Know'st thou Muntookan for the foe
Who claims thy bride and dooms thy woe?

She's lost! 'tis now thy task to prove
Moyarra worthy of her love."
"Full well I know my future life
A stern, I hope successful strife:
Yes! o'er the vengeance of my soul
The foe, at least, has no control;—
My ruined hopes, my blighted heart
I owe to his malignant art.
The single passion left mature
Shall wreak on him a reckoning sure:
But 'midst the pangs my heart that tear
One reigns and will not comfort hear;
I—fondly proud—in folly bold,
I—I should have this foretold."
"Nay, nay, Moyarra, say not so,
Too well his vantage took the foe!
What nightly watch, what course by day
Shall screen from us his backward way,
Were he protected by the barrier
Of each his tribe's most chosen warrior
Thy wrath would for the recreant doom
That vengeance which shall surely come :
What marvel that Muntookan too"—
"Enough, enough, all this I know,

But when I think upon my bride
But this morn clinging to my side
And now—alas! in such reverse
When e'en her memory is a curse!—
Who-could, with calm dispassionate view
Say, thus and thus I ought to do?
Go! prate to others of relief
Who ne'er have known like mine a grief.
You never lost a Mytah! No!
You never knew like mine a woe.
How canst thou my bereavement tell?
His triumph—ha! thou speakest well;—
I see, I see her at his side;—
Henceforward Vengeance is my bride."


XV.

Assembling at Moyarra's call
The dusky chiefs around him throng;
Waiting his speech, in silence all
As at the close of funeral song.
"Brothers! have any heard strange sound,
Or seen strange footsteps on the ground?"
Each viewed askance his neighbour's face,

As eager there some hope to trace;
Each eye, with self-accusing glance
Reproached its master's negligence:
Not e'en the oldest chieftains spoke
But mournfully their grey hairs shook,
Reluctant then to trust the voice
With words that could not bid rejoice.
While all in doubt and sorrow hung
The youthful Warrawe 'mongst them sprung
(His tale reserved till reverenced age10
Disclaimed its prior privilege).
"Three travellers' tracks I viewed to-day;
It seemed they journeyed hence; the way
I well remember to the spot."
Further narration needed not.
Moyarra seized a burning brand—
Koreungat, Warrawe, all his band,
(Though many a proffered arm was there.
And many a heart beat high to share
The adventure, if perchance their aid
Might minister to Moyarra's need).
They reached the spot and quickly made
Their fire beneath the tall trees' shade:
But while his comrades sunk to rest,

 
Moyarra could not calm his breast.
Ye who have seen a cultured mind
Range wild, by no restraint confined,
And at each thwarting of its will
In recklessness plunge deeper still;
Think, then, what passions rent the heart
Of one not schooled by rules of art.
A child of impulse, he had been
Till now, spectator in life's scene,
And thus to play such bitter part
Wrung sighs of anguish from his heart.
He sunk to sleep, but 'twas to reap
Fresh torture from a feverish dream.
His bark was gliding down life's stream,
Racked gently by the ambient tide;
A guardian angel by his side
Seemed round an atmosphere to shed
Hallowing the scenes through which they sped;
For them the varied shores of life
With aye-enduring bliss seemed rife;
Each hour owned hues too bright to last
Yet each was rival of the past.
Alas! he little knew the wave
Whose gentle dalliance rose to lave

His bark with undulating motion
In joyous mask beguiled the task
Which bore him to the restless ocean;
Where, shuddering at the billows' roar
Vainly he seeks the varied shore.
His faithful spirit from his sight
Fades, wrapt in shades of dubious night:
He asks in vain the heaven o'erarched,
A sulphurous glare its hues hath parched;
And vapours dim are gathering fast:
The cloud-winged thunderstorm unfurls
Its gloomy pinions to the blast;
Each lurid mass at random hurls
The lightning's intermittent light
Whose ghastly vision quails the sight.
His bark reels through the trackless foam
Staggering beneath the wild waves' shock:
Is there no hope to avert his doom?
No way to shun th' impending stroke?
The vengeful demon of the storm
Seemed now endowed with palpable form:
Like an eagle he swooped from his airy height;
The blood of his victim ran cold at the sight:
He shrunk from the breath of the sable plume

Which o'er him was hovering instinct with gloom.
Like ice was the chill of the deadly dews
That infected his brain with a poisonous juice,
Rendering it feeble and languishing:
He felt the cold torpor of death's touch cling
To his quivering flesh, as each fixed clammy limb
Was numbed by the spell of that spectre dim.
The throb of his pulse waxes faint in his heart—
Shall it cease? With a sudden and desperate start
The chains of his slumber he rends asunder:—
Was that lightning a vision, illusion that thunder?

Calm, overhead, the clear blue sky
Replete with thousand isles of light
Met the wild wonder of his eye
And soothed the fever of his sight.
Lulled in repose, all nature lay
Resigned to night's benignant sway.
But the beaded drops of terror hung,
On his hot temples; still among

His throbbing veins the curdled blood
Struggled to gain its equable flood.
His scattered senses he recalls—
Alas! that inward gaze appals!
Though bright above the stars may shine,
Dark still is all his breast within:
He woke to find the phantom of his brain
Too true an emblem of his real pain.


XVI.

While yet the day's reviving light
Contended with the shades of night,
Winding its radiance with the twilight grey,
The friends resumed their tedious way;
With patient gaze from print to print
Following the foeman as he went.
Where, soft, the earth's retentive breast
Preserved the footfall as impressed,
Elate with hope, they bounded on:
Mid rocks, with scanty moss o'ergrown,
Erewhile they journeyed, and they cursed
The soil whose barren bosom nursed
No fragile herb whose wounded stem11

Might claim a mutual wrong with them.
Like greyhounds panting in the leash
They linger, till, obtained their wish,
The obdurate obstacle they pass
And wind the trail o'er the prostrate grass.
Ha! whither now? With heads erected
Headlong they rush,—the track neglected:
And see! on yonder gentle slope,
Where the forest weaves its verdant cope,
What smoke curls faint its ashy wreath
Swayed by the morning's gentle breath?
They reach the spot:—but vain that glance.
Vain that keen eye of vigilance:
Around that too delusive fire
No victims wait to glut their ire.

Blest be the forest's friendly guard
Waving wide shelter o'er the sward:
Here, still the glistening dewdrop slept.—
There, rudely by the foeman swept,
A darker hue the green turf showed.
And marked the way the spoiler trod;
See! prostrate from his recent tread
Each blade yet strives to rear its head.

The omen, seen with keen delight,
Inspires new vigour for the fight.
As, on some mountain's shaggy crest
A rock, for ages fixed to rest,
(Which there, a silent moral, long hath stood
Firm 'mid the changeful honours of the wood)
Now, loosened from its pinnacle.
With horrid rumour fills each dell;—
Slow creeping first, with sluggish course,
Each bound augments its hurrying force;
And now, alternate, hurled on high.
It seeks communion with the sky;
Now plunging downward, ploughs the earth,
Goring the womb that gave it birth;
Limbs, scattered wide, its track adorn
Strewn 'neath their parents' stems forlorn.
Sad relics! witness bearing long
Themselves how weak, their foe how strong,
Who rolls, remorseless, on his way
While frighted echo shrieks dismay—
So, now, the friends impetuous still,
Rebuffed, not daunted in their will,
Rush on, their vengeance to fulfil.


XVII.

On! on!—behold the foe! their speed
Shames all past efforts;—every nerve
To straining, ministers to their need
When most its sacrifice may serve.
Rapid, they gain: the conscious foe
Now, first, his danger starts to know:
With fiercer gesture, feller tone,
His trembling prey he urges on:—
She, witless of the succour nigh
Tasks her reluctant strength to fly:
Now, now, Moyarra! let your need
Add wings to favour yet your speed.
Yet, look back, Mytah! as a flower
Beneath the pitiless thunderstorm
Droops, laden with the dropping shower,
So yielded Mytah's fainting form:—
Her fate how different! from her fall
No gentle breath can bid her rise:—
Life's sunshine never can recall
The light of life to her dark eyes.
Muntookan paused—and backward cast
One glance—a moment, and 'tis passed—

Yet, in that glance, a quenchless hate,
Lost but with life, was concentrate,
Glaring as, Gorgon-like, endowed
To freeze the reckless gazer's blood.
He laughed—a laugh that fiends might use.
Deriding man's ephemeral views:
One hand he wreathed in Mytah's hair;—
Whirled then the tomahawk in air;—
It glittered—sunk:—a thrilling shriek
Its mission served too well to speak:
With grim delight the savage drew
His weapon wet with gory dew—
Waved it, exulting, o'er his head,
Then through the wood's wide shelter fled.

Moyarra saw not; for his eye
When flashed the fateful axe on high
Convulsive closed in dizzy trance:—
Vain hope! to dwell in ignorance:
That thrilling cry the air that rent
To his prophetic heart hath sent
The curst conviction that his fate
Is sealed, and he now desolate.


XVIII.

In hours with bitterest anguish fraught
Hope courts each vision fancy-wrought;
Each aid, though fragile as the reed
That mocks the drowning suppliant's need.
Though Reason's monitory call
May warn us from delusion's thrall,
Hope, like the rainbow's lovely form,
Waves its bright hues to mock the storm,
Luring from earth our dull regard
Like Icarus on high to soar;
Alas! like his, too, our reward:
The pleasant paths of earth no more
To trace; in the ocean of despair
Wailing the loss of visions fair
Whose fairy scenes, that charmed the sight,
Rose but to whelm in deeper night
The trusting heart that fain would think
They wooed it from destruction's brink.
Alas! when sorrow's bitter cup
The hand of fate hath lifted up,
What mortal hand hath power to fling
The pestilent potion to the wind.

From Nature's stores can wisdom wring
An antidote to soothe the mind?
No! as the deadly adder's fang
On corporal sense inflicts a pang
Whose rankling venom subtly glides,
Empoisoning life's crimson tides;
So, when of sorrow's bitter draught
The shuddering heart hath, loathing, quaffed,
Sinks each enervate faculty
As paralyzed beneath a spell
Concentrate of malignity,
Potent as if on earth th' archfiend
Thus wrung a fealty from mankind-
Triumphant in the petty hell
That rends each victim's proper mind,


XIX.

"The foe 'twere folly to pursue
His native hills are now in view;
And Mytah stretched upon the plain
Bedews the earth with crimson stain."
To her Moyarra madly sped;
With faltering hand he raised her head

"Mytah! my Mytah!"—languidly
Quivered the dark fringe of her eye;
Heaved her shut lips with tremulous motion
'Neath gentle winds as stirs the ocean.
In vain—her eyes no lustrous glances dart,
No tuneful notes her trembling lips impart;
But for those panting sobs for breath
You'd deem her frame resolved in death.
Such scene was not for words; nor now
Griefs dalliance did the time allow;
The shallow streamlet's scattered spray
Each pebble marks that checks its way;
The unruffled river's surface hides
The rocks o'er which its mightier current glides.
In silent grief the warriors bare
The unconscious object of their care;
Fearful to harm, with reckless touch.
That form already scathed too much.
Who ever knew of love the pain,
Till grief had bound him in its chain?
Oh! 'tis grief alone that proves
The heart that deeply, truly loves.
In the fresh dawn of life's young spring
When varied joys each moment wing;

False shapes, the parasites of the hour,
Flit round, in impotence of power;
These, when Hope's buoyant yearnings are
A dower all care to drive afar,
Their various blandishments essay
Revelling in plenitude of sway.

Lo! when the gloom of autumn's shades
The atmosphere of life invades,
Where flock these birds of vagrant wing?
Fled to adorn some recent spring,
Their votary seeks in vain to trace
Their path through viewless realms of space:—
Himself in desolation of the mind
By all but Faith and Hope resigned.
Then claims his empire real love;
Sorrow but lures him to dominion:
The dove hath wings, but doth the dove
Desert his mate to prove his pinion?


XX.

Though social charms awhile may soothe
To short forgetfulness of truth,

From them the heart to solitude
Recoils in silent grief to brood
O'er passions dead and pleasures fled;
Would we could grieve their flight alone!
Alas! when keen-eyed Hope hath flown
(Our herald once to realms unknown),
When smiling Joy his station quits,
There Care in grinning mockery sits.
Reversion sad! at Hope's command
'Twas bliss to image forth a brighter land.
But, bound in Memory's fast-compelling thrall
E'en while we loathe, the frenzying cup we drink,
Helot-like, shuddering on the act to think
That conjures to our mind's distempered sight
The melancholy ghosts of past delight,
The ruthless denizens of reflection's night;
Night which can make time past a settled gloom,
Past joys a curse, and Memory but their tomb.
Alas! in such a world, where all is frail,
What lot must aye be ours but to bewail?


END OF CANTO I.


  1. When a man sunk into atrophy which the tribe could not account for, it was customary to attribute his destruction to the evil influence exerted against him by the magical arts of a wise man in a hostile tribe.




NOTES TO CANTO I.


1(p. 9) Long years have passed; those rites are done.

The ceremonies of the Australian savages have been so often, and in some respects so truly, spoken of by travellers, that I need not here detail them. Allusion to some of their principal characteristics will perhaps suffice.

The scrupulous care which conceals from women and children all knowledge of the occurrences at these ceremonies cannot be over-rated.

The punishment due to a revelation of these mysteries is death.

This statement can hardly be considered inconsistent with the fact that some white men have been made acquainted with them. The initiation has invariably taken place under promise of secrecy, and the information thus given is so much out of the bounds of local tradition that the Australian might fairly, and actually did, look upon such a revelation as unforbidden by his country's jurisprudence. Thus, when the English took possession of New South Wales, Governor Phillip and his principal officers were made acquainted with the ceremonies, as soon as they had established friendly relations with the tribe at Port Jackson.

But I have known no instance of a native revealing to his own class any of the mysteries which he is forbidden to speak of, and if it were not that the tribe from which I obtained information is now extinct, I might perhaps be chargeable with a breach of confidence, even though at different times and places other white persons have been similarly confided in.

Some of the rites may be glanced at in this note.

The circle, so universal an emblem of eternity; the sinuous line of beauty; and, above all startling to the Christian observer in Australian woods, the Cross—are to be found amongst the ceremonial emblems used at the places where youths were initiated. Those spots no women or children were permitted to visit.

The footprint (an ancient Aztec sign) is in request at Australian ceremonies. The quartz-crystal, once revered in parts of Europe, and used in incantations or impostures, was an object of mysterious reverence among Australian tribes; and, moreover, they were assured that some of their wise men were possessed by the spirits of various animals which inspired them with characteristic passions and powers. Whencesoever the tribes had migrated to Australia, they carried with them relics of astronomical knowledge. All the larger stars had names, and by the position of the Pleiades they accurately calculated the approach of summer.

Not only as regarded sight, but also in sounds, there was a freemasonry of acquisition by the Australian when initiated by the tribe.

Peculiar songs, a peculiar call (or cooey) with its peculiar answer, and much mysterious lore were imparted to him. So stern was the law imposing secrecy that on one occasion a native lost his life rather than participate in a breach of confidence.

Fine specimens of rock-crystal were treasured and venerated. There were of course districts in which no such crystals abounded, but they were obtained by barter or as presents from other tribes, and were carefully enveloped in twine made from the fur of the opossum. In 1835 a white man seized one of these, and showed it to a native woman in the presence of the man whom he had despoiled of it. A black was ordered by the tribe to punish the crime, and he slew the criminal.

A missionary, Rev. Mr. Threlkeld (author of an Australian Grammar), attended to interpret in a court of law for the obedient executioner. Mr. Threlkeld reported to the Government, "Charley was found guilty of murder, which he did not deny even when arraigned, but pleaded the custom of his nation, justifying himself on the ground that a talisman named Murramai (the crystal) was taken from him by the Englishman, was pulled to pieces by him, and shown to the black woman, which, according to their superstitious notions, subjects all parties to the punishment of death, and further that he was deputed, with others, by his tribe, to enforce the penalty which he too faithfully performed,"

Threlkeld attended at the scaffold the man who fell, Spartan-like, in obedience to his country's laws. Threlkeld wrote, "he kneeled and prayed; we ascended the gallows; he stood firmly, saying, 'I am now cast away for death,' and repeated the prayer,' Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.'"

The "conflict of laws" sorely exercised the patience of Threlkeld. He represented, on another occasion, that it was anomalous that a black man should be tried in an English Court for killing another black, inasmuch as, if "acquitted, he must again stand trial amongst his own people"; and, moreover, in the English Courts no black was allowed to give evidence.

The close resemblance of observances of their rites by various Australian tribes, even where the languages or dialects widely differ, is worthy of remark.


2(p. 13) "he will seize Thine own loved Mytah for his bride.

The custom which sanctions the forcible abduction of native women widely prevails, but has often been erroneously represented as a necessary condition.

This is an error. Marriages were often the sequel of an affiancing of many years' duration, and were peaceful and happy. On the other hand, despite any affiance, the strong hand of a warrior frequently seized upon an unwilling bride, and was exerted to retain her, in defiance of friend or foe.


3(p. 14) "The night-enamoured cuckoo's call."

The Australian cuckoo of the colonists is only heard at night. There is an Australian bird, of the parasitic order, which casts upon other birds the care of its egg and young, but it is not known by the name of "cuckoo," which is given to the night-bird whose call reminded the early colonists of the notes of the English cuckoo.


4(p. 17) "the rifle-bird To whom the serpent glides unheard."

The rifle-bird which inhabits secluded places, is peculiarly liable to the attack of snakes which also frequent them.


5(p. 17) "Ye powers! who rule the midnight air."

The religious rites of the Australian tribes, identical as they were in many respects throughout the vast territory over which they were scattered, may be accepted as proof that though their ideas of the supernatural were vague when Europeans arrived amongst them, those ideas had been handed down from a time when their ancestors had a more definite creed. The symbols in use seemed to be relics of a belief of the past; not modern inventions, appearing locally and with widely varying developments.

Of prayer they knew nothing, although they believed in supernatural powers. They had traditions of danger in darkness, and many tribes had fear of the depths of unfathomable water in which some devouring monster was supposed to abide. This may have been (among tribes in the interior) the result of tales of sharks or of crocodiles which abounded on the coast or in rivers.

There were gloomy forests which they feared to penetrate at night; but if any warlike danger was imminent, the natural drove, out the supernatural fear, and they would thread the gloom with resolution.


6(p. 18) "The crescent toy whose airy flight."

About the boomerang (such was the tribal name for the implement at Port Jackson, where the English first settled) the most absurd notions still prevail in England. The settlers applied the term to all the curved missiles used by the natives. The natives had a different name for each variety of their curved missiles. The boomerang which returns to the thrower was only a plaything, and was never used in war; nor, unless the native had no other missile at hand, even to throw at birds.

The massive war-weapon (called among the colonists by the inappropriate name given to the returning plaything) was specially fashioned so that in its hurtling and bounding course it should go straight to the enemy. It could not return. Its shape and the warps which were given to it compelled it to go straight forward. Similarly the smaller weapons thrown at birds or game of any kind went straight to their object. These could be thrown quite two hundred yards without touching the ground.

The toy, called "barracun" in the tribe with which the writer was best acquainted, was fashioned with much art. The side which was undermost during the flight of the implement was flatter than the other side. The thickest part of the blade was about one-third of the distance from the edge of the convexity; and there were no less than four warpings of each half of the implement. These were produced, by careful warping. The implement, when shaped by the tomahawk with care, was placed over warm embers. The heat made the wood plastic, and the maker then warped the implement, tested its flight in some open space (it was dangerous to throw the light implement among trees, for its rotation was so rapid and its course so swift that contact with anything hard almost certainly fractured it), and, if necessary, warped it more, until he had brought it to such perfection as the particular wood permitted. Differences of specific gravity in various portions of the wood necessitated differences (in degree, though not in principle) in the warping.

There were several varieties of the weapon thrown at game, and each variety had a different name.

The following ludicrous mis-statement about the boomerang appeared in the United Service Journal in June 1833:

"When used as an offensive weapon it is usually thrown with the convex side outwards, but when intended to return it is held in the reverse position although it will probably act in either direction if properly handled."

The writer proceeded to explain mathematically how such results might be brought about.

If he had known that no Australian ever threw a boomerang "with the convex side outwards" and that the boomerang of war, "used as an offensive weapon," was so constructed that it was impossible for it to return to the thrower, he need not have "cudgelled his brains" to account for that which had no existence.

In the Sydney Gazette of 1804 it is recorded that at a fight, witnessed by the whites, Dungaree "distinguished by his remarkable courtesy," threw a war-boomerang with such force that, striking at some distance, "the right arm of one of his opponents, it actually rebounded to a distance of not less than seventy or eighty yards, leaving a horrible contusion behind, and exciting universal admiration."


7(p. 22). "Not there the courtly wreathed smile."

Those who have only contemptuously or cursorily observed the habits of the Australians can scarcely imagine how gay and good humoured they could be. Those who have really gained their confidence will admit that the simple black was at once the blithest and most cheerful companion.


8(p. 24). "Who? Who? Moyarra!"

The perceptions of the Australians were so keen that this line implies no exaggeration. Expert trackers knew at a glance whose footprint they met, if they had had previous opportunities of becoming acquainted with it.


9(p. 25). "By Mytah and the one she loved."

Maugre all the accounts, and I regret to say the true accounts which have been given of the vile subjection to which women were reduced among the tribes, there were instances which justify the statement in the text.

The vignette on the frontispiece is a reproduction of a drawing from life by the late Sir Thomas L. Mitchell, explorer;' and Surveyor-General of New South Wales.


10(p. 32). "His tale reserved till reverenced age."

The respect paid to old age was universal. In opposition to the theory of the case, however, the respect diminished rather than increased with the increasing age and infirmities of its object.

Before a very infirm old man died he was neglected by the majority of the tribe; but it must be remembered that a decrepit man could not accompany them in their wanderings.

As cannibalism was the exception, and not the rule among Australian tribes, the lonely creature, unable to journey with his people, was not exposed to danger from assault.

I once knew an active lad forego his desire to accompany the tribe, and remain with his infirm grandfather to minister to his wants.