Songs from the Mountains


Henry Kendall

YEARS fifty, and seven to boot, have smitten the children of men
Since sound of a voice or a foot came out of the head of that glen.
The brand of black devil is there—an evil wind moaneth around—
There is doom, there is death in the air: a curse groweth up from the ground!
No noise of the axe or the saw in that hollow unholy is heard,
No fall of the hoof or the paw, no whirr of the wing of the bird;
But a grey mother down by the sea, as wan as the foam on the strait,
Has counted the beads on her knee these forty-nine winters and eight.

Whenever an elder is asked—a white-headed man of the woods—
Of the terrible mystery masked where the dark everlastingly broods,
Be sure he will turn to the bay, with his back to the glen in the range,
And glide like a phantom away, with a countenance pallid with change.
From the line of dead timber that lies supine at the foot of the glade,
The fierce-featured eaglehawk flies—afraid as a dove is afraid;
But back in that wilderness dread are a fall and the forks of a ford—
Ah! pray and uncover your head, and lean like a child on the Lord.

A sinister fog at the wane—at the change of the moon cometh forth
Like an ominous ghost in the train of a bitter, black storm of the north!
At the head of the gully unknown it hangs like a spirit of bale.
And the noise of a shriek and a groan strikes up in the gusts of the gale.
In the throat of a feculent pit is the beard of a bloody-red sedge;
And a foam like the foam of a fit sweats out of the lips of the ledge.
But down in the water of death, in the livid, dead pool at the base—
Bow low, with inaudible breath, beseech with the hands to the face!

A furlong of fetid, black fen, with gelid, green patches of pond,
Lies dumb by the horns of the glen—at the gates of the horror beyond;
And those who have looked on it tell of the terrible growths that are there—
The flowerage fostered by hell, the blossoms that startle and scare.
If ever a wandering bird should light on Gehennas like this
Be sure that a cry will be heard, and the sound of the flat adder’s hiss.
But hard by the jaws of the bend is a ghastly Thing matted with moss—
Ah, Lord! be a father, a friend, for the sake of the Christ of the Cross.

Black Tom, with the sinews of five—that never a hangman could hang—
In the days of the shackle and gyve, broke loose from the guards of the gang.
Thereafter, for seasons a score, this devil prowled under the ban;
A mate of red talon and paw, a wolf in the shape of a man.
But, ringed by ineffable fire, in a thunder and wind of the north,
The sword of Omnipotent ire—the bolt of high Heaven went forth!
But, wan as the sorrowful foam, a grey mother waits by the sea
For the boys that have never come home these fifty-four winters and three.

From the folds of the forested hills there are ravelled and roundabout tracks,
Because of the terror that fills the strong-handed men of the axe!
Of the workers away in the range there is none that will wait for the night,
When the storm-stricken moon is in change and the sinister fog is in sight.
And later and deep in the dark, when the bitter wind whistles about,
There is never a howl or a bark from the dog in the kennel without,
But the white fathers fasten the door, and often and often they start,
At a sound like a foot on the floor and a touch like a hand on the heart.

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