Songs from the Mountains

The Curse of Mother Flood

Henry Kendall

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.

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