Charles Harpur

(23 January 1813 – 10 June 1868 / Windsor, New South Wales)

A Storm in the Mountains


A lonely boy, far venturing from home
Out on the half-wild herd’s faint tracks I roam;
Mid rock-browned mountains, which with stony frown
Glare into haggard chasms deep adown;
A rude and craggy world, the prospect lies
Bounded in circuit by the bending skies.
Now at some clear pool scooped out by the shocks
Of rain-floods plunging from the upper rocks
Whose liquid disc in its undimpled rest
Glows like a mighty gem brooching the mountain’s breast,
I drink and must, or mark the wide-spread herd,
Or list the thinking of the dingle-bird;
And now towards some wild-hanging shade I stray,
To shun the bright oppression of the day;
For round each crag, and o’er each bosky swell,
The fierce refracted heat flares visible,
Lambently restless, like the dazzling hem
Of some else viewless veil held trembling over them.
Why congregate the swallows in the air,
And northward then in rapid flight repair?
With sudden swelling din, remote yet harsh,
Why roar the bull-frogs in the tea-tree marsh?
Why cease the locusts to throng up in flight
And clap their gay wings in the fervent light?
Why climb they, bodingly demure, instead
The tallest spear-grass to the bending head?
Instinctively, along the sultry sky,
I turn a listless, yet inquiring, eye;
And mark that now with a slow gradual pace
A solemn trance creams northward o’er its face;
Yon clouds that late were labouring past the sun,
Reached by its sure arrest, one after one,
Come to a heavy halt; the airs that played
About the rugged mountains all are laid:
While drawing nearer far-off heights appear,
As in a dream’s wild prospect, strangely near!
Till into wood resolves their robe of blue,
And the grey crags rise bluffly on the view.
Such are the signs and tokens that presage
A summer hurricane’s forthcoming rage.

At length the south sends out her cloudy heaps
And up the glens at noontide dimness creeps;
The birds, late warbling in the hanging green
Off steep-set brakes, seek now some safer screen;
The herd, in doubt, no longer wanders wide,
But fast ingathering throngs yon mountain’s side,
Whose echoes, surging to its tramp, might seem
The muttered troubles of some Titan’s dream.

Fast the dim legions of the muttering storm
Throng denser, or protruding columns form;
While splashing forward from their cloudy lair,
Convolving flames, like scouting dragons, glare:
Low thunders follow, labouring up the sky;
And as fore-running blasts go blaring by,
At once the forest, with a mighty stir,
Bows, as in homage to the thunderer!

Hark! From the dingoes blood-polluted dens
In the gloom-hidden chasms of the glens,
Long fitful howls wail up; and in the blast
Strange hissing whispers seem to huddle past;
As if the dread stir had aroused from sleep
Weird spirits, cloistered in yon cavy steep
(On which, in the grim past, some Cain’s offence
Hath haply outraged heaven!) Who rising thence
Wrapped in the boding vapours, laughed again
To wanton in the wild-willed hurricane.
See in the storm’s front, sailing dark and dread,
A wide-winged eagle like a black flag spread!
The clouds aloft flash doom! Short stops his flight!
He seems to shrivel in the blasting light!
The air is shattered with a crashing sound,
And he falls stonelike, lifeless, to the ground.

Now, like a shadow at great nature’s heart,
The turmoil grows. Now wonder, with a start,
Marks where right overhead the storm careers,
Girt with black horrors and wide-flaming fears!
Arriving thunders, mustering on his path,
Swell more and more the roarings of his wrath,
As out in widening circles they extend,
And then—at once—in utter silence end.

Portentous silence! Time keeps breathing past,
Yet it continues! May this marvel last?
This wild weird silence in the midst of gloom
So manifestly big with coming doom?
Tingles the boding ear; and up the glens
Instinctive dread comes howling from the wild-dogs dens.

Terrific vision! Heaven’s great ceiling splits,
And a vast globe of writhing fire emits,
Which pouring down in one continuous stream,
Spans the black concave like a burning beam,
A moment;—then from end to end it shakes
With a quick motion—and in thunder breaks!
Peal rolled on peal! While heralding the sound,
As each concussion thrills the solid ground,
Fierce glares coil, snake-like, round the rocky wens
Of the red hills, or hiss into the glens,
Or thick through heaven like flaming falchions swarm,
Cleaving the teeming cisterns of the storm,
From which rain-torrents, searching every gash,
Split by the blast come sheeting with a dash.

On yon grey peak, from rock-encrusted roots,
The mighty patriarch of the wood upshoots,
In whose proud-spreading top’s imperial height,
The mountain-eagle loveth most to light:
Now dimly seen through the tempestuous air,
His form seems harrowed by a mad despair,
As with his ponderous arms uplifted high,
He wrestles with the storm and threshes at the sky!
A swift bolt hurtles through the lurid air,
Another thundering crash! The peak is bare!
Huge hurrying fragments all around are cast,
The wild-winged, mad-limbed monsters of the blast.

The darkness thickens! With despairing cry
From shattering boughs the rain-drenched parrtos fly;
Loose rocks roll rumbling from the mountains round,
And half the forest strews the smoking ground;
To the bared crags the blasts now wilder moan,
And the caves labour with a ghostlier groan.
Wide raging torrents down the gorges flow
Swift bearing with them to the vale below
Those sylvan wrecks that littered late the path
Of the loud hurricane s all-trampling wrath.

The storm is past. Yet booming on afar
Is heard the rattling of the thunder-car,
And that low muffled moaning, as of grief,
Which follows with a wood-sigh wide and brief.
The clouds break up; the sun s forth-bursting rays
Clothe the wet landscape with a dazzling blaze;
The birds begin to sing a lively strain,
And merry echoes ring it o’er again;
The clustered herd is spreading out to graze,
Though lessening torrents still a hundred ways
Flash downward, and from many a rock ledge
A mantling gush comes quick and shining o er the edge.

’Tis evening; and the torrent’s furious flow
Runs gentlier now into the lake below,
O’er all the freshened scene no sound is heard,
Save the short twitter of some busied bird,
Or a faint rustle made amongst the trees
By wasting fragments of a broken breeze.
Along the wild and wreck-strewed paths I wind,
Watching earth’s happiness with quiet mind,
And see a beauty all unmarked till now
Flushing each flowery nook and sunny brow;
Wished peace returning like a bird of calm,
Brings to the wounded world its blessed healing balm.

On nerveless, tuneless lines how sadly
Ringing rhymes may wasted be,
While blank verse oft is mere prose madly
Striving to be poetry:
While prose that’s craggy as a mountain
May Apollo’s sun-robe don,
Or hold the well-spring of a fountain
Bright as that in Helicon.



Submitted: Thursday, January 01, 2004

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