Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE WESTERN ROAD, by EDWIN JAMES BRADY

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THE WESTERN ROAD, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: My camp was by the western road - so new and yet so old
Last Line: And clearly rose another day—along the western road.
Alternate Author Name(s): Brady, E. J.
Subject(s): Memory; Nostalgia; Roads; Paths; Trails

MY camp was by the Western Road—so new and yet so old—
The track the bearded diggers trod in roaring days of old;
The road Macquarie and his wife, a hundred years ago,
With warlike guard and retinue, went down in regal show.

The moon had silvered all the Bush; now, like an arc-light high,
She flickered in a scattered scud that dimmed the lower sky;
And, dreaming by my dying fire, whose embers fainter glowed,
I saw their shadows flitting by—the People of the Road.

I heard the clank of iron chains, and, as an evil blast
From some tormented nether world, the convict gangs went past
With sneering lips and leering eyes—grey ghosts of buried crime,
Who built a way for honest feet to tread in later time.

I caught the cruel click of steel; the trained and measured tread
Of soldiers of King George the Third, in coats of British red;
The moon upon their muskets gleamed, as, marching two by two,
They might have marched in better case the eve of Waterloo.

But, dreaming by my campfire still, uprose the merry horn;
A heavy stage came lumbering up from Penrith in the morn,
In beaver hats, the gentlemen their driver sat beside,
And ladies in hooped petticoats and quaint chignons inside.

T-ran-ta-ra! Blue Mountains hills re-echoed as they sung
A lilt of love and long ago—when all the world was young.
T-ran-ta-ra! Their shades went by, the bravest and the best,
The first Australian pioneers—whose graves are in the west.

A night wind whispered in the gums; afar out went the cry
Of mourning curlews on the flats, as madly galloped by
A fugitive with pallid face and pistol butt to hand,
And, hard behind with ringing hoofs, a close pursuing band.

Then—well remembered in my dream—a picture came to me
Of bitter fruit that ripened once upon a roadside tree;
How travellers shunned the haunted spot and evermore forbode
To camp beside the hangman's tree along the Western Road....

White-tilted in the moonlight went rough wagons one by one,
Piled high with household goods and stores of settlers dead and gone—
Blithe British yeomen and their wives, and sons of younger sons,
Who took tradition to the west, and axes, ploughs and guns.

These new-chum settlers tramped beside their dusty, creaking teams,
Their minds were filled with marvels new and olden hopes and dreams;
Their sons' tall sons still yeomen be, but mostly in the west
They ride their silken thoroughbreds, and ruffle with the best.

A motley crowd of eager folk, with tools and tents in fold
Came on Adventure's early guest to Gulgong, grief and gold;
They passed me in a jostling host, with anger or with mirth,
The fortune-seekers gathered from the ends of all the earth.

Yea, sailormen and tailormen, and prostitutes and peers,
Some honest and of good intent, some rogues and buccaneers.
Their campfires lit the darkened range, where, by the creeks, they lay
And dreamed of nuggets in their sleep—impatient for the day.

Came down the road a swaying coach, with troopers 'hind and fore—
The mounted escort thundered on by Lapstone Hill once more,
Their rifles at the shoulder slung, their scabbards long and bright;
They swung around the mountainside and rumbled out of sight.

Came up the road a swaying coach; his ribbons holding free,
The perfect driver tilted back his cherished cabbage-tree.
His girl will meet him at the rails tonight in Hartley Vale—
So, clear the track, and let her pass, the mid-Victorian mail!

Long shadows fell across the road; the mopoke in the still
And solemn midnight voiced aloud his warnings on the hill.
Yet, tramping slow and riding fast along that winding track,
The People of the Road went west, and coached and footed back.

My campfire died in ashes grey, as through my dream there went
That strange procession of the Past, on pay or plunder bent;
The teamsters, drovers, swagsmen, lags; the lovers and the thieves—
Until the east was red with dawn, the dew upon their leaves.

They vanished with the haunted night; their hope and high desire
As ashen as the grey, cold heap that erstwhile made my fire.
Across the tree-tops in the morn the golden sunlight showed;
And clearly rose another day—along the Western Road.

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