Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, LEX TALIONIS, by FRANCIS MYERS



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LEX TALIONIS, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: The boy crept out of the old box log
Last Line: "and his hate kept hot, as it ought to have done."
Subject(s): Aborigines, Australian; Boys; Family Life; Murder; Revenge; Relatives


THE boy crept out of the old box log
And followed the whine of the wounded dog
Who trailed a spear from his quivering flank
Down the trampled slope of the half-made tank.

Then he heard through the howling a hollow moan
Where the heaviest volley of spears had flown;
He wrenched out a shaft of the jagged wood
And knelt in a pool of his father's blood.

Through a frothing of blood-spume the old man's breath,
Inarticulate, bubbled in gasps of death.
He stooped down lower; no sounds came now,
But the blood-foam lay on his cheeks and brow.

Macalister's camp lay by north and west;
'Twas a four hours' ride to a man hard-pressed,
But three hours' sun had not fired the air
When the boy blood-branded came staggering there.

The horizon was nigh, for the noontide glowed
When Macalister's party for Murgill rode,
But the black creek-timber showed over the plain
Ere Macalister tightened his bridle-rein.

He looked out hard on a spot that he knew
Where the pine-ridge bristled against the blue;
Then, or ever a man of them turned or spoke
There crept through the pine-trees a wisp of smoke.

Each thought of a woman, what fate was hers?
And handled his rifle, and fleshed his spurs.
Through the crashing scrub, up the clogging sand,
They rode like devils with heel and hand.

Through the choking smoke and the fire-drift hot
They flashed like madmen who heeded not.
On the ashes of home, in the grip of fate,
They halted like mortals, just all too late.

There were wild, swift seekings through crackling flames,
There were anguished shoutings of tender names;
When the mother and girls were together laid
There were deep oaths pledged to be fully paid.

The boy stood out in the blackened ring
And the men looked down on him shuddering,
His father's blood on his brow was dark
As a fire-brand's blaze on a sapling's bark.

And his lips were sealed as by deadliest drouth
With the kiss of his mother's fire-charred mouth;
Baptized in blood and confirmed by fire,
His whole soul dark with one fell desire.

Two days passed by ere they rode again,
The boy in the van of a grisly train.
But no books tell us what then befell,
For the tale of that riding were bad to tell.

And bad and sad is the whole tale known
Of the boy who led it from shout to groan,
Of the boy and the man as he still appears
In the reddest page of the Gulf's worst years.

They blacken him still in their cackling talk—
The pitiful, preaching new-chum folk,
But some men listen to all they say,
And stand by him still in the back-block way.

"For I say," says Macalister, bursting through
All the babble and prate of the half-baked crew,
"That if ever a mandate to be obeyed
On the soul of a mortal man was laid

" 'Twas on him, and 'twas sealed in his life's eclipse,
On his father's blood, by his mother's lips.
Those black, scorched lips, could he feel their kiss,
And ever his life's sole purpose miss?

" 'Twas to kill and to kill, and in killing pay
His debt to the devils the proper way.
He is dead, God rest him, and all his tracks
Are marked with bones of the cursèd blacks.

"And my own mind's clear, had he lived right out
The days of the prophets ye preach about,
His oath would have held till his course was run
And his hate kept hot, as it ought to have done."





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