by Edward Dyson


He’s an old grey horse, with his head bowed sadly;

and with dim old eyes and a queer roll aft,

with the off-fore sprung and the hind screwed badly;

and he bears all over the brands of graft;

and he lifts his head from the grass to wonder

why by night and day now the whim is still,

why the silence is, and the stamper’s thunder

sounds forth no more form the shattered mill.


In the whim he worked when the night-winds bellowed

on the riven summit of Giant’s Hand;

and by day when prodigal Spring had yellowed

all the wide, long sweep of enchanted land.

He knew his shift and the whistle’s warning;

and he knew the calls of the boys below,

through the years, unbidden, at night or morning

he had taken his place by the old whim-bow.


But the whim stands still and the wheeling swallow

in the silent shaft hangs her home of clay;

and the lizards flirt and the swift snakes follow

o’er the grass-grown brace in the summer day;

and the corn springs high in the cracks and corners

of the forge and down where the timber lies;

and the crows are perched like a band of mourners

on the broken hut on the Hermit’s Rise.


All the hands have gone, for the rich reef paid out;

and the company waits for the calls to come in;

but the old grey horse, like the claim is played out;

and no market’s near for his hooves and skin.

So they let him live and they left him grazing

by the creek; and oft in the evening dim

I have seen him stand on the rises gazing

at the ruined brace and the rotting whim.


The floods rush by in the gully under;

and the lightnings lash at the shrinking trees,

or the cattle down from the ranges blunder

as the fires drive by on the summer breeze.

Still the feeble horse at the right hour wanders

to the lonely ring, though the whistle’s dumb;

and with hanging head by the bow he ponders

where the whim-boy’s gone – why the shifts don’t come.


But there comes a night when he sees lights glowing

in the roofless huts and the ravaged mill,

when he hears again the stampers going

though the huts are dark and the stampers still,

when he sees the steam to the black roof clinging

as it’s shadows roll in the silver sands;

and he knows the voice of his driver singing;

and the knocker’s clang where the braceman stand.


See the old horse take, like a creature dreaming,

on the ring, once more his accustomed place;

but the moonbeams full on the ruins streaming

show the scattered timbers and the grass-grown brace.

Yet he hears the sled in the smithy falling;

and the empty truck as it rattles back;

and the boy who stands by the anvil, calling;

and he turns and backs and he “takes up slack”.


When the old drum creaks; and the shadows shiver,

as the wind sweeps by and the hut doors close;

and the bats dip down in the shaft or quiver

in the ghostly light, round the grey horse goes;

and he feels the strain on his untouched shoulder,

hears again the voice that was dear to him,

sees the form he knew – and his heart grows bolder

as he works his shift by the broken whim.


He hears in the sluices the water rushing

as the buckets drain and the doors fall back.

When the early dawn in the east is blushing,

he is limping still round the old, old track.

Now he pricks his ears, with a neigh replying

to a call unspoken, with eyes aglow;

and he sways and sinks in the circle, dying,

from the ring no more will the old horse go.


In the gully green, where the dam lies gleaming

and the bush creeps back on a worked-out claim;

and the sleepy crows in the sun sit dreaming

on the timbers grey and a charred hut frame,

where the legs slant down, and the hare is squatting

in the high, rank grass by the dried-up course,

nigh a shattered drum and a king-post rotting

are the bleaching bones of the old grey horse.


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