A Storm in the Mountains

by Charles Harpur

Charles Harpur

Part I
A lonely Boy, far venturing from his home,
Out on the half-wild herd's dim tracks I roam:
A lonely Truant, numbering years eleven,
'Mid rock-browned mountains heaping up to heaven!
Here huge-piled ledges, ribbing outward, stare
Down into haggard chasms; onward, there,
The vast-backed ridges are all rent in jags,
Or hunched with cones, or pinnacled with crags.
A rude peculiar world, the prospect lies
Bounded in circuit by the bending skies.
Now at some stone tank 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 muse,-or mark the wide spread herd,
Or list the tinkling of the dingle-bird;
And now tow'rds some wild-hanging shade I stray,
To shun the bright oppression of the day:
129ഊFor 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.
A change is felt-a change that yet reveals
A something only that mere instinct feels.
Why congregate the swallows in the air,
And northward then in rapid flight repair?
At once unsettled, and all roaming slow
With heads declined, why do the oxen low?
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 enquiring eye;
And mark that now, with a most gradual pace,
A solemn trance creams gradual o'er its face;
Slow, but inevitable-wide about
On all hands from the South effusing out:
Yon clouds that late were labouring past the sun,
Reached by its sure arrest, one after one,
Come to heavy halt;-as travellers see
In the wide wilderness of Araby,
Some pilgrim horde at even, band by band,
Halting amid the grey interminable sand.
Thence down descending, its dull slumbrous weight
Sullenly settles on the mountain's great
Upheaving heads, until the airs that played
About their rugged temples-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 cages come bluffly into 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 a dusky dimness creeps.
The birds, late warbling in the hanging green
Of steep-set brakes, seek now some safer screen,-
Skimming in silence o'er the ominous scene.
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.
130ഊFast the dun legions of the mustering 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 forerunning 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!)-and who, from thence
Wrapt in the boding vapours, rose amain
To wanton in the wild-willed Hurricane!
The glow of day is quenched-expunged the sun
By cloud on cloud dark-rolling into one
Tremendous mass of latent thunder-spread
Wide out, and over every mountain's head,
Whose sable bosom, as the storm-blast sweeps
Its surface, heaves into enormous heaps,
And seems a pendant ocean to the view,
With weltering whale-like forms all hugely roughened through.
Yet see in the Storm's front, as void of dread,
How sails yon Eagle like a black flag spread
Before it-coming! On his wide wings weighed,
Hardly he seems to move, from hence surveyed;
When, far aloft, a bulging mass of gloom
That bends out o'er him, bloating as with doom,
Grows frightfully luminous! Short stops his flight!
His dark form shrivels in the blasting light!
And then as follows a sharp thundrous sound,
Falls whizzing, stone-like, lifeless to the ground!
Part II
Now like a shudder at great Nature's heart
The turmoil grows. Now Wonder, with a start,
Marks where, right overhead, wild Thor 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-
131ഊAnd 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 latent 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, flanking out 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
Most multitudinous-down through the trees,
And 'gainst the smoking crags that beetle over these.
On yon grey Peak, with rock-encrusted roots,
The seeming 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 the sky!
But not for long. Up in the lurid air,
A swift red bolt is heard to hurtle there-
A dread crash follows-and the Peak is bare!
Huge fragments, hurrying from its shattered cone,
Wide in the murky air are seen alone-
Huge shapeless fragments round about it cast,
Like crude-wing'd, mad-limbed Monsters squandering in the blast!
The duskness thickens! With despairing cry
From shattering boughs the rain-drenched parrots fly!
Loose rocks wash rumbling from the mountains round,
And half the forest strews the smoking ground!
Stemm'd by the wet crags the blasts wilder moan,
And the caves labor with a ghostlier groan!
Resistless torrents down the gorges flow
With gnashing clamours harshening as they go;
132ഊAnd where from craggy bluffs their volumes leap,
Bear with them-down, in many a whirling heap,
Those sylvan wrecks that littered late the path
Of the loud Hurricane's all-trampling wrath;
While to their dread percussions, inward sent,
The hearts of the great hills beat with astonishment!
Strange darings seize me, witnessing this strife
Of Nature; while, as heedless of my life,
I stand exposed. And does some destined charm
Hold me secure from elemental harm,
That in the mighty riot I may find
How through all being works the light of Mind?
Yea, through the strikingly external see
My novel Soul's divulging energy!
Spirit transmuting into forms of thought
What but for its cognition were as nought!
Soul wildly drawn abroad-a Protean force
Clothing with higher life the Tempest in its course.
The Storm is past. Yet booming on afar
Is heard the rattling of Thor's 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 spangling 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 tanky ledge
A mantling gush comes quick and shining o'er the edge.
'Tis evening; and the torrents' furious flow
Hath now subsided in the lakes below.
O'er all the freshened scene no sound is heard,
Save the short twitter of some busied bird,
Or a faint rustle caused amongst the trees
By wasting fragments of a broken breeze.
Round with a heightened buoyancy I stroll,
And a new happiness o'erflows my soul,
As from some cause beyond the reach of thought,
And which this notion has within me wrought
Through instinct only, that the Storm to-day,
Hath haply purged some pestilence away,
Whose sultry venom in all nature's ways
Would else have lurked for many doomful days:
And hence, even 'mid the sylvan carnage spread
O'er every turn in the wild paths I tread,
Full many a flowery nook and sunny brow
133ഊPresents some pleasantness unmarked till now.
Thus, when the elements of social life
Burst with a soul-quake into mortal strife,
Some prophet feeling, we know not from whence,
Doth moralise the agony; and thence
Wished Peace, returning, like a bird of calm,
Brings to the wounded world a doubly-valued balm.

Last updated January 14, 2019