The Phantoms of the Dark by Francis William Ophel

I hear them pass at eventide,
I hear the dead pass by.
Ever the long processions ride,
While sorrow’d night winds sigh.

Bright burns the camp-fire at my feet
White stars burn overhead,
Beyond the flame, in shadows, meet
The roaming, restless dead.

Dead bushmen go, in ghostly guise,
Unseen within the night
Save by the herds with startled eyes,
Stampeding in affright.

All night — all night — waked or asleep
The fall of hoofs I hear;
Softly the phantom horses creep
Past my lone camp — and near.

The champing of a jingling bit
Faintly insistent sounds;
With loosened rein wan stockmen sit
And ride their endless rounds.

Oh, shadow made their fences are,
Grey wraiths the flocks they see;
And Death has neither bound or bar
Except eternity.

Lured by the will-o’-th’-wisp’s pale fire
(Mock lights of hut and home);
Onward by spectral post and wire
Damned souls for ever roam.

Shrill comes a cry across the dark,
And weird — I know it well —
It is the lost who call. And, hark!
The tinkling of a bell.

A heap of whitened bones there lies,
And stands the dead man’s steed;
Though never may the rider rise.
Faithful he waits his need.

And when the winds the storm-clouds bring
And loud the tempest roar.
I hear the drover galloping
To meet his love once more.

Night after night, in wind and rain,
He rides and leaves his flocks,
And night by night he falls again
Over the fatal rocks.

And crashing through by bush and bole
In dread, and dumb, and straight
Goes one, sere-stricken to the soul,
And leaves a murdered mate.

At morn my sweating horses stand
Trembling in wild-eyed fright,
For they have seen the phantom band
That pass’d into the night.

Ever by my lone camp they go,
Nor heed the stars or moon.
I hear them always, and I know
That I shall join them soon.

For surely I shall ride away
To turn some midnight rush,
And, greeting Death, remain for aye —
A spirit of the bush.

From: Kinsella, John and Ryan, Tracy (eds.), The Fremantle Press Anthology of Western Australian Poetry, Fremantle Press: Perth, pp.71-73.

Date: 1903

By: Francis William Ophel (1871-1912)

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