I like it, though it’s very dark;
The firelight a fading arc
Along the tree, whose ageing bark
Shows day is near.

I like it, but have questions yet:
I do not know where this is set,
And are they strangers? Have they met?
Why are they here?

The people all are gathered round
The fire; some sit on the ground,
One stands, as if to hear the sound
Of breaking day.

The black is turned to navy blue
As streaks of red command the view,
Though none among those lonely few
Seem drawn away.

There seems to me to be no plan
As, joining them, a native man
Sits with them, and from that same clan
A woman stands

Behind the fire, beside the tree,
But even so, it’s hard to see
The woman, as she seems to me,
Warming her hands

Upon the flames, as people wake,
Get up, saddle the horse, and make
A pot of billy tea, to slake
Their thirst. The sky

Grows bright, and signals to the crew
To journey on to pastures new:
They will not stay; they’re passing through,
And so am I.


Stephen McCarthy is a poet residing in Sydney, Australia, who is about to commence studies in an unrelated field at the University of New South Wales. He has won a number of awards for his poem On the Ellipsis.

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7 Responses

  1. James A. Tweedie


    With traditional Australian poetry I expect a story with a plot and sometimes a twist at the end. Your lovely poem fooled me by leaving the narrative tale aside and simply and graphically describing an outback tableau being played out at dawn–offering mere hints as to the back story (drovers, no doubt, off to an early start knowing that the afternoon heat will soon slow their workday to a shade-seeking crawl). Beautifully told. I remember seeing a similar scene (although it was late night rather than early morning) in an Aboriginal camp on the outskirts of Alice Springs back in 1984. Your poem brought back many memories. I am curious about the rhyme scheme. I can’t recall an example of bush poetry using this particular pattern. If you can think of one, let me know. Thanks. Good luck with your studies and please submit more poems!

    • Stephen McCarthy

      Dear Mr. Tweedie,

      If I’m honest, I don’t know of any Australian poetry that uses this pattern (but then again, my knowledge of poetry in general is pretty poor). I basically lifted the scheme from Betjeman’s ‘Slough’ – almost as far away as one can get, I guess (not sure of any other examples either). Hearing my dad recite it just struck me; I don’t really have any better reason (sorry).

      Thank you also for your kind words, and I’m glad you enjoyed the poem.

  2. Jeff Nicholson

    A very beautiful poem! Thank you for sharing. I enjoyed the vivid imagery and how all the senses are engaged. You also did a wonderful job of enlivening this unique social interaction in such a way that the reader can easily place himself near the gathering at the fire–if not just off in the shadows peering in.

  3. David Watt

    In my opinion, the beauty of this poem derives from a clever combination of questions posed, complementary images, and the enlivening of what at first glance may seem to be an obscure scene. “And so am I.” rounds off this piece perfectly.

  4. C.B. Anderson

    The only thing missing was a boomerang, but the social transposition instantiated in the poem was probably sufficient to make up for that. Australians should be grateful for the aboriginal culture that preceded them on their island continent. Crocodile Dundee appears to have understood this very well.


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