How The Chestnut Horse Came Home

Packed Kürassierpferd - Wilhelm Trübner

Today’s horse poetry is a tragedy written in 1898 by William Ogilvie, a Scottish narrative poet and horse lover.

How The Chestnut Horse Came Home

Twenty miles across the ranges there’s a patch of cane-grass clears
Half-a-mile of tangled mulga ; hides a score of native spears,
While the horseman sings a love-song, with no shadow of his fate
Till the stock-horse swerves and plunges from the cane-grass swamp — too late!

Heavy from his glossy shoulder falls a dead weight to the ground,
And the dark blood splashes upward as the big horse makes the bound;
With his wld eyes great with terror and his scarlet nostrils spread
Leaps he madly to the mulga from the dark form of the dead;

Laden with the purple bloodstains, for the words he cannot speak,
Thunders down the crimson sunset to the homestead by the creek;
Loudly over range and roadway ring the hoofs their notes of doom,
Straight as arrow to the gateway … So the chestnut horse came home!

What’s the dustcloud down the plain, Jack? Yours are younger eyes than mine;
Comes too fast for team or buggy, and the coach ain’t due till nine.
Harry Olden, How he’s riding? Well, we needn’t wonder, Jack;
When a man is newly-married he don’t linger on the track.

There’s his little woman waiting over by the cottage door:
By the Powers of Earth and Heaven! What the smoke’s he racing for?
I would rather lose a tenner — he must stop this blessed game —
I would rather lose a hundred than he ride old Kliyber lame.

Not a horse upon the river . . . What is that you’re saying, Jack?
Khyber making for the gateway with no rider on his back!
Bridle broken, breastplate flying, chest and shoulder white with foam!
Stand away there! Take the rails down! . . .So the chestnut horse came home!

She is standing in the garden, and the gleam of sun-set falls
Through the pepper trees and blue gums on the white-washed cottage walls;
She is watching through the sunset till her eyes their guerdon meet;
In the still air she is listening for the stroke of Khyber’s feet;

Now she whispers, ” I can see him ; he is riding fast to-night!”
Eagerly her heart is beating, and her eyes have Love’s own light.
“Khyber’s fond of racing homewards! Dear old Harry lets him go,
For he knows that I am waiting; anxious when the sun gets low.

“What’s the big crowd at the slip-rails? Harry’s coming horae in state!
If I run across the garden I shall meet him at the gate!”
Hi the silent awestruck circle, speechless lips and brows of gloom,
Not one man was the man to tell her how the chestnut horse came home!

Tragic Ending

Although it is a sad poem, it is skillfully written and a very entertaining read. If it’s something shorter you are looking for be sure to check out a verse from another of his poems The Hooves of Horses, and stay tuned for more to come next Tuesday.

5 Comments on “How The Chestnut Horse Came Home

  1. Mary Jordan

    My 100 year old mother remembers this poem so I went looking for it. I was brought to this website. Many thanks. I now have all the words for her..Cheers, Mary

  2. Janice O'Connor

    I learned this poem when I was a child seventy years ago and I loved it. Even though it had a sad ending to the story it was a part of the Australian bush culture of the early settlement days and it opened with a rollicking rhythm which created interest. The rhythm changed with the story line but the interest was maintained throughout to the very least line. I am so pleased to have found it again. Thank you .

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