Day after day, week after burning week,
A ruthless sun has sucked the forest dry.
Morn after anxious morn men's glances seek
The hills, hard-etched against a harder sky.
Gay blossoms droop and die.
Menace is here, as day draws to its peak,
And, 'mid the listless gums along the creek,
Hot little breezes sigh.
To-day the threat took shape; the birds were dumb.
Once more, as sullen, savage morning broke,
The silence told that trembling fear had come,
To bird and beast and all the forest folk.
One little wisp of smoke
Far in the south behind the listless gum
Grew to a purple pall. Like some far drum,
A distant muttering broke.
Red noon beheld red death come shouting o'er
These once green slopes - a leaping, living thing.
Touched by its breath, tree after tall tree wore
A fiery crown, as tho' to mock a king—
A ghastly blossoming
Of sudden flame that died and was no more.
And, where a proud old giant towered of yore,
Stood now a blackened thing.
Fierce raved the conquering flame, as demons rave,
Earth shook to thunders of the falling slain.
Brambles and bushes, once so gay and brave,
Shrank back, and writhed, and shrieked and shrieked again
Like sentient things in pain.
Gone from the forest all that kind spring gave…
And now, at laggard last, too late to save,
Comes soft, ironic rain.
Herald, 9 February 1933, p8
This poem was originally published in the Melbourne Herald under the title "In a Forest Garden".
Later included in The Singing Garden (Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1935)
C. J. Dennis
C. J. Dennis included four 'verse tales' relating the story of a romance between a Melbourne larrikin, 'The Sentimental Bloke', and his sweetheart Doreen in a collection entitled Backblock Ballads and Other Verses. Through 1914 he expanded 'the Bloke' series, submitting further 'Bloke' poems to the Bulletin, and in 1915 managed to publish the series as The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke by the firm of Angus and Robertson (Sydney). The sentimental love story was extremely successful. He used some of the proceeds of this publishing success to purchase land at Toolangi, and in July 1917, Dennis married Olive Price. Together, they extended Dennis' Toolangi house which he called 'Arden' after the forest in Shakespeare's As You Like It. In 1922 Dennis joined the staff of the Herald, dividing his time between Melbourne and Toolangi.
Dennis's last book, The Singing Garden (1935), was inspired by his garden at Toolangi. The house burned down in the 1960s although the garden he created with his wife remains. 15 km east of Kinglake along the Kinglake-Healesville Road, Dennis' Singing Gardens now cover 1.5 ha and feature rhododendrons and exotic trees including a copper beech planted by English Poet Laureate John Masefield who visited Dennis during the state's centenary celebrations.