by Mary Hannay Foott (1846-1918)
Mary Hannay Foott wrote this poem while living in south-west Queensland. This part of Australia is often caught in the cycle of droughts followed by flooding rains. The pelican prefers large expanses of open water without too much aquatic vegetation. This provides the best fish breeding conditions. When you see a lot of pelicans, you know there will be lots of fish, their main source of food. So people would look for the pelicans as a sign of a better place to live. And yes, this is the real title of the poem.
The horses were ready, the rails were down,
But the riders lingered still —
One had a parting word to say,
And one had his pipe to fill.
Then they mounted, one with a granted prayer,
And one with a grief unguessed.
“We are going,” they said, as they rode away —
“Where the pelican builds her nest!”
They had told us of pastures wide and green,
To be sought past the sunset’s glow;
Of rifts in the ranges by opal lit;
And gold ‘neath the river’s flow.
And thirst and hunger were banished words
When they spoke of that unknown West;
No drought they dreaded, no flood they feared,
Where the pelican builds her nest!
The creek at the ford was but fetlock deep
When we watched them crossing there;
The rains have replenished it thrice since then,
And thrice has the rock lain bare.
But the waters of Hope have flowed and fled,
And never from blue hill’s breast
Come back — by the sun and the sands devoured —
Where the pelican builds her nest.
About the Author
See our page on Mary Hannay Foott. Includes a linked list of all her writing available on our website.