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O God, make tolerable,
Make tolerable the end that awaits for me,
And give me courage to die when the time comes,
When the time comes as it must, however it comes,
That I shrink not nor scream, gripped by the jaws of the vice;
For the thought of it turns me sick, and my heart stands still,
Knocks and stands still. O fearful, fearful Shadow,
Kill me, let me die to escape the terror of thee!

A tap. Come in! Oh, no, I am perfectly well,
Only a little tired. Take this one, it's softer.
How are things going with you? Will you have some coffee?
Well, of course it's trying sometimes, but never mind,
It will probably be all right. Carry on, and keep cheerful.
I shouldn't, if I were you, meet trouble half-way,
It is always best to take everything as it comes.



LATE SNOW

The heavy train through the dim country went rolling, rolling,
Interminably passing misty snow-covered plough-land ridges
That merged in the snowy sky; came turning meadows, fences,
Came gullies and passed, and ice-coloured streams under frozen bridges.

Across the travelling landscape evenly drooped and lifted
The telegraph wires, thick ropes of snow in the windless air;
They drooped and paused and lifted again to unseen summits,
Drawing the eyes and soothing them, often, to a drowsy stare.

Singly in the snow the ghosts of trees were softly pencilled,
Fainter and fainter, in distance fading, into nothingness gliding,
But sometimes a crowd of the intricate silver trees of fairyland
Passed, close and intensely clear, the phantom world hiding.

O untroubled these moving mantled miles of shadowless shadows,
And lovely the film of falling flakes; so wayward and slack;
But I thought of many a mother-bird screening her nestlings,
Sitting silent with wide bright eyes, snow on her back.





* * * * *





FRANCIS BRETT YOUNG


SEASCAPE

Over that morn hung heaviness, until,
Near sunless noon, we heard the ship's bell beating
A melancholy staccato on dead metal;
Saw the bare-footed watch come running aft;
Felt, far below, the sudden telegraph jangle
Its harsh metallic challenge, thrice repeated:
'Stand to. Half-speed ahead. Slow. Stop her!'
They stopped.
The plunging pistons sank like a stopped heart:
She held, she swayed, a hulk, a hollow carcass
Of blistered iron that the grey-green, waveless,
Unruffled tropic waters slapped languidly.

And, in that pause, a sinister whisper ran:
Burial at Sea! a Portuguese official ...
Poor fever-broken devil from Mozambique:
Came on half tight: the doctor calls it heat-stroke.
Why do they travel steerage? It's the exchange:
So many million 'reis' to the pound!
What did he look like? No one ever saw him:
Took to his bunk, and drank and drank and died.
They're ready! Silence!
We clustered to the rail,
Curious and half-ashamed. The well-deck spread
A comfortable gulf of segregation
Between ourselves and death. 'Burial at sea' ...
The master holds a black book at arm's length;
His droning voice comes for'ard: 'This our brother ...
We therefore commit his body to the deep
To be turned into corruption' ... The bo's'n whispers
Hoarsely behind his hand: 'Now, all together!'
The hatch-cover is tilted; a mummy of sailcloth
Well ballasted with iron shoots clear of the poop;
Falls, like a diving gannet. The green sea closes
Its burnished skin; the snaky swell smoothes over ...
While he, the man of the steerage, goes down, down,
Feet foremost, sliding swiftly down the dim water,
Swift to escape
Those plunging shapes with pale, empurpled bellies
That swirl and veer about him. He goes down
Unerringly, as though he knew the way
Through green, through gloom, to absolute watery darkness,
Where no weed sways nor curious fin quivers:
To the sad, sunless deeps where, endlessly,
A downward drift of death spreads its wan mantle
In the wave-moulded valleys that shall enfold him
Till the sea give up its dead.

There shall he lie dispersed amid great riches:
Such gold, such arrogance, so many bold hearts!
All the sunken armadas pressed to powder
By weight of incredible seas! That mingled wrack
No livening sun shall visit till the crust
Of earth be riven, or this rolling planet
Reel on its axis; till the moon-chained tides,
Unloosed, deliver up that white Atlantis
Whose naked peaks shall bleach above the slaked
Thirst of Sahara, fringed by weedy tangles
Of Atlas's drown'd cedars, frowning eastward
To where the sands of India lie cold,
And heap'd Himalaya's a rib of coral
Slowly uplifted, grain on grain....

We dream
Too long! Another jangle of alarum
Stabs at the engines: 'Slow. Half-speed. Full-speed!'
The great bearings rumble; the screw churns, frothing
Opaque water to downward-swelling plumes
Milky as wood-smoke. A shoal of flying-fish
Spurts out like animate spray. The warm breeze wakens;
And we pass on, forgetting,
Toward the solemn horizon of bronzed cumulus
That bounds our brooding sea, gathering gloom
That, when night falls, will dissipate in flaws
Of watery lightning, washing the hot sky,
Cleansing all hearts of heat and restlessness,
Until, with day, another blue be born.



SCIROCCO

Out of that high pavilion
Where the sick, wind-harassed sun
In the whiteness of the day
Ghostly shone and stole away--
Parchèd with the utter thirst
Of unnumbered Libyan sands,
Thou, cloud-gathering spirit, burst
Out of arid Africa
To the tideless sea, and smote
On our pale, moon-coolèd lands
The hot breath of a lion's throat.

And that furnace-heated breath
Blew into my placid dreams
The heart of fire from whence it came:
Haunt of beauty and of death
Where the forest breaks in flame
Of flaunting blossom, where the flood
Of life pulses hot and stark,
Where a wing'd death breeds in mud
And tumult of tree-shadowed streams--
Black waters, desolately hurled
Through the uttermost, lost, dark,
Secret places of the world.

There, O swift and terrible
Being, wast thou born; and thence,
Like a demon loosed from hell,
Stripped with rending wings the dense
Echoing forests, till their bowed
Plumes of trees like tattered cloud
Were toss'd and torn, and cried aloud
As the wood were rack'd with pain:
Thence thou freed'st thy wings, and soon
From the moaning, stricken plain
In whorled eagle-soarings rose
To melt the sun-defeating snows
Of the Mountains of the Moon,
To dull their glaciers with fierce breath,
To slip the avalanches' rein,
To set the laughing torrents free
On the tented desert beneath,
Where men of thirst must wither and die
While the vultures stare in the sun's eye;
Where slowly sifting sands are strown
On broken cities, whose bleaching bones
Whiten in moonlight stone on stone.

Over their pitiful dust thy blast
Passed in columns of whirling sand,
Leapt the desert and swept the strand
Of the cool and quiet sea,
Gathering mighty shapes, and proud
Phantoms of monstrous, wave-born cloud,
And northward drove this panoply
Till the sky seemed charging on the land....

Yet, in that plumèd helm, the most
Of thy hot power was cooled or lost,
So that it came to me at length,
Faint and tepid and shorn of strength,
To shiver an olive-grove that heaves
A myriad moonlight-coloured leaves,
And in the stone-pine's dome set free
A murmur of the middle sea:
A puff of warm air in the night
So spent by its impetuous flight
It scarce invades my pillar'd closes,--
To waft their fragrance from the sweet
Buds of my lemon-coloured roses
Or strew blown petals at my feet:
To kiss my cheek with a warm sigh
And in the tired darkness die.



THE QUAILS

(In the south of Italy the peasants put out the eyes of a captured quail
so that its cries may attract the flocks of spring migrants into their
nets.)


All through the night
I have heard the stuttering call of a blind quail,
A caged decoy, under a cairn of stones,
Crying for light as the quails cry for love.

Other wanderers,
Northward from Africa winging on numb pinions, dazed
With beating winds and the sobbing of the sea,
Hear, in a breath of sweet land-herbage, the call
Of the blind one, their sister....
Hearing, their fluttered hearts
Take courage, and they wheel in their dark flight,
Knowing that their toil is over, dreaming to see
The white stubbles of Abruzzi smitten with dawn,
And spilt grain lying in the furrows, the squandered gold
That is the delight of quails in their spring mating.

Land-scents grow keener,
Penetrating the dank and bitter odour of brine
That whitens their feathers;
Far below, the voice of their sister calls them
To plenty, and sweet water, and fulfilment.
Over the pallid margin of dim seas breaking,
Over the thickening in the darkness that is land,
They fly. Their flight is ended. Wings beat no more.
Downward they drift, one by one, like dark petals,
Slowly, listlessly falling
Into the mouth of horror:
The nets....

Where men come trampling and crying with bright lanterns,
Plucking their weak, entangled claws from the meshes of net,
Clutching the soft brown bodies mottled with olive,
Crushing the warm, fluttering flesh, in hands stained with blood,
Till their quivering hearts are stilled, and the bright eyes,
That are like a polished agate, glaze in death.

But the blind one, in her wicker cage, without ceasing
Haunts this night of spring with her stuttering call,
Knowing nothing of the terror that walks in darkness,
Knowing only that some cruelty has stolen the light
That is life, and that she must cry until she dies.

I, in the darkness,
Heard, and my heart grew sick. But I know that to-morrow
A smiling peasant will come with a basket of quails
Wrapped in vine-leaves, prodding them with blood-stained fingers,
Saying, 'Signore, you must cook them thus, and thus,
With a sprig of basil inside them.' And I shall thank him,
Carrying the piteous carcases into the kitchen
Without a pang, without shame.

'Why should I be ashamed? Why should I rail
Against the cruelty of men? Why should I pity,
Seeing that there is no cruelty which men can imagine
To match the subtle dooms that are wrought against them
By blind spores of pestilence: seeing that each of us,
Lured by dim hopes, flutters in the toils of death
On a cold star that is spinning blindly through space
Into the nets of time?'

So cried I, bitterly thrusting pity aside,
Closing my lids to sleep.



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Keywords: passed, without, cruelty, rolling, flight, thirst, slowly, knowing, bright, spring
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