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VICTORIAN ENGRAVINGS

 

 


 

CONTENTS

 

  1. FEEDING THE SACRED IBIS
  2. THE PRINCESS OF COORG
  3. THE GATE OF THE METWALEYS
  4. THE CHILD ATTACKED BY A SERPENT
  5. THE FALL OF CLARENDON
  6. HIGHLAND SCENE
  7. SPANIARDS AND PERUVIANS
  8. JULIET AND THE NURSE

 

 


 

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FEEDING THE SACRED IBIS

 

In temple courtyard of the thrice-great god

you feed the sacred ibis: from your bowl

small silver minnows drop and curved beaks prod

Nilotic offerings of the lunar soul.

 

Without His power these lines would not exist;

inventor of first script, recording thought,

our hearts are weighed before the judgement tryst

by feathered head in Osirian court.

 

Maybe for you this eschatology

in iconed columns holds no massive weight;

the hungry birds are no mythology

but messy pets, impatient if you’re late.

 

As sungod’s envoy flames bright evening star

Cooled temple priests chant languid hymns to Ptah.

 


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THE PRINCESS OF COORG

 

 

There is within your jewelled face a look

that speaks I am your mistress and your slave

and your ringed fingers hold a gospelled book

that reads I shall be saved before the grave.

 

Can this be true? Could you forsake Nandu

and love a rain-soaked god of colder lands?

What nerve in girlish heart could still eschew

insistent mantras from Brahminic hands?

 

I cannot say and yet today my heart

felt as it once pulsated in its youth, -

fed by her almond eyes’ delicious smart -

as if it touched eternal woman’s truth:

 

Take me and take the world afresh to bear

a new-born-son, another life declare.

 


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THE GATE OF THE METWALEYS

 

 

In torpid heat of Arabian noon

the silk and textile merchants trade their wares;

on mosque’s cooled steps exotic drapes are strewn,

twin minarets exalt the call to prayers.

Victorious capital, Al Quahirah,

your greatness spreads as river’s holy mud

hot pharaohs’ mistress, emperors’ lustful star,

you cover my flesh like Nile’s annual flood.

 

From latticed screens your arcane eyes shoot out

to pierce my heart with tender-venomed dart;

unpart that veil, unfold those lips, undoubt

these words: that we might never draw apart.

 

In you, the desert and the luscious shore;

with flitting years I love you more and more.

 

 


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THE CHILD ATTACKED BY A SERPENT

 

Already, wily serpent’s scales tight-coil

around babe’s ankle and, with raising head,

split tongue is ready to inject its spoil

when wakeful dog kills venomed fiend instead.

 

In greenest Cymric vale and Grecian glade

a faithful beast protects the child from harm,

from were-wolves, succubi, and death’s night-shade

without a selfish thought, without a qualm.

 

And could I ever learn from nobleness

of unspeeched friends and might I ever teach

those virtues that assuage my sole distress

at jackal’s laugh and vultures’ doomsday screech?

 

Cast from elysium garden of delight

I partly see lost flowers with their sight.

 


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THE FALL OF CLARENDON

 

You fled impeachment for a France you sold;

unable to support the fickle court,

attacked by gout, worn out, despised and old,

fops’ lace and frills scorned your out-fashioned thought.

 

There’s no return to seat of king-like power

the Hollander war made you a write-off,

and when they burnt the Navy’s dockyard flower,

you fell into disgrace’s stinking trough.

 

Proscribed as evil counsellor, your wit

and admonitions failed to save King’s head

yet Act of Oblivion, parliament’s writ,

restored the monarchy’s reign instead.

 

Black-robed, you stare into strange aftertime.

with rigid exile’s thoughts, discharged of crime.

 


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HIGHLAND SCENE

 

Cerise-cheeked boy guides livestock to loch shores -

a collie dog companion in his trek -

past broken rocks and fern-enshrouded moors:

ahead droves disappear into faint speck.

 

It is the empty beauty of stern scene

that strikes with cruel hand of clearances.

Might he be bound to leave entranced demesne

for novel worlds with no backward glances?

 

An ancient land, a dispossessed estate,

sounds plangent music in its nightfall tints:

austere laments of loves and battles fate

while hills reflect a sunset’s burning glints.

 

Relentless summit winds blow tongue that speak:

where is great heart of nation I still seek.

 


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SPANIARDS AND PERUVIANS

 

It might have been so different, but the sly

conquistador’s inquisitorial look

at placid interest in Inca’s eye

reveals conversion’s tortured, blood-soiled book.

 

The will to learn from others dies in greed

and worlds are joined by gold and hearts are lost.

Can son of man so roughly intercede

when hemispheric oceans are first crossed?

 

But for this moment there’s a hope in time

before obsidian knife trepans the mind

while vultured priests exalt a lawful crime

and chroniclers write off part of mankind.

 

Must global meetings be so stained with doubt?

As mines extract societies cry out.

 


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JULIET AND THE NURSE

 

It’s fun and games, banter and chatter now,

a sexy play on words, pure ravishment;

while virgin blossom flowers on the bough

all’s well with bright stars and there’s no dissent.

 

Iced clash of words and swords, artful masquerade,

pale duping elixir and misplaced trysts,

gold sunrise of teenager’s love betrayed

with killing arms and ungilt lips half-kissed...

 

all this is yet far-off and laughter’s tears

have not discovered covert spring of grief.

But though no place for disbelief or fears,

behind the scene lies time’s delusive thief.

 

Why must such freshness of a girl’s high trust

be shattered in a sepulchre’s dry dust?

 

 


 

 

 

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