Eight Speech

OCTOPUS

By Algernon Charles Sin-burn

STRANGE beauty, eight-limbed and eight-handed,
    Whence camest to dazzle our eyes?
With thy bosom bespangled and banded
    With the hues of the seas and the skies;
Is thy home European or Asian,
    O mystical monster marine?
Part molluscous and partly crustacean,
    Betwixt and between.

Wast thou born to the sound of sea trumpets,
    Hast thou eaten and drunk to excess
Of the sponges — thy muffins and crumpets;
    Of the seaweed — thy mustard and cress?
Wast thou nurtured in caverns of coral,
    Remote from reproof or restraint?
Art thou innocent, art thou immoral,
    Sinburnian or Saint?

Lithe limbs, curling free, as a creeper
    That creeps in a desolate place,
To enroll and envelop the sleeper
    In a silent and stealthy embrace,
Cruel beak craning forward to bite us,
    Our juices to drain and to drink,
Or to whelm us in waves of Cocytus,
    Indelible ink!

O breast, that ’twere rapture to writhe on!
    O arms, ’twere delicious to feel
Clinging close with the crush of the Python,
    When she maketh her murderous meal!
In thy eightfold embraces enfolden,
    Let our empty existence escape;
Give us death that is glorious and golden,
    Crushed all out of shape!

Ah! thy red lips, lascivious and luscious,
    With death in their amorous kiss,
Cling round us, and clasp us, and crush us,
    With bitings of agonized bliss;
We are sick with the poison of pleasure,
    Dispense us the potion of pain;
Ope thy mouth to its uttermost measure
    And bite us again!

Arthur Clement Hilton (1851–77), written at the Crystal Palace Aquarium.

Amble On

“The Rolling English Road” (1913), G.K. Chesterton

Before the Roman came to Rye or out to Severn strode,
The rolling English drunkard made the rolling English road.
A reeling road, a rolling road, that rambles round the shire,
And after him the parson ran, the sexton and the squire;
A merry road, a mazy road, and such as we did tread
The night we went to Birmingham by way of Beachy Head.

I knew no harm of Bonaparte and plenty of the Squire,
And for to fight the Frenchman I did not much desire;
But I did bash their baggonets because they came arrayed
To straighten out the crooked road an English drunkard made,
Where you and I went down the lane with ale-mugs in our hands,
The night we went to Glastonbury by way of Goodwin Sands.

His sins they were forgiven him; or why do flowers run
Behind him; and the hedges all strengthening in the sun?
The wild thing went from left to right and knew not which was which,
But the wild rose was above him when they found him in the ditch.
God pardon us, nor harden us; we did not see so clear
The night we went to Bannockburn by way of Brighton Pier.

My friends, we will not go again or ape an ancient rage,
Or stretch the folly of our youth to be the shame of age,
But walk with clearer eyes and ears this path that wandereth,
And see undrugged in evening light the decent inn of death;
For there is good news yet to hear and fine things to be seen,
Before we go to Paradise by way of Kensal Green.


“The Rolling English Road” at Wikipedia

The Whale’s Way

“Sea Fever” (1902)

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way, where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.


John Masefield (1878–1967)

Lute to Kill

A little-known Housman poem that should be better-known:


Breathe, my lute, beneath my fingers
    One regretful breath,
One lament for life that lingers
    Round the doors of death.
For the frost has killed the rose,
And our summer dies in snows,
    And our morning once for all
    Gathers to the evenfall.

Hush, my lute, return to sleeping,
    Sing no songs again.
For the reaper stays his reaping
    On the darkened plain;
And the day has drained its cup,
And the twilight cometh up;
    Song and sorrow all that are
    Slumber at the even-star.

A.E. Housman (1859-1936) — see also Breathe, my lute at Wikilivres.

The Four Treasons

Each year the patient hand of time
Plucks bare the oak, the ash, the lime,
And sharp against the Autumn sky
The subtle branches soothe the eye.

When Winter’s spell is fast on earth
The trees await the sun’s rebirth,
And pearled in frost, they stand and seem
Designed for beauty in a dream.

Then Spring revokes the spell and wills
The early leaves, the silver rills:
And symbol’d songs, more sweet than words,
Fill air with urgence of the birds.

Last, Summer’s lion roars his heat:
And pollen drifts and leaves compete
To drink the golden tide of light
Ere fall the sable drought of night.

In Memoriam A.E.H.

The Kisses of Narcissus

…nec corpus remanet, quondam quod amaverat Echo.*

P. Ovidi Nasonis Metamorphoses, Liber Tertius, 493.

He sits to gaze his selfish pool
Whilst I, his fond, besotted fool,
Grow hateful of the air that sips
The sweetness of his yearning lips.
They yearn for him as mine do yearn,
Or sun or stars above me burn.

The kisses of Narcissus I
Shall never taste: ’tis thus I die.
And tho’ ye’ll hear my voice down time
Recall the burden of this rhyme,
Yet know that I am gone and he
Lies loveless where ye too shall be.


*Nor the form remains, belovèd once of Echo.