The Sale of Saint Thomas

Lascelles Abercrombie 1881 (Ashton upon Mersey) – 1938 (London)

A quay with vessels moored

                  To India! Yea, here I may take ship;
                  From here the courses go over the seas,
                  Along which the intent prows wonderfully
                  Nose like lean hounds, and tack their journeys out,
                  Making for harbours as some sleuth was laid
                  For them to follow on their shifting road.
                  Again I front my appointed ministry. --
                  But why the Indian lot to me? Why mine
                  Such fearful gospelling? For the Lord knew
                  What a frail soul He gave me, and a heart
                  Lame and unlikely for the large events. --
                  And this is worse than Baghdad! though that was
                  A fearful brink of travel. But if the lots,
                  That gave to me the Indian duty, were
                  Shuffled by the unseen skill of Heaven, surely
                  That fear of mine in Baghdad was the same
                  Marvellous Hand working again, to guard
                  The landward gate of India from me. There
                  I stood, waiting in the weak early dawn
                  To start my journey; the great caravan's
                  Strange cattle with their snoring breaths made steam
                  Upon the air, and (as I thought) sadly
                  The beasts at market-booths and awnings gay
                  Of shops, the city's comfortable trade,
                  Lookt, and then into months of plodding lookt.
                  And swiftly on my brain there came a wind
                  Of vision; and I saw the road mapt out
                  Along the desert with a chalk of bones;
                  I saw a famine and the Afghan greed
                  Waiting for us, spears at our throats, all we
                  Made women by our hunger; and I saw
                  Gigantic thirst grieving our mouths with dust,
                  Scattering up against our breathing salt
                  Of blown dried dung, till the taste eat like fires
                  Of a wild vinegar into our sheathèd marrows;
                  And a sudden decay thicken'd all our bloods
                  As rotten leaves in fall will baulk a stream;
                  Then my kill'd life the muncht food of jackals. --
                  The wind of vision died in my brain; and lo,
                  The jangling of the caravan's long gait
                  Was small as the luting of a breeze in grass
                  Upon my ears. Into the waiting thirst
                  Camels and merchants all were gone, while I
                  Had been in my amazement. Was this not
                  A sign? God with a vision tript me, lest
                  Those tall fiends that ken for my approach
                  In middle Asia, Thirst and his grisly band
                  Of plagues, should with their brigand fingers stop
                  His message in my mouth. Therefore I said,
                  If India is the place where I must preach,
                  I am to go by ship, not overland.
                  And here my ship is berthed. But worse, far worse
                  Than Baghdad, is this roadstead, the brown sails,
                  All the enginery of going on sea,
                  The tackle and the rigging, tholes and sweeps,
                  The prows built to put by the waves, the masts
                  Stayed for a hurricane; and lo, that line
                  Of gilded water there! the sun has drawn
                  In a long narrow band of shining oil
                  His light over the sea; how evilly move
                  Ripples along that golden skin! -- the gleam
                  Works like a muscular thing! like the half-gorged
                  Sleepy swallowing of a serpent's neck.
                  The sea lives, surely! My eyes swear to it;
                  And, like a murderous smile that glimpses through
                  A villain's courtesy, that twitching dazzle
                  Parts the kind mood of weather to bewray
                  The feasted waters of the sea, stretched out
                  In lazy gluttony, expecting prey.
                  How fearful is this trade of sailing! Worse
                  Than all land-evils is the water-way
                  Before me now. -- What, cowardice? Nay, why
                  Trouble myself with ugly words? 'Tis prudence,
                  And prudence is an admirable thing.
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Submitted on May 13, 2011

Modified on March 05, 2023

3:01 min read

Quick analysis:

Closest metre Iambic pentameter
Characters 4,539
Words 597
Stanzas 2
Stanza Lengths 1, 75

Lascelles Abercrombie

Lascelles Abercrombie was a British poet and literary critic, one of the "Dymock poets". more…

All Lascelles Abercrombie poems | Lascelles Abercrombie Books

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