READING how Marco Polo came
By bridle-path to Kanbalu,
Forgotten fibres wake to flame,
And smoke old memories anew . . . .
For in a bygone life of mine
I watched the carven rampart shine,
Where Kublai's five-clawed dragons glowed
Like painted wyverns, line on line.
And past those plaster dragon-heads,
Those frescoes cut with curious flowers,
In verdigris and lilac-reds
Old tiles gleamed on the crusted towers,
While bridges cleft of serpent-stone
Bowed by their side, like branches blown
From some high granite Tree of Life
Whose roots were coiled round Kublai's throne.
O myrtles on the Jasper Mount,
O forest-towered elephants,
And fire-fish in the topaz fount
With red fins blown like water-plants,
And green cornelian tortoise-rows
Below the aqueduct, and those
Gold-feathered cranes, I saw them all,
How many ages gone, who knows?
I saw tall gilded Tartars pass
Behind their marble balustrades,
With maces made of beaten brass
And turquoise-hafted sabre-blades.
I heard the little golden bells
Blow faintly down the citadels,
And spied those ivory courts within
Through windows of transparent shells.
But past the fountain-pools I peered,
Beyond the birds, to that divan,
Where, fingering his tawny beard,
In silence dreamed the splendid Khan.
Green china bowls of wine were there,
And oranges and milk-of-mare,
While, stamping on his jewelled wrist,
A falcon climbed with eyes aflare.
He's gone; and with him, flowers and birds,
And old Venetians too, have died;
Yet burnt in Marco Polo's words,
Those unforgotten splendours hide . . .
And, tired of life's new-fashioned plan,
I long to be barbarian.
I'm sick of modern men, I wish
You were still living, Kublai-Khan!
Kenneth Slessor's Other Poems
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