Roden Berkeley Wriothesley Noel

(1834-1894 / England)

Savage Life - Poem by Roden Berkeley Wriothesley Noel

Methinks I hear some solemn state palaver,
Held in the grand unwall'd assembling-place,
Thatch'd with bamboos and branches, when blue morn
Glows golden, while cool shadows at the doors
Of a leaf-bower'd village minish fast.
Morn lies a lake of light amid the bloom
And billowy wealth of forest foliage;
Young Sun, ascending, shines on thatch like snow,
Revealing veins of herbs, and draining them;
Glancing among high senatorial boughs
Of feathery tamarind, or mahogany;
While dews of slumber rustle, rainbow rain
In sylvan, solitary silences
Of Nature's own cathedral sanctuary.
A spear is in the dusky orator's hand,
And spears are planted black athwart the day;
Dark bearded elders hearken solemnly,
Resting on logs, all polish'd from long use.
Perennial founts of eloquent, warm words
Are these untutor'd children of the sun!

Now reigns the blazing furnace of full noon:
And save for little rills that want no sleep,
Silence, before the intolerable glory,
Falls on a cowering world of beast and man.
Bird-song has waned, and even the stridulent
Cicala sleeps; a rare bee drowsily
Explores a twilit labyrinth of flowers;
Delicate blossoms dallying in warm airs,
Bowing and yielding to the velvet lover;
While heaven-blue elves with pulsing fans alight
Over a ruin of red leaves, or sail
From light to shadow, like a jubilant
Song, failing in a tenderer low minor.
Gorgeous insects of metallic gleam,
Waver, or glance, and glimmer on the fronds.
Low, murmurous sound pervades all emerald isles,
As though the floral earth and leaves were breathing,
Life teems! a myriad hidden mandibles,
Amid lush herbage, under moss and loam,
Clear away life superfluous, and death.
Gorgeous fungi here and there reveal,
Where sun can pierce, traversing shadows thrown
Athwart them from some silken spider's line,
To and fro glancing when a zephyr breathes;
Bending long grasses wheresoe'er it hangs.
And hark! the honey-bird invites to steal
Delicious honey-combs from hollow boles.

Hearken again!
A sound, how plaintive and melodious,
Swells in the green gloom! it is like one note
From a sweet vibrant lyre - a hidden bird!

Women have gone, with infants slung behind them,
Toward a spring, light pitchers gracefully
Poised on their heads by steadying of dark arms
Curl'd over; or they bruise with iron hoes
The hopeful soil; plant yams and manioc;
Pound in wood mortars these, or maize and millet;
Hem with some thorn, or fish-bone for a needle,
And fibres of a leaf; weave grassy cloths
In looms, or spin with immemorial spindle.
Some men have gone with quiver, targe, and spear,
To hunt the beast for food; some loll at ease,
Like their own gourds, luxuriously idle;
Listless and vacant dumb black animals,
Who spurn the accursed yoke of thought and toil -
They never roll the stone of Sisyphus!
No fool's ambition ever goads their lives
To rouse a restless rumour, while they roll
Into fate's mortal darkness, and to leave
A hollow murmur for a little time
In some poor space of insignificant earth!

Now Sun steals westward; and his fading light
Glows golden, while cool shadows at the doors
Of leaf-embower'd villages are long.
Burning he falls into the forest sea,
Inflames leaf-billows with purpureal fire;
Drawing down souls to caves of the under-world;
Whence in twelve hours he royal will arise
From holy nenuphars upon the rivers!
Fragrance and song, released from royalty
Of his fierce presence, timid lift their heads;
Grey parrots crying flutter home to roost.
Hunters return, with many a gay halloo,
And whoop light-hearted, bearing various game,
About whose way hilarious women throng,
Calling them by pet names, and fondling them,
Prattling, intent to hear of all the sport.
Boys in gourd bowls bring frothy plantain wine
From cool leaf-cellars in low boughs of trees,
Presenting it with clapping of their hands:
Anon there smokes a savoury repast,
Viands of venison, nuts, and season'd yams.


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Poem Submitted: Thursday, April 22, 2010



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