The Atlas Poem by Kenneth Slessor

The Atlas

Rating: 2.7

I. The King of Cuckooz
THE King of Cuckooz Contrey
Hangs peaked above Argier
With Janzaries and Marabutts
To bid a sailor fear—
With lantern-eyed astrologers
Who walk upon the walls
And ram with stars their basilisks
Instead of cannon-balls.
And in that floating castle
(I tell you it is so)
Five thousand naked Concubines
With dulcimers do go.
Each rosy nose anoints a tile,
Bang, bang! the fort salutes,
When He, the King of Cuckooz Land,
Comes forth in satin boots,
Each rosy darling flies before
When he desires his tent,
Or, like a tempest driving flowers,
Inspects a battlement.
And this I spied by moonlight
Behind a royal bamboo—
That Monarch in a curricle
Which ninety virgins drew;
That Monarch drinking nectar
(Lord God, my tale attest!)
Milked from a snow-white elephant
As white as your white breast!
And this is no vain fable
As other knaves may lie—
Have I not got that Fowl aboard
Which no man may deny?
The King's own hunting-falcon
I limed across the side
When by the Bayes of Africa
King James's Fleet did ride.
What crest is there emblazoned,
Whose mark is this, I beg,
Stamped on the silver manacle
Around that dainty leg?
Let this be news to you, my dear,
How Man should be revered;
Though I'm no King of Cuckooz Land,
Behold as fierce a beard!
I have as huge an appetite,
As deep a kiss, my girl,
And somewhere, for the hand that seeks,
Perhaps a Sultan's pearl!

. Post-Roads
POST-ROADS that clapped with tympan heels
Of tilburies and whiskys rapidly spanking,
Where's now the tireless ghost of Ogilby?
That buoyed the rich and plunging springs
Of coaches vaster than Escurials,
Where now does Ogilby propel that Wheel,
What milestones does he pause to reprimand,
In what unmapped savanna of dumb shades?
Ye know not—ye are silent—brutish ducts
Numbed by the bastinadoes of iron boots,
Three hundred years asnore. Do you forget
The phaetons and fiacres, flys and breaks,
The world of dead men staring out of glass
That drummed upon your bones? Do you forget
Those nostrils oozing smoke, those floating tails,
Those criniers whipped with air?
And kidnapped lights,
Floats of rubbed yellow towed from window-panes,
Rushing their lozenges through headlong stones;
And smells of hackneys, mohair sour with damp,
Leather and slopped madeira, partridge-pies
Long-buried under floors; and yawning Fares
With bumping flap-dark spatulas of cards—
'Knave takes the ten . . . oh, God, I wish that it,
I wish that it was Guildford' . . . .
Did not forget, could not escape such ecstacies,
Even in the monasteries of mensuration,
Could not forget the roads that he had gone
In fog and shining air. Each line was joy,
Each computation a beatitude,
A diagram of Ogilby's eye and ear
With soundings for the nose. Wherefore I think,
Wherefore I think some English gentleman,
Some learned doctor of the steak-houses,
Ending late dinner, having strolled outside
To quell the frivolous hawthorn, may behold
There in the moonshine, rolling up an hill,
Steered by no fleshly hand, with spokes of light,
The Wheel—John Ogilby's Wheel—the WHEEL hiss by,
Measuring mileposts of eternity.

. Dutch Seacoast
No wind of Life may strike within
This little country's crystal bin,
Nor calendar compute the days
Tubed in their capsule of soft glaze.
Naked and rinsed, the bubble-clear
Canals of Amsterdam appear,
The blue-tiled turrets, china clocks
And glittering beaks of weathercocks.
A gulf of sweet and winking hoops
Whereon there ride poops
With flying mouths and fleeting hair
Of saints hung up like candles there—
Fox-coloured mansions, lean and tall,
That burst in air but never fall
Whose bolted shadows, row by row,
Float changeless on the stones below—
Sky full of ships, bay full of town,
A port of waters jellied brown:
Such is the world no tide may stir,
Sealed by the great cartographer.
O, could he but clap up like this
My decomposed metropolis,
Those other countries of the mind,
So tousled, dark and undefined!

. Mermaids
ONCE Mermaids mocked your ships
With wet and scarlet lips
And fish-dark difficult hips, Conquistador;
Then Ondines danced with Sirens on the shore,
Then from his cloudy stall, you heard the Kraken call,
And, mad with twisting flame, the Firedrake roar.
Such old-established Ladies
No mariner eyed askance,
But, coming on deck, would swivel his neck
To watch the darlings dance,
Or in the gulping dark of nights
Would cast his tranquil eyes
On singular kinds of Hermaphrodites
Without the least surprise.
Then portulano maps were scrolled
With compass-roses, green and gold,
That fired the stiff old Needle with their dyes
And wagged their petals over parchment skies.
Then seas were full of Dolphins' fins,
Full of swept bones and flying Jinns,
Beaches were filled with Anthropophagi
And Antient Africa with Palanquins.
Then sailors, with a flaked and rice-pale flesh
Staring from maps in sweet and poisoned places,
Diced the old Skeleton afresh
In brigs no bigger than their moon-bunched faces.
Those well-known and respected Harpies
Dance no more on the shore to and fro;
All that has ended long ago;
Nor do they sing outside the captain's porthole,
A proceeding fiercely reprehended
By the governors of the P. & O.
Nor do they tumble in the sponges of the moon
For the benefit of tourists in the First Saloon,
Nor fork their foaming lily-fins below the side
On the ranges of the ale-clear tide.
And scientists now, with binocular-eyes,
Remark in a tone of complacent surprise:
'Those pisciform mammals—pure Spectres, I fear—
Must be Doctor Gerbrandus's Mermaids, my dear!'
But before they can cause the philosopher trouble,
They are GONE like the cracking of a bubble.

. The Seafight
HERE in a gulf of golden leaf
You'll find a seafight ringed with flame;
Cannons that cry Tirduf, Tirduf,
Daggers that collop, guns that maim;
Jaws beaked with blood, men flung to hell,
Men blasting trumpets, men that flee,
Men crimped by death, and under all
Old patient, baleful, spying Sea—
Old Sea, that in a dicebox rolls
Their trundling skulls, their jacks of bone,
That sucks them out of broken hulls
When other mumbling mouths have gone—
Old hungry Sea, that holds our flesh
In the huge forceps of the storm,
And they are given to the fish
And we plucked forth, and we made warm.
But ye that kill, why heed the face
Of Ocean? Not alone you slay,
Since deeper seas are dammed in space
And fiercer storms can scream in clay;
Existence has as bitter teeth,
But we can always find a minute
For the festivities of death
Who sail upon this dangerous planet.

Kenneth Slessor

Kenneth Slessor

Orange, New South Wales
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