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Title: The Fable of the Goats and Other Poems
Author: Pratt, E. J. [Edwin John Dove] (1882-1964)
Date of first publication: 1937
Edition used as base for this ebook: Toronto: Macmillan, 1937 [first edition]
Date first posted: 6 May 2016
Date last updated: May 26, 2016
Faded Page ebook#20160542

This ebook was produced by Al Haines and Mark Akrigg

Publisher's Note:

As part of the conversion of the book to its new digital format, we have made certain minor adjustments in its layout.







The Fable of the Goats
The Baritone
Puck Reports Back
A Prayer-Medley
Seen on the Road
The Prize Cat
Under the Lens
The Seer
(To Any Astronomer)
The Text of the Oath
Like Mother, Like Daughter
The Mirage
The Old Organon (1225 A.D.)
The New (1937 A.D.)
The Mystic
The Drowning
The Weather Glass
The Empty Room


One half a continental span,
The Aralasian mountains lay
Like a Valkyrian caravan
At rest along the Aryan Way.
And central to the barrier,
Rising in mottled columns, were
The limestone ramparts of the heights—
The Carolonian Dolomites.
Over those scaffolds nothing passed
But navigators of the sky:
Those crags were taken only by
The sun and moon and the wind's blast,
By clouds and by the eagles' wings
Out on their furthest venturings.
So rooted in geography
The natural frontier, it could be
A theme for neither god nor beast
To argue that one side was east
And that the other side was west.
Yet with this knowledge manifest,
We must record a truth as strange
As any fact or myth that can
Inflict mortality on man.

The middle section of this range
For endless centuries had been
Earth's most dramatic mise en scène
For lawless indeterminate fights.
Both avalanche and cataract
With Time compounding had attacked
The lowest of the Dolomites
With spring's recurrent cannonade;
Had deepened crater and crevasse,
Torn down the gorges and had laid
The canyon of Saint Barnabas.
Along this canyon's northern edge,
One hundred feet in length, a ledge
Of schist, known as the Capra Pass,
Projected from the mountain wall.
This slippery stretch might well appal
The tread of cloven-footed things
In their most cautious pedallings,
But as a ground on which to stage
The fortunes of a battle rage,
That ledge of Capra might reveal
A tale which, for perversity,
Could tame the Kyber Route or steal
The title from Thermopylae.

The country which those peaks divide
Was noted for its rich terrains,
Its sweeping uplands and its wide
Deltas and undulating plains.
Millions of hornèd ruminants
Roebucks and elks and argalis
Upon this vast inheritance
Had founded aristocracies,
Which ruled the commons till, between
Their slaughterous feuds internecine
And foreign raids, they lost their lead
To a lusty more endurant breed—
A new totalitarian horn
Known as the genus Capricorn.

The Aralasian country west,
Described as Carob, was possessed
By a remarkable race of goats
With lyrate horns and shaggy coats.
Unyielding individualists
At first by nature they had learned
The folly of obstructionists
Within their tribal ranks and turned
To federal virtues for the wise
Conduct of a state enterprise.
And of this wide domain the head
Was Cyrus. It was he who led
The bucks against the bulls in that
Perfidious effort to profane
The purity of the racial strain:
'Twas he, the high-born aristocrat,
Who rounded up intransigeants,
Drove out all civil disputants,
And bent the proletariat
Under a regimen of drill
To his authoritarian will.

And on the east there was a spot
As fertile as the Carob land,
Where goats likewise had won command—
The ancient dynasty of Gott.
Straight-horned those tribes, of wiry coat,
They had outmatched their canine foes,
Then turned upon the yaks and smote
The harts and put to shame the does.
Inebriated by success,
With numbers vastly multiplied,
They built a citadel of pride
About a national consciousness,
Outran their borders to possess
Those lush exotic harvest yields
Of hitherto unvanquished fields,
Until they had from that wild shore
Of the Fallopian corridor
Down to the grey Ovidian Sea
Established their hegemony.

Now when the veterans returned
Flushed with their foreign victories,
The hearts of all the generals burned
With personal antipathies.
All scrambled for the seats of power,
Some wanted this, some wanted that,
And some they knew not what—whereat
Uprose the leader of the hour,
A buck who by right of descent,
As by his natural temperament,
Had never recognized retreat.
A scion of a Caliphate,
He knew the strategy to beat
The factions by a stroke of state
And quell diversity of bleat,
For of all lands, the realm of Gott
Indubitably was polyglot.
This stroke of state, this coup d'état
Was nature's oldest formula.
It was the leader's bright idea
To send them forth to find their grub
On fetid moors and desert scrub
Where tuber roots of Ipomoea
Purga—the standard panacea
For disaffections of the mind—
Became their diet, which, combined
With seeds of Croton Tiglium,
Restored their equilibrium.
The mightiest hybrid of his race
Was this ballista of the herd;
The orient framework of his face
Had been through generations blurred
By a gigantic Ural trek—
For unlike Cyrus, Prince of Carob,
The Gottite leader's stream was stirred
By elements from Turk and Arab:
Tincture of Tartar, touch of Czech
Lay in the great Abimelech.

So with the martial banners furled
At all the frontiers in debate,
It seemed as if the caprine world
Might learn so to domesticate
The gains imperial to release
Their bucking energies for peace
Under a wise duumvirate—
Two cousins far removed but loined
From the same root, the god-like Pan,
Abimelech and Cyrus joined
In a world reconstruction plan!
But goats like men have never found
Much standing room on neutral ground,
Once let a point of honour rise
And death stalks in on compromise.
Those Gottites and the Carobites
Stood pat upon their natural rights,
And here we must at once admit
Three rocks on which a League might split.

It seemed that Nature had designed,
When first she fixed a Gottite mind,
Or pitched the Carob brain, and bent
The bony bulwarks round about,
Into a three-inch armament,
That compromise should never find
An alley either in or out.
For when in any age was born
A freak without a cloven hoof,
Or with palmated frontal roof
That blossomed points along the horn—
Some civilized concessive goat
Who carried democratic stripes
Upon his softly textured coat—
The uniformitarian types,
Who strove to dominate the breed,
Exiled him from the herds. Indeed,
Had not one just appeared to show
Progressive softening of the brain
By urging tolerance towards the foe
At the finish of a great campaign?
Now, inasmuch as he was not
Pure Carob or acknowledged Gott,
But some form of a large jerboa
Derived from stray spermatozoa,
They tore his carcase joint from joint
And sheared him to the fourteenth point.
That goats were laid down for dissent
Was clearly, whether right or wrong,
An architectural intent.
Those picket horns were three feet long—
What was their purpose but reproof?
And what the skull's, if not for shock?
As axiomatic as the hoof
For stance upon the mountain rock!

Moreover, had this quirky dame
Implanted in their disposition
A sacred but a smoky flame
Of uncontrollable ambition.
Nomads from zoologic time,
The race grew conscious that they must
Give to an aimless wanderlust
The sublimation of a climb.
Valleys and plains were nurseries
Which full-grown goats might leave behind
For the wild gully routes that wind
Up to the mountain crags and screes—
Places of habitation where
Ancestral bands of satyrs shook
Lascivious lightnings from their hair.
They marvelled with exalted look
At things that voyaged through the air;
They worshipped clouds and glorified
The golden eagles as they took
The solar orbit in their stride.

Joined with this instinct of ambition
There was a problem called nutrition,
A knotty, vexed consideration
Not yet resolved by sublimation.
Of all the animals that faced
The question of a food supply,
The goat had the most catholic taste
That crops could ever satisfy.
It could be proved by any test
He had no rival at a feast.
He craved the foliage of the west
To vary pastures of the east,
New barks and fresher rinds: the sight
Of grasses inaccessible
Was whetstone to the appetite.
The more he had, the more he wanted;
A taste unrecognized, a smell
Still unappropriated, haunted
The rumen like a ghostly spell.
The eastern tribes had often stared
Up at the peaks and wondered what
Those vapours were their nostrils flared,
What herbs and blossoms there might be—
Was it goatleaf or bergamot,
Red clover or sweet cicely?
And likewise when the east wind blew
Over the Carolonian summit,
The herds from western uplands drew
Intoxicating essence from it.
Was that bay laurel, was it thyme
That floated from the mountain span?
Their eyes were fastened on the climb,
Their noses quivered with the sniff,
Yes, by the beard of the first Khan,
There was no error in that whiff,
They knew it, every buck and dam,
'Twas lavender and marjoram.

On one crisp morning when the heights
Were diamond brilliant with their snows,
When Dawn had flushed with a deep rose
The panels of the Dolomites,
And atmospheric odours tart
Made tonic impact on the heart,
A common inspiration struck
Concurrently each monarch buck:
It was the Ledge, the unconquered Ledge,
The sanguinary Capra Pass,

That sent its challenge from the edge
Of the canyon of Saint Barnabas.

Abimelech and Cyrus led
Their troops up the opposing sides,
Past fell and scaur and watershed,
Over the small and great Divides.
The marching bleat from every corps
Combined into their battle roar,
Excelsior! Excelsior!
Such stout morale, such fine élan
Was never seen since time began.
By noon both tribes became aware
Through subtle changes in the air
Caused by the sharp reverberant sound
Of hoofs upon untimbered ground,
And by the Carob-Gottite smell,
A mixture indescribable,
That they might any moment close
With their hereditary foes.
They reached the hollow where the green
Ledge like a boa lay between
The twin peaks of the Dolomites.
Massed by prophetic signals, kites
And buzzards in a storm of wings
Swept up and down the great ravine,
Impatient for their scavengings.
Upon that very ledge were fought
Thousands of battles that had wrought
The drama of a racial glory,
With nothing in the strife more certain
Than that each act of the long story
Should close upon a carrion curtain.
And yet—was there a goat dismayed
In all that spiral cavalcade?
No—not a buck, nor could there be
From stock designed for battery
And built like Carthaginian rams,
Although that thousand feet of drop
Sheer from the Carolonian top
Put curds within the milcher dams.
With pawing hoofs and sweating flanks,
Each chieftain as the duellist
Of his own herd stepped from the ranks
To try the quarrel on the schist.
Abimelech himself had seen
His sires, grandsires, and great-grands fall,
Locked with the lyrates, down the wall,
Plumb to the crypts in the ravine,
Dropping like frenzied bacchanals,
Hitting their corrugated globes
So bloodily, the frontal lobes
Came out through their occipitals.
But so intense the patriot fire,
And so magnificent the roll,
The youth had felt the same desire
Kindle the torches of his soul.
And had not Cyrus felt as well
The potent ritual of the spell,
The phobias of his spirit burn
In the white heat of discipline,
As he had watched his kith and kin
In their inexorable turn
Perish? How splendidly they fell!
And how the witenagemot
Would hallow this immortal spot!
And had he not gone back to tell
The nursing dams who would convey
To generations then unborn
The story? How they would portray
That plunge! And had not Cyrus sworn
Upon the blood script of the laws,
That on some sacrificial day
He would go forth his father's way,
Crusading downward to be torn
By canyon jags and vulture claws,
Maintening to the end The Cause,
The exaltation of The Horn?
And now the fatal hour had struck.
Abimelech, that eastern buck
With all the pride of a Mogul,
His anger rising in a storm
Of snorts, superbly true to form,
Moved to the centre, lowered his skull—
The famous Gottite cranium—
To meet the Carobite Defender,
The noble Cyrus who had come
To die but never to surrender.

Come all ye hair-dividers, wise
To ways of nature and of art,
Who know how to anatomize
The fine vagaries of the heart,
Come bring your lore and make it plain—
This riddle in the Carob brain.
In that weird passage from the dark
Matrix that shaped the Carobite
And stratified his skull for fight,
Up to this present hour, the spark
Had never failed the dynamite.
Ye cannot say that Cyrus knew
Just what he was about to do.
For nowhere in his long descent
Was there a trace of one rehearsal
Which might account for this reversal
Of military precedent.
Folly it is to speculate
Upon the food that Cyrus ate,
That inland buds of evergreen
With valley shoots could mitigate
A million years of feudal hate
From Irish Moss and carrageen;
Or that the Adriatic weed
By working on the thyroid freed
The activators in his blood;
That something in the morning cud
Gentled his lymph towards his foes,—
That steadying digitalis flip
To the heart when he paused to nip
The foxglove. Tell us he that knows.
Or failing every shibboleth
Of blood or ductless glands or such,
Did reason enter in to touch
The senses with the thought of death,
And flash across goat-leaden eyes
Glimpse of futilitarian skies?
The vultures with their ten-foot spread,
Their hairless necks and crimson lids,
Were at their business half-a-mile
Below among the ancient dead
Or roosting on the pyramids.
And some were mounting the defile
To flank the Pass of Capra where
They lounged like lizards on the air;

And one black wing had come so near
The Rock, its tip had brushed the coat
Of the Carob leader as it passed.
And had that brush, so leisured, cast
The only one acknowledged fear
Within the history of the goat?
Or was it fear? Did Cyrus know
That neither courage, strength nor will
Behind the battle urge to kill
Was proof against a flying foe?
That every time when honour wronged
Secured revenge upon the peaks,
Inevitably the spoils belonged
To the swiftest wings and sharpest beaks—
The harpies and the cormorants
Who, compensating for their theft
Of blood and flesh and fat, had left
The glory to the ruminants?
But do not reason why the mind
Should save the soul or seek to find
Within the evolutionary dream
An optimistic phagocyte
That cleaning up the corporate stream,
Had scrubbed a conscience into light,
The conscience of a Carobite—
An Aryan working overtime
Beating the Tartar to the climb!
Ye cannot know what Cyrus felt;
Ye only know that Cyrus knelt.
Knelt! Hocks and knees! The body lay
Prone—lengthwise—on the Capra Pass,
As if beside his dam—the way
He went to sleep in summer grass.

Now let pathologists explain
What happened to the other brain.
After a close look at the head,
A momentary sniff at hoof
And beard which gave Abimelech proof
That Cyrus was by no means dead,
A flash of understanding thrown
Like a dagger of apocalypse,
Had pierced the Gottite cranial bone
And crashed his spiritual eclipse.
Was it a glint of chivalry
Nurtured under the eastern climes,
A throw-back to the Gobi times,
When someone in his ancestry
Had set a fashion for the race,
Made it a stigma of disgrace
To foul a fallen enemy?
Let him declare it who can tell
Whether in Palestinian lands
Some new conciliatory cell
Had been evolved while roving bands
Converged upon the desert sands
To share the water from a well.

The chieftain saw the road was thrown
Wide open: it was his alone
To take possession in his stride—
'Twas his alone, this flush of pride
In a great conquest which would place
Him as the hero of his race.
But all the arrogance and scorn
On which his tribal soul was bred,
Spurn of the hoof, flaunt of the horn,
That was Abimelech's had fled.
And in its place a strangely warm
Infusion—a considerate care
That would not harm a single hair.
He sniffed once more the prostrate form
Of Cyrus. Then as if he feared
He might do violence to the head
Or bring pollution to the beard,
He stepped so lightly over, cleared
Knees, hoofs and rump with that sure tread
Which never yet had made him miss
His foothold on a precipice.
Clean over? Yes, beyond his foe!
None could deny the deed was done,
The Carolonian summit won,
The Capra Pass without a blow!

Cyrus looked up and in his eyes
Was an incredulous surprise.
He could not find his enemy.
He shook himself and blinked awhile,
Then straightened up and gingerly
He made the perilous defile.
Reaching the safety of the bend,
He stopped and, curious, craned his neck,
Only to see Abimelech
Watching him at the other end.
The eyes of those two hierarchs
Were four interrogation marks.
No record in the family tree
Illumined this epiphany.
Five minutes motionless and mute
They stood with that hypnotic stare
That only puzzled goats could wear;
And then in reverent salute
As though their eyes had shed their scales,
And each had recognized a brother
Bidding Good Morning to the other,
They waved their beards and stubby tails,
And turning took their downward trails,
Accompanied by their retinue,
Alive to the redemptive clue—
Cyrus to where the wild thyme grew,
And where he could at his sweet beck
Tread acres of the cistus-tree
And lavender; Abimelech
To bergamot and barberry,
And where he could, up to his neck,
Crop billowing leagues of cicely.


He ascended the rostrum after the fashion of the Caesars:
His arm, a baton raised oblique,
Answering the salute of the thunder,
Imposed a silence on the Square.
For three hours
A wind-theme swept his laryngeal reeds,
Pounded on the diaphragm of a microphone,
Entered, veered, ran round a coil,
Emerged, to storm the passes of the ether,
Until, impinging on a hundred million ear-drums,
It grew into the fugue of Europe.

Nickel, copper and steel rang their quotations to the skies,
And down through the diatonic scale
The mark hallooed the franc,
The franc bayed the lira,
With the three in full flight from the pound.
And while the diapasons were pulled
On the Marseillaise,
The Giovinezza
And the Deutschlandlied,
A perfect stretto was performed
As the Dead March boomed its way
Through God Save The King
And the Star Spangled Banner.

Then the codetta of the clerics
(Chanting a ritual over the crosses of gold tossed into the
                    crucibles to back the billion credit)
Was answered by
The clang of the North Sea against the bows of the destroyers,
The ripple of surf on the periscopes,
The grunt of the Mediterranean shouldering Gibraltar,
And the hum of the bombing squadrons in formation under Orion.

And the final section issued from the dials,
Opposed by contrapuntal blasts
From the Federated Polyphonic Leagues
Of Gynecologists,
And the Linen Manufacturers—
The great Baritone,
Soaring through the notes of the hymeneal register,
Called the brides and the grooms to the altar,
To be sent forth by the Recessional Bells
To replenish the earth,
And in due season to produce
Magnificent crops of grass on the battlefields.



Much have I longed for thy return, my sprite:
This greenwood, once the stage of elfin pranks
And welkin-splitting laughter, has become
A desert in thy absence. Now these stories
Burrow beneath my ribs and chase away
The bile, for they reveal a madder world
Than what Lysander knew and Hermia.
Poor Bottom in his downiest moments saw
No visions such as these that thou relatest—
That fire should burn in water; mortals fly
Throughout the empyrean on the backs
Of birds; and whales with whirling fins should leave
Their native element and take the air
Across the land and sea with greater speed
Than falcons; and that lovers could exchange
Their vows in whispers at the self-same instant,
Though separate a thousand ocean leagues—
These tales would tax my own too credulous ears,
As though I heard accounts of wrathful capons
Tracking Hyrcanian tigers to their lairs.
Hast thou another fable in thy scrip?


My Prince of Shadows, these reports I've brought
Are more than fantasies that might disturb
The reason through the love-juice of a herb.
I saw the strangest duel ever fought—
Sir Guy, Knight of the Garter, famous knight,
Has challenged valiant Boris, famous count,
To settle a reckoning in single fight.
Boris not only questioned the amount,
The nature and occasion of the debt,
But forwarded a diplomatic note
To the knightly challenger that, when they met,
He would be pleased to take him by the throat,
With many a courtly phrase which might imply
His general opinion of Sir Guy.
So, to collect, a journey was begun,
Which, for the distance under broiling sun
And pelting rain, had the same pith of sense
As if a man might barter pounds for pence.
At last when they appeared in mutual sight
Upon two neighbouring hills where a ravine
That ended in a quagmire lay between,
The count began to bellow at the knight
With fearful imprecations while Sir Guy
Called Boris a bat, a polecat and a kite,
A worm, an adder and a wart-hog—Why
They should attack each other with such words
I know not, but when finished with the birds
And all the noxious animals, they hurled
The missiles of the vegetable world.
And while they cursed they put more armour on
Their steeds, beyond all war comparison,
And on themselves already over-weight:
For every oath they added some new plate
To some new part of their anatomy,
And when they had their beavers down, no hint
Of mortal man escaped captivity
Save through the eye-slits where the sovereign glint
Of reason peered blasted with ecstasy.


This is the visitation of the moon!
But, prithee, how with such accoutrement
Climbed they up to the saddles of their coursers?


A dozen robust yeomen by main force
Managed to get Sir Guy upon his horse.
As many knights accomplished the same feat—
Placing against the withers of the mount
A ladder, they pushed up the angry count
And got him fastened well astride his seat.
Nor was this all: To see through their disguise
And find the men, I had to rub my eyes.
As though the armour were not yet complete,
The henchmen brought another piece of mail
Shaped like a conduit or a metal hose
And screwed it to each gladiator's nose.
Far-off it might have been a dragon's tail,
But on a closer view it had the look
Of an elephant's trunk, when it recurved
On the cuirass—What was the purpose served?
The devil knows; so crazed it was I shook
With laughing paroxysms, then with fright,
For suddenly the day became as night,
The curses took on corporal form—so rank
The poisonous emanations were, they swept
Across the gap and up the hills and stank
Like an Irish fen. The squires, they broke and wept;
The knights, they choked; while I ran off for cover
To an acorn cup and drew a rose-leaf over.


Whither did all this lead, my gentle Puck?
Did they sit howling on those hills forever?


I went to sleep within my nest of oak
To rinse the portent through a dream, then woke,
Uncuddled, and stole forth to banks I knew,
Where violets, musk-rose and wild thyme grew:
I filched them from their beds and sent them out
(With a million glow-worms lighting up the air)
To pour their distillation through the rout
Of wind and stench. Anon, I looked and there
Unmoved, the same infuriated pair—
Sir Guy, rigid, barking his challenge still,
And Boris booming, bellowing from the hill.


This story would outwit all tricks of mirth
Known to the gullible within my realm.
Such folly falling on a broken mirror
Could scarce distort its own insane grimaces.
How were they loosened from their pedestals?


My lord! I scouted round the clover fields
And drove out from their lazy honey yields
A furious colony of humble-bees.
I fanned them up both hills and bade them squeeze
Through rivet cracks and joints, and stick like leeches
To the bare lard within the warriors' breeches.
I then fled to a pine tree top and heard
A pandemonium of oaths and screeches,
And by the buckle creakings and the gird
Of the loin plates upon their rusty hinges,
I knew how well my squads clapped on the twinges.
But this, my master, could not get them parted
From their incorporate posts, and so I tried
A prank that I devised one Hallowtide
Which never failed to get two fighters started.
Changing myself into a gamecock, I
With bristling hackles, and my comb blood-red,
Settled upon the helmet of Sir Guy,
Until the proud arch of my neck and head
Assumed the tartness of a Parthian bow.
With such inflammatory mien, I crew
Six notes contemptuous at Boris who
Stiffened and took the insult like a blow.
In half a second, like a meteorite,
I landed on the county's helm and shrilled
The fiery syllables back at the knight.
Thou shouldst have heard my clarion as I drilled
Helmet and skull to pierce the globèd brain.
Each lusty crow held triumph and disdain:
I nearly tore my wattles when I blew it,
For my restored ears still feel the pain.
Zounds, sir, the way the count and knight went to it!


The impact of those mighty opposites,
Spurred to their wrath by such a vent of scorn,
Must have, like an Olympian avalanche,
Brought terror to the battlements of Jove.


Nay, nay, your Majesty—'twas no such fun.
Never indeed was there a tilt begun
With heraldry like this, that ended so.
The rivals did not strike a single blow.
When once they started off, they could not stop.
They did not seem to ride so much as drop
To the solid earth, then rise, bound through the air,
Which angry at their overweening pride
Bounced them from knoll to knoll, made them collide
With their own saddles, till the exhausted pair—
Pitched from their stallions which, poor jades, were wrecked
By the very iron bands meant to protect
The fetlocks—took one final somersault
Into the miry bottom of the vault.
I watched them wallowing like drunken grooms,
Pursuing a blind orbit in the mud,
Only the gesture of their fighting blood
Waving defiance from the bankrupt plumes.
Count Boris' nozzle sent a farewell blast,
Claiming a fatuous triumph, while a high
Blue feather from the proud knob of Sir Guy,
Striving to keep erect, gave up the last
Frail effort of heroic pantomime,
To fall like a snapped water-flag and lie
Prone in the sea-green bubbles on the slime.


Enough, my romping elf! I pray, enough!
In these reports there's matter to regale
Titania through many a sulky moon.
Had Nestor heard them, he'd have cracked his sides.
The sport that night in the Athenian grove,
Compared with this, was but episcopal.
There's not a planet left that keeps its course;
The distaff cracks; the dizzy earth is run
By three inebriated witches—Stay!


Another tale of men I could recite—
Of wing-clipped human eagles living in holes
Under the ground in envy of the moles...
But I shall leave that for a winter night.


I know not what thou hast in mind to say,
But hold! It is not well those jests should come
In troops—They have a boding sentry face
And smell too strongly of mortality.


There is no silence upon the earth or under the earth like
            the silence under the sea;
No cries announcing birth,
No sounds declaring death.
There is silence when the milt is laid on the spawn in the weeds
            and fungus of the rock-clefts;
And silence in the growth and struggle for life.
The bonitoes pounce upon the mackerel,
And are themselves caught by the barracudas,
The sharks kill the barracudas
And the great molluscs rend the sharks,
And all noiselessly—
Though swift be the action and final the conflict,
The drama is silent.

There is no fury upon the earth like the fury under the sea.
For growl and cough and snarl are the tokens of spendthrifts
            who know not the ultimate economy of rage.
Moreover, the pace of the blood is too fast.
But under the waves the blood is sluggard and has the same
            temperature as that of the sea.

There is something pre-reptilian about a silent kill.

Two men may end their hostilities just with their battle-cries.
"The devil take you," says one.
"I'll see you in hell first," says the other.
And these introductory salutes followed by a hail of gutturals
            and sibilants are often the beginning of friendship,
            for who would not prefer to be lustily damned than
            to be half-heartedly blessed?
No one need fear oaths that are properly enunciated, for they
            belong to the inheritance of just men made perfect,
            and, for all we know, of such may be the Kingdom
            of Heaven.

But let silent hate be put away for it feeds upon the heart of
            the hater.
Today I watched two pairs of eyes. One pair was black and
            the other grey. And while the owners thereof, for
            the space of five seconds, walked past each other, the
            grey snapped at the black and the black riddled the
One looked to say—"The cat,"
And the other—"The cur."
But no words were spoken;
Not so much as a hiss or a murmur came through the perfect
            enamel of the teeth; not so much as a gesture of
If the right upper lip curled over the canine, it went unnoticed.
The lashes veiled the eyes not for an instant in the passing.
And as between the two in respect to candour of intention or
            eternity of wish, there was no choice, for the stare
            was mutual and absolute.
A word would have dulled the exquisite edge of the feeling,
An oath would have flawed the crystallization of the hate.
For only such culture could grow in a climate of silence,—
Away back before the emergence of fur or feather, back to the
            unvocal sea and down deep where the darkness spills
            its wash on the threshold of light, where the lids
            never close upon the eyes, where the inhabitants slay
            in silence and are as silently slain.


Lord, how wonderful is the power of man; how great his
We have triumphed over the earth, the sea, the air and the ether.
We have made habitable the poisonous wastes of the world and
            built cities thereon, changed the courses of rivers and
            caused deserts to bloom.
We have explored the hidden lanes under the sea.
We have discovered the chemistry of the soil, and can toughen
            the hardihood of seeds to prevail over climates.
We have extracted gold even from dross-heaps,
Our aeroplanes over mountains are as beautiful as eagles that
            bear the Dawn upon their backs.
Our whispers, disdaining the carriage of wires, are heard across
            continents with the instancy of light and are as
            immediately answered.
Our greetings and warnings are exchanged before the smiles and
            frowns have left the faces of our statesmen.
We have weighed suns and stars, made finite thine unbounded
            Universe, divided the Invisible and watched the race
            of solar chariots in an atom.
We have invaded the lair of the thunder and placed our jockeys
            upon tides and cataracts.
By taking thought, we have added cubits unto our stature.
We can tell the signs of the seasons; and as for the winds, we
            know whence they come and whither they go, for
            we have pencil-traced the assemblage of storms
            thousands of miles off.
How wonderful is the power of man; how great his knowledge!


Lord, we praise thee for our Statutes, for our Reform Bills, for
            our Proclamations; for the march of Progress, for
            Our Days of Rest, for the shortening of the Hours of
We no longer harness children to the carts in the black routes
            under the earth, nor whip them at the cotton mills as
            we did when their advocates were scarce at thy High
            Courts of Love.
For thou didst soften the hearts of thy legislators when they
            decreed that no child under ten should work more
            than twelve hours a day in the damp and the dark.
And thou didst further soften their hearts when, in their own
            time, their own good time, they lifted the lower
            limits of the years and reduced the sunless hours,
            until the child, the woman and the slave were made
            free by the Act of the Nation.


The curse of labour is past.
We have thrown the packs from our shoulders, wiped the sweat
            from our brows, yet multiplied the work which is
            not of our hands.
Times were known when the labourers were heard to sing at
            their toil, when the spinning-wheel, the reaping-hook
            and the plough fitted into the measures of the
            verse, but the songs have died on our lips and the
            tunes are now sung by the motors and the dynamos.

And the music is stern and defiant and absolute, for the machine,
            in the pride of its precision, answers the hungry
            discords outside of the doors and windows:

Keep out of the shops and our mills,
With your unpredictable wills,
And your clumsy fingers and thumbs;
Out of the cloth we make
Out of the bread we bake
We fling you the rags and the crumbs.
Keep out—for you will never achieve
The pattern perfection of weave
In the exquisite strength of our steel.
Stay out—for you cannot restrain
Fatigue of heart and of brain
And the wayward blood you conceal.

And the song of the machine is answered by the call of the

                        Burn, burn, burn,
                        Cotton and coffee and wheat,
                        For the wheels must cease to turn
                        When there's too much food to eat,
                        And the factory doors must shut
                        On the looms with their market glut.

And both songs merge in the rugged antiphonal of the

                        Wait, wait, wait,
                        Till the cycle rings the chime,
                        When Supply begins to abate,
                        And Demand is on the climb;

                        Then brain and iron and brawn,
                        And every man for himself,
                        Will reinstate the Dawn
                        Of Freedom, Power and Pelf.

Lord, we no longer torture for the faith,
We no longer arrange the faggots around the knees of the
We no longer crucify.

We praise thee that the days, long gone, when, as at
            Ephesus, the saints seized one another by the throats
            to vindicate the Godhead, were but nursery days
            when thy children scrambled up their picture-blocks
            in the vain attempt to puzzle out the features of
            thy face.
But now having become men, we have put away childish things.
            We still go as pilgrims on our perennial journeys to
            the Councils, but how orderly and admirable our
            conduct! We meet with the crossing of hands and
            wish one another well. We sit at our common
            tables, partake of burnt offerings of lambs and
            bullocks, and toast the royal and presidential healths
            with the blood of grapes; after which each one tells
            of his desire for peace and amity with his cousins
            across the boundaries, favouring the stability and
            prosperity of the world.
Then we go into Committees: We adjourn, but we do not
            dissolve, for thou has not left thy delegates without
            hope that at some future date, at Geneva or London
            or maybe at Washington, we shall meet to confer
            again, to enter the halls full of wisdom, and to depart
            void of understanding. Meanwhile we return to our
            homes, some to report progress from the platform,
            some to suspend judgment, and others to sit in
            sackcloth and ashes.

It is true we live by faith. For, between the sessions, the
            chemist continues to brood over the gases, the
            bacteriologist over the microbes, the mechanic over the
            lathe, the nationalists over tariffs and trenches,
            boundaries and corridors, and the war secretaries turn the
            dials of the vaults upon the last design and the
            newest formula.


Lord! Our spirits are kindled by the flash of phrases.
We are shaken by the cannonade of mottoes.
            "It is sweet and becoming that one should die for his
            "Come home with your shield or upon it."
            "Saul hath slain his thousands, but David his tens of
            "When shall their glory fade."
            "The sword of the Lord and of Gideon."
            "I have not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed
            begging bread."
            "In the multitude of counsellors there is safety."
But our cenotaphs bear no testimony to those who moulder
            ingloriously upon the mattress.

                        O Kali, Mother of Destruction!
                        Ahriman, of Darkness and Strife!
                        Loki, Spirit of Evil!
What is sown of Isis shall be reaped of Hecate, and made the
            bargain of Mammon, Gatherer of Spoil.

                        O Buddha, of the folded hands and silent lips!
                        Confucius, Sage of the Right Way!
                        Christ, Lord of Love, Lord of Life!
May the dream not entirely vanish from our sleep.

Our physicians can prescribe for the ills of their own families.
They can cure individual diseases, and heal the hurt of the body.
But they have found no remedy for the deep malaise in the
            communal heart of the world.

Our Father Who art in heaven....
Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses.


Wiser than thought, more intimate than breath,
More ancient than the plated rust of Mars,
Beyond the light geometry of stars,
Yet closer than our web of life and death—
This sergeant of the executing squads
Calls night from dawn no less than dawn from night;
This groom that teams the wolf and hare for flight
Is obstetrician at the birth of gods.
Around this crimson source of human fears,
Where rites and myths have built their scaffoldings,
With smoke of hecatombs upon her wings,
And chased by shadows of the coming years,
Our planet-moth tries blindly to survive
Her spinning vertigo as fugitive.

But stronger than its terror is the deep
Allurement, primary to our blood, which holds
Safety and warmth in unimpassioned folds,
Night and the candle-quietness of sleep;
With the day's bugles silent, when the will,
That feeds the tumult of our natures, rests
Along the broken arteries of its quests.
So, let the yellowing world revolve until
Old Demogorgon's last expatriate
On this exotic hearth leans forth to claim
Promethean virtue from a dying flame,
His fingers tapered—less to mitigate
The chilling accident of his sojourn
Than to invoke his ultimate return.


The pundit lectured that the world was young
As ever, frisking like a spring-time colt
Around the sun, his mother. The class hung
Upon his words. I listened like a dolt.

And muttered that I saw the wastrel drawn
Along a road with many a pitch and bump
By spavined mules—this very day at dawn!
And heading for an ammunition dump.

The savant claimed I heckled him, but—Hell!
I saw the fellow in a tumbril there,
Tattered and planet-eyed and far from well,
With Winter roosting in his Alpine hair.


Pure blood domestic, guaranteed,
Soft-mannered, musical in purr,
The ribbon had declared the breed,
Gentility was in the fur.

Such feline culture in the gads,
No anger ever arched her back—
What distance since those velvet pads
Departed from the leopard's track!

And when I mused how Time had thinned
The jungle strains within the cells,
How human hands had disciplined
Those prowling optic parallels;

I saw the generations pass
Along the reflex of a spring,
A bird had rustled in the grass,
The tab had caught it on the wing:

Behind the leap so furtive-wild
Was such ignition in the gleam,
I thought an Abyssinian child
Had cried out in the whitethroat's scream.


Along the arterial highways,
Through the cross-roads and trails of the veins
They are ever on the move—
Incarnate strife,
Reflecting in victory, deadlock and defeat,
The outer campaigns of the world,
But without tactics, without strategy.

Creatures of primal force,
With saurian impact
And virus of the hamadryads,
The microbes war with the leucocytes.

Physicians watch the conflict—
Advance, respite, recession and advance—
They shake their heads and murmur,
"Body versus organism,"
"A question of endurance,"
"Try out transfusion,"
"Pour in fresh troops."

With flush and pallor alternating,
Pulses racing, slowing, flickering,
The body sinks,
Like a derelict with a mutinous crew,
Steamless and rudderless,
Taking its final drubbing from the sea.

Once it was flood and drought, lightning and storm
            and earthquake,
Those hoary executors of the will of God,
That planned the monuments for human faith.

Now, rather, it is these silent and invisible
Teasing the ear of Providence
And levelling out the hollows of His hands,
That pose the queries for His moral government.


Dream on while your prophetic sight
Is still too keen to probe the day,
Before the spectrum of your night
Is recomposed to faded grey—
Before the riot of your vision
Is sobered by our prose derision.

Look as you may—horizon-faced!
The distant palms are waving now.
But do not touch and do not taste
The fruit that clusters from the bough.
For on those sands no healing wings
Are poised above the water springs.

And when the horses thunder on,
And dust is on the charioteer,
Beware the advent of the Dawn,
Lest that the eye betray the ear;
Sleep on and let the day eclipse
The ghosts of your apocalypse.


Come, reckon up the eons as you may,
And measure out the lag of tide and time,
And circumscribe the pace for night and day
Within the weave of solar pantomime;
Then with a casual shrug dismiss the brief
And latest masquerade which started when
Blood cells danced red to joy or paled to grief
In little ticks called three score years and ten.

But chart for me that instant when a pledge
Of love was mutualized upon the lips
Within a core of flame beyond whose edge
All your known planets suffered full eclipse—
When the hoarse clarions of an atavist
Called home your Betelgeuze to formless mist.


Upon what Bible will you swear?
Before whose altar lift your hand
When kettle-drum and trumpet-blare
Attest you at the witness-stand?

There was another lad I knew,
Blue-eyed and trustful and as mild,
A life-enthusiast like you,
Who scarcely had outgrown the child.

There was a virus in the air
That put the toxin in his blood,
Bugles were blowing everywhere
Breathing romance on sleet and mud.

He wrote his lesson on a slate,
Composed of foreign names to spell—
These to defend and those to hate,
And at the barracks learned it well.

They pinned a medal on his breast
Behind the lines one afternoon:
He had from a machine-gun nest
Annihilated a platoon.

And there were further honours paid
One evening when his name was read,
For after two crossed slabs were laid,
The LAST POST sounded overhead.


Helen, Deirdre, Héloïse,
Laura, Cleopatra, Eve!
The knight-at-arms is on his knees,
Still at your altars—by your leave.

The magic of your smiles and frowns
Had made you goddesses by right,
Divorced the monarchs from their crowns,
And changed world empires overnight.

You caught the male for good or ill,
And locked him in a golden cage,
Or let him out at your sweet will—
A prince or peasant, lord or page.

But do not preen your wings and claim
That when you passed away, the keys—
The symbols of your charm and fame—
Were buried with your effigies.

For, wild and lovely are your broods
That stole from you the ancient arts;
In tender or tempestuous moods,
They storm the barrens of our hearts.

Amy, Hilda, Wilhelmine,
Golden Marie and slim Suzette,
Viola, Claire and dark Eileen,
Brown-eyed Mary, blue-eyed Bett.

Daughters are ye of those days
When Troy and Rome and Carthage burned:
Ye cannot mend your mothers' ways
Or play a trick they hadn't learned.

But whether joy or whether woe—
Lure of lips or scorn of eyes—
We bless you either way we go,
In or out of Paradise.


Complete from glowing towers to golden base,
Without the lineage of toil it stood:
A crystal city fashioned out of space,
So calm and holy in its Sabbath mood,
It might constrain belief that any time
The altars would irradiate their fires,
And any moment now would start the chime
Of matins from the massed Cathedral spires.
Then this marmoreal structure of the dawn,
Built as by fiat of Apocalypse,
Was with the instancy of vision gone;
Nor did it die through shadow of eclipse,
Through clouds and vulgar effigies of night,
But through the darker irony of light.


When Genghis and his captains
Built their pyramids of skulls
Outside Bokhara and Herat,
And sacked Otrar and Samarcand,
There was no sophistry between the subject and
            and the verb;
For what the Khan said, he meant.
Behind the dust were the hoofs of his cavalry,
Behind the smoke was his fire.
And when Mohammed and Jehal-ud-Din,
In their flight from the Indus to the Caspian,
Appealed to Allah for protection,
Even the Great God of Islam
Could find no escape for the faithful,
When he knew the flight was regimented
To the paces of a Mongol syllogism.

THE NEW (1937 A.D.)

Now when the delegates met around the tables
And lifted up their voices,
The subjects were their civilizing tasks,
The fulfilment of historic missions,
The redemption of the national honour,
And the emancipation of the slaves.
But flaws were hidden in the predicates,
And in the pips of the adverbials,
And the rhetorical adjectives
Assumed the protective colouring
Of the great cats against the jungle grass—
In all the wealth of their possessive pronouns,
Not a syllable was spared
For the oil reported in the foreign shales.


Where do you bank such fires as can transmute
This granite-fact intransigence of life,
Such proud irenic faith as can refute
The upstart logic of this world of strife—
Its come-and-go of racial dust, its strum
Of windy discords from the seven seas,
Its scream of fifes and din of kettle-drum
That lead the march towards our futurities?
The proof, that slays the reason, has no power
To stem your will, corrode your soul—though lime
Conspire with earth and water to devour
The finest cultures from the lust of slime;
Though crumbled Tartar hordes break through their sod
To blow their grit into the eyes of God.


All patterns of the day were merged in one—
Clouds, wings and faces, dunes and harbour bars—
In a swift blur of vision as the sun
Went down at noon upon a drift of spars.
In such a lightless hour the sea had cleft
A heart, fumbling its way as through a strait,
Then passed, bequeathing to the common weft
No record but its arid distillate.

Though when night comes with sleep there still remains
Enough of daylight and of surf to trace
The artisan outside the storm-swept panes,
Refashioning the pallor of his face
To softer lines which thread my nescient mood
With the illusion of beatitude.


There is no refuge from this wind tonight,
Though sound the roof and double-latched the door,
And though I've trimmed the wick, there is no light,
Nor is there warmth although the tamaracks roar;
Nor will the battery of those surges keep
The hammering pulses silent in my sleep.

But one alone might quell this storm tonight,
And were he now this moment at the door,
His eyes would clear the shadows from this light,
His voice put laughter in the billets' roar,
And he would clasp me in his arms and keep
The wheeling gulls from screaming through my sleep.


I know that were my soul tonight
Strung to the silence of this room,
I'd hear remembered footfalls light
As wayward drift of lotus bloom.

Nor would it just be make-believe,
Were I to find her in this chair,
Or catch the rustle of her sleeve,
Or note the glint upon her hair.

Say, would you blame me if I knelt
To put faith to its enterprise—
So surely must her touch be felt
In liquid coolness on my eyes.

Now listen! If the veil should part
Within this holy ritual,
You'll hear a voice call to my heart
More lovely than a madrigal.



Newfoundland Verse
The Witches' Brew
The Iron Door
The Roosevelt and the Antinoe
Verses of the Sea
Many Moods
The Titanic

[End of The Fable of the Goats and Other Poems, by E. J. Pratt]