|A happily rare sub-Belloc verse effusion by David Langford, written in 1973 when I should have been studying physics at Oxford.|
O gather, Children, round and hear
Of one intrepid Pioneer
Who penetrated Afric's darks
In times when the Safari Parks,
In their untouch'd, primaeval State,
Still tempted Men to horrid Fate.
J. Smith, from England's sceptred Isle
It was that dared the Jungle vile;
Full many a dark and lonesome mile
He travers'd, many Perils fought
(As loyal sons of Albion ought),
And 'Rule Britannia' he sang
By day: his Dinner-Bell he rang
At night, all garb'd in Ev'ning-Dress:
My halting Tongue can scarce express
How well he kept Tradition, and
Upheld the Pride of England's Strand.
The Sabbath came; and on his Cot
Our Hero lay, and labour'd not.
Unlucky chance! there wander'd by
A Band of Anthropophagi --
And ere he understood his Plight,
They seiz'd on him, and clutch'd him tight!
Quoth Smith, 'A Briton shall outface
These Creatures of a Lesser Race --
I'll work upon their childish Fear
Of mystick Flame ...' And with a Leer
A Sulphur-Match he boldly struck:
O pity this Explorer's Luck!
The tropick Clime, the humid Air,
Had spoil'd his Matches. In despair
He saw his Magick sputter out.
Meantime, with many a fearsome Shout,
His rude Oppressors lifted him
And through the Forest vast and dim
Proceeded at a headlong Pace
Toward their holy Feasting-Place.
Smith ponder'd on the aweful Fact
Of Capture, and his Brains he rack'd:
A spark of Memory aglow!
That Book** he'd study'd, long ago ...
A rapid Jiggling, to and fro,
Of False Teeth in a fellow's Head
Might rouse a superstitious Dread
in those unknowing of the Art
That shapes each Artificial Part!
He utter'd then a dismal Groan:
His Teeth, alas! were all his own.
Without Decorum, though with Haste,
Within a Cauldron Smith was placed:
He looked upon it, and grimaced
To find this Cooking-pot was soil'd
(For in it many had been boil'd).
O Situation stark and grim!
But no despairing Thoughts for him:
For searching Pockets deep, he found
A handsome Volume -- leather-bound.
On this he train'd his glitt'ring Eye,
And with the loud and gladsome Cry
'Before the Dawn is Night most black!'
Perus'd his trusty Almanack;
Wherein his eager Eye and Mind
Did seek a Thing -- perchance to find --
O joy! O Rapture unconfin'd!
This very Day, Diana's Sphere
With Phoebus' Car shall interfere:
The latter's beneficial Light
Occluded, Earth is veil'd in Night.
In fact, to state the Matter plain,
The Sun will be eclips'd again ...
To aid a troubled English Gent
This Astronomical Event
Is by some Holy Power sent!
(And is, by Scepticks, thought to be
Suspicious in its frequency.)
Infused with noble Courage, Smith
Address'd his Captors, and forthwith
Declar'd his magick Powers: 'I
Shall cast a Darkness on the Sky!'
He cry'd; and added, that the Gloom
Should linger 'til the Crack of Doom
Unless they swiftly set him free --
'Release me: or I cast on thee
The Dark of the Apocalypse!'
A Savage ask'd, through grinning Lips,
'Do you refer to the Eclipse?'
Unhappy Smith: Their primal Need
Now rous'd the Tribe's uncultur'd Greed,
And yielding to their base Desires,
Without ado they set the Fires
In red Combustion 'neath the Pot:
'Twas aye the rash Explorer's lot.
** All this is truth; I am no blackguard.
The book was writ by Rider Haggard.
|First published in AWRE News vol 23 #1,
November 1975. Also in Cloud Chamber 1, December 1976. Slightly
revised for Twll-Ddu 17, March 1980.
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