The Halfway House, Page XVI        

The lion speaks Greek, the pensive tiger asks

In Latin for definitive decrees:

Beyond the river where the dragon basks,

Stand crocodiles with folded tails, and trees.


This country, then, is one where no one goes,

Remote, reserved for those great funeral games

The elephants perform, where sometime rose

The phoenix from revivifying flames.


Wherefore a traveller is not strange in dreams -

By absence only may his life alarm;

Wherefore the lion’s, the tiger’s learned schemes

Of speech; wherefore the bees, conversing, charm.


Once more the ants in files manoeuvre, storm

A monkey-puzzle built around a book,

Only to find the problem change its form,

Since they, turned turtle, have an unsolved look.


‘In our vivarium the travellers seek

Bland reassurance that they are not here;’

So says the lions; the tiger weighs oblique

Remarks, but says: ‘All travellers disappear.’


And so with talk the wise beasts take the air,

Discoursing as they pad, of what they see.

‘Is that a person who is praying there,

Or,’ adds the lion, ‘a mantis humbling me?’


The tiger speaks. ‘This sunlight every day

Leaves nothing in the shadow, makes us face

How young we are, grown younger by the way

We look in water. Time has quit this place.


A traveller, I would say, best left in peace

To pray, the while his path is straightened out.’

The lion, alert to knowledge, quick to cease

A course of study, bowing, turns about.


‘Let us withdraw. Eloquent, that parakeet,

Revolving scatters colour, which it spurns.

Will you be blue? And I be green? This heat

Unnerves me. I prefer the golden ferns.’


And so on other subjects now, the lion,

Illuminated, talks, the tiger ekes

A phrase or two to hold his own. And iron

Tears roll down the lonely traveller’s cheeks.