new zealand electronic poetry centre


Robin Hyde

The Conquerors And Other Poems

The Conquerors

They have circled the globe, Da Gama. Aye, with thrust bolder
Than any black spar of yours that smote at the stars
And bore the moon for a lamp on your mad ship’s shoulder
Their lean, trim greyhounds nose at the harbour bars.
And Afric’s breast is dry and barren and cold
Now sailors hang it no more with their legend gold,
And the trader comes, and the priest, and the cold-eyed press,
And the bare brown girl goes ware of her nakedness.

But when shall they see the island that lay, hull over,
An hour on the lip of the west, and changed, and was gone?
While your sick men babbled of rose-red lake-birds calling,
Of a leaping stream that shone
And an aureole of waters falling,
And you looked on that phantom place with the eyes of a lover?

They have sought out the Ind, Columbus. No more of toiling
Into the glassy trough of the huge green wave,
With your west-crazed ship a toy for the sea’s despoiling,
And a coffin of pearl below, and a nameless grave.
And cities are there for port, and a world to plunder –
What if it lack the calm, and the opal wonder,
The gale of spices you dreamed, the ivory stair,
The deep-eyed Cham adream in his golden chair?

But when shall they see again, or know the heart’s yearning
You felt one hour of nightfall, when over the trees –
Over the tangled grape-vines, the bleached lorn bays
Left to the wilderness folk since the dawning of days, —
Shafts of sunset struck southward, like fiery keys,
And you dreamed, afar off, the towers of Cipango burning?

They have conquered the peak, Mallory. Where the winds trod
And far below the torrent howled in its lair,
And not another was free of that place but God,
They have seen, they have known, from the ways of the upper air.
Aye, and the wings of the falcon sported in jest
O’er the immaculate glory of Everest,
And little they recked of the sentinel blizzard below,
Of your ghostly footprints, shadowed across the snow.

But when shall they know how, white and roseate and gold,
The great calm flowers of the Silence Woods unfurled
Shine like the angels that guard the end of the world
And the last trail laid for the feet of the overbold?
Till the forest of flowers is mazed with the forest of snow
And the sheer Unattainable lifts through the after-glow . . .
And they who have trod that strong trail, little and lonely
Lift up their eyes to the heights, knowing only
That the wings of splendour are shod on their toiling feet,
That the oread arms of Death in their clasp are sweet?


Last updated 20 August, 2003