If poetry comes not so naturally as leaves to a tree it had better not come at all. - Keats
(A Tale of the East)
Three palms proudly grew in Arabia fair....
Beneath them, on soil that was arid and bare,
A spring bubbled up and went gurgling and playing,
No fear of the winds or the sandstorms betraying.
The leaves of the palms gave it coolness and shade,
And safe from the blaze in their shelter it stayed.
Years passed, but no wanderer, roaming these lands,
Discovered the spring in the midst of the sands,
None knelt here, none refuge and sustenance sought
None thirstily drank of the life-giving water....
Years passed, and, exposed to the merciless sky,
The lush bower of leaves started slowly to dry.
"How harsh is our fate!" said the palms with a sigh.
"Alas! To be born but to wilt here and die.
In vain did we flower - for what good did it bring us?
In vain did we let sun and wind burn and sting us.
Our life has been futile, no man have we served....
Unjust is thy wrath, Lord, and little deserved!"
They spoke, and at once, in the distance-behold! -
There rose clouds of dust of the colour of gold.
A jangling of bells rent the air, and a ringing,
And rug-covered packs, bright and many-hued bringing,
Like so many ships, with the seas safely spanned,
Of camels a train toward them ploughed through the
And fast to the humps of the animals strung,
The sun-faded tents of the nomad folk hung,
A flashing dark eye peeping out through the flowing
And billowing folds, or a slender hand showing.
And, bent o'er the pommel, the desert's own son,
A slim-waisted Arab, his horse goaded on.
The horse neighed and reared, and then, neighing anew,
Pranced round, like an ounce by an arrow pierced
The horseman's white robes as he sat on the leaping
And whinnying steed, o'er its sable flanks sweeping,
And flying behind him, when, spinning about,
He flung up his lance with a whistle and a shout.
The nomads drew near; 'neath the palms camp was
And laughter and talk rent the calm. In the shade,
Jugs, parched by the sunshine, with water stood
That welled out the spring, gently humming and
The palms bowed and nodded and waved to their
And gravely they offered them welcome and rest.
But dusk brought of axes the sharp, cruel sound,
And down came the lords of the sands to the ground.
Ripped off were their cloaks, torn to pieces and
Chopped up were their mighty old bodies and shattered,
And later, when night, cool and shadowy came,
Fed slowly to avid and hungering flame.
At dawn, as the mist westward sped and away,
The caravan, rising, set off on its way,
And there, on the ground, left abandoned behind it,
Of ash lay a heap.... For the sun rays to find it
Took minutes: they burnt it, and burnt it again,
And wind strewed the thin, greyish dust o'er the plain.
Today, all is wild here and empty and bleak....
Leaves, once never still, to the spring no more speak,
And vainly to God in its helplessness turning,
For shade does it beg - o'er it, white-hot and burning,
Whip sands, while nearby, in the bright glare of day
A brown tufted kite silent claws at its prey.