The Great War

from Poems, an electronic edition

The Bull

See an old unhappy bull.

Sick in soul and body both.

Slouching in the undergrowth

Of the forest beautiful,

Banished from the herd he led.

Bulls and cows a thousand head.

Cranes and gaudy parrots go

Up and down the burning sky;

Tree-top cats purr drowsily

In the dim-day green below;

And troops of monkeys, nutting, some,

All disputing, go and come;

And things abominable sit

Picking offal buck or swine,

On the mess and over it

Burnished flies and beetles shine,

And spiders big as bladders lie

Under hemlocks ten foot high;

And a dotted serpent curled

Round and round and round a tree,

Yellowing its greenery,

Keeps a watch on all the world,

All the world and this old bull

In the forest beautiful.

Bravely by his fall he came:

One he led, a bull of blood

Newly come to lustihood,

Fought and put his prince to shame,

Snuffed and pawed the prostrate head

Tameless even while it bled.

There they left him, every one,

Left him there without a lick,

Left him for the birds to pick,

Left him there for carrion,

Vilely from their bosom cast

Wisdom, worth and love at last.

When the lion left his lair

And roared his beauty through the hills,

And the vultures pecked their quills

And flew into the middle air,

Then this prince no more to reign

Came to life and lived again.

He snuffed the herd in far retreat,

He saw the blood upon the ground,

And snuffed the burning airs around

Still with beevish odours sweet,

While the blood ran down his head

And his mouth ran slaver red.

Pity him, this fallen chief,

All his splendour, all his strength,

All his body's breadth and length

Dwindled down with shame and grief,

Half the bull he was before,

Bones and leather, nothing more.

See him standing dewlap-deep

In the rushes at the lake,

Surly, stupid, half asleep,

Waiting for his heart to break

And the birds to join the flies

Feasting at his bloodshot eyes;

Standing with his head hung down

In a stupor, dreaming things:

Green savannas, jungles brown,

Battlefields and bellowings,

Bulls undone and lions dead

And vultures flapping overhead.

Dreaming things: of days he spent

With his mother gaunt and lean

In the valley warm and green,

Full of baby wonderment,

Blinking out of silly eyes

At a hundred mysteries;

Dreaming over once again

How he wandered with a throng

Of bulls and cows a thousand strong,

Wandered on from plain to plain,

Up the hill and down the dale,

Always at his mother's tail;

How he lagged behind the herd,

Lagged and tottered, weak of limb,

And she turned and ran to him

Blaring at the loathly bird

Stationed always in the skies,

Waiting for the flesh that dies.

Dreaming maybe of a day

When her drained and drying paps

Turned him to the sweets and saps,

Richer fountains by the way,

And she left the bull she bore

And he looked to her no more;

And his little frame grew stout,

And his little legs grew strong,

And the way was not so long;

And his little horns came out,

And he played at butting trees

And boulder-stones and tortoises,

Joined a game of knobby skulls

With the youngsters of his year,

All the other little bulls,

Learning both to bruise and bear,

Learning how to stand a shock

Like a little bull of rock.

Dreaming of a day less dim,

Dreaming of a time less far,

When the faint but certain star

Of destiny burned clear for him,

And a fierce and wild unrest

Broke the quiet of his breast,

And the gristles of his youth

Hardened in his comely pow,

And he came to fighting growth,

Beat his bull and won his cow,

And flew his tail and trampled off

Past the tallest, vain enough,

And curved about in splendour full

And curved again and snuffed the airs

As who should say Come out who dares!

And all beheld a bull, a Bull,

And knew that here was surely one

That backed for no bull, fearing none.

And the leader of the herd

Looked and saw, and beat the ground,

And shook the forest with his sound,

Bellowed at the loathly bird

Stationed always in the skies,

Waiting for the flesh that dies.

Dreaming, this old bull forlorn,

Surely dreaming of the hour

When he came to sultan power,

And they owned him master-horn,

Chiefest bull of all among

Bulls and cows a thousand strong;

And in all the tramping herd

Not a bull that barred his way,

Not a cow that said him nay,

Not a bull or cow that erred

In the furnace of his look

Dared a second, worse rebuke;

Not in all the forest wide,

Jungle, thicket, pasture, fen,

Not another dared him then,

Dared him and again defied;

Not a sovereign buck or boar

Came a second time for more;

Not a serpent that survived

Once the terrors of his hoof

Risked a second time reproof,

Came a second time and lived,

Not a serpent in its skin

Came again for discipline;

Not a leopard bright as flame,

Flashing fingerhooks of steel,

That a wooden tree might feel,

Met his fury once and came

For a second reprimand,

Not a leopard in the land ;

Not a lion of them all,

Not a lion of the hills,

Hero of a thousand kills,

Dared a second fight and fall,

Dared that ram terrific twice,

Paid a second time the price.

Pity him, this dupe of dream,

Leader of the herd again

Only in his daft old brain,

Once again the bull supreme

And bull enough to bear the part

Only in his tameless heart.

Pity him that he must wake;

Even now the swarm of flies

Blackening his bloodshot eyes

Bursts and blusters round the lake,

Scattered from the feast half-fed,

By great shadows overhead;

And the dreamer turns away

From his visionary herds

And his splendid yesterday,

Turns to meet the loathly birds

Flocking round him from the skies,

Waiting for the flesh that dies.