Verse > Anthologies > T. H. Ward, ed. > The English Poets > Vol. V. Browning to Rupert Brooke
Thomas Humphry Ward, ed.  The English Poets.  1880–1918.
Vol. V. Browning to Rupert Brooke
Extracts from New Symbols: The Snake-charmer
By Thomas Gordon Hake (1809–1895)
THE FOREST rears on lifted arms
  A world of leaves, whence verdurous light
Shakes through the shady depths and warms
  Proud tree and stealthy parasite,
There where those cruel coils enclasp        5
The trunks they strangle in their grasp.
An old man creeps from out the woods,
  Breaking the vine’s entangling spell;
He thrids the jungle’s solitudes
  O’er bamboos rotting where they fell;        10
Slow down the tiger’s path he wends
Where at the pool the jungle ends.
No moss-greened alley tells the trace
  Of his lone step, no sound is stirred,
Even when his tawny hands displace        15
  The boughs, that backward sweep unheard:
His way as noiseless as the trail
Of the swift snake and pilgrim snail.
The old snake-charmer,—once he played
  Soft music for the serpent’s ear,        20
But now his cunning hand is stayed;
  He knows the hour of death is near.
And all that live in brake and bough,
All know the brand is on his brow.
Yet where his soul is he must go:
  He crawls along from tree to tree.
The old snake-charmer, doth he know
  If snake or beast of prey he be?
Bewildered at the pool he lies
And sees as through a serpent’s eyes.        30
Weeds wove with white-flowered lily crops
  Drink of the pool, and serpents hie
To the thin brink as noonday drops,
  And in the froth-daubed rushes lie.
There rests he now with fastened breath        35
’Neath a kind sun to bask in death.
The pool is bright with glossy dyes
  And cast-up bubbles of decay:
A green death-leaven overlies
  Its mottled scum, where shadows play        40
As the snake’s hollow coil, fresh shed,
Rolls in the wind across its bed.
No more the wily note is heard
  From his full flute—the riving air
That tames the snake, decoys the bird,        45
  Worries the she-wolf from her lair.
Fain would he bid its parting breath
Drown in his ears the voice of death.
Still doth his soul’s vague longing skim
  The pool beloved: he hears the hiss        50
That siffles at the sedgy rim,
  Recalling days of former bliss,
And the death-drops, that fall in showers,
Seem honied dews from shady flowers.
There is a rustle of the breeze
  And twitter of the singing bird;
He snatches at the melodies
  And his faint lips again are stirred;
The olden sounds are in his ears;
But still the snake its crest uprears.        60
His eyes are swimming in the mist
  That films the earth like serpent’s breath:
And now,—as if a serpent hissed,—
  The husky whisperings of Death
Fill ear and brain—he looks around—        65
Serpents seem matted o’er the ground.
Soon visions of past joys bewitch
  His crafty soul; his hands would set
Death’s snare, while now his fingers twitch
  The tasselled reed as ’twere his net.        70
But his thin lips no longer fill
The woods with song; his flute is still.
Those lips still quaver to the flute,
  But fast the life-tide ebbs away;
Those lips now quaver and are mute,        75
  But nature throbs in breathless play:
Birds are in open song, the snakes
Are watching in the silent brakes.
In sudden fear of snares unseen
  The birds like crimson sunset swarm,        80
All gold and purple, red and green,
  And seek each other for the charm.
Lizards dart up the feathery trees
Like shadows of a rainbow breeze.
The wildered birds again have rushed
  Into the charm,—it is the hour
When the shrill forest-note is hushed,
  And they obey the serpent’s power,—
Drawn to its gaze with troubled whirr,
As by the thread of falconer.        90
As ’twere to feed, on slanting wings
  They drop within the serpent’s glare:
Eyes flashing fire in burning rings
  Which spread into the dazzled air;
They flutter in the glittering coils;        95
The charmer dreads the serpent’s toils.
While Music swims away in death
  Man’s spell is passing to his slaves:
The snake feeds on the charmer’s breath,
  The vulture screams, the parrot raves,        100
The lone hyena laughs and howls,
The tiger from the jungle growls.
Then mounts the eagle—flame-flecked folds
  Belt its proud plumes; a feather falls:
He hears the death-cry, he beholds        105
  The king-bird in the serpent’s thralls,
He looks with terror on the feud,—
And the sun shines through dripping blood.
The deadly spell a moment gone—
  Birds, from a distant Paradise,        110
Strike the winged signal and have flown,
  Trailing rich hues through azure skies:
The serpent falls; like demon wings
The far-out branching cedar swings.
The wood swims round; the pool and skies
  Have met; the death-drops down that cheek
Fall faster; for the serpent’s eyes
  Grow human, and the charmer’s seek.
A gaze like man’s directs the dart
Which now is buried at his heart.        120
The monarch of the world is cold:
  The charm he bore has passed away:
The serpent gathers up its fold
  To wind about its human prey.
The red mouth darts a dizzy sting,        125
And clenches the eternal ring.

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