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Short poem

Gilbert E. Brooke (1873-1936)

The Caicos Islands, West Indies

              1O salt-laden land, with your rocks and your thatch trees,
              2How oft have I toiled through your tropical wilderness
              3Though only returning to jaws of Charybdis --
              4Ephemeral structure, culicidal, chiggeral --
              5Despite protestation.

              6O land of the palm and the bush odoriferous,
              7O home of the sand-fly, and genus anopheles,
              8Full oft did you haunt me in fever malarial --
              9Shapes pallid, Walterian, grinning, rapacious --
            10All horrible phantoms.

            11O Islands of Caicos -- the last of created things --
            12With water bacterial, foetid, mephitical;
            13Eroding the desert with vapours Avernian:
            14And yet I escaped from a death choleräical,
            15O marvellous Islands!


1] The (Turks and) Caicos Islands, thirty in number, southeast of the Bahamas, are a British colony. Their capital is Cockburn Town on Grand Turk Island. An early island industry was the harvesting of salt. The Islands have large mangrove swamps and suffer frequent hurricanes from June to November, but government projects have controlled mosquito breeding and thus the diseases they carry, especially dengue fever as borne by Aedes aegypti. The Islands are now a popular and, generally, safe tourist destination.

3] Charybdis: a treacherous whirlpool in the straits of Messina, off Sicily, that -- with Scylla, a cave opposite it -- brought many sailors to their deaths in classical myth.

4] ephemeral: of diseases, beginning and ending in a single day.
culicidal: characterizing substances that kill mosquitoes. The culicidæ are a family of mosquitoes treated in "The Economics of Malaria" in Brooke's Practice (1920).
chiggeral: characterized by harvest mites or chiggers (evidently, an adjective coined by Brooke).

6] odoriferous: smelly.

7] sand-fly: small blood-sucking fly that transmits an acute viral fever to those it bites.
genus anopheles: a mosquito that carries malaria, a disease of periodical fevers.

9] Walterian: related to the studies of Dr. Walter Reed, who proved that yellow fever was spread by the mosquito Aedes aegypti. The US military funded Dr. Reed's research in Cuba at the time of the Spanish-American war (1898).

12] foetid: stinking.
mephitical: pestilential, characterized by "mephitis" or stench.

13] Avernian: hellish.

Online text copyright © 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: Gilbert E. Brooke, Oddments: Being Extracts from a Scrap-book (Singapore: Kelly and Walsh, 1922): 17. British Library
RPO poem editor: Ian Lancashire
RP edition: RPO 2001
Recent editing: 2:2002/2/13

Form note: irregularly rhyming

Other poems by Gilbert E. Brooke