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Short poem

Kingsley Fairbridge (1885-1924)

The Puff-adder

              1Here where the grey rhenoster clothes the hill,
              2    Drowsing beside a boulder in the sun,
              3Slumbrous-inert, so gloomy and so still,
              4    On the warm steep where aimless sheep-paths run,
              5A short thick length of chevron-pattern's skin,
              6    A wide flat head so lazy on the sand,
              7Unblinking eyes that warn of power within,
              8    Lies he, -- the limbless terror of the land.

              9He is the ablest specialist in death, --
            10    This gleam of living velvet - and in this
            11He finds his pride; yet, with presaging breath,
            12    He warns the unwary footstep with a hiss.
            13Go, then, and live. Remain, and in a flash
            14    The fangs have found their victim, and the stark
            15Strong hand of death with instant awful lash
            16    Hath struck thee, choking, to the utter dark.

            17Sober and thoughtful, passionless he lies
            18    Dreaming strange dreams that are not ours to know,
            19While the sun wanders through unclouded skies,
            20    And insects, chirping round him, come and go;
            21Unmov'd, unvex'd by hatred or desire,
            22    Calm in resistless power he disdains
            23The fury-blinded ringhals' insane ire,
            24    And rests impassive till the sunlight wanes.


1] puff-adder: an ugly, sluggish, deadly African serpent (Bitis or Clotho arietans) that puffs out its upper body when aroused.
rhenoster: rhenosterbosch, the rhinoceros bush, a greyish shrub named because it is a favorite food for that animal.

5] chevron-pattern: a pattern where a pair of lines is angled to the other in the shape of a wing.

19] through: `though' in 1909.

23] ringhals: venomous spitting cobra.

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: Kingsley Fairbridge, Veld Verse and Other Lines (London: David Nutt, 1909): 14. Cf. Veld Verse (London: Oxford University Press, 1928): 12.
First publication date: 1909
RPO poem editor: Ian Lancashire
RP edition: RPO 2000.
Recent editing: 2:2002/4/18

Rhyme: ababcdcd

Other poems by Kingsley Fairbridge