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Short poem

William Ernest Henley (1849-1903)

London Voluntaries IV: Out of the Poisonous East

Largo e mesto

              1Out of the poisonous East,
              2Over a continent of blight,
              3Like a maleficent Influence released
              4From the most squalid cellerage of hell,
              5The Wind-Fiend, the abominable--
              6The Hangman Wind that tortures temper and light--
              7Comes slouching, sullen and obscene,
              8Hard on the skirts of the embittered night;
              9And in a cloud unclean
            10Of excremental humours, roused to strife
            11By the operation of some ruinous change,
            12Wherever his evil mandate run and range,
            13Into a dire intensity of life,
            14A craftsman at his bench, he settles down
            15To the grim job of throttling London Town.

            16So, by a jealous lightlessness beset
            17That might have oppressed the dragons of old time
            18Crunching and groping in the abysmal slime,
            19A cave of cut-throat thoughts and villainous dreams,
            20Hag-rid and crying with cold and dirt and wet,
            21The afflicted City. prone from mark to mark
            22In shameful occultation, seems
            23A nightmare labryrinthine, dim and drifting,
            24With wavering gulfs and antic heights, and shifting,
            25Rent in the stuff of a material dark,
            26Wherein the lamplight, scattered and sick and pale,
            27Shows like the leper's living blotch of bale:
            28Uncoiling monstrous into street on street
            29Paven with perils, teeming with mischance,
            30Where man and beast go blindfold and in dread,
            31Working with oaths and threats and faltering feet
            32Somewhither in the hideousness ahead;
            33Working through wicked airs and deadly dews
            34That make the laden robber grin askance
            35At the good places in his black romance,
            36And the poor, loitering harlot rather choose
            37Go pinched and pined to bed
            38Than lurk and shiver and curse her wretched way
            39From arch to arch, scouting some threepenny prey.

            40Forgot his dawns and far-flushed afterglows,
            41His green garlands and windy eyots forgot,
            42The old Father-River flows,
            43His watchfires cores of menace in the gloom,
            44As he came oozing from the Pit, and bore,
            45Sunk in his filthily transfigured sides,
            46Shoals of dishonoured dead to tumble and rot
            47In the squalor of the universal shore:
            48His voices sounding through the gruesome air
            49As from the Ferry where the Boat of Doom
            50With her blaspheming cargo reels and rides:
            51The while his children, the brave ships,
            52No more adventurous and fair,
            53Nor tripping it light of heel as home-bound brides,
            54But infamously enchanted,
            55Huddle together in the foul eclipse,
            56Or feel their course by inches desperately,
            57As through a tangle of alleys murder-haunted,
            58From sinister reach to reach out -- out -- to sea.

            59And Death the while --
            60Death with his well-worn, lean, professional smile,
            61Death in his threadbare working trim--
            62Comes to your bedside, unannounced and bland,
            63And with expert, inevitable hand
            64Feels at your windpipe, fingers you in the lung,
            65Or flicks the clot well into the labouring heart:
            66Thus signifying unto old and young,
            67However hard of mouth or wild of whim,
            68'Tis time -- 'tis time by his ancient watch -- to part
            69From books and women and talk and drink and art.
            70And you go humbly after him
            71To a mean suburban lodging: on the way
            72To what or where
            73Not Death, who is old and very wise, can say:
            74And you -- how should you care
            75So long as, unreclaimed of hell,
            76The Wind-Fiend, the insufferable,
            77Thus vicious and thus patient, sits him down
            78To the black job of burking London Town?

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: William Ernest Henley, Poems (London: Macmillan and Co., 1920): 198-201. PR 4783 A36 1921 Robarts Library
RPO poem editor: Ian Lancashire
RP edition: RPO 1996-2000.
Recent editing: 4:2002/4/24

Composition date: 1890 - 1892

Other poems by William Ernest Henley