Few there would face the phantasy of this,
Would sail down into the fabulous abyss
And dare the Geruda hungering on the sea,
The huge night bird in the Hindu tree,
Nesting in Pausengi, cruel and cold,
Guarding the islands of ivory and gold.
This was the story and they told it well
Long before Babylon ever learned of hell:
Pausengi seized the ships, Geruda blood and soul,
And the bones and the timbers vanished in the hole;
The East capsized at Timor — break the taboos
And return never again, said the old Hindus.
This then was the story, they told it so well
Some half believed who called them infidel,
The Muslim, the Christian, inching from the west,
The Chinese coasting on their counter-quest,
All strangers round the rim of the under world
Hiding the islands of ivory and gold.
And in the waiting islands lived fair men,
Tall, with blue-eyed wives, happy in the sun,
And safe in pavilions of saffron domes that gleamed
Above green gardens and lakes whose waters dreamed,
Where steps led jewelled from balcony to shore
In a city unshadowed by circling walls of war:
A civilization without sea-guest or foe,
For if the Indies envied who dared go
Where Geruda hungered and where Pausengi grew?—
Hell over paradise, said the old Hindu;
And the shining islands floated on unknown,
A Nirvana, the Never, opulent, alone.
There were other stories, but they seemed half wrong;
The orient is near and allurement is long.
None found the islands of ivory and gold,
Only the continent that Ptolemy foretold,
And the Roman spoke from Rome with a distant chart
Empty of the yearning of the East and its heart.
Some said ice receded, and the oceans rose,
The rivers died as slowly died the snows,
Great lumbering beasts lay down desolate
And the burning land brimmed sanded, separate,
With dark-skinned tribes and white and stony times
Disjoined from the higher arch that Asia climbs:
Some said no truth was discovered till the Greeks,
Till Europe southward paced Magellan’s decks
And winds cast Christendom on pagan reefs—
And these if real rang as the tales of thieves;
Nothing in all the unbelieving world
Should inherit the islands of ivory and gold.
No Western possession, barbarous mastery
Of the civilizing thought for the sundering sea
Could quell the belief that first created it;
And who foiled Geruda, Pausengi and the pit,
And broke down the taboos, must, too, fear,
Must beware of the Asian day— and the dawn is near.
© David Rowbotham