Poets of John Company/Ode to a Punkah

JAMES ATKINSON

1784—1852.

Ode to a Punkah.

Punkah! thou long hast merited an ode,
Giving thyself, as well as others airs;
Thou swing'st aloft in every man's abode,
As if in scorn of him and his affairs;
Viewing him, "grunt and sweat," as Shakespeare says,
(Coarse language, used in ancient days.)
Still puffing on.
Whilst he cries "Aura Veni"—breezes, come!
But soon a rush of heat alters his tone.
And "zor se tan" re-echoes through the room.
Then fringed or unfringed dost thou fly,
Jerk'd back and forward by old Doss,
The bearer. Straight, and now awry;
Croaking on plaintive hooks the beams across,
Tortured by many an awkward pull,
And threatening to come down, and split thy master's skull!


Punkah! 'tis thine to bless
Man, sick or well;
Thou soother of distress,
Who can thy virtues tell?

When a cold glass of soda water throws
The skin into a bath, and smarting glows
The prickly heat, thy wonderous power
Checks the distracting itch in half an hour.
On couch recumbent rolls the invalid;
Thermometer at ninety, ninety-five,
Yellow as saffron, and the heat, indeed.
Too hot by far for any thing alive.
What is there then to give a moment's ease?
Nothing in all the world but thy refreshing breeze.

Leaf of the palm wert thou.
Primitive punkah! and thy form is still
The same with Mussulman, and eke Hindoo,
Moved in the hand at will.
In the closed harem cross-legged sit the wives
Of Rajahs and Moghuls, paun ever chewing;
And with the leaf of palm
Fanning themselves, they whiff the balm
Of hookahs, still the stimulus renewing.
And thus 'midst smoke and paun they pass their lazy lives.
But European taste
Suspends thee high;
And thou art most commodiously placed.
Not to disturb the eye.
Whilst the luxurious Soldier or Civilian
Quaffs blushing Lai beneath thy breezy swing.
And gulps factitious airs—which drive a million
Muskeetos from him. buzzing on the wing.
Refreshing flapper! influence divine!
Prime relisher of feasts—unmeasured praise be thine!

Punkah I thou cooler of the fever's heat;
Dryer of floods that inundate the skin;
Teaching the pulse more temperately to beat,
And keeping sickness out, and health within;
Thou art a blessing in this nether sphere;
Without thee, what would man do here—
In this o'erpowering land of cloudless sun?
Why, faith! his hot career would soon be done.
Even now his skin is often like a sheet
Of parchment, crisp and brown, and wo-begone;
Without thee, then would he not be, by heat,
Par-boiled, and grilled, and roasted to the bone?
And yet I am the very first,
To give thee, Punkah, fitting praise;
In all thy cheering virtues versed,
I consecrate to thee my lays.
Oh! I love to write about thee,
For I cannot breathe without thee!