The Veil and other poems/The Last Coachload


THE LAST COACHLOAD

(To Colin)

 
CRASHED through the woods that lumbering
Coach. The dust
Of flinted roads bepowdering felloe and hood.
Its gay paint cracked, its axles red with rust,
It lunged, lurched, toppled through a solitude

Of whispering boughs, and feathery, nid-nod grass.
Plodded the fetlocked horses. Glum and mum,
Its ancient Coachman recked not where he was,
Nor into what strange haunt his wheels were come.

Crumbling the leather of his dangling reins;
Worn to a cow's tuft his stumped, idle whip;
Sharp eyes of beast and bird in the trees' green lanes

Gleamed out like stars above a derelict ship.



'OId Father Time—Time—Time!' jeered twittering throat.
A squirrel capered on the leader's rump,
Slithered a weasel, peered a thieflike stoat,
In sandy warren beat on the coney's thump.
 
Mute as a mammet in his saddle sate
The hunched Postilion, clad in magpie trim;
Buzzed the bright flies around his hairless pate;
Yaffle and jay squawked mockery at him.

Yet marvellous peace and amity breathed there.
Tranquil the labyrinths of this sundown wood.
Musking its chaces, bloomed the brier-rose fair;
Spellbound as if in trance the pine-trees stood.

Through moss, and pebbled rut, the wheels rasped on;
That Ancient drowsing on his box. And still
The bracken track with glazing sunbeams shone;
Laboured the horses, straining at the hill. . . .
 
But now — a verdurous height with eve-shade sweet;
Far, far to West the Delectable Mountains glowed.
Above, Night's canopy; at the horses' feet

A sea-like honied waste of flowers flowed.



There fell a pause of utter quiet. And—
Out from one murky window glanced an eye,
Stole from the other a lean, groping hand,
The padded door swung open with a sigh.
 
And—Exeunt Omnes! None to ask the fare—
A myriad human Odds in a last release
Leap out incontinent, snuff the incensed air;
A myriad parched-up voices whisper, 'Peace.'
 
On, on, and on — a stream, a flood, they flow.
wondrous vale of jocund buds and bells!
Like vanishing smoke the rainbow legions glow.
Yet still the enravished concourse sweeps and swells.
 
All journeying done. Rest now from lash and spur—
Laughing and weeping, shoulder and elbow—'twould seem
That Coach capacious all Infinity were,

And these the fabulous figments of a dream.



Mad for escape; frenzied each breathless mote,
Lest rouse the Old Enemy from his death-still swoon,
Lest crack that whip again—they fly, they float,

Scamper, breathe—'Paradise!' abscond, are gone. . . .