To Murex trunculus.
By Gilbert E. Brooke.
Small mollusc of the Tideless Sea
Through what long neons have you fared
Adown the path of had-to-be,
Since first you shared
The haunting sadness of our mother Earth
Who brought to birth
* * * * *
In those forgotten days
Ere frost gave silence to a world forlorn,
You roamed the ocean beach
Beneath a sunny sky -
No cloud to dim your radiant dawn
Could you descry;
Nor any boding storm your sands to reach
Ere light did die.
Your house, a castle to withstand
Assault by sea or land -
Small, lowly, rugged, but
All claims of love, of home, or food, fulfilled -
Why were you not content?
Your sap was sound and did its work;
Why did you dream of veins instilled
With bluer blood?
Why seek to loose still waters pent
Of evolution's flood -
Like human brothers of far later times
And other climes,
Along more restless ways!
* * * * *
So sped the years!
Until by hap, one day,
A pirate tough, from the Phoenician main,
His raiment with your yellow life-blood chanced to stain -
He spat, and roundly swore!
But, gazing where the smear had erstwhile been: -
Great Isis! It had turned to green!
Some moments passed, and lo! a purple hue
Met his astounded view!
It was enough. Your doom was sealed!
To mark their costly sails
How many million gouging fids
must prick and prod
Your tender tissues, squirming snails!
How many hundred of your race
Must quivering lie ere man may trace
A single Tyrian hem to grace
A toga or trabea:
How many thousands meet their fate
To dye one purple robe of state
An Emperor wears!
* * * * *
Thus fled the years!
Until at length your purple pride was purged;
And from the penance of those blood-stained tears
Relief, so long delayed, appears!
Oh! whence the savior who should set you free?
For Rome, long dead, no help could now decree;
Nor yet the Syrian main
That, for interminable years,
Had fattened on your pain;
No Wilberforce 1, with pity for unhuman pain
In these late years of grace,
Was ever destined to maintain
His cudgels for your race: -
Strange paradox of chance!
Your proxies stepped from off their stage
Millions of years ago: -
Forgotten trees 2
That bravely bent
To carboniferous breeze!
Your Court of Justice - just a 'lab,'
Perhaps in Pimlico!
From tyranny of Tyre released
By distillates of tar,
Your fated race can fare them forth
Beneath a happier star,
And gain once more
The freedom of their sunkissed shore.
Exiguous mollusc, fare you well!
Your dye was fast -
To justify your past:
Not soon shall fade
The memory of the bitter price you paid
For your blue blood -
Small gastropod -
Through such long years!