Malaria

A poem by Laurence Hope (Adela Florence Cory Nicolson)

He lurks among the reeds, beside the marsh,
Red oleanders twisted in His hair,
His eyes are haggard and His lips are harsh,
Upon His breast the bones show gaunt and bare.

The green and stagnant waters lick His feet,
And from their filmy, iridescent scum
Clouds of mosquitoes, gauzy in the heat,
Rise with His gifts: Death and Delirium.

His messengers: They bear the deadly taint
On spangled wings aloft and far away,
Making thin music, strident and yet faint,
From golden eve to silver break of day.

The baffled sleeper hears th' incessant whine
Through his tormented dreams, and finds no rest
The thirsty insects use his blood for wine,
Probe his blue veins and pasture on his breast.

While far away He in the marshes lies,
Staining the stagnant water with His breath,
An endless hunger burning in His eyes,
A famine unassuaged, whose food is Death.

He hides among the ghostly mists that float
Over the water, weird and white and chill,
And peasants, passing in their laden boat,
Shiver and feel a sense of coming ill.

A thousand burn and die; He takes no heed,
Their bones, unburied, strewn upon the plain,
Only increase the frenzy of His greed
To add more victims to th' already slain.

He loves the haggard frame, the shattered mind,
Gloats with delight upon the glazing eye,
Yet, in one thing, His cruelty is kind,
He sends them lovely dreams before they die;

Dreams that bestow on them their heart's desire,
Visions that find them mad, and leave them blest,
To sink, forgetful of the fever's fire,
Softly, as in a lover's arms, to rest.

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