Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE BEAST, by KAREN SWENSON

Poetry Explorer

Classic and Contemporary Poetry

THE BEAST, by                     Poet's Biography
First Line: The teak is carved, fine as mantilla lace
Last Line: The cupped hands of love, to change the beast within.
Subject(s): Burma; Fables; Love; Prudence; Allegories; Caution

The teak is carved, fine as mantilla lace,
dark with alien iconography.
Rummaging for a familiar shape
among the forms that climb each other's backs
like acrobats beneath the Burmese sun,
I ask, "That carving, is that a beast who's
carrying a woman in his hairy arms?"
Among gilded temples I am told this tale:

"The King, only a daughter to his name, calls
astrologers, a colloquy of beards, to
foretell the fate they read within her face.
'She will be seized by eagle talons,' they say.
He builds a platform far from where birds nest
and orders guards to shoot all that fly near.

"The bleached bones of ten years of wings now bracelet
where she, more beautiful each year, strokes sparks
like crackling stars from the dark of her hair.
Of course, one day an eagle in a storm sweeps
down a thunderbolt, and she is gone
beyond both town and river of the kingdom.

"He drops her carelessly as any fate;
she falls a dark-haired comet through the sky,
through open arms of branches to the forest floor.
The ogre, hunting roe deer, finds her lying
among leaves bright with the berries of her blood
and lifts her head's dark burden to his breast.

"He nurses her to health and to his love,
conceals his fanged mouth and his feral eyes
with charms that cast him bright and princely
into her sight, but when their child is born
he will not stand before his son's eyes knowing
there is no spell to hide you from your blood.

"The astrologers, their beards a decade longer,
inform the King he has a living daughter
and heir beyond the river in the forest.
The King sends soldiers. Hastening with her son -
her husband's gifts of bangles gild her arms -
she leaves behind a message with her love.

"The ogre, stumbling in his fear of loss,
forgetting any incantations but
the names of his loves, follows them and calls,
and calls right to the riverbank. His son,
in terror of the strange pursuing beast,
draws his bow and strikes his father's heart.

"Lips twisted to a grimace by his fangs,
the ogre's head lies at his wife's small feet -
who in disgust at this grotesque, dead face
furls skirts, contemptuous, over his unfamiliar head
to sail with her son to her father's kingdom."

Gazing at the ogre, dark in his
teak skin, who never risked the generosity
of love and died a stranger, I remember
my Western childhood also had a beast,
but he did not evade his lady's gaze.

She watched him lapping from a pool and offered
his thirst the quenching hollow of her palms.
He drank, as humbly we must all drink from
the cupped hands of love, to change the beast within.

Discover our Poem Explanations and Poet Analyses!

Other Poems of Interest...

Home: PoetryExplorer.net