Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE LEAPING POLL, by WILLIAM HERVEY ALLEN JR.



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THE LEAPING POLL, by            
First Line: At early morning when the earth grows cold
Last Line: Looking for death.
Alternate Author Name(s): Allen, Hervey
Subject(s): Cremation; Death; Skulls; Dead, The


At early morning when the earth grows cold,
When river mists creep up,
And those asleep are nearest death,
She died.
The feather would not flutter in her breath;
And those who long had watched her slipped away,
Too weary then to weep;
They could do that next day --
They left her lonely on the bed,
Under a long, glistening sheet, in feeble tallow-shine,
Rigid from muffled feet to swathed head.

This in old days before the Turkish cure
Had driven out the pox;
Next morning, while slave carpenters
Were hammering at the oblong box,
The sun revived her and she breathed again,
Like Lazarus, and in later years grew beautiful,
And was the mother of strong men.

These things her father, master of an ancient place,
Pondered, and read of men in antique times
Who wakened in the charnel from a trance.
Often his eyes would rest on her askance,
And fear grew on him, and strange dreams he had a-bed,
Till waking and asleep he turned his head,
Front-back, front-back, from side to side,
Looking for Death. At last, one night
He heard crisp footfalls in his room,
And stared his soul out in the gloom,
Peering until he died.

But when they broke the seals upon his will,
They found each codicil and long bequest
Was held in trust until
The heirs should carry out his last request --
To burn his body (naming witnesses);
And they, all eagerness to share,
Prepared to carry out this strange behest.

A pile of lightwood on the river bank,
Neighbors on horseback, and the slaves,
With teeth as white as eyeballs, rank on rank,
Watched on the pyre the form wrapped in a shroud,
Lonely among the lolling tongues of flames --
The smoke streamed, trailing in a saffron cloud,
The greedy noise of fire grew loud,
Then, "whiff," the shroud burned with a flare;
The dead man's eyes looked down
Like china moons upon the crowd.
They saw him slowly shake his head,
The thing denied that it was dead,
While from the blacks arose a babblement of prayer.

Surely the head must stop --
Not till the fire caved!
Then from the very top
The loosened poll came with a leap,
Bounding three times, it took the river-steep;
Down, down the river bank -- all they
Ran after it like school boys for a ball.
God! How the thing could roll!
It seemed the devil kicked the leaping poll.
At last it stopped at bay,
Staring across a tidal flat,
Where spider lilies frightened day.

They buried it within a lonesome wood,
With trembling hands, beneath a foreign stone.
But there were some who said
It moved its lips;
And when they went away, the earth stirred
And they heard it moan.
Now it comes leaping down the tunnel roads
Where the moss hangs like stalactites,
Screaming out curses, snapping at the toads;
Negroes who pass there on the moonless nights
Behind them hear a sound that stops their breath.
The keen wind whistles through its teeth,
And the white skull goes bounding by
Looking for Death.





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