Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE BATTLE OF THE PIGMIES AND THE CRANES, by JAMES BEATTIE



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THE BATTLE OF THE PIGMIES AND THE CRANES, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: The pigmy people, and the feather'd train
Last Line: And fairy-people is the name they love.
Subject(s): Pygmies


THE Pigmy people, and the feather'd train,
Mingling in mortal combat on the plain,
I sing. Ye Muses, favour my designs,
Lead on my squadrons and arrange the lines;
The flashing swords and fluttering wings display,
And long bills nibbling in the bloody fray;
Cranes darting with disdain on tiny foes,
Conflicting birds and men, and war's unnumber'd woes!
The wars and woes of heroes six feet long
Have oft resounded in Pierian song.
Who has not heard of Colchos' golden fleece,
And Argo mann'd with all the flower of Greece?
Of Thebes' fell brethren; Theseus stern of face;
And Peleus' son, unrivall'd in the race;
Eneas, founder of the Roman line,
And William, glorious on the banks of Boyne?
Who has not learn'd to weep at Pompey's woes,
And over Blackmore's epic page to doze?
'Tis I, who dare attempt unusual strains,
Of hosts unsung, and unfrequented plains;
The small shrill trump, and chiefs of little size,
And armies rushing down the darken'd skies.
Where India reddens to the early dawn,
Winds a deep vale from vulgar eye withdrawn:
Bosom'd in groves the lowly region lies,
And rocky mountains round the border rise.
Here, till the doom of fate its fall decreed,
The empire flourish'd of the pigmy breed;
Here Industry perform'd, and Genius plann'd,
And busy multitudes o'erspread the land.
But now to these lone bounds if pilgrim stray,
Tempting through craggy cliffs the desperate way,
He finds the puny mansion fallen to earth,
Its godlings mouldering on the abandon'd hearth;
And starts where small white bones are spread around,
"Or little footsteps lightly print the ground;"
While the proud crane her nest securely builds,
Chattering amid the desolated fields.
But different fates befell her hostile rage,
While reign'd invincible through many an age
The dreaded pigmy: roused by war's alarms,
Forth rush'd the madding manikin to arms.
Fierce to the field of death the hero flies;
The faint crane fluttering flaps the ground and dies;
And by the victor borne (o'erwhelming load!)
With bloody bill loose-dangling marks the road.
And oft the wily dwarf in ambush lay,
And often made the callow young his prey;
With slaughter'd victims heap'd his board, and smiled,
To avenge the parent's trespass on the child.
Oft, where his feather'd foe had rear'd her nest,
And laid her eggs and household gods to rest,
Burning for blood in terrible array,
The eighteen-inch militia burst their way:
All went to wreck; the infant foeman fell,
Whence scarce his chirping bill had broke the shell.
Loud uproar hence and rage of arms arose,
And the fell rancour of encountering foes;
Hence dwarfs and cranes one general havoc whelms,
And Death's grim visage scares the pigmy realms.
Not half so furious blazed the warlike fire
Of mice, high theme of the Maeonian lyre;
When bold to battle march'd the accoutred frogs,
And the deep tumult thunder'd through the bogs.
Pierced by the javelin bulrush on the shore
Here agonizing roll'd the mouse in gore;
And there the frog (a scene full sad to see!)
Shorn of one leg, slow sprawl'd along on three;
He vaults no more with vigorous hops on high,
But mourns in hoarsest croaks his destiny.
And now the day of woe drew on apace,
A day of woe to all the pigmy race,
When dwarfs were doom'd (but penitence was vain)
To rue each broken egg, and chicken slain.
For, roused to vengeance by repeated wrong,
From distant climes the long-bill'd legions throng:
From Strymon's lake, Cayster's plashy meads,
And fens of Scythia, green with rustling reeds;
From where the Danube winds through many a land,
And Mareotis leaves the Egyptian strand;
To rendezvous they waft on eager wing,
And wait, assembled, the returning spring.
Meanwhile they trim their plumes for length of flight,
Whet their keen beaks and twisting claws for fight:
Each crane the pigmy power in thought o'erturns,
And every bosom for the battle burns.
When genial gales the frozen air unbind,
The screaming legions wheel, and mount the wind;
Far in the sky they form their long array,
And land and ocean stretch'd immense survey
Deep, deep beneath; and, triumphing in pride
With clouds and winds commix'd, innumerous ride.
'Tis wild obstreperous clangour all, and heaven
Whirls, in tempestuous undulation driven.
Nor less the alarm that shook the world below,
Where march'd in pomp of war the embattled foe:
Where manikins with haughty step advance,
And grasp the shield, and couch the quivering lance:
To right and left the lengthening lines they form,
And rank'd in deep array await the storm.
High in the midst the chieftain-dwarf was seen,
Of giant stature and imperial mien:
Full twenty inches tall, he strode along,
And view'd with lofty eye the wondering throng;
And while with many a scar his visage frown'd,
Bared his broad bosom, rough with many a wound
Of beaks and claws, disclosing to their sight
The glorious meed of high heroic might.
For with insatiate vengeance he pursued,
And never-ending hate, the feathery brood.
Unhappy they, confiding in the length
Of horny beak, or talon's crooked strength,
Who durst abide his rage; the blade descends,
And from the panting trunk the pinion rends:
Laid low in dust the pinion waves no more,
The trunk disfigured stiffens in its gore.
What hosts of heroes fell beneath his force!
What heaps of chicken carnage mark'd his course!
How oft, O Strymon, thy lone banks along,
Did wailing Echo waft the funeral song!
And now from far the mingling clamours rise,
Loud and more loud rebounding through the skies.
From skirt to skirt of Heaven, with stormy sway,
A cloud rolls on, and darkens all the day.
Near and more near descends the dreadful shade,
And now in battailous array display'd,
On sounding wings, and screaming in their ire,
The cranes rush onward, and the fight require.
The pigmy warriors eye with fearless glare
The host thick swarming o'er the burden'd air;
Thick swarming now, but to their native land
Doom'd to return a scanty straggling band. --
When sudden, darting down the depth of heaven,
Fierce on the expecting foe the cranes are driven,
The kindling frenzy every bosom warms,
The region echoes to the crash of arms;
Loose feathers from the encountering armies fly,
And in careering whirlwinds mount the sky.
To breathe from toil upsprings the panting crane,
Then with fresh vigour downwards darts again.
Success in equal balance hovering hangs.
Here, on the sharp spear, mad with mortal pangs,
The bird transfix'd in bloody vortex whirls,
Yet fierce in death the threatening talon curls;
There, while the life-blood bubbles from his wound,
With little feet the pigmy beats the ground:
Deep from his breast the short, short sob he draws,
And, dying, curses the keen-pointed claws.
Trembles the thundering field, thick cover'd o'er
With falchions, mangled wings, and streaming gore;
And pigmy arms, and beaks of ample size,
And here a claw, and there a finger, lies.
Encompass'd round with heaps of slaughter'd foes,
All grim in blood the pigmy champion glows;
And on the assailing host impetuous springs,
Careless of nibbling bills and flapping wings;
And 'midst the tumult wheresoe'er he turns,
The battle with redoubled fury burns;
From every side the avenging cranes amain
Throng, to o'erwhelm this terror of the plain.
When suddenly (for such the will of Jove)
A fowl enormous, sousing from above,
The gallant chieftain clutch'd, and, soaring high,
(Sad chance of battle!) bore him up the sky.
The cranes pursue, and, clustering in a ring,
Chatter triumphant round the captive king.
But, ah! what pangs each pigmy bosom wrung,
When, now to cranes a prey, on talons hung,
High in the clouds they saw their helpless lord,
His wriggling form still lessening as he soar'd.
Lo! yet again with unabated rage,
In mortal strife the mingling hosts engage.
The crane with darted bill assaults the foe,
Hovering; then wheels aloft to 'scape the blow:
The dwarf in anguish aims the vengeful wound;
But whirls in empty air the falchion round.
Such was the scene, when 'midst the loud alarms
Sublime the eternal Thunderer rose in arms,
When Briareus, by mad ambition driven,
Heaved Pelion huge, and hurl'd it high at heaven.
Jove roll'd redoubling thunders from on high,
Mountains and bolts encounter'd in the sky;
Till one stupendous ruin whelm'd the crew,
Their vast limbs weltering wide in brimstone blue.
But now at length the pigmy legions yield,
And, wing'd with terror, fly the fatal field.
They raise a weak and melancholy wail,
All in distraction scattering o'er the vale.
Prone on their routed rear the cranes descend;
Their bills bite furious, and their talons rend;
With unrelenting ire they urge the chase,
Sworn to exterminate the hated race.
'Twas thus the pigmy name, once great in war,
For spoils of conquer'd cranes renown'd afar,
Perish'd. For, by the dread decree of Heaven,
Short is the date to earthly grandeur given,
And vain are all attempts to roam beyond
Where fate has fix'd the everlasting bound.
Fallen are the trophies of Assyrian power,
And Persia's proud dominion is no more:
Yea, though to both superior far in fame,
Thine empire, Latium, is an empty name!
And now, with lofty chiefs of ancient time,
The pigmy heroes roam the Elysian clime.
Or, if belief to matron-tales be due,
Full oft, in the belated shepherd's view,
Their frisking forms, in gentle green array'd,
Gambol secure amid the moonlight glade:
Secure, for no alarming cranes molest,
And all their woes in long oblivion rest:
Down the deep vale and narrow winding way
They foot it featly, ranged in ringlets gay:
'Tis joy and frolic all, where'er they rove,
And Fairy-people is the name they love.





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