Verse > Rudyard Kipling > Verse: 1885–1918
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Rudyard Kipling (1865–1936).  Verse: 1885–1918.  1922.
 
Poseidon’s Law
 
WHEN the robust and Brass-bound Man commissioned first for sea
His fragile raft, Poseidon laughed, and “Mariner,” said he,
“Behold, a Law immutable I lay on thee and thine,
That never shall ye act or tell a falsehood at my shrine.
 
“Let Zeus adjudge your landward kin whose votive meal and salt        5
At easy-cheated altars win oblivion for the fault,
But you the unhoodwinked wave shall test—the immediate gulf condemn—
Except ye owe the Fates a jest, be slow to jest with them.
 
“Ye shall not clear by Greekly speech, nor cozen from your path
The twinkling shoal, the leeward beach, or Hadria’s white-lipped wrath;        10
Nor tempt with painted cloth for wood my fraud-avenging hosts;
Nor make at all, or all make good, your bulwarks and your boasts.
 
“Now and henceforward serve unshod, through wet and wakeful shifts,
A present and oppressive God, but take, to aid, my gifts—
The wide and windward-opening eye, the large and lavish hand,        15
The soul that cannot tell a lie—except upon the land!”
 
In dromond and in catafract—wet, wakeful, windward-eyed—
He kept Poseidon’s Law intact (his ship and freight beside),
But, once discharged the dromond’s hold, the bireme beached once more,
Splendaciously mendacious rolled the Brass-bound Man ashore.        20
 
The thranite now and thalamite are pressures low and high,
And where three hundred blades bit white the twin-propellers ply.
The God that hailed, the keel that sailed, are changed beyond recall,
But the robust and Brass-bound Man he is not changed at all!
 
From Punt returned, from Phormio’s Fleet, from Javan and Gadire,        25
He strongly occupies the seat about the tavern fire,
And, moist with much Falernian or smoked Massilian juice,
Revenges there the Brass-bound Man his long-enforced truce!
 
 
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