The Outpost

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<poem> When evening cools the yellow stream,

     And shadows stalk the jungle’s ways,
     Zimbabwe’s palace flares ablaze

For a great King who fears to dream.

For he alone of all mankind

     Waded the swamp that serpents shun;
     And struggling toward the setting sun,

Came on the veldt that lies behind.

No other eyes had vented there

     Since eyes were lent for human sight—
     But there, as sunset turned to night,

He found the Elder Secret’s lair.

Strange turrets rose beyond the plain,

     And walls and bastions spread around
     The distant domes that fouled the ground

Like leprous fungi after rain.

A grudging moon writhed up to shine

     Past leagues where life can have no home;
     And paling far-off tower and dome,

Shewed each unwindowed and malign.

Then he who in his boyhood ran

     Through vine-hung ruins free of fear,
     Trembled at what he saw—for here

Was no dead, ruined seat of man.

Inhuman shapes, half-seen, half-guessed,

     Half solid and half ether-spawned,
     Seethed down from starless voids that yawned

In heav’n, to these blank walls of pest.

And voidward from that pest-mad zone

     Amorphous hordes seethed darkly back,
     Their dim claws laden with the wrack

Of things that men have dreamed and known.

The ancient Fishers from Outside—

     Were there not tales the high-priest told,
     Of how they found the worlds of old,

And took what pelf their fancy spied?

Their hidden, dread-ringed outposts brood

     Upon a million worlds of space;
     Abhorred by every living race,

Yet scatheless in their solitude.

Sweating with fright, the watcher crept

     Back to the swamp that serpents shun,
     So that he lay, by rise of sun,

Safe in the palace where he slept.

None saw him leave, or come at dawn,

     Nor does his flesh bear any mark
     Of what he met in that curst dark—

Yet from his sleep all peace has gone.

When evening cools the yellow stream,

     And shadows stalk the jungle’s ways,
     Zimbabwe’s palace flares ablaze,

For a great King who fears to dream.