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CROCODILE LORE Crocodile Poems

A. E. Housman (1859-1936)

C. palustris
© Adam Britton

The Crocodile or, Public Decency

Though some at my aversion smile,
I cannot love the crocodile.
Its conduct does not seem to me
Consistent with sincerity.

Where Nile, with beneficial flood,
Improves the desert sand to mud,
The infant child, its banks upon,
Will run about with nothing on.
The London County Council not
Being adjacent to the spot,
This is the consequence. Meanwhile,
What is that object in the Nile,
Which swallows water, chokes and spits?
It is the crocodile in fits.

'Oh infant! oh my country's shame!
Suppose a European came!
Picture his feelings, on his pure
Personally conducted tour!
The British Peer's averted look,
The mantling blush of Messrs. Cook!
Come, awful infant, come and be
Dressed, if nothing else, in me.'

Then disappears into the Nile
The infant, clad in crocodile,
And meekly yields his youthful breath
To darkness, decency, and death.
His mother, in the local dells,
Deplores him with Egyptian yells:
Her heiroglyphic howls are vain,
Nor will the lost return again.
The crocodile itself no less
Displays, but does not feel, distress,
And with its tears augments the Nile;
The false, amphibious crocodile.

'Is it that winds Etesian blow,
Or melts on Ethiop hills the snow?'
So, midst the inundated scene,
Inquire the floating fellaheen.
From Cairo's ramparts gazing far
The mild Khedive and stern Sirdar
Say, as they scan the watery plain,
'There goes that crocodile again.'
The copious tribute of its lids
Submerges half the pyramids,
And over all the Sphinx it flows,
Except her non-existant nose.


A. E. Housman (1859-1936)


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