Friday, August 12, 2005

The Late Passenger

The sky was low, the sounding rain was falling dense and dark,
And Noah's sons were standing at the window of the Ark.

The beasts were in, but Japhet said, 'I see one creature more
Belated and unmated there come knocking at the door.'

'Well let him knock,' said Ham, 'Or let him drown or learn to swim.
We're overcrowded as it is; we've got no room for him.'

'And yet it knocks, how terribly it knocks,' said Shem, 'Its feet
Are hard as horn--but oh the air that comes from it is sweet.'

'Now hush,' said Ham, 'You'll waken Dad, and once he comes to see
What's at the door, it's sure to mean more work for you and me.'

Noah's voice came roaring from the darkness down below,
'Some animal is knocking. Take it in before we go.'

Ham shouted back, and savagely he nudged the other two,
'That's only Japhet knocking down a brad-nail in his shoe.'

Said Noah, 'Boys, I hear a noise that's like a horse's hoof.'
Said Ham, 'Why, that's the dreadful rain that drums upon the roof.'

Noah tumbled up on deck and out he put his head;
His face went grey, his knees were loosed, he tore his beard and said,

'Look, look! It would not wait. It turns away. It takes its flight.
Fine work you've made of it, my sons, between you all to-night!

'Even if I could outrun it now, it would not turn again
--Not now. Our great discourtesy has earned its high disdain.

'Oh noble and unmated beast, my sons were all unkind;
In such a night what stable and what manger will you find?

'Oh golden hoofs, oh cataracts of mane, oh nostrils wide
With indignation! Oh the neck wave-arched, the lovely pride!

'Oh long shall be the furrows ploughed across the hearts of men
Before it comes to stable and to manger once again,

'And dark and crooked all the ways in which our race shall walk,
And shrivelled all their manhood like a flower with broken stalk,

'And all the world, oh Ham, may curse the hour when you were born;
Because of you the Ark must sail without the Unicorn.'
~C.S. Lewis, Poems, "The Late Passenger" (1948)


Fun unicorn links of the day:

Another theory about why the unicorn didn't make it onto the Ark

Sleep under a unicorn

The best unicorn book ever

A cute baby unicorn

The Unicorn Tapestries at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

5 Comment(s):

At Fri Aug 12, 07:02:00 PM EST, Anonymous KiwiKimi said...

There's something about unicorns. It's a myth that speaks very strongly to the heart.

I must confess that the poem reminded me of an old song by The Irish Rovers about why the unicorns missed the Ark :-)

We've seen the unicorn tapestries at the Cluny museum in Paris. They are amazing.

At Sun Aug 14, 06:00:00 PM EST, Blogger Joelle said...

I really like that Ark picture.

As a kid I was obsessed (example: us with LOTR) with unicorns, and gullible enought that at the time I would have believed that story to be true!

At Mon Nov 07, 08:36:00 AM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

this is one of my favourite poems and i am doing a project on it at school

At Fri Nov 02, 01:44:00 PM EDT, Blogger goldensylph said...

Always loved this poem; always thought that the unicorn was in some way representative of the Spirit of Christ...though you cannot make the parallel with this poem, of course.

At Fri Nov 02, 01:54:00 PM EDT, Blogger goldensylph said...

Love the poem. To me the unicorn as C.S. Lewis implies is representative of much more than magic, especially with the Biblical background here and Ham's indignity to the unicorn. He hints at its representation with the Spirit of God or Christ. I'm not the only one to think this; see this link. Above all, Lewis was a great Christian apologist. Mere Christianity is brilliant and very difficult for an atheist to refute...but then Lewis was an atheist before he was "Surprised by Joy," a title of one of his works.


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