Queen of the Silk Road
Since long before the Russians shook your walls,
And ere the Prophet’s prophets spread his word,
Or Alexander feasted in your halls
And found you even fairer than he’d heard –
Your golden domes upon your golden sand
Have tempted men and kings since Darius.
Who needs the Muses when we’ve Samarkand ?
What would ye, Ladies ? It was ever thus !
I met a maiden from an ancient clan,
Who held a gaze as old as summertime,
She traded finest silks by caravan
Across the Steppes that only camels climb
I should have bid her health, and gone my way,
And never mind the henna on her hand,
But no, I had to make excuse to stay –
Men are unwise, and curiously planned.
She showed a little of her precious stock,
The bolts she brought from China to Tashkent:
She laid them out upon the desert rock,
And stroked the fibres of the Orient.
Countless caterpillars gave their lives for each,
In patterns joyfully superfluous –
Not that they care what moral they may teach:
They have their dreams and do not think of us.
We spent the chilly night beneath their thread,
As she unveiled the promise of the East –
But come the dawn, her cloths-of-heaven bed,
Like her, had fled – and I woke ached and creased.
I wonder if, in dehydrated spunk,
I’d summoned her mirage at my command –
We Englishmen, when we get hatless-drunk,
We take the golden road to Samarkand.
Two Ways to Samarkand
What wouldst thou, Flecker, it was ever thus –
Readers are wise and rhythmically planned.
They have their Road, so do not make a fuss.
They think your Journey never really scanned.
This is a sort-of rondeau redoublé, except that the first verse whose lines then get repeated as the final lines of the others is missing, and wasn’t written by me, but by James Elroy Flecker in his famous(ish) The Golden Journey to Samerkand. From what I can gather, the poem appeared both ‘album length’ in a play, and cut down to a ‘single’ containing only the last part, both of which end with the four lines I’ve borrowed here. However, different references seem to say either ‘Golden Road’ or ‘Golden Journey’ in the last line, hence my second poem. ‘Darius’ is intended to be pronounced with the enphasis on the first syllable – I realise that some people place it on the second, but that just wrecks my rhythm. Incidentally, by ‘hatless-drunk’, I mean sunstroke.