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Robert Graves (1895–1985). Fairies and Fusiliers. 1918.

37. The Bough of Nonsense


BACK from the Somme two Fusiliers

Limped painfully home; the elder said,

S.“Robert, I’ve lived three thousand years

This Summer, and I’m nine parts dead.”

R.“But if that’s truly so,” I cried, “quick, now,

Through these great oaks and see the famous bough

”Where once a nonsense built her nest

With skulls and flowers and all things queer,

In an old boot, with patient breast

Hatching three eggs; and the next year…”

S.“Foaled thirteen squamous young beneath, and rid

Wales of drink, melancholy, and psalms, she did.”

Said he, “Before this quaint mood fails,

We’ll sit and weave a nonsense hymn,”

R.“Hanging it up with monkey tails

In a deep grove all hushed and dim.…”

S.“To glorious yellow-bunched banana-trees,”

R.“Planted in dreams by pious Portuguese,”

S.“Which men are wise beyond their time,

And worship nonsense, no one more.”

R.“Hard by, among old quince and lime,

They’ve built a temple with no floor,”

S.“And whosoever worships in that place,

He disappears from sight and leaves no trace.”

R.“Once the Galatians built a fane

To Sense: what duller God than that?”

S.“But the first day of autumn rain

The roof fell in and crushed them flat.”

R.“Ay, for a roof of subtlest logic falls

When nonsense is foundation for the walls.”

I tell him old Galatian tales;

He caps them in quick Portuguese,

While phantom creatures with green scales

Scramble and roll among the trees.

The hymn swells; on a bough above us sings

A row of bright pink birds, flapping their wings.