The Opium Pipe [poem by Louis Esson]

[Editor: This poem by Louis Esson was published in Red Gums and Other Verses (1912).]

The Opium Pipe.

Upon a mat the Chinese smoker lay
Resting his head
On bag of straw, beside a wooden tray
With quaint bowls spread,

And having filled his long-bulbed pipe, he burned
Raw opium,
Inhaled the languid smoke, and dozing yearned
For dreams to come.

He did not see the haggard girls and men
Sprawl on the floor,
Nor that impassive keeper of the den
Guarding the door,

But down the pleasant river of his dream
He glided on
Until he saw the coloured lanterns gleam
In old Canton.

He saw the rice-fields, waterfalls and rills,
The shine and shiver
Of slender bamboos, and White Cloud hills,
The soft Pearl river;

Then, crooked streets with lacquered shops arrayed,
Dim camphor trees,
Flowery pagodas, gates of milky jade,
Brown junks, grey seas;

A row of river-pirates bent and bound
With bodies swaying,
A sword flash on the Execution-ground;
And children playing,

Fantastic banners, coolies rushing by,
Old men with kites,
Pigs roasted whole, a dragon in the sky,
Confused delights,

A world created by some drowsy Djin;
Till sleep’s caress
Blotted the colours and outlines in
Forgetfulness. . . .

Mute, motionless, the merchant of cheap dreams
Guarded the door;
Pale men and women, in the lamp’s last gleams
Sprawled on the floor,

Unconscious of the passing world, withdrawn
From dreamless folk;
When, startled by a glimmer of the dawn,
The sleeper woke.

He left the den of dreams at break of day,
Unlucky he
To change the bright illusion for the grey

Louis Esson, Red Gums and Other Verses, Melbourne: Fraser & Jenkinson, 1912, pages 31-33

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