A Camel Driver [poem by Louis Esson]

[Editor: This poem by Louis Esson was published in Bells and Bees: Verses (1910).]

A Camel Driver

Where the Never Never
Sands of Fate unroll
Phantom lake and river,
Mirage of the soul,
There a camel driver gropes in vain endeavour.

Mecca-ward he sets
Swart face, travel smeared,
Gripping amulets.
By the Prophet’s Beard!
Golden mosques are lifting sapphire minarets.

(No more willy-willies
Flee the mad monsoon;
And no more red lilies
Flush the lone lagoon.
Water-bags are empty, and the desert still is.)

Hark! the bulbul sings
From the pepul tree
Of enchanted things
When the soul breaks free.
Black tents, desert driven, fold their weary wings.

There strut peacocks bright,
Roses shed perfume;
Marble steps, snow white,
Lead to bowers of bloom.
O Imtiaz Mahal, Garden of Delight!

And his hot eyes trace
’Neath green tamarisks,
Like gazelles for grace,
Unveiled odalisques.
Sweet rose-water fountains spray his burning face.

Allah judges best.
Holy wells and palms
Soothe and shade the Blest.
Pains are mixed with balms:
In the desert, fountains; after travel, rest.

In the Never Never
Dervish-dancing sands,
Lord of Fate, forever
Freed from fleshly bands
Soul released, an Afghan leaves the world’s endeavour.

Louis Esson, Bells and Bees: Verses, Melbourne: Thomas C. Lothian, 1910, [pages 17-18]

Editor’s notes:
Allah = the name of God, as used in the religion of Islam

bower = a shaded, leafy resting place or shelter, usually located within a garden or park and often made of latticework upon which plants (especially vines) are grown, or made out of intertwined tree boughs or vines (also known as an “arbor”) (“bower” may also refer to a country cottage or retreat, or to a woman’s bedroom or apartments in a medieval castle or mansion)

bulbul = a song bird mentioned in ancient Persian poetry, believed to be a nightingale; also, a songbird of the family Pycnonotidae, found in tropical Africa and Asia

Dervish = a member of an Islamic religious order, who take vows of poverty, and who are known for the religious custom of seeking religious ecstasy via wild spinning dances (hence the term “whirling Dervishes”)

Imtiaz Mahal = (also known as the Rang Mahal, or “Painted Palace”), located in the gardens of the Lall Killa (Red Fort, or Red Palace), built by the Emperor Shahjahan (1592-1666) in the city of Shahjahanabad (now known as Old Delhi), in India (Imtiaz Mahal was also the name given to an Empress of the Mughal Empire, the wife of the Emperor Jahandar Shah (1661-1713); also known by her birth name, Lal Kunwar)
See: 1) Henry George Keene, The Fall of the Moghul Empire, New Delhi: Atlantic Publishers and Distributors, 2000, pages 10-11
2) Jonathan M. Bloom and Sheila S. Blair (editors), The Grove Encyclopedia of Islamic Art and Architecture, vol. 1, New York: Oxford University Press, 2009, pages 10-11
3) Mayank Austen Soofi, “City Monument – Rang Mahal, Red Fort”, The Delhi Walla, 6 June 2011
4) “Shah Jahan”, Wikipedia
5) “Imtiaz Mahal”, Wikipedia

Mecca = a city in Saudi Arabia; being the birthplace of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, it is regarded by Muslims as a holy city, and is visited annually by millions of Muslims, especially during the Islamic month of Dhu al-Hijjah; by tradition, Muslims pray in the direction of Mecca; also, a place that is regarded as a centre or focal point for any group of people may be called a “mecca” (e.g. “Hollywood is a mecca for actors”)

’neath = beneath

Never Never = remote and isolated sparsely-inhabited desert country in Australia (may be rendered with or without a hyphen)

odalisque = a female concubine in a harem, particularly a concubine of a sultan of the Ottoman Empire; a female slave; a concubine or mistress of a rich man (also spelt “odalisk”)

pepul tree = Ficus religiosa (religious fig), a species of fig tree, native to the Indian subcontinent

swart = dark in color (as an adjective, “swarthy”)

willy-willy = a whirlwind which occurs in desert areas (plural: willy-willies); dust storm; also, a severe tropical cyclone

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