background image
between matter and principle 277
the elephants: leconte de lisle
The red sand like a sea without an edge
Flares quietly, subsided on its bed,
Undulant, fi xed, charging with copper fumes
The air where men live, past its farthest ridge.
No life and no sound. Now the lions sleep,
Full-bellied, in the backs of dens miles off ,
And a giraff e is drinking from blue springs,
In the date-grove where each night panthers creep.
Not a bird whips a passage with his wing
Down the thick air a huge sun circles through;
From time to time some boa warmed in sleep
Will stir a little, dry scales glistening.
Touched off beneath clear skies, space is aglow.
But while all lies in a slack solitude
The wrinkled elephants, making for their home,
Advance across the deserts, rude and slow.
From the horizon, masses of dull brown,
They come, holding a straight course through the dunes,
Throwing the dust; under their broad sure feet
The far sand-crests successively break down.
An aged chieftain leads them single fi le.
His hide is hard and creviced like old bark,
His skull is like a boulder, and his spine
Bows up with his least eff ort. Powerful,
Neither retarding nor increasing speed
He guides his followers to the certain goal;
Turning a sandy furrow up behind,
The dusty pilgrim bulks accept his lead.