The Upas Tree


Deep in the withering desert wastes.
On the ground the sun has scorched and blistered,
The Upas stands on guard; its face,
To the whole unpeopled world, is pitiless.

In a day of wrath it was conceived.
Nature from her parching steppe-land
Learned to envenom roots and leaves;
Grim is its green, and its sap deadly.

The poison surges and melts at noon,
Trickling through where the bark will suffer it,
And evening congeals this resinous bloom
To ropy glittering beads and gutterings.

Bird’s wing never touched this tree,
Nor tiger’s paw – only the tornado
Darkens the dreaded trunk and receives
Its venom even in whirling to evade it.

And if a cloud should wander by,
And water these rank leaves in passing,
The rain, to sand that burns life fire,
Drops poisoned from the burning branches.

And yet a man by a man was sent
To the upas-tree; a gla once was an order;
He bowed, and went on his way, and fetched
The poison back with the coming of morning.

He came back with ooze, the seepage, the death,
Carrying a branch of that blighted foliage,
And down from his blanched brow the sweat
Was pouring in streams, appallingly, coldly;

He came back – and collapsed, and fell, and lay
On the floor of bast in the tend in the desert
And died the helpless death of a slave
At the feet of his lord whose power was perfect.

And this prince took the poison, and fed
With that his unreluctant arrows
And with those arrows sent out death
To multiply his neighbours sorrows.

Designed and Managed by for The Pushkin Prizes