Even though Star Steeds and Other Dreams contains more than a hundred of my poems, there are many others that still await publication. This is one of them. As a child, one of my favourite stories in Rudyard Kipling's Second Jungle Book was 'The King's Ankus' (the subject of Zdenek Burian's painting above), featuring an agèd white cobra guarding a priceless but long-abandoned treasure trove of untold riches concealed amid the depths of the jungle. Here is my tribute to that still-proud yet etiolated ophidian warden.
THE WHITE COBRA
Here, 'midst the heat and the steam of the jungle,
I see you, white worm, embittered by hate.
Ruby-fire eyes glowing brightly as embers,
Deep in the darkness, they watch and they wait.
So you persist, poisoned guardian of treasures
Hidden below in your caverns of gloom,
Vaults long abandoned, avoided, forgotten.
Now your pale presence embodies their doom.
No-one dares venture to pillage or plunder,
Still are the caskets encrusted with gold,
Scattered the gemstones like stars cast from Heaven -
Gifts for the gods that no mortal shall hold.
Yet should men find you, encoiled in the silence,
Then would they see that your power long has gone –
Empty the sockets where fangs once bled venom,
Withered by age, only pride lingers on.
Older than time are you, impotent serpent,
Spanning the ages no others shall see,
White as the sun that has bleached you forever,
Ivory sentinel, ever to be
Hooded and poised, though the world has passed by you,
Dust and decay wait upon you in thrall.
Yet you live on, with that chill heart still beating.
Life holds scant terror; and death, none at all