Eight Speech

OCTOPUS

By Algernon Charles Sin-burn

STRANGE beauty, eight-limbed and eight-handed,
    Whence camest to dazzle our eyes?
With thy bosom bespangled and banded
    With the hues of the seas and the skies;
Is thy home European or Asian,
    O mystical monster marine?
Part molluscous and partly crustacean,
    Betwixt and between.

Wast thou born to the sound of sea trumpets,
    Hast thou eaten and drunk to excess
Of the sponges — thy muffins and crumpets;
    Of the seaweed — thy mustard and cress?
Wast thou nurtured in caverns of coral,
    Remote from reproof or restraint?
Art thou innocent, art thou immoral,
    Sinburnian or Saint?

Lithe limbs, curling free, as a creeper
    That creeps in a desolate place,
To enroll and envelop the sleeper
    In a silent and stealthy embrace,
Cruel beak craning forward to bite us,
    Our juices to drain and to drink,
Or to whelm us in waves of Cocytus,
    Indelible ink!

O breast, that ’twere rapture to writhe on!
    O arms, ’twere delicious to feel
Clinging close with the crush of the Python,
    When she maketh her murderous meal!
In thy eightfold embraces enfolden,
    Let our empty existence escape;
Give us death that is glorious and golden,
    Crushed all out of shape!

Ah! thy red lips, lascivious and luscious,
    With death in their amorous kiss,
Cling round us, and clasp us, and crush us,
    With bitings of agonized bliss;
We are sick with the poison of pleasure,
    Dispense us the potion of pain;
Ope thy mouth to its uttermost measure
    And bite us again!

Arthur Clement Hilton (1851–77), written at the Crystal Palace Aquarium.

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