The Lay of the Ancient Space-Marine.

 

It is an ancient space-marine,

and he stoppeth one of five.

"By thy long thin beard of mouldy green,

"what keepeth thee alive?

 

"Now, do be good, and let me past,

"my sister's being wed.

"All morning have I kept my fast,

"the better to be fed."

 

He holds him with a grip of steel

and stares him in the eye,

and listens to his hungry squeal

- he smells a baking pie.

 

The wedding guest he sits and weeps,

he cannot help but hear.

The spaceman's tongue, and iron lung,

are inches from his ear.

 

The ship was cheered, the platform cleared,

merrily did we rise

above the high ionosphere

and off into the skies.

 

The sun came out upon the left,

out of the sea came he,

which of its scientific base bereft

all our astronomee.

 

Higher and higher every day

and higher yet again -

The wedding guest here beat his breast,

he suffered hunger's pain.

 

The bride has paced into the hall,

the speeches are half said;

the guest must have some morsel small

to stop him dropping dead.

 

But thus spake on the space marine,

his two eyes swinging free:

and now the meteors were seen,

one and two and three,

and all of them, wide, tall or lean,

were coming straight at me!

 

I screamed, and panicked quietly,

throwing the seats around,

wishing with all my heart to be

safely upon the ground.

 

The rocks came bouncing from the sky,

and we grew wondrous cold,

and ice, mast high, came floating by,

as green as stagnant mould.

 

Oft they came tumbling fast and thick

and left the walls all gnarled-

"Old man, I find you make me sick!"

the listener here snarled.

 

We were the first thro' space to burst

to reach another sun.

The crew, I fear, did fall from grace

when we had just begun.

 

To get to Vega straight and true

the course I had to plot,

and all the crew for certain knew

what I, alas!, did not.

The only way to smile right through

was nightly to get 'shot'.

 

Our speed was such we could not touch

more near the speed of light.

And yet they found it still too much

to play cards all the night.

Often grey loneliness' clutch

causéd the men to fight.

 

Ten to the power fifty-two

the distance was in miles.

My estimates that we'd get through

within three years raised smiles.

 

But yet the men drank booze in cans

and drank yet more in bottles,

and blotted out the great expanse

with pinks and greys and mottles.

 

Their friends in time of this great crime

(I mean the drink of liquor)

were elephants of pink and lime-

-the wedding guest felt sicker.

 

-and mice of green, and snakes of red,

and Charlie Jones the boss

(I speak in tones of woe and dread)

dreamed up an albatross!

 

 

It followed us around the ship,

and seemed as real as wood.

It bit the mate, right where he sate,

and ate up all our food.

 

This seemed a strange and fateful thing-

-he raised a finger gnarly.

"Didst think," the wedding guest did sing,

"that it might just be Charlie-"

 

The space-marine he took no note,

but hit him on the skull,

and raved on when he had him smote,

I killed that big sea gull!

 

The wedding guest said nothing more,

flat on his back was he.

The old man beat upon the shore

as like a mighty sea.

 

An irresistible onslaught

he made on drinking beer

(which, as it might offend your thought,

I shall not set down here).

 

The sun now rose upon the right,

out of the black came he;

which shows how beer affects the sight

of drinkers on a spree.

 

With creeping things that walk on legs

the very walls did crawl,

and yet they opened up the kegs,

the big ones and the small.

 

Day after day, day after day,

they stank, nor breath nor motion,

like water-loggéd wrecks which stray

upon an amber ocean.

 

And I now did an hellish thing,

and it did work 'em woe.

While with the bottles they did sing

I smashed them with a blow!

 

And now the bird, I now averred,

is gone into the mist.

And that is all I saw or heard

before the captain's fist.

'Twas right, the crewmen all concurred,

to strike him with your fist.

 

I knew that they could last three years

much better if not drunk,

but I began to have my fears

- they tied me in my bunk.

 

Fot I had done an awful deed,

they spake in accents sinking.

And now they had to take their feed

and not do any drinking.

 

And now their bodies all uprose

all sober and awake;

without red nose, each man now froze,

and many even spake.

 

The captain steered, the ship moved on,

yet never a breeze upblew.

- The wedding guest he gave a groan,

"In space they never do!"

 

The spacers all 'gan work like fools,

as they were wont to do.

They raised their limbs like lifeless tools;

we were a ghastly crew.

 

But soon the toll of space was felt

and eke the lack of drink.

We scarce were past Orion's Belt

when men began to sink.

 

The Wedding guest was now resigned,

the food was nearly gone.

He felt, when all the rest had dined,

a pounding in his scone.

 

"Well, now, old fool," he sadly cried,

"I see you did get back.

"I have enjoyed this mental ride,

"now let me hit the sack."

He spake thus, but anon he sighed;

the other held him back.

 

This very morning did we come

back from a galaxee,

beyond the star, the farthest star,

that other man did see.

 

The guest now spake in quiet tone,

his voice was like a gong.

"If you were young when you left home,

"how come you took so long?"

 

 

He blusheth, and with reddened hue,

confesseth all his wrong.

Not six years round, but sixty-two,

we took ten times too long!

 

How my great error I did rue!

I found the distance not to be

ten to the power fifty-two,

but to the fifty-three!