III Down into dust and reeds at the patrolled bounds where captives thicken to gaze slither companions, wary, armed, whose torches straggle seeking charred hearths to define a road. Day, dim, laps at the shore in petulant ripples soon smoothed in night on pebbles worn by tabulation till only the shell of figures is left as fragile honeycomb breeze. Tides of day strew the shingle tides of night sweep, snoring; and some turned back, taught by dreams the year would capsize where the bank quivers, paved will gulls stunned on a cliff not hard to climb, muffled in flutter, scored by beaks, pestered by scavengers whose palms scoop droppings to mould cakes for hungry towns. One plucked fruit warm from the arse of his companion, who making to beat him, he screamed: Hastor! Hastor! but Hastor raised dung thickened lashes to stare disdaining those who cry: Sweet shit! Buy! for he swears in the market: By God with whom I lunched! there is no trash in the wheat my loaf is kneaded from. Nor will unprofitable motion stir the stink that settles round him. Leave given we would have slaughtered the turd-bakers but neither whip nor knife can welt their hide. Guides at the top claim fees though the way is random past hovels hags lean from rolling lizard eyes at boys gnawed by the wolf, past bevelled downs, grey marshes where souse in brine long rotted corpses, others, needier, sneak through saltings to snatch toe, forearm, ear, and on gladly to hills briar and bramble vest where beggars advertise rash, chancre, fistula, to hug glib shoulders, mingle herpetic limbs with stumps and cosset the mad. Some the laughing Stone disables whom giggle and snicker waste till fun suffocates them. Beyond we heard the teeming falls of the dead, saw kelts fall back long-jawed, without flesh, cruel by appetite beyond its term, straining to bright gravel spawning pools. Eddies batter them, borne down to the sea, archipelago of galaxies, zero suspending the world. Banners purple and green flash from its walls, pennants of red, orange blotched pale on blue, glimmer of ancient arms to pen and protect mankind. But we desired Macedonia, the rocky meadows, horse, barley pancakes, incest and familiar games, to end in our place by our own wars, and deemed the peak unscaleable; but he reached to a crack in the rock with some scorn, resolute though in doubt, traversed limestone to gabbro, file sharp, skinning his fingers, and granite numb with ice, in air too thin to bear up a gnat, scrutinizing holds while day lasted, groping for holds in the dark till the morning star reflected in the glazed crag and other light not of the sun dawning from above lit feathers sweeping snow and the limbs of Israfel, trumpet in hand, intent on the east, cheeks swollen to blow, whose sigh is cirrus: Yet delay! When will the signal come to summon man to his clay? Heart slow, nerves numb and memory, he lay on glistening moss by a spring; as a woodman dazed by an adder’s sting barely within recall test the rebate tossed to him, so he ascertained moss and bracken, a cold squirm snaking his flank and breath leaked to his ear: I am neither snake nor lizard, I am the slowworm. Ripe wheat is my lodging. I polish my side on pillars of its transept, gleam in its occasional light. Its swaying copies my gait. Vaults stored with slugs to relish, my quilt a litter of husks, I prosper lying low, little concerned. My eyes sharpen when I blink. Good luck to reaper and miller! Grubs adhere even to stubble. Come plow time the ditch is near. Sycamore seed twirling, O, writhe to its measure! Dust swirling trims pleasure. Thorns prance in a gale. In air snow flickers, twigs tap, elms drip. Swaggering, shimmering fall, drench and towel us all! So he rose and led home silently through clean woodland where every bough repeated the slowworm’s song.