Gurgles From Hid Grot

If Charles Montagu Doughty (1843-1926) is remembered today at all, it is as the author of Travels In Arabia Deserta, a classic account of his wanderings in northern Arabia, published in 1888. One hesitates to call it influential, for it is written in a highly-wrought, archaic, often quite bonkers style that is probably inimitable. But it has, at least, been more or less constantly in print since T E Lawrence enthused about it in the 1920s – unlike Doughty’s later works, mad epics written in verse so chunky and chewy and Anglo Saxon they make virtually anything else read like pointyhead management-guff.

The titles include The Dawn In Britain (Volume One of which has been recently reissued, I discover with glee), Adam Cast Forth, The Titans, and Mansoul, Or The Riddle Of The World. For your edification and enlightenment, Mr Key has picked some of his favourite lines and phrases from Book One of the last-named. [Sic] throughout, by the way, all checked and re-checked.

Sun-stricken inhuman wasteful ground

I heard, hoarse murmuring tumult as of sea / Deeps long-maned wave-rows, beating boisterous; / And rushing billows, like to raging scour / Of ravening wolves; wide whelming on sea-cliffs. / And creaking-winged mews’ clamour, cleping loud,/ O’er long fore-shore

Of human souls such multitude He comprised; / As clustered blebs, some greater and some less; / We see oft in wind-driven floc of foam, / In day of storm, on some tempestuous strand.

I slumbered till a turtles’ gentle flock, / … folding from flight / Their rattling wings; lighted on vermeil feet; / Jetting, with mincing pace, their iris necks; / With crooling throat-bole; voice of peace and rest

Gurgles from hid grot

Broods o’er these thymy eyots drowsy hum

They sound their shrill small clarions / And hurl by booming dors, gross bee-fly kin

Dawns shrill medleyed babble of early birds ; / And Summers breath, in the bleak poplar leaves.

Whence fuming incense doth embalm his brain

Hewed as we sea-shells see within appear. / Whereon were laced, with curious device / Of antique art, in purple leathern work ; / Buskins, whose shining knops were Albans gold.

These unhewn sunless labyrinthine crypts

The temple-maiden had aforetime scruzed, / Nepenthe and clary and moly

A croc of nard, set on an aumbry shelf

Neath crumpled boughs, aye dripping baleful mist! / On sleep-compelling canker-worts beneath, / Black hellebore and rank-smelling deadly dwale / And bryony, and other more, I know not well ; / The Furies’ garden-knots ; whose snaky entrailed / Locks, wrapped about my feeble knees and feet.

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