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Sunday, April 30, 2006

Other Ingredients (E. J. Pratt)

Here's a poem from the great Newfoundland poet, E. J. Pratt, (you can listen to the audio at the Internet Archive). More of his poetry can be found here. Other Ingredients is from The Witches Brew (linked version is annotated), 1926.

Other Ingredients

To make a perfect fish menu,
The witches found they had to place
Upon this alcoholic base
Great stacks of food and spices too.
Of all the things most edible
On which the souls of fish have dined,
That fish would sell their souls to find,
Most gracious to their sense of smell,
Is flesh exotic to their kind:—
Cold-blooded things yet not marine,
And not of earth, but half-between,
That live enclosed within the sand
Without the power of locomotion,
And mammal breeds whose blood is hot,
That court the sea but love it not,
That need the air but not the land,—
The Laodiceans of the ocean.
So in this spacious cauldron went
Cargoes of food and condiment.
Oysters fished from Behring Strait
Were brought and thrown in by the crate;
Spitzbergen scallops on half-shell,
Mussels, starfish, clams as well,
Limpets from the Hebrides,
Shrimps and periwinkles, these,
So celebrated as a stew,
Were meant to flavour up the brew.
Then for the more substantial fare,
The curried quarter of a tail
Hewn from a stranded Greenland whale,
A liver from a Polar bear,
A walrus’ heart and pancreas,
A blind Auk from the coast of Java,
A bull moose that had died from gas
While eating toadstools near Ungava,
One bitter-cold November day;
Five sea-lion cubs were then thrown in,
Shot by the Cretan’s javelin
In a wild fight off Uruguay,
With flippers fresh from the Azores,
Fijian kidneys by the scores,
Together with some pollywogs,
And kippered hocks of centipedes,
And the hind legs of huge bull frogs
Raked by the millions from the reeds
Of slimy Patagonian bogs.

Then before the copper lid
Was jammed upon the pyramid,
The sisters scattered on the top
Many a juicy lollipop;
Tongues from the Ganges crocodile,
Spawn from the delta of the Nile,
Hoofs of sheep and loins of goats,
Raised from foundered cattle-boats—
Titbits they knew might blend with hops,
Might strengthen rum or season rye,
From Zulu hams and Papuan chops
To filets mignons from Shanghai.
Now while volcanic fires burned,
Making the cauldron fiercely hot,
Lulu with her ladle churned
The pungent contents of the pot,
From which distinctive vapours soon
Rose palpably before the view.
Then Ardath summoned a typhoon
Which as it swooped upon the stew,
And swept around the compass, bore
To every sea and every shore
The tidings of the witches’ Feast.
And from the West and from the East,
And from the South and from the North,
From every bay and strait and run,
From the Tropics to the Arctic sun,
The Parliament of fish came forth,
Lured by a smell surpassing far
The potencies of boiling tar,
For essences were in this brew
Unknown to blubber or to glue,
And unfamiliar to the nose
Of sailors hardened as they are
To every unctuous wind that blows
From Nantucket to Baccalieu.
The crudest oil one ever lit
Was frankincense compared to it.
It entered Hades, and the airs
Resuscitated the Immortals;
It climbed the empyrean stairs
And drove St. Peter from the portals.

E. J. Pratt

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