The Marvelous Munchausen

Poem By William Rose Benet

The snug little room with its brazier fire aglow,
And Piet and Sachs and Vroom — all in the long ago, —
Oh, the very long ago! — o'er their pipes and hollands seen;
And on the wall the man-o'-war, and firelight on the screen!

Their flowered, bulging waistcoats that wrinkle when they chuckle;
The baron, much-mustachioed, and gay with star and buckle,
And bristling in a uniform as scarlet as his cheeks,
With choker lace beneath his chin, and splendid, yellow breeks!

The smoke drifts blue, and bluer through that window, all abreeze,
Are glinting sky and glistening sea beyond the Holland quays.
Blue tiles, red bricks, the bustling wharves, with color's oriflamme;
Starched caps and rosy-posy cheeks — the girls of Amsterdam!

The snug little room with its brazier fire aglow!
Oh, listen, will he tell them, as he told them long ago, —
Oh, very long ago, a-laughing in his sleeve! —
The marvelous Munchausen, with the fables I believe?

. . . . . . . .

'When I had sown the Turkey beans that reachéd to the moon,
And lifted all Westminster in the sling from my balloon
(Swung over the Atlantic,
They peered from windows, franctic),
When, eagle-back, I'd scanned the pole in broad, eternal noon,

'In Queen Mab's chariot I ventured on the sea.
'Twas like a mammoth hazelnut, with matchless orrery
A-sparkle on its ceiling,
With planet systems wheeling
And giddy comets sizzling all about the head o' me.

'The nine bulls drew it, as stout as those of Crete,
And all were shod with horrid skulls that clattered on their feet.
Rich banners waved behind 'em
While on their backs, to mind 'em,
Postilion crickets chirruped them, all chirping loud and sweet.

'Ghost of the Cape I warn you of, for he is bottle-blue.
We split his Table Mountain. He gibbered and he flew.
The bulls straight showed disfeature
With gazing on the creature,
Stampeding in their harness when I gave the view-halloo.

'Though, wrecked on Egypt's obelisks, disaster I defied,
And harnessed Sphinx, the emperor's gift, to tow an ark as wide
As great Westminster;
With beau and bell and spinster,
And cleric, clerk, and coronet all tête-à-tête inside.

''Good folk, we sail for Africa,' said I to all my train.
'When bold Munchausen leads you forth, what laggard dares remain
In slippered ease, uncaring
To share my deeds of daring?'
Their cheers amazed my modesty, and more had made me vain.

''The sultan's bees I've shepherded. I've hornpiped at Marseilles,
Where gulped me down, well nigh to drown, the liveliest of whales.
I'm riskiest of riskers,
But, blow my grizzled whiskers!'
I cried, 'May jackals gnaw my bones if now Munchausen fails!'

'By night the lions roared at us. By day the simoons came
And swept across our caravan in sandy clouds of flame;
But naught dismayed our temper, or
The genial Afric emperor
Had missed my handsome greeting, to his long-abiding shame.

'The people of the Mountains of the Moon I wined and dined.
I reigned at Gristariska when His Majesty declined.
Reforms I wrought untiring,
With Gog and Magog squiring,
And Frosticos, my bosom friend, who lent a legal mind.

'For last superb achievement, — bright tears may Envy shed! —
I built a bridge, from Africa to distant England spread.
No edifice of fable,
Nay, not the Tower of Babel,
Surpassed it mammoth glory in the heavens overhead.

'So back across its noble arch my retinue and I
Advanced with blaring trumpets through the regions of the sky.
Clouds lingered to enwreathe us,
Earth's kingdoms far beneath us,
And martial music cheered our march from all the birds that fly.'

. . . . . . . .

The snug little room with its brazier fire aglow,
And Piet and Sachs and Vroom all sleeping long ago, —
Oh, so very long ago! — and, chuckling in his sleeve,
Still o'er the slumbering table,
Drone-droning on his fable,
The marvelous Munchausen, with the stories I believe!

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