Robert Pinsky reads

Whale

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Now, some words fit for a strange kin of fish:
Finned by no fish, and well worth attention,
The mighty Whale, called Phasti-Tokalon.

As he floats at his ease in ocean, seafarers
Mistake him for an island with dark beaches
Where they anchor their boats and climb ashore.

They encamp on the island, they light their fires,
Glad to be back on solid land, weary—then
Whale dives to the bottom, and all the men drown.

He pulls down the ships by their ropes to the bottom.
The Devil himself doles exactly like that,
Tricking any who think he has given them haven.

He murders them all, yes he pulls them all down
With his helm of deception and his grappling ropes.
When they think they are safe he hauls them to Hell.

There’s another trick the great Whale plays:
When he’s hungry he gapes the cave of his mouth,
And from it he issues a luscious perfume

That fools the poor fish that rush in to be eaten.
Like the wave-making Whale the Devil entices
Complicit souls with ambergris and comfort,

Then in his salt mouth spirits them away
From pleasant sunlight down to the dark, where
Hell’s gates close like the jaws of the Whale.


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