A Tale of Two Cities

Where the sober-colored cultivator smiles
                   On his byles;
Where the cholera, the cyclone, and the crow
                  Come and go;
Where the merchant deals in indigo and tea,
                  Hides and ghi;
Where the Babu drops inflammatory hints
                  In his prints;
Stands a City—Charnock chose it—packed away
                  Near a Bay—
By the Sewage rendered fetid, by the sewer
                  Made impure,
By the Sunderbunds unwholesome, by the swamp
                   Moist and damp;
And the City and the Viceroy, as we see,
                   Don’t agree. 

Once, two hundred years ago, the trader came
                  Meek and tame.
Where his timid foot first halted, there he stayed,
                  Till mere trade
Grew to Empire, and he sent his armies forth
                  South and North
Till the country from Peshawur to Ceylon
                  Was his own.
Thus the midday halt of Charnock—more’s the pity!—
                  Grew a City.
As the fungus sprouts chaotic from its bed,
                  So it spread—
Chance-directed, chance-erected, laid and built
                   On the silt—
Palace, byre, hovel—poverty and pride—
                  Side by side;
And, above the packed and pestilential town,
                   Death looked down. 

But the Rulers in that City by the Sea
                  Turned to flee—
Fled, with each returning spring-tide from its ills
                  To the Hills.
From the clammy fogs of morning, from the blaze
                  Of old days,
From the sickness of the noontide, from the heat,
                   Beat retreat;
For the country from Peshawur to Ceylon
                  Was their own.
But the Merchant risked the perils of the Plain
                  For his gain.

Now the resting-place of Charnock, ’neath the palms,
                  Asks an alms,
And the burden of its lamentation is,
                  Briefly, this:
“Because for certain months, we boil and stew,
                  So should you.
Cast the Viceroy and his Council, to perspire
                  In our fire!”
And for answer to the argument, in vain
                  We explain
That an amateur Saint Lawrence cannot cry:—
                  “All must fry!”
That the Merchant risks the perils of the Plain
                   For gain.
Nor can Rulers rule a house that men grow rich in,
                   From its kitchen. 

Let the Babu drop inflammatory hints
                  In his prints;
And mature—consistent soul—his plan for stealing
                  To Darjeeling:
Let the Merchant seek, who makes his silver pile,
                  England’s isle;
Let the City Charnock pitched on—evil day!—
                   Go Her way.
Though the argosies of Asia at Her doors
                  Heap their stores,
Though Her enterprise and energy secure
                   Income sure,
Though “out-station orders punctually obeyed”
                  Swell Her trade—
Still, for rule, administration, and the rest,
                  Simla’s best.

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