08 December 2006

"The Hippopotamus"

L Sprague de Camp is well known as a science-fiction and fantasy author. (One of my favourites, in fact.) Lest Darkness Fall, the classic alternate-history tale, is still in print over sixty years after it was first published. There are the Viagens Interplanetarias books, and a lot of short stories, such as "The Gnarly Man" and "A Gun for Dinosaur." In the realm of fantasy, de Camp (and Lin Carter) wrote a lot of Conan tales, vastly expanding the series begun by Robert E Howard; there are also the Harold Shea stories, written with Fletcher Pratt. And there are even non-fiction books, including The Great Monkey Trial, Great Cities of the Ancient World and The Ancient Engineers.

So when I found out he had written a poem about a hippopotamus, I just had to read it....


The bulbous hippopotamus: it looks so slow and mild,
One sees it as a funny beast that wouldn't hurt a child,
But it is something other when one meets it in the wild.

When I was in Uganda, "on safari" as they say,
We stopped to watch a hippo who was tucking in some hay,
And George and I took cameras, and we left the Chevrolet.

We stalked the stout behemoth with alert and stealthy tread.
At thirty yards we halted as the hippo raised its head
And shot a surly glance at us, ere once again it fed.

The buzz and click of cameras then aroused the burly brute;
It champed its jaws and bounded at us with a thunderous hoot,
And George and I like rabbits ran, the hippo in pursuit.

We jumped into our auto and we slammed the Chevvy's door;
The hippo turned and waddled off to gorge on grass some more.
But then for days the ladies with us begged for an encore.

They'd have their cameras ready, so they said, but we refused.
We found one chase was quite enough to keep us both amused,
So we would take the photographs, while they some beast abused!

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