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Sea Unicorns and Land UnicornsEdit

English originalEdit

Olaus Magnus Carta marina sea-unicorn

A sea unicorn on Olaus Magnus's Carta marina published in 1539

with their respective lions–
“mighty monoceroses with immeasured tayle–”
these are those very animals
described by the cartographers of 1539,
defiantly revolving
in such a way that the hard steel
in the long keel of white exhibited in tumbling,
disperses giant weeds
and those sea snakes whose forms looped in the foam, “disquiet shippers.”
Not ignorant of how a voyager obtained the horn of a sea unicorn
to give to Queen Elizabeth
who thought it worth a hundred thousand pounds,
they persevere in swimming where they like,
finding the place where lions live in herds,
strewn on the beach like stones with lesser stones–
and bears are white;
discovering Antarctica, its penguin kings and icy spires,
and Sir John Hawkins’ Florida
“abounding in land unicorns and lions,
since where the one is,
its arch enemy cannot be missing.”
Thus personalities by nature much opposed,
can be combined in concert such
that when they do agree, their unanimity is great,
“in politics, in trade, law, sport, religion,
china collecting, tennis, and church going.”
You have remarked this fourfold combination of strange animals,
upon embroideries,
enwrought with polished garlands of agreeing difference–
thorns, “myrtle rods, and shafts of bay,”
“cobwebs, and knotts, and mulberries”
of lapis lazuli and pomegranate and malachite–
britannia’s sea unicorn with its rebellious child
now ostentatiously indigenous of the new English coast
and its land lion oddly tolerant of those pacific counterparts to it,
the water lions of the west.
This is a strange fraternity–these sea lions and land lions,
land unicorns and sea-unicorns:
the lion civilly rampant,
tame and concessive like the long-tailed bear of Ecuador–
the lion standing up against this screen of woven air
which is the forest:
the unicorn also, on its hind legs in reciprocity.
A puzzle to the hunters, is this haughtiest of beasts,
to be distinguished from those born without a horn,
in use like St Jerome’s tame lion, as domestics,
rebelling proudly at the dogs
which are dismayed by the chain lightning
playing at them from its horn–
the dogs persistent in pursuit of it as if it could be caught,
“deriving agreeable terror” from its “moonbeam throat”
on fire like its white coat and unconsumed as if of salamander’s skin.
So wary as to disappear for centuries and reappear,
yet never to be caught,
the unicorn has been preserved
by an unmatched device
wrought like the work of expert blacksmiths,
with which nothing can compare–
this animal of that one horn
throwing itself upon which headforemost from a cliff,
it walks away unharmed;
proficient in this feat, which like Herodotus,
I have not seen except in pictures.
Thus this strange animal with its miraculous elusiveness,
has come to be unique,
“impossible to take alive,”
tamed only by a lady inoffensive like itself–
as curiously wild and gentle;
“as straight and slender as the crest,
or antlet of the one-beam’d beast,”
Upon the printed page,
also by word of mouth,
we have a record of it all
and how, unfearful of deceit,
etched like an equine monster on an old cestial map,
beside a cloud or dress of Virgin-Mary blue,
improved “all over slightly with snakes of Venice gold,
and silver, and some O’s,”
the unicorn “with pavon high,” approached eagerly;
until engrossed by what appears of this strange enemy,
upon the map, “upon her lap,”
its “mild wild head doth lie.”

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