In a Dispensary by Agatha Christie
Poem first published in 'The Road of Dreams' in 1925.
Oh!, who shall say where Romance is, if Romance is not here?
For here are Colour, Death and Sleep and Magic everywhere!
Glistening salts, and shimmering scales, and crystals of purest white,
High on the shelves in their spotless rows, enclosed in their bottles bright,
Salts of iron of palest green, or deepening down to brown,
And many a tincture, many a wine, from far-off lands unknown...
Light as a promise, and bitter as sin – that feathery foam, Quinine
And sedate beside it, in silver and black, the sea born Iodine;
Soon shall it merge to orange and brown in a rich and widening hue
Which perchance, in far-off Tyrian days, the old Phoenicians knew.
Here heavy syrups, thick and sweet, prepared with skill and toil,
And there distilled in precious drops, stands many a spiced oil:
Lavender, Nutmeg and Sandalwood; Cinnamon, Clove and Pine,
While above, in palest primrose hue, the Flowers of Sulphur shine.
And high on the wall, beneath lock and key the powers of the Quick and Dead:
Little low bottles of blue and green, each with a legend red.
In the depths beneath their slender necks, there is Romance, and to spare:
Oh!: who shall say where Romance is, if Romance is not here?
From the Borgias time to the present day, their power has been proved and tried:
Monkshood blue, called Aconite, and the deadly cyanide!
Here is sleep and solace and soothing of pain – courage and vigour new:
Here is menace and murder and sudden death – in these phials of green and blue:
Here are copper salts that shame the heavens and sparkle deep and blue,
And never a Mediterranean Sea shall match their Sapphire hue:
And oh: the many dazzling dyes – the golden-hued Flavine
And the fine bronze dust that shall turn at will to a glory of Brilliant Green:
A philtre of Love – a philtre of Death – were they only a Sorcerer’s lore?
To catch the pence, and trap the fool? Or were they something more?
Beware of the Powers that never die, though Men may go their way,
The Power of the Drug, for good or ill, shall it ever pass away?