written by

« Reload image


This is of Lilith, by her Hebrew nameLady of Night: she, in the delicate framethat was of woman after, did uniteherself with Adam in unblest delight;who, uncapacious of that dreadful love,begat on her not majesty, as Jove,but the worm-brood of terrors unconfestthat chose henceforth, as their avoided nest,the mire-fed writhen thicket of the mind.She, monsterward from that embrace declined,could change her to Chimera and inspiredoubt of his garden-state, exciting higherthe arrowy impulse to dim descriedo'erhuman bliss, as after, on the wideway of his travail, with enticing strainand hint of nameless things reveal'd, a banehaunted, the fabled siren, and was seenlater as Lamia and Melusine,and whatsoe'er of serpent-wives is feign'd,or malice of the vampire-witch that drain'dfresh blood of fresh-born babes, a wicked blast:faces of fear, beheld along the pastand in the folk's scant fireside lore misread,of her that is the august and only dread,close-dwelling, in the house of birth and death,and closer, in the secrets of our breath--or love occult, whose smile eludes our sightin her flung hair that is the starry night


Dead stars, beneath the midnight's granite copeand round your dungeon-gulf that blindly gropeand fall not, since no lower than any placeneeds when the wing is dash'd and foil'd the face:is this your shadow on the watcher's thoughtimposed, or rather hath his anguish taughtthe dumb and suffering dark to send you out,reptile, the doubles of his lurking doubt,in coasts of night that well might be supposedthe exiled hall of chaos late-deposed,to haunt across this hour's desuetude,immense, that whelms in monumental moodthe broad waste of his spirit, stonilystrewn with the wreck of his eternity?


The plumes of night, unfurl'dand eyed with fire, are whirl'dslowly above this watch, funereal:the vast is wide, and yetno way lies open; setno bar, but the flat deep rises, a placid wall.

Some throne thou think'st to winor pride of thy far kin;this incomplete and dusty hour to achieve:know that the hour is one,eternally begun,eternally deferr'd, thy grasp a Danaid sieve.

O weary realm, O heightthe which exhausted flightfamiliar finds, home of its prompting ill!here, there, or there, or there,even the same despair;rest in thy place, O fool, the heart eludes thee still.

Rest--and a new abysssuddenly yawns, of thisthe moment sole, and yet the counterpart:and thou must house it, thou,within thy fleshy Now,thyself the abyss that shrinks, the unbounded hermit-heart:

the mightier heart untoldwhose paining depths enfoldall loneliness, all height, all vision'd shores;and the abyss uncrown'd,blank failure thro' each boundfrom the consummate point thy broken hope implores.


The trees that thro' the tuneful morn had madebride-dusk for beams that pierce the melting shade,or thro' the opulent afternoon had stoodlordly, absorb'd in hieratic mood,--now stricken with misgiving of the nightrise black and ominous, as who invitesome fearful coming whose foreblown wind shall bow,convuls'd and shuddering, each dishevell'd brow:the garden that had sparkled thro' its sheenall day, a self-sufficing gem serene,hiding in emerald depths the vision'd whiteof limbs that follow their own clear delight,exhales towards the inaccessible skies,commencing, failing, broken, scents or sighs:


O mother, only,where that thou hidest thee,crown for the lonely brow,bosom for the spent wanderer,or balm for ache:O mother,nightly--undiscoverable--O heart too vast to find,whelming our little desire:we wander and fail--


But on the zenith, mass'd, a glittering throng,the distant stars dropt a disdainful song:


They said, because their parcel-thoughtmight nor her shadowy vast embrace,nor be refurl'd within that noughtwhich is the hid heart of all place,they said: She is not anywhere!have we not sought her and not seen?nor is there found in earth or aira sign to tell if she hath been!--O fools and blind, not to have found!is her desire not as your own?stirs she not in the arms that rounda hopeless clasp, lone with the lone!And the tense lips towards her blissin secret cells of anguish'd prayermight know her in the broken kissshe prompts nor, prompting, fails to share.We drift from age to age nor wasteour strenuous song's exultant tone,disdaining or to rest or haste:because each place is still our throne.


The anguish'd doubt broods over Eden; nighthangs her rent banners thro' the viewless height;trophies and glories whence a trouble streamsof lamentable valour in old dreams:out of its blank the watcher's soul is stirr'dto take unto itself some olden word:


O thou that achest, pulse o' the unwed vast,now in the distant centre of my braindizzily narrow'd, now beyond the lastcalm circle widening of the starry plain,where, on the scatter'd edge of my surmise,the twilit dreams fail off and rule is spentvainly on vagrant bands the gulfs inviteto break away to the dark: they, backward sent,tho' dumb, with dire infection in their eyes,startle the central seat:--O pulse of night,passing the hard throb of sun-smitten bloodwhen the noon-world is fused in fire and blentwith my then unattained hero-mood;what will with me the imperious instinctthat hounds the gulfs together on that placevanishing utterly out of mortal trace,the citadel where I would seem distinct--if not thou ween'st a vanity, my deepunlighted still, the which thy refluent sweepintolerably dilates, a tide that drawswith lunatic desire, distraught and fond,to some dark moon of vastness, hung beyondour little limits of familiar cause,as tho' the tense and tortured voids should dashruining amorously together, a clashportentous with some rose of thinnest flame,secret, exhaled in the annull'd abyss,that, with this soul, passes in that fell kissand to the soft-sprung flush all sanctitysurrenders, centring in the blossom'd Name,as the dark wings of silence lovinglyhover above the adventurous song that faresforth to the void and finds no lip that sharesits rapture, just the great wings spreading wide.

O mother thou or sister or my bride,inevitable, whom this hour in me declares,were thine of old such rhythmic pangs that boremy shivering soul, wind-waif upon the shorethat is a wavering twilight, thence astraybeneath the empty plainness of the day?me thy first want conceived to some dim end,that my unwelcom'd love might henceward tendto the dumb home that draws it in thy breastand the veil'd couch of some divine incest,where thou didst wait some hour of sharp delightto wither up in splendour the stark nightand haggard shame that ceremented thy dearth,with purest diamond-blaze, some overbirthof the dark fire thy foresight did enmeshwithin this hither and thither harried flesh?

Ay, yet obscurely stirs, a monstrous wormin the rear cavern of my dazzled thought,a memory that wavers, formless formof superhuman nuptials, clasp'd and caughtunto the breast that is our loathed tomb:then, issuing from the violated womb,tremendous birth of dreadful prodigiesbegotten on the apocalyptic skies:one moment's hope, one thrill alone was givenof pinions beating up the parting heaven;but straight thereon the spectral mirk was rivenby shapes of snaky horror, grisly jaw,cold fear, and scaly fold, and endless maw.What terror clutch'd me, even as ecstasysmote dire across transfigured mystery?and whose the sin that doom'd thee to disgrace,to haunt the shapeless dark, a burning face,eyes that would cling to mine and lips that seeksome baffled kiss, some word they may not speak,condemn'd to yearn where the worn foam is hoarand vain against the unshaken nightly shore.

Nightly thy tempting comes, when the dark breezescatters my thought among the unquiet treesand sweeps it, with dead leaves, o'er widow'd landsand kingdoms conquer'd by no human hands;nightly thou wouldst exalt me in the deep,crown'd with the morn that shines beyond our sleep,nightly renew those nuptials, and re-winvirginity, and shed the doubtful sin:but I am born into dividual lifeand I have ta'en the woman for my wife,a flowery pasture fenced and soft with streams,fill'd with slow ease and fresh with eastern beamsof coolest silver on the sliding wave:such refuge the derisive morning gave,shaped featly in thy similitude, to attractearthward the gusty soul thy temptings rack'd.I sicken with the long unsatisfiedwaiting: the sombre gulfs of night divide:no dawn is shown that keeps its grace nor soondegraded not to brutal fires of noon;and heavy on my soul the tyrant layshis hand, and dazzles with his common blazeeyes that are fain, when evening brings the dew,to cool them in the grasses: few, how feware now the hours that thou mayst claim as thine!--And shall I not take heart? if no divinerevealment star me with the diademhermetic, magian, alchemic gem,shall I not feel the earth with firmer treadif abdicating to the viewless deadthe invaluable round of nothingness?Kingdom awaits me, homage, swords, liesse,battle, broad fame in fable, song: shall Iconfide all hope to scanty shapes that flyin dreams, whom even if they be all I knownot, or fore-runners of the One? I go,shaking them from my spirit, to rule and mouldin mine own shape the gods that shall be old.--Nay, not thus lightly, heart the winds have mock'd!wings of fierce winds that o'er the star-strown heightsweep, and adown the wide world-ways unlock'dfeign for thy trouble a last conclusive fight:O heart wherethro' these insolent powers stray,pass and repass, and thou dost foolish holdaught else inspires them than their cynic play,the aimless idle sport they plann'd of oldto while the waste hours of their tedious stateand shall pursue when thou art seal'd in dust,thou latest toy, framed for this silly fate,to watch their pastime turning, tremble and trustsome deathless gain for thee should issue of itimblazed in stars on some thy kindred's brow;O thou, all laughable for thy short wit,not lightly thus shalt thou put off their slightand steady thee to build in their despitesecure, some seat, and hold thy being safe,joying in this at last that thou art thou,distinct, no longer in wilful tides a waif:O heart the winds have emptied of all clearand natural impulse, O wasted brainand spirit expent with straining from thy sphere,turn thee to earth, if that be not a cheat,and, childlike, lay thee in her torpid lap,there to reflush these flaccid veins with sapfrom spilth of sleep, where herbs of drowsy banespring in slow shade and death is sprinkled sweet,with promis'd coolness dark--perchance a lure.Thou sleep, at least, receive and wrap me surein midmost of thy softness, that no flare,disastrous, from some rending of the veil,nor dawn from springs beyond thy precincts, rarewith revelation, risen, or dewy-paleexhaled from fields of death, disturb that fullabsorption of robustness, and I wakein placid large content, replete and dull,fast-grown to earth, whom winds no longer shake.


Thick sleep, with error of the tangled wood,and vapour from the evening marsh of sense,and smoothness of the glide of Lethe, wouldinaugurate his dullard innocence,cool'd of his calenture, elaborate brute:but, all deceitful of his craven hope,the devious and covert ways of dreamshall lead him out upon no temper'd beamor thick-grass'd ease, where herbs of soothing shootin asphodel, but on the shuddering scopeand the chill touch of endless distancesstill thronging on the wingless soul that fleesalong the self-pursuing path, to findthe naked night before it and behind.

What night is this, made denser, in his breastor round him, suddenly or first confestafter its gradual thickening complete?as tho' the mighty current, bearing fleetthe unresting stars, had here devolved its lees,stagnant, contempt, on recreant destinies;as tho' a settling of tremendous pens,above the desolate dream, had shed immenseaddition to the incumbence of despairdownward, across this crypt of stirless air,from some henceforth infrangible attitude,upon his breast, that knows no dawn renew'd,builded enormously, each brazen stage,with rigor of his hope in hopeless agemummied, and look that turns his thew to stone:even hers, that is his strangling sphinx, made knownwith, on her breast, his fore-erected tomb,engraven deep, the letters of his doom.

Terrible, if he will not have me else,I lurk to seize and strangle, in the cellswhere he hath made a dusk round his delight:whether he woo the bride's incarnate brightand natural rose to shimmer thro' the denseof odour-motes whereby the brooding senseflows forth beyond its aching bounds and lies,full-brimm'd and sombre, around her clear disguisethat saturates the dusk with secret gold;or the miraculous rose of Heaven to unfoldout from its heart of ruby fire and rainunceasing drift of petals, and maintaina tabernacle about the little hourwhere his eternity hath phantom power:and terrible I am moulded in the stonethat clamps for ever, rigid, stark, alone,round nought but absence of the man he was,some cell of that cold space against whose lawshe seeks a refuge in his inner deepof love, and soften'd fire, and quicken'd sleep,tho' knowing that I, the bride his sin dethronedand exiled to the wastes that lie disown'd,can bring that icy want even to the heartof his most secret bliss, that he shall startaghast, to see its burning centre fadeand know his hope, the impious, vain, unmade.

Lo now, beneath the watch of knitted boughshe lies, close-folded to his newer spouse,creature of morn, that hath ordain'd its freshdew and cool glimmer in her crystal fleshsweetly be mix'd, with quicken'd breath of leavesand the still charm the spotless dawning weaves.

But I have set my hand upon his souland moulded it to my unseen control;and he hath slept within my shadowy hairand guards a memory how in my far lairthe forces of tremendous passion stir:my spectral face shall come between his eyesand the soft face of her, my name shall rise,unutter'd, in each thought that goes to her;and in the quiet waters of her gazeshall lurk a siren-lure that beckons himdown halls of death and sinful chambers dim:he shall not know her nor her gentle waysnor rest, content, by her sufficing source,but, under stress of the veil'd stars, shall forceher simple bloom to perilous delightadulterate with pain, some nameless nightstain'd with miasm of flesh become a tomb:then baffled hope, some torch o' the blood to illumeand flush the jewel hid beyond all height,and sombre rage that burst the holy bourneof garden-joy, murdering innocence,and the distraught desire to bring a kissunto the fleeting centre of the abyss,discovering the eternal lack, shall spurneven that sun-god's garden of pure sense,not wisely wasted with insensate will.

I am his bride and was and shall be still,tho' infamous as devil's dam, a fearto wives that watch the cradle-side and hearhow I devour the newling flesh, and noneshall void my claim upon his latest son,because the father fell beneath my harm,not god invented late, nor anxious charm;tho' with the chemic mind he holds in trustto show me gem, he celebrate the dust;dumb earth, in garb of borrow'd beauty dightby the fond day that curtains him in light;green pleasaunces, whose smiling would attesthis heart true-born of her untroubled breastand leaves that beckon on the woodland waysof the stream-side, where expectation straysof water-brides, swift blight to them that see,because the waters are to mirror me:--of these his hunted thought, seeking retreatin narrow light, and some sure bosom-heatto cherish him, and friendly face of kin,shall mould him fancied ancestors, to winsome certitude that he is in his homerescued from any doom that bids him roam,and him the blossom of the day presume,unheeding that its roots are in my wombnor song may breathe a magic unconfestof the anterior silence of my breast:but I shall lurk within the sightless stareof his impassive idols, housing therean unknown that allures and makes him fainto perish for his creatures' fancied gain;and they shall gaze and see not while his broodbefouls their stony presence with much blood,their children's, and their captive enemies',stretch'd out, exenterate, on those callous knees,and, last, their own, ere some ill-fortuned fielddrink all of it, since faith forbids them yieldand brings to learn in full, the fool's just trade,the gratitude of gods themselves have made.

Last, since a pinch of dust may quench the eyesthat took the azure curve of stainless skiesand still the fiercest heart, he seeks to whelminfinite yearning with a little realm,beating together with ungentle hands,enslaved, the trembling spawn of generous lands,whom he shall force, a busy swarm, to raise,last bulwarks of his whelming discontent,heaven-threatening Babels, iron Ninevehssquare-thought with rigid will, a monumentof stony rage in high defiant stoneseternized with blasphemous intent,and carve the mountain-cone to hide his bones,a wonder to blank tribes of shrunken days:but in that cave before his upstart gateswhere elder night endures unshaken, waitsthat foe of settled peace, the smiling sphinx,or foul Echidna's mass'd insidious links,reminding him that all is vanities;and when, at last, o'er his nine roods he lies,stretch'd in the sarcophage whereover griefmakes way before one huge gust of relief,not the wing-blast of his vain shade shall drivehis wizen'd captives from their dungeon-hive,and make a solitude about his bed;nor the chill thought petrific his low headexudes in rays of darkness, that beyondthis perturb'd sphere congeal, an orb of dread:I, Lilith, on his tomb immensely throned,with viewless face and viewless vans outspread;in the wide waste of his unhallow'd work,calm coils of fear, my serpent-brood shall lurk;and I shall muse above the little dustthat was the flesh that held my word in trust.

Warrior and prince and poet, thou that fainover some tract of lapsing years wouldst reignnor know'st the crown that all thy wants confessis Lilith's own, the round of nothingness:warrior, whose witless game is but to feelthyself authentic thro' the wielded steeland give thy ghost assurance that thou art,what aimless endless wars shall make thy heartarena for the wheeling of their play!king, that wast mighty in the easy wayof thy desire, what time these thews were young,how bitter is the wisdom on thy tonguein the late season, when a westering sunshows thee thy work, that it is evil done!O priest and poet, thou that makest God,woe, when the path of thine illusion, trodeven to the end, reveals thee thy worn face,eternal hermit of the unhallow'd place!O man, the coward hope of thy despairto be confounded with the driven air,the grass that grows and knows not, the kind herdsthat are not wrought with dreams nor any words,to hollow out some refuge sunk as deepas that was high thou hadst not sense to keep,and here thy vexing shade to obliterateensuring that it rise not, soon or late,thou knowing I claim thee whole when that thou art dead.

Go forth: be great, O nothing. I have said.

(xi)Thus in her hour of wrath, o'er Adam's headLilith, then first reveal'd, a name of dread,thus in her hour of sorrow: and the rage,that drove the giant-hunters in that agesince whelm'd beneath the weltering cataclysm,was the mad flight from her instant abysmand iron sadness and unsatisfieddespair of kings that by Euphrates' siderein the wing'd steer or grasp the stony maneof lions dared, if so they might obtainsurcease of lingering unnamed distress.And if she kept the word forgetfulnessabsorb'd, sole ear of sunken sleep, it isto them that wander thro' Persepolis,Ekbatan, or where else o'er arrow'd bricksher snakes make the dry noise of trodden sticks,known and well-known how that revolt was dash'dand cruel keeps with lustral silence wash'd.A name of dread reveal'd: and tho' forgotin strenuous times to whom the lyre was not,yet, when her hour awoke, the peoples heardher coming and the winds no more deferr'dthat sweep along the expected day of wrath,and rear'd the soaring aisles along her pathto house the massive gloom where she might dwell,conjectured, hovering, impenetrable,while o'er the mortal terror crouch'd beneaththe shuddering organ pour'd black wave of death;when man withheld his hand from life, in fearto find her, temptress, in the flesh most dearor on the lowliest ways of simple peace--vain-weening he that thus their feud might cease:ay, and the cynic days that thought them blestto know this earth a plunder-ground confestand calm within them of the glutted beastknew her, the emptiness that, when the feasthath quench'd its lamps, makes, in the invaded hall,stray'd steps, reverberated from the wall,sound on the ear like some portentous stride,companion's fixt, to mock our tread, beside,nor near and show his apprehended guisefamiliar, ease to our intended eyes.Lilith, a name of dread: yet was her painand loving to her chosen ones not vainhinted, who know what weight of gelid tearsafflicts the widow'd uplands of the spheres,and whence the enrapturing breaths are sent that bringa perfume of the secular floweringof the far-bleeding rose of Paradise,that mortal hearts in censer-fume ariseunto the heart that were an ardent peace,and whence the sibyl-hints of song, that ceasein pale and thrilling silence, lest they wrongher beauty, whose love bade live their fleeting throng,even hers, who is the silence of our thought,as he that sleeps in hush'd Valvins hath taught.


She is the night: all horror is of herheap'd, shapeless, on the unclaim'd chaotic marshor huddled on the looming sepulchrewhere the incult and scanty herb is harsh.

She is the night: all terror is of herwhen the distemper'd dark begins to boilwith wavering face of larve and oily blurof pallor on her suffocating coil.

Or majesty is hers, when marble gloomsupports her, calm, with glittering signs severeand grandeur of metallic roof of doom,far in the windows of our broken sphere.

Or she can be all pale, under no moonor star, with veiling of the glamour cloud,all pale, as were the fainting secret soonto be exhaled, bride-robed in clinging shroud.

For she is night, and knows each wooing mood:and her warm breasts are near in the charm'd airof summer eve, and lovingly deludethe aching brow that craves their tender care.

The wooing night: all nuptials are of her;and she the musky golden cloud that hangson maiden blood that burns, a boding stirshot thro' with flashes of alluring pangs,

far off, in creeks that slept unvisitedor moved so smoothly that no ripple creas'dtheir mirror'd slip of blue, till that sweet dreadmelted the air and soft sighs stole, releas'd;

and she the shame of brides, veiling the whiteof bosoms that for sharp fulfilment yearn;she is the obscure centre of delightand steals the kiss, the kiss she would return

deepen'd with all the abysm that under speechmoves shudderingly, or as that gulf is knownto set the astonied spouses each from eachacross the futile sea of sighs, alone.

All mystery, and all love, beyond our ken,she woos us, mournful till we find her fair:and gods and stars and songs and souls of menare the sparse jewels in her scatter'd hair.

© Christopher John Brennan