Lilith

Original Text: 
The Verse of Christopher Brennan, ed. A. R. Chisholm and J. J. Quinn (Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1960): 125-44. PR 6003 R352A17 Robarts Library
Argument
(i)
2Lady of Night: she, in the delicate frame
3that was of woman after, did unite
4herself with Adam in unblest delight;
5who, uncapacious of that dreadful love,
6begat on her not majesty, as Jove,
7but the worm-brood of terrors unconfest
8that chose henceforth, as their avoided nest,
9the mire-fed writhen thicket of the mind.
10She, monsterward from that embrace declined,
12doubt of his garden-state, exciting higher
13the arrowy impulse to dim descried
14o'erhuman bliss, as after, on the wide
15way of his travail, with enticing strain
16and hint of nameless things reveal'd, a bane
17haunted, the fabled siren, and was seen
19and whatsoe'er of serpent-wives is feign'd,
20or malice of the vampire-witch that drain'd
21fresh blood of fresh-born babes, a wicked blast:
22faces of fear, beheld along the past
23and in the folk's scant fireside lore misread,
24of her that is the august and only dread,
25close-dwelling, in the house of birth and death,
26and closer, in the secrets of our breath--
27or love occult, whose smile eludes our sight
28in her flung hair that is the starry night
(ii)
30and round your dungeon-gulf that blindly grope
31and fall not, since no lower than any place
32needs when the wing is dash'd and foil'd the face:
33is this your shadow on the watcher's thought
34imposed, or rather hath his anguish taught
35the dumb and suffering dark to send you out,
36reptile, the doubles of his lurking doubt,
37in coasts of night that well might be supposed
38the exiled hall of chaos late-deposed,
40immense, that whelms in monumental mood
41the broad waste of his spirit, stonily
42strewn with the wreck of his eternity?
(iii)
43The plumes of night, unfurl'd
44and eyed with fire, are whirl'd
45slowly above this watch, funereal:
46the vast is wide, and yet
47no way lies open; set
48no bar, but the flat deep rises, a placid wall.
49Some throne thou think'st to win
50or pride of thy far kin;
51this incomplete and dusty hour to achieve:
52know that the hour is one,
53eternally begun,
55O weary realm, O height
56the which exhausted flight
57familiar finds, home of its prompting ill!
58here, there, or there, or there,
59even the same despair;
60rest in thy place, O fool, the heart eludes thee still.
61Rest--and a new abyss
62suddenly yawns, of this
63the moment sole, and yet the counterpart:
64and thou must house it, thou,
65within thy fleshy Now,
66thyself the abyss that shrinks, the unbounded hermit-heart:
67the mightier heart untold
68whose paining depths enfold
69all loneliness, all height, all vision'd shores;
70and the abyss uncrown'd,
71blank failure thro' each bound
72from the consummate point thy broken hope implores.
(iv)
73The trees that thro' the tuneful morn had made
74bride-dusk for beams that pierce the melting shade,
75or thro' the opulent afternoon had stood
77now stricken with misgiving of the night
78rise black and ominous, as who invite
79some fearful coming whose foreblown wind shall bow,
80convuls'd and shuddering, each dishevell'd brow:
81the garden that had sparkled thro' its sheen
82all day, a self-sufficing gem serene,
83hiding in emerald depths the vision'd white
84of limbs that follow their own clear delight,
85exhales towards the inaccessible skies,
86commencing, failing, broken, scents or sighs:
(v)
87O mother, only,
88where that thou hidest thee,
89crown for the lonely brow,
90bosom for the spent wanderer,
91or balm for ache:
92O mother,
93nightly--
94undiscoverable--
95O heart too vast to find,
96whelming our little desire:
97we wander and fail--
(vi)
98But on the zenith, mass'd, a glittering throng,
99the distant stars dropt a disdainful song:
(vii)
100They said, because their parcel-thought
101might nor her shadowy vast embrace,
102nor be refurl'd within that nought
103which is the hid heart of all place,
104they said: She is not anywhere!
105have we not sought her and not seen?
106nor is there found in earth or air
107a sign to tell if she hath been!
108--O fools and blind, not to have found!
109is her desire not as your own?
110stirs she not in the arms that round
111a hopeless clasp, lone with the lone!
112And the tense lips towards her bliss
113in secret cells of anguish'd prayer
114might know her in the broken kiss
115she prompts nor, prompting, fails to share.
116We drift from age to age nor waste
117our strenuous song's exultant tone,
118disdaining or to rest or haste:
119because each place is still our throne.
(viii)
120The anguish'd doubt broods over Eden; night
121hangs her rent banners thro' the viewless height;
122trophies and glories whence a trouble streams
123of lamentable valour in old dreams:
124out of its blank the watcher's soul is stirr'd
125to take unto itself some olden word:
(ix)
126O thou that achest, pulse o' the unwed vast,
127now in the distant centre of my brain
128dizzily narrow'd, now beyond the last
129calm circle widening of the starry plain,
130where, on the scatter'd edge of my surmise,
131the twilit dreams fail off and rule is spent
132vainly on vagrant bands the gulfs invite
133to break away to the dark: they, backward sent,
134tho' dumb, with dire infection in their eyes,
135startle the central seat:--O pulse of night,
136passing the hard throb of sun-smitten blood
137when the noon-world is fused in fire and blent
138with my then unattained hero-mood;
139what will with me the imperious instinct
140that hounds the gulfs together on that place
141vanishing utterly out of mortal trace,
142the citadel where I would seem distinct--
146with lunatic desire, distraught and fond,
147to some dark moon of vastness, hung beyond
148our little limits of familiar cause,
149as tho' the tense and tortured voids should dash
150ruining amorously together, a clash
151portentous with some rose of thinnest flame,
152secret, exhaled in the annull'd abyss,
153that, with this soul, passes in that fell kiss
154and to the soft-sprung flush all sanctity
155surrenders, centring in the blossom'd Name,
156as the dark wings of silence lovingly
157hover above the adventurous song that fares
158forth to the void and finds no lip that shares
159its rapture, just the great wings spreading wide.
160O mother thou or sister or my bride,
161inevitable, whom this hour in me declares,
162were thine of old such rhythmic pangs that bore
163my shivering soul, wind-waif upon the shore
164that is a wavering twilight, thence astray
165beneath the empty plainness of the day?
166me thy first want conceived to some dim end,
167that my unwelcom'd love might henceward tend
168to the dumb home that draws it in thy breast
169and the veil'd couch of some divine incest,
170where thou didst wait some hour of sharp delight
171to wither up in splendour the stark night
173with purest diamond-blaze, some overbirth
174of the dark fire thy foresight did enmesh
175within this hither and thither harried flesh?
176Ay, yet obscurely stirs, a monstrous worm
177in the rear cavern of my dazzled thought,
178a memory that wavers, formless form
179of superhuman nuptials, clasp'd and caught
180unto the breast that is our loathed tomb:
181then, issuing from the violated womb,
182tremendous birth of dreadful prodigies
183begotten on the apocalyptic skies:
184one moment's hope, one thrill alone was given
185of pinions beating up the parting heaven;
186but straight thereon the spectral mirk was riven
187by shapes of snaky horror, grisly jaw,
188cold fear, and scaly fold, and endless maw.
189What terror clutch'd me, even as ecstasy
190smote dire across transfigured mystery?
191and whose the sin that doom'd thee to disgrace,
192to haunt the shapeless dark, a burning face,
193eyes that would cling to mine and lips that seek
194some baffled kiss, some word they may not speak,
195condemn'd to yearn where the worn foam is hoar
196and vain against the unshaken nightly shore.
197Nightly thy tempting comes, when the dark breeze
198scatters my thought among the unquiet trees
199and sweeps it, with dead leaves, o'er widow'd lands
200and kingdoms conquer'd by no human hands;
201nightly thou wouldst exalt me in the deep,
202crown'd with the morn that shines beyond our sleep,
203nightly renew those nuptials, and re-win
204virginity, and shed the doubtful sin:
206and I have ta'en the woman for my wife,
207a flowery pasture fenced and soft with streams,
208fill'd with slow ease and fresh with eastern beams
209of coolest silver on the sliding wave:
210such refuge the derisive morning gave,
212earthward the gusty soul thy temptings rack'd.
213I sicken with the long unsatisfied
214waiting: the sombre gulfs of night divide:
215no dawn is shown that keeps its grace nor soon
216degraded not to brutal fires of noon;
217and heavy on my soul the tyrant lays
218his hand, and dazzles with his common blaze
219eyes that are fain, when evening brings the dew,
220to cool them in the grasses: few, how few
221are now the hours that thou mayst claim as thine!
222--And shall I not take heart? if no divine
223revealment star me with the diadem
225shall I not feel the earth with firmer tread
226if abdicating to the viewless dead
227the invaluable round of nothingness?
229battle, broad fame in fable, song: shall I
230confide all hope to scanty shapes that fly
231in dreams, whom even if they be all I know
232not, or fore-runners of the One? I go,
233shaking them from my spirit, to rule and mould
234in mine own shape the gods that shall be old.
235--Nay, not thus lightly, heart the winds have mock'd!
236wings of fierce winds that o'er the star-strown height
237sweep, and adown the wide world-ways unlock'd
238feign for thy trouble a last conclusive fight:
239O heart wherethro' these insolent powers stray,
240pass and repass, and thou dost foolish hold
241aught else inspires them than their cynic play,
242the aimless idle sport they plann'd of old
243to while the waste hours of their tedious state
244and shall pursue when thou art seal'd in dust,
245thou latest toy, framed for this silly fate,
246to watch their pastime turning, tremble and trust
247some deathless gain for thee should issue of it
248imblazed in stars on some thy kindred's brow;
249O thou, all laughable for thy short wit,
250not lightly thus shalt thou put off their slight
251and steady thee to build in their despite
252secure, some seat, and hold thy being safe,
253joying in this at last that thou art thou,
254distinct, no longer in wilful tides a waif:
255O heart the winds have emptied of all clear
256and natural impulse, O wasted brain
257and spirit expent with straining from thy sphere,
258turn thee to earth, if that be not a cheat,
259and, childlike, lay thee in her torpid lap,
260there to reflush these flaccid veins with sap
262spring in slow shade and death is sprinkled sweet,
263with promis'd coolness dark--perchance a lure.
264Thou sleep, at least, receive and wrap me sure
265in midmost of thy softness, that no flare,
266disastrous, from some rending of the veil,
267nor dawn from springs beyond thy precincts, rare
268with revelation, risen, or dewy-pale
269exhaled from fields of death, disturb that full
270absorption of robustness, and I wake
271in placid large content, replete and dull,
272fast-grown to earth, whom winds no longer shake.
(x)
273Thick sleep, with error of the tangled wood,
274and vapour from the evening marsh of sense,
276inaugurate his dullard innocence,
278but, all deceitful of his craven hope,
279the devious and covert ways of dream
280shall lead him out upon no temper'd beam
281or thick-grass'd ease, where herbs of soothing shoot
283and the chill touch of endless distances
284still thronging on the wingless soul that flees
285along the self-pursuing path, to find
286the naked night before it and behind.
287What night is this, made denser, in his breast
288or round him, suddenly or first confest
289after its gradual thickening complete?
290as tho' the mighty current, bearing fleet
291the unresting stars, had here devolved its lees,
292stagnant, contempt, on recreant destinies;
293as tho' a settling of tremendous pens,
294above the desolate dream, had shed immense
295addition to the incumbence of despair
296downward, across this crypt of stirless air,
298upon his breast, that knows no dawn renew'd,
299builded enormously, each brazen stage,
300with rigor of his hope in hopeless age
302even hers, that is his strangling sphinx, made known
303with, on her breast, his fore-erected tomb,
304engraven deep, the letters of his doom.
305Terrible, if he will not have me else,
306I lurk to seize and strangle, in the cells
307where he hath made a dusk round his delight:
308whether he woo the bride's incarnate bright
309and natural rose to shimmer thro' the dense
310of odour-motes whereby the brooding sense
311flows forth beyond its aching bounds and lies,
312full-brimm'd and sombre, around her clear disguise
313that saturates the dusk with secret gold;
314or the miraculous rose of Heaven to unfold
315out from its heart of ruby fire and rain
316unceasing drift of petals, and maintain
317a tabernacle about the little hour
318where his eternity hath phantom power:
319and terrible I am moulded in the stone
320that clamps for ever, rigid, stark, alone,
321round nought but absence of the man he was,
322some cell of that cold space against whose laws
323he seeks a refuge in his inner deep
324of love, and soften'd fire, and quicken'd sleep,
325tho' knowing that I, the bride his sin dethroned
326and exiled to the wastes that lie disown'd,
327can bring that icy want even to the heart
328of his most secret bliss, that he shall start
329aghast, to see its burning centre fade
330and know his hope, the impious, vain, unmade.
331Lo now, beneath the watch of knitted boughs
332he lies, close-folded to his newer spouse,
333creature of morn, that hath ordain'd its fresh
334dew and cool glimmer in her crystal flesh
335sweetly be mix'd, with quicken'd breath of leaves
336and the still charm the spotless dawning weaves.
337But I have set my hand upon his soul
338and moulded it to my unseen control;
339and he hath slept within my shadowy hair
340and guards a memory how in my far lair
341the forces of tremendous passion stir:
342my spectral face shall come between his eyes
343and the soft face of her, my name shall rise,
344unutter'd, in each thought that goes to her;
345and in the quiet waters of her gaze
346shall lurk a siren-lure that beckons him
347down halls of death and sinful chambers dim:
348he shall not know her nor her gentle ways
349nor rest, content, by her sufficing source,
350but, under stress of the veil'd stars, shall force
351her simple bloom to perilous delight
352adulterate with pain, some nameless night
354then baffled hope, some torch o' the blood to illume
355and flush the jewel hid beyond all height,
356and sombre rage that burst the holy bourne
357of garden-joy, murdering innocence,
358and the distraught desire to bring a kiss
359unto the fleeting centre of the abyss,
360discovering the eternal lack, shall spurn
361even that sun-god's garden of pure sense,
362not wisely wasted with insensate will.
363I am his bride and was and shall be still,
365to wives that watch the cradle-side and hear
367shall void my claim upon his latest son,
368because the father fell beneath my harm,
369not god invented late, nor anxious charm;
370tho' with the chemic mind he holds in trust
371to show me gem, he celebrate the dust;
373by the fond day that curtains him in light;
374green pleasaunces, whose smiling would attest
375his heart true-born of her untroubled breast
376and leaves that beckon on the woodland ways
377of the stream-side, where expectation strays
378of water-brides, swift blight to them that see,
379because the waters are to mirror me:--
380of these his hunted thought, seeking retreat
381in narrow light, and some sure bosom-heat
382to cherish him, and friendly face of kin,
383shall mould him fancied ancestors, to win
384some certitude that he is in his home
385rescued from any doom that bids him roam,
386and him the blossom of the day presume,
387unheeding that its roots are in my womb
388nor song may breathe a magic unconfest
389of the anterior silence of my breast:
390but I shall lurk within the sightless stare
391of his impassive idols, housing there
392an unknown that allures and makes him fain
393to perish for his creatures' fancied gain;
394and they shall gaze and see not while his brood
395befouls their stony presence with much blood,
396their children's, and their captive enemies',
397stretch'd out, exenterate, on those callous knees,
398and, last, their own, ere some ill-fortuned field
399drink all of it, since faith forbids them yield
400and brings to learn in full, the fool's just trade,
401the gratitude of gods themselves have made.
402Last, since a pinch of dust may quench the eyes
403that took the azure curve of stainless skies
404and still the fiercest heart, he seeks to whelm
405infinite yearning with a little realm,
406beating together with ungentle hands,
407enslaved, the trembling spawn of generous lands,
408whom he shall force, a busy swarm, to raise,
409last bulwarks of his whelming discontent,
411square-thought with rigid will, a monument
412of stony rage in high defiant stones
413eternized with blasphemous intent,
414and carve the mountain-cone to hide his bones,
415a wonder to blank tribes of shrunken days:
416but in that cave before his upstart gates
417where elder night endures unshaken, waits
418that foe of settled peace, the smiling sphinx,
420reminding him that all is vanities;
421and when, at last, o'er his nine roods he lies,
423makes way before one huge gust of relief,
424not the wing-blast of his vain shade shall drive
425his wizen'd captives from their dungeon-hive,
426and make a solitude about his bed;
427nor the chill thought petrific his low head
428exudes in rays of darkness, that beyond
429this perturb'd sphere congeal, an orb of dread:
430I, Lilith, on his tomb immensely throned,
432in the wide waste of his unhallow'd work,
433calm coils of fear, my serpent-brood shall lurk;
434and I shall muse above the little dust
435that was the flesh that held my word in trust.
436Warrior and prince and poet, thou that fain
437over some tract of lapsing years wouldst reign
438nor know'st the crown that all thy wants confess
439is Lilith's own, the round of nothingness:
440warrior, whose witless game is but to feel
441thyself authentic thro' the wielded steel
442and give thy ghost assurance that thou art,
443what aimless endless wars shall make thy heart
444arena for the wheeling of their play!
445king, that wast mighty in the easy way
446of thy desire, what time these thews were young,
447how bitter is the wisdom on thy tongue
448in the late season, when a westering sun
449shows thee thy work, that it is evil done!
450O priest and poet, thou that makest God,
451woe, when the path of thine illusion, trod
452even to the end, reveals thee thy worn face,
453eternal hermit of the unhallow'd place!
454O man, the coward hope of thy despair
455to be confounded with the driven air,
456the grass that grows and knows not, the kind herds
457that are not wrought with dreams nor any words,
458to hollow out some refuge sunk as deep
459as that was high thou hadst not sense to keep,
460and here thy vexing shade to obliterate
461ensuring that it rise not, soon or late,
462thou knowing I claim thee whole when that thou art dead.
463Go forth: be great, O nothing. I have said.
(xi)
464Thus in her hour of wrath, o'er Adam's head
465Lilith, then first reveal'd, a name of dread,
466thus in her hour of sorrow: and the rage,
467that drove the giant-hunters in that age
468since whelm'd beneath the weltering cataclysm,
469was the mad flight from her instant abysm
470and iron sadness and unsatisfied
472rein the wing'd steer or grasp the stony mane
473of lions dared, if so they might obtain
474surcease of lingering unnamed distress.
475And if she kept the word forgetfulness
476absorb'd, sole ear of sunken sleep, it is
479her snakes make the dry noise of trodden sticks,
480known and well-known how that revolt was dash'd
481and cruel keeps with lustral silence wash'd.
482A name of dread reveal'd: and tho' forgot
483in strenuous times to whom the lyre was not,
484yet, when her hour awoke, the peoples heard
485her coming and the winds no more deferr'd
486that sweep along the expected day of wrath,
487and rear'd the soaring aisles along her path
488to house the massive gloom where she might dwell,
489conjectured, hovering, impenetrable,
490while o'er the mortal terror crouch'd beneath
491the shuddering organ pour'd black wave of death;
492when man withheld his hand from life, in fear
493to find her, temptress, in the flesh most dear
494or on the lowliest ways of simple peace--
495vain-weening he that thus their feud might cease:
496ay, and the cynic days that thought them blest
497to know this earth a plunder-ground confest
498and calm within them of the glutted beast
499knew her, the emptiness that, when the feast
500hath quench'd its lamps, makes, in the invaded hall,
501stray'd steps, reverberated from the wall,
502sound on the ear like some portentous stride,
503companion's fixt, to mock our tread, beside,
504nor near and show his apprehended guise
505familiar, ease to our intended eyes.
506Lilith, a name of dread: yet was her pain
507and loving to her chosen ones not vain
509afflicts the widow'd uplands of the spheres,
510and whence the enrapturing breaths are sent that bring
511a perfume of the secular flowering
512of the far-bleeding rose of Paradise,
513that mortal hearts in censer-fume arise
514unto the heart that were an ardent peace,
515and whence the sibyl-hints of song, that cease
516in pale and thrilling silence, lest they wrong
517her beauty, whose love bade live their fleeting throng,
518even hers, who is the silence of our thought,
(xii)
520She is the night: all horror is of her
521heap'd, shapeless, on the unclaim'd chaotic marsh
522or huddled on the looming sepulchre
523where the incult and scanty herb is harsh.
524She is the night: all terror is of her
525when the distemper'd dark begins to boil
527of pallor on her suffocating coil.
528Or majesty is hers, when marble gloom
529supports her, calm, with glittering signs severe
530and grandeur of metallic roof of doom,
531far in the windows of our broken sphere.
532Or she can be all pale, under no moon
533or star, with veiling of the glamour cloud,
534all pale, as were the fainting secret soon
535to be exhaled, bride-robed in clinging shroud.
536For she is night, and knows each wooing mood:
537and her warm breasts are near in the charm'd air
538of summer eve, and lovingly delude
539the aching brow that craves their tender care.
540The wooing night: all nuptials are of her;
541and she the musky golden cloud that hangs
542on maiden blood that burns, a boding stir
543shot thro' with flashes of alluring pangs,
544far off, in creeks that slept unvisited
545or moved so smoothly that no ripple creas'd
546their mirror'd slip of blue, till that sweet dread
547melted the air and soft sighs stole, releas'd;
548and she the shame of brides, veiling the white
549of bosoms that for sharp fulfilment yearn;
550she is the obscure centre of delight
551and steals the kiss, the kiss she would return
552deepen'd with all the abysm that under speech
553moves shudderingly, or as that gulf is known
554to set the astonied spouses each from each
555across the futile sea of sighs, alone.
556All mystery, and all love, beyond our ken,
557she woos us, mournful till we find her fair:
558and gods and stars and songs and souls of men
559are the sparse jewels in her scatter'd hair.

Notes

1] Adam's first wife, created from the earth (as he was, and not made from his rib), who left him to mate with an archangel: a non-Biblical mythic figure associated with demons. Back to Line
11] Chimera: "A fabled fire-breathing monster of Greek mythology, with a lion's head, a goat's body, and a serpent's tail (or according to others with the heads of a lion, a goat, and a serpent), killed by Bellerophon" (OED). Back to Line
18] Lamia: "A fabulous monster supposed to have the body of a woman, and to prey upon human beings and suck the blood of children" (OED). Melusine: a woman above, a fish or snake from the waist down. Back to Line
29] cope: cloak. Back to Line
39] desuetude: state of disuse. Back to Line
54] Danaid sieve: the Danaids (or Danaides) of Greek myth, sentenced an endless task of filling, from sieves holding water, an ever-draining barrel. Back to Line
76] hieratic: priestly. Back to Line
143] ween'st: believes. Back to Line
144] refluent: again flowing. Back to Line
145] dilates: expands. Back to Line
172] ceremented: put in grave-clothes. Back to Line
205] dividual: separate. Back to Line
211] featly: nicely, neatly. Back to Line
224] hermetic: occult. magian: magical (of the Magi). Back to Line
228] liesse: joy (French). Back to Line
261] spilth: that which is spilled. Back to Line
275] Lethe: the river of Hades that brings forgetfulness. Back to Line
277] calenture: fever. Back to Line
282] asphodel: a white Elysian flower, favoured of the dead. Back to Line
297] infrangible: unbreakable. Back to Line
301] thew: muscle. Back to Line
353] miasm: disease. Back to Line
364] dam: mother. Back to Line
366] newling: just-born. Back to Line
372] dight: clothed. Back to Line
410] Babels: the Old Testament God, displeased by the arrogance of the city-folk of Babel in erecting a heaven-high building, made them all speak different tongues. Ninevehs: an Assyrian city named Nineveh was the centre of Ishtar worship that was destroyed at the fall of the Assyrian empire. Back to Line
419] Echidna: she-snake, the "mother of all monsters" in Greek myth. Back to Line
422] sarcophage: sarcophagus, stone coffin. Back to Line
431] vans: wings. Back to Line
471] Euphrates: great river in Mesopotamia. Back to Line
477] Persepolis: ancient city of the Persians, capital of Darius and Xerxes the Great. Back to Line
478] Ekbatan: a name for Hamadan, one of the oldest cities in the world, and capital of the empire of the Medes in Assyria. Back to Line
508] gelid: icy cold. Back to Line
519] Valvins: the burial site for Stéphane Mallarmé, Brennan's model writer. Back to Line
526] larve: mask. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
1898
Publication Notes: 
From "The Forest of Night," 1898–1902. Poems 1913 (1914). See Australian Poets eTexts Project, The Sydney Electronic Text and Image Service (SETIS)
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire; Cameron La Follette
RPO Edition: 
2011