George Sterling.

Lilith; a dramatic poem online

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Soldiers and Servitor s> a
the Boy Ulf y Knights and Ladies , Odo the Foot,
a Cooky Youths & Maidens



Scene i : Sunset-time in the courtyard of a

mediaeval castle. Men-at-arms wait idly here and

there. One of them holds forth a cup to a

serving-woman. His name is

Leal y her name y Bert he.

LEAL: Pour me again, I beg. This wine is good.

B E RTH E : That time you gave me truth 't is good as sleep

For a poor man. As for this tale you tell

Of having fought the Soldan, I am yet

To give you credence.

LEAL: Then, I close the tale,

And much you miss, unwitting how his blade

Snapt on my own. Behold you!

Draws his sword. See the notch

Half-way the sword.

B E RT H E : Pardon my unbelief!

Now know I that you bring a faithful tale.
Tell further!
LEAL: Pour again; my thirst is great,


: ,Fof Syria's dust yet lingers in my throat. . . .
Ad: I Sc. i 'T is well. Saint Bacchus! Wine 's a noble thing!
To your sweet face, dear woman, and your heart!
Now, when the Soldan saw his broken glaive,
And knew the fight was lost, he would have fled,
But, closing with him, heavily to earth
I cast him, as the shout our army raised
Muffled his groans. Thereat
BERTHE: Ah, pardon me!

Forgiveness, mighty sire! For surely you
Are Coeur de Lion!

LEAL /;/ chagrin: No more tales to you,
Pot-walloper! I waste a soldier's breath
On one who serves!

BERT HE mockingly: Great Richard, tell me more!
Have you the Soldan's ransom at your belt?
Why do you wear disguise? The honest light
Were fit companion to your honesty.
LEAL: Go braid your tongue, O slanderess!

That Richard travels in so humble garb!
LEAL: Enough! Enough! A pity one so fair
Should sit as hostess to so surly doubts!
BERTHE: Ah! think you I am fair?
LEAL: No fairer maid

Has ever poured for me so sound a wine!
And this I swear by what I show you now
Behold! A portion of that very tree
Up which the blessed Zaccheus clomb to watch
Our Lord!

BERTHE crossing her self: Saint Willebrod! How LILITH

came you by Act I Sc. i

A relic of such worth?
LEAL: My uncle is

Archbishop of Nemours, and gave it me
Long since, upon my birthday.
BERTHE: Holy twig!

Methinks 't is not unlike our northern birch,
And 't was a sycamore, a friar said,
That Zaccheus clomb: solve me the riddle.
LEAL: Maid,

In Palestine the sycamore is like
Our birch. Aye, much the same, and yet unlike!
For be you sure the wood has special pow'rs,
By virtue of that One who passed it near.
BERTHE: I think it well the king should see this rood.
LEAL: Never! For kings are of a skeptic blood.
But if your queen would see
BERTHE: Our queen! 'T is sure

You reach us from afar, who do not know
Our gentle queen is dead these eighteen years
Aye, more.

LEAL: And takes the king no second bride ?
'T is strange!

BERTHE: It is not strange at all to me,
Remembering the queen. Why, do you think
An eagle, once bereaved, would wed a duck?
LEAL: You put it flatly.
BERTHE: And you never saw

The queen.


LILITH LEAL: I have seen girls in heathendom

Act I Sc. i Could make soft end of such fidelity.

BERTHE: You lie! And now I think you never saw
The Paynim.

LEAL: As to that, you may be sure

Their widows are best judges. Well I sense
What blood is in your lord. I know the kind
Cold as a church-bell in the winter-time!
Such faith wins little praise.
BERTHE: Again you lie!

This constancy of his is like the air,
That's ever ready when a soul would breathe.
Our king is loyal as the flowers' tryst
With Spring, and a reproach to baser lords
That wander in adulteries. A curse
On all that do not praise his fealty!
And may she go alone to childless Hell
Who would allure him!
LEAL: Maid, I do not say

He is not admirable.
BERTHE: Well for you!

LEAL: But tell me more: the king had sons of her?
BERTHE: "One, but a lion," as the fable says.
LEAL: A champion, then.

BERTHE: He has not seen the wars,

But in the tilt-yard has not known his peer
As yet.

LEAL: They 're late in blooding him.
BERTHE: The king

Has consolation in his love, and fears


To loose him on the battle ere the need LILITH

Be pressing. More as brothers do they seem Act I Sc. i

Than sire and son.

LEAL: I never thought it best

The young pine stand too close the parent tree.

'Tis ill for each.

BERTHE: Now say: have you a son?

LEAL: Have you a tender heart?

BERTHE: What mean you ?


If you Ve a tender heart.

BERTHE: 'T is flint. But what

Of that? Suppose I had.

LEAL: Ah, then, I thought

You 'd help me in the matter of a son.

BERTHE: Away, you wretch! See how we women fare

Who have a friendly glance for wandering swords!

LEAL: I am full sick of wandering as I look

On you.

BERTHE: Begone! The meat is in the hall!


LEAL: And you will see me afterward ?

BERTHE: It may be. Go you now! They eat. Make haste!

A troubadour sings.


Ah! listen, dear!
The burning hands of Spring
Are on the world's green girdle. Love is here,
Long waited. So I sing.

LILITH To sing thee soon

Act I Sc. 2 A madder song than this!

Writ in the waning of an olden moon
To win the first-born kiss.

Ah! yearning face,
Too mystically fair!

Sweet, I would find thee in a hidden place,
And, trembling, loose thy hair!

Darling, the year
Sows flowers in thy heart!
Love, who am I to tell thee in a tear
How beautiful thou art?

Scene 2: A garden-close of the castle. Urlan, the

king, walks with his son Tancred, a

youth of twenty years, in the

last of twilight.

URLAN: Now at the almond's time of blossoming
I sorrow for thy mother such a hue
Enfolded her, and slept about her breasts,
For which I slew my brothers, who were kings.
TANCRED: Father, mine eyes do not remember her.
I fashion her in memory as a love,
A warmth that little fingers in the night
Groped for and found, whereat my timid heart


Forgot the darkness and the silence. So LILITH

She lives for me as tenderness unseen Act I Sc. 2

A baby's refuge in the peopled night.

URLAN: She, like a sunset, gathered to herself

All loveliness, and perished. Peace is hers

The tomb's black peace; but me all peacelessness

Consumes. A flame is set about my heart,

And fire as quenchless as the ruby's coal,

The mighty gem that was her secret dow'r,

And soori her dower to Death which now, unseen,

Burns on in quiet on her quiet breast.

They come suddenly upon Lilith, who, robed in diaphanous

green, stands beneath an almond tree and bends

down a branch, whose blossoms she smells.

Ah! God!

TANCRED: Ah! Christ!

LILITH: Behold you me?

URLAN: Alas!

TANCRED: O loveliness! O torment in the blood!

LILITH: Now hath my Master need of me.

TANCRED: Thy name?

Whence, and for what, and whither?

LILITH: Even thus,

O Prince, have mortals question of themselves.

My name thou knowest not, and yet shalt know,

And know too late. But know thou this indeed:

Joy is my sister, sister I to Death.

URLAN: My son, go hence!

The prince withdraws. O marvel of the dusk!


LILITH Be thou my queen! All that I have is thine!
Ad: I Sc. 2 LILITH: Thou told'st but lately of a ruby: I
Were sooner won with jewels.
URLAN: Come thou, then!

For in my crypts but yesteryear I found
Incomputable treasuries of Eld:
I have three chests of gems sard, emerald.
And rugged rubies dark as Satan's blood.
LILITH: I question of a ruby. Is it great?
URLAN: And I have moonlike pearls, and sapphire-stones,
Blue as the skies of Eden, or the sea
Far out, and gems whose hearts, as dew, conceal
The seven fantasies of light. Thine arms
Shall plunge them deep in those.
LILITH: A king of Spain

Did once solicit me with pearls. . . . But thou
Told'st of a ruby.

URLAN: Mine are turquoises

That seem as innocent as youngest flow'rs,
Yet have had baths of blood. My topaz-stones
Are like the eyes of some great cat that stares.
With emerald and amethyst and beryl
Will I envelop thee. My diamonds' flames
Shall light thee as with suns. Thy chamber walls
Shall be of opals like a rainbow mazed
In pearls incomparable.
LILITH: I have worn

Twin emeralds that were the eyes of Baal,
And orbs for which Semiramis made war.
The Soldan hath with amethyst and gold


Shapen me thrones. . . . There was a ruby LILITH

URLAN: Nay! Act I Sc. 2

Speak nevermore of that! Alas! it burns

Full on the brow of Death. The stained tomb

Is made its casket, and its guardians

Are even the sleepless powers, Pain and Love.

I say Death wears that ruby. Wherefore, queen,

Take thou all else, and rule.

LILITH: He conquers me

Who dares to pay my price. My price thou know'st.

URLAN: And knowest thou did I but say the word

That fire would vanquish thee, or biting thongs?

LILITH: Not any manacles may hold this flesh,

For which all kings have yearned, nor any flame

Subdue me, who am child of fiercer fire,

Nor all thy hosts constrain.

She moves toward the king, who recoils.

Hold forth thy sword!

'The king holds forth his sword, whose blade,
touched by Lilith, falls in fragments.

Even so thy strength were broken, and thy knights
Made heralds for thee at the keeps of doom.
URLAN: Yet go not from me now, O Sorceress!
Night comes about thee as about a star!
Nay enter now my palace, for the dark
Grows full of whispers. Come thou speedily!
It may be I shall wrench that ruby-stone
From Death, and Night, and its tremendous guards.


LILITH LILITH: Nay, King. But on the morrow I shall come
Act I Sc. 3 To give thee all that Death and Night can give.

She turns and disappears in the gloom.

Scene 3: Morning of the next day. Tancred &
Lilith stand again in the garden-close.

TANCRED: Thou art so strangely beautiful! Till dawn
Thou stood'st before me in mysterious light,
And cried to me in consummating words
Temptation uttermost. Comes now the day.
And thou art still more fair, and dost surpass
What midnight murmured of thy loveliness.
LILITH: The strong of earth bow down, adoring me.
For me shall men forsake, deny, abjure;
For me shall many walk disastrous ways,
That one may find and perish of my kiss.
TANCRED: Thine be the price, and be it what it may!
LILITH: Where is the king ?

TANCRED: My father questions God

Within his chamber. Since the midnight fell,
He hath cried out in tears and agony.
Destroy him not! He for a score of years
Hath made his heart a fane of memory.
LILITH: And now before that shrine I stand and smile.
Are all men mad?

TANCRED: Alas! for thou wouldst filch

His constancy, and thou with pearl-wan hands


Wouldst quench that whiter lamp within his breast! L i L i T H
LI LIT H: Each flame that so I quench shall be a gem A 61: I Sc. 3
Which I shall wear forever. But hast thou
No need of me? Forget thy father's pain!
TANCREDIO witch, shall I be faithless to my sire?
L i L i T H : And wherefore faith? O Youth! thine elders crave
Ease for their minds, and warn thee from the joys
That, found by thee, were menace to their peace;
Or, found by thee, were lost to them. For self
Cries from the aged heart as from the babe's.
Poor Youth! their sneers await thy young romance:
The Islands that to thee are walled with light,
Where unimaginable roses bloom
And Beauty stands crowned with the Seven Stars,
To age are black, inexorable reefs
Whereon the freezing billows mount and mourn.
T A N c R E D : My father seeks my good, and mighty men
Design me noble toils.
L i L i T H : O trusting one!

Thou soon shalt see him gather to his breast
That which he names to thee as infamy;
For ever so does Age make mock of Youth.
Thou dost amuse me!

TANCRED: How, then, shall I win

Thy kiss?

L i L i T H : Bring but the gem thy mother wears
Low in the darkness.

TANCRED: Peace! Shall then my heart

Be traitor to the bosom that was life
And love to me? where once my hunger found


LILITH The food that all have taken, all forgot.
Act I Sc. 3 Shall then these debtor hands, that once, so small,
Entreated her, and ne'er in vain, return
In strength she gave in far, forgotten years,
And violate the unrequited breast-
The breast at which they moved in helplessness ?
Oh, treason of all treasons!
LILITH: So had cried

Thy father, and his father, yea! and his,
And his, and his; wherefore thou too must speak
Even as thy line fed on illusion, deckt
With all which tinsel honor hath devised
To cheat their days. I see beyond the Dark
The gods a-grin at thee!
TANCRED: O witch! perchance

My fathers spoke the truth.
LILITH: Wiser than they

Have questioned: "What is Truth?" Thou hastupreared
On these unstable sands of Time and Place
An idol wrought of dust and tears. Him blind
Thou worshippest; him deaf thou dost entreat;
Him dumb thou dost await with ass's ears,
Expectant. Me, a marvel to the sense,
(And what hast thou but what the senses tell?)
Thou dost deny and question, but mine eyes
Gleam on thee, being lit with alien light;
My lips proclaim thee mysteries; mine arms
Are bond for all thy doubts, not mist nor mud,
But all that gods desire and fools reject.
Behold me!

TAN c RED closing his eyes: Sorceress! I will not see! LILITH

Thine eyes contemn me and thy lips arraign. Act I Sc. 4

Thy dreadful beauty storms the sense, and breaks

My citadel of reason, duty, love.

LILITH embracing him: Thou barrest me from sight: what barrier

Hastthou for this?

TANCRED: O queen! O wonderful!

There cries so mad a music at my heart

I envy not the gods! Take what thou wilt!

LILITH releasing him: Bring thou to me that ruby of the dead!

Scene 4: ^Burial crypt of the castle, a vast vault in

which sculptured tombs crowd the darkness.

tAmong them Tancred & Lilith wander,

the former bearing a torch.

TANCRED: Silence is monarch here. Methinks my heart,

Even as this crypt, holds but the dead and thee.

LILITH: Which is thy mother's tomb ?

TANCRED: I ne'er before

Have trod these aisles. My father said the tomb

Is beaten silver, and a lamp of gold

Burns silently above my mother's breast.

That lamp my father tends; his hand alone

Hath care of it, and he for twenty years

Hath been sole mortal here.

LILITH: How mute the dead!

TANCRED: And yet men say that far among these tombs

LILITH Dwell mighty serpents, pallid as the moon.
Act I Sc. 4 They batten on the dark, and plague the dead.
Listen! I hear the shuffling of their scales!
Let us return!

LILITH: Courage! Behold! A lamp

Above yon tomb! The starven flame hath died.
Give me the torch.

They mount the five steps of the tomb, Lilith bearing

the torch. Tancred lifts the silver

cover of the tomb.

TANCRED: Thou dead!

LILITH: The ruby! Swift!

TANCRED: Was this my mother ?
LILITH: Swift! My lips await!

TANCRED: O thou dear dead, forgive me in my need!
Nay! I can touch thee not!
LILITH: With wrathful gems,

Each' like a sun that sets in sullen haze,
Is Satan crowned, and he would give them all
For any kiss of mine. Behold my face!
TANCRED: Mother, what son is thine!
LILITH: Nay, art thou mad ?

O think of our swift-coming hour of bliss
The crying and the silence! In mine arms
Thou shalt know Paradise a sorry tale,
And angered angels envious of thee
Shall turn their backs on Heaven.
TANCRED taking up the ruby: Alas! alas!
Forgive me, holy dead! Ah! how it burns,


Embered as with Antares,star of sin! LILITH

A6t I Sc. 4

Footsteps are heard.

Who comes?

LILITH: What matters it ?

u R L A N entering hastily: O traitor spawn!

Who with the treasure sacred to the dead

Wouldst purchase thee damnation!

TANCRED descending: Even as thou

I fought, and found the battle was in vain.

For who with beauty terrible as hers

Shall long contend?

u R L A N : Put back the gem !

TANCRED holding forth the ruby: Take thou

The stone accurst, and burn for me this witch!

For I cannot repent, beholding her.

u R L A N taking the ruby:

Her will I burn ere evening.
LILITH aff reaching the king: Give thou me
The ruby.

URLAN: Stand thou back! Gaze not at me!
What mail shall now defend, what sword uphold,
Mine honor, and the faith of twenty years?
LILITH: I promise in mine arms thou shalt receive
The joy of twenty years in Heaven. Give me
The ruby!

URLAN: That I may not give. Shall not
My dead look forth with great and piteous eyes,
And all the love that was reproach my heart?
LILITH laughing: Aye! keep it, and I hasten with this boy

LILITH To twilight bowers of passion.
Act I Sc. 4 u R LA N holding forth the ruby: Take it!

TANCRED springing for ward: Si re !

House thou the jewel with the dead!

URLAN: That thou

Mayst soon again betray me?

TANCRED: Nay! I swear

Thou shalt not win her thus!

LILITH: Who gives the gem

Shall take me.

TA N c R E D drawing sword: Thou, restore it to the dead!

URLAN drawing sword:

Cub, I will beat thee hence!

TANCRED: Stand back! I too

Have seen her smile. Beware!
LILITH: Drive me this boy

Away! I shall be sooner in thine arms.
URLAN attacking ^ancred, and holding the ruby in his
left hand: Away! Away! Dost dream to cope with me?
I have slain lords and paladins in war!
TANCRED defending himself:

Go thou and greet them!

Lilith takes up the torch and casts its light full in
Urlansface. After a short combat he falls.

LILITH: Ha! the king is down!

TANCRED: Father! Arise! I did but jest! Take thou
The witch! Arise!


Urlan lifts himself on one arm, and with the other L i L i T H
holds forth the ruby to Lilith, who kneels Act I Sc. 4

beside him, and, taking the gem, kisses
him on the mouth. Urlan
falls back dead.

LI LIT H rising: Fair journeying, O King!

TANCRED turning to her: I have slain my sire and soon will cast myself

Against the Paynim, and have done with life,

Which hath betrayed me. Yet will first I know

Thy beauty, nor be cheated utterly

In my great sin. Before the sightless dead

Will I, for this thy loveliness, take hold

And master thee, who have won thee with my dead.

L i L i T H : O fool, thou hast not won me! I but said

He gained me that did give the ruby. He,

Thy father, gave, and had my kiss. Stand back!

My Master gives me power over thee.

Thy sword shall not obtain me, nor thy love.

She throws down the torch and draws
back among the tombs.

I shall return to thee in seven years:

Gather thee strength, for thou shalt need it all!

She vanishes among the tombs.

TANCRED casting himself beside the king: My father!
The torch expires.


AftllSc. i

Scene i: Seven years later. Tancred& Gavain,

his friend, ride on a 'white winding road,

ascending among grassy hills. The

time is early morning.

GAVAIN: Now dawn sends up the sun upon the world.

T A N c R E D : There is no wind along the summer grass

Day runs upon unshaken dews. How sweet

Is life! How marvellous! And but for thee,

Sturdy and gentle friend, my life were not.

GAVAIN: 'Twas nothing! 'T was a scuffle, twenty thrusts,

And five rogues handsomer in death than life.

Thank me no more!

TANG RED: How shall I cease to thank?

Not once, but many times, thy sword hath been

The single wand Death shrank from. *

GAVAIN: Say no more.

Look! Here comes one we '11 question of our way.

A knight comes round the nearest hill, descending a
glen. He reins in before Gavain & Tancred.

T A N c R E D : Friend, tell us of the road: what 's at its end ?

KNIGHT: The sea, beyond the mountains. All roads end

In water.

TANCRED: Or in dust.

KNIGHT: I have but been

Thus far along the highway; for I came

Upon another mission.


GAVAIN: What was that? LILITH

KUIGHT pointing: There lives a man of magic up Ad II Sc. i

the glen

One terrible and ancient. He hath supped
With Hecate, and sought the truth in glooms
Lit by the eyes of dragons. He can use
Lethean drugs in sluggish sirups cloaked,
Made in an isle of deadly fragrances.
His goblet is a skull. He writes his curse
In blood that will not dry.
T A N c R E D : We '11 question him.


Gavain and Tancredride into the glen.
GAVAIN: Think you he lied?
TANCRED: Nay. I have heard

Of mighty wizards, dumb with awful news,
Told by sick suns and venom-dripping moons.
They in the blood o' the Sphinx have dipt their pens,
And traced its salt to wisdom.
GAVAIN: We shall see

They come upon the narrow mouth of a cave.
And soon, methinks.

They alight, tie their horses to a dead tree near by, and

enter the cave, a chamber a score of feet in width, dimly

lighted, the end invisible, and its roof lost in the gloom.

The wizard, a man of withered frame and huge, hairless

head, is bent over a basin of blackened silver,

half -full of a scarlet fluid that is

in constant motion.


LILITH WIZARD: I see two foolish knights:

Act II Sc. i One 's clad in white and one in black.


In black?

WIZARD: Thou sayest!

TANCRED: Hearest thou the wizard,

O Gavain? I 'm to die!
WIZARD: A man may die

More deaths than one.

G AV A i N : Well, one 's enough for me!

TANCRED: Say on, and tell me how I am to die!
WIZARD: Deeper into the Darkness can I gaze
Than most, yet find the Darkness still beyond.
What sword-winged stars deny me? Thou art dear
To Satan. Bloated dragons clutch at thee,
With bellies like Hell's roof, and eyes of ice.
What work is on? Far down I hear the chant
Of giant voices solemn as the sea's.
And now, all 's blank and dumb.
GAVAIN: What, then, of me?

Why go I in white armor?
WIZARD: I have seen

The bat against Antares, and the moth
A blot upon the moon. I see a fool.
GAVAIN: A fool thyself!

WIZARD: Hell's spiders weave thy shroud!

GAVAIN: Thou seemest one!

WIZARD: Milk o' the Devil's mare!

Bubbles on poison! Laughest thou at me?
Thou shalt not laugh when at thy ribs the yew


Sets many tickling roots! LILITH

GAVAIN: I ride in white. Act II Sc. 2

I shall go forth below the day's turquoise,

Beholding still the sun in his domain.

WIZARD: I say no more, though willing: with a click,

Death darts a bony finger to his teeth,

Compelling silence. Get thee forth, and know!

I see a lake. I see a bleaching skull.

I see the spider of the scarlet web,

And ivy slanting sunward on the stone.

Soon the night-demons nibble at the moon.

GAVAIN: He does but maunder. Let us go.

TANCRED: On, then!

Tancred and Gavain leave the cavern, mount their
horses, and ride into the hills.

Scene 2: A lake among the mountains. A castle, huge

and dark, built on rock rising sheer from the water,

dominates the northern shore. It is sunset-time. The

Count Lur ion, a man of sixty years, stands

on the battlements with Li lit h. She is

in the guise of a girl of eighteen.

LUR ION: The dark will soon be on us. 'T was a day
Full of keen light, and shadows that were balm. . . .
How very still it is! The sunset seems
An opal altar strange with light.
LILITH: And see!


Li LITH Out of the glory falls the water-fowl
Act II Sc. 2 And sets a silver V upon the lake.

LURION: How sad can beauty make us! But thy face
Makes me not sad. Why is it that my sleep
Is marvellous with thee? For thou dost come
And visit me in tyrannies of dream
And many guises. Now art thou a queen,
And now a lovely beggar-maid, and now
A coral-crowned enchantress of the sea,
Or witch abominable and exquisite,
Smiling, a cruel-eyed, flame-handed thing.
What is thy mystery?
L i L i T H : Why, none at all,

Save thy desire.

LURION: I would that I were young,

And forth again to some red tournament,
With comrades at my side. It is not well
That age should turn desirous eyes on youth.
LI LITH: Thou turnest them.

LURION: A spell is on my blood.

Against the frozen emerald of thine eyes
My reason hath no refuge.
LILITH: Ask thou none!

Thou dost content me.

LURION: Child, what knowest thou ?

I know, and deeper therefore is my sin,
Who mix my grayness with thy gold.
LILITH: Forget

Thy scruples: have I any? Look! The sea
Of twilight deepens, fed from many rills


Ofshadow. LILITH

LURION: Fell a shadow on my heart, Ad: II Sc. 2

Come like a little wind, and gone as soon.

Give me the dew-cool lilies of thy hands!

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