George Sterling.

Lilith; a dramatic poem online

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I cannot wait!

LILITH: The moon, a silver bowl,

Pours witch-wine on the world.

LURION: Turn thou on me

The glad great eyes of loveliness and sin,

Thou mystery, thou splendor, thou delight!


LILITH: The moon is out above the lake,

Walking with golden serpents in her path

The moon, white sorceress!

LURION: Thine are the breasts

Where Time sets not his kiss! Come where the harps

Are sorrowful! I would find Heaven before I die,

Knowing its hidden rose is not more sweet

Than is thy splendid body bared for love.

LILITH : Look southward o'er the waters!

LURION: I see naught.

LILITH: And I see two, and those two shall be one.

LURION: What meanest thou? Come swiftly! Still I feel

The god's breath on the ashes of the heart.

LILITH: And wouldst caress me with thy parchment palm?

There 's madder work tonight, and thou hast seen

The vesper purples of a tragic day.

She steps to the edge of the battlement.
LURION: Gaze not upon the moon, and make me not

LILITH A god one moment and the next a moth!
Ad: II Sc. 3 Thou seemest now no waif of Paradise,
But rather as a flower ordained to doom
And fragrant of disaster.
LILITH: Seest thou naught,

There to the south?

LURION: I see the mountains rise

Cold in their desolation.
LILITH: So shalt thou

Sit desolate, and see me nevermore!

She leafs from the battlement.

LURION: She falls! Far down she strikes! The foam ascend
The waters close upon her loveliness!
The ripples widen widen. . . . Now the lake
Is calm again. . . . God! will she never rise?
O dire delay! O soundless feet of Time,
Slow as the wounded hours of pain! I think
There is no hope. . . . Lost! lost! and O my heart!
Death! Death! thou shadow whose entreated hands
Close the tomb's door on Beauty and her grief!

Scene 3: Tancred and Gavain ride on a road skirt-
ing the southern shore of a lake among the mountains.
On the northern cliffs of the lake rises a castle, huge
and dark. Midmost of the lake is an islet, on
'which are the white marble ruins of
a small temple or shrine.

TANCRED: What winds are on the sunset! Rank by rank


Its angels close their flaming wings, and die. LILITH

GAVAIN: Bread and lake water for our fare tonight! A6t II Sc. 3

We '11 rest beside the shore. It will be good

To get this weight of armor off the back.

The day was hot.

TANCRED: I would I knew what lord

Lives in that sullen keep.

GAVAIN: It matters not,

For we 'd be overlong in reaching it


TANCRED: Tomorrow's larks shall find us there.

How sweet to wander on and on! O World,

Thou window of a single bar, and that

The hard horizon!

G AVAI N : Come dismount and eat.

<fhey dismount at the lakeside, hobble their horses , and
break bread together. Tancred sings.


From earth's horizon, dim and wide,

The stained moon swings free.
Castor and Pollux, side by side,

Go downward to the sea.

Thy good sword to my need, O friend!

And my strong shield to thine.
How bright, before the darkness end,

The star-companions shine!


L i L i T H Two hearts may greatly dare the West,

Act II Sc. 3 Where one might know dismay

Two barks join surely in the Quest,
Where one might miss the way.

Face thou with me the immortal sun,

And counsel me by night!
In wassail and the deed well done

We two shall fare aright.

Ever wast thou the clean blue blade,

The comrade of the skies,
The heart's, the hand's abiding aid,

With truth in heart and eyes.

'The cry of an owl is heard.

GAVAIN: Ho, ho! Thou hast an owlet answering!
TANCRED: I think no man had ever friend like thee,
So strong and yet so gentle.
GAVAIN: Say it not!

I 'm but as other men.
TANCRED: But see! The moon!

She comes to wake, on beach and mountainside,
The placid lilies of her sorcery.
GAVAIN: Said prettily! But in her haunted light
One sleeps less soundly.
TANCRED: I, before we sleep,

Will swim a while.

GAVAIN: Thou knowest I cannot swim;


But at the shallow verge I '11 squat and splash, LILITH

And borrow of the lake a little. Chill Aft II Sc. 3

It seems, and very silent.

They strip and go down to the water.

T A N c R E D : Wait! Our swords.

GAVAIN: Fear not none 's forth. ... Is it in yonder tow'rs

That solemn sound is born, profound, remote,

Like the slow tolling of a giant bell

In crypts below the ocean?

TANCRED: I hear naught

GAVAIN: 'T is gone. I think it strange you did not hear.

'Tancred swims out in the lake, reaching at last the
islet. He stands before the broken marbles.

TANCRED : What Hand was on the adorers and the god?
Faith found the ancient Silence. I alone,
Drawn by the drifting moon's cold loveliness,
May kneel and to what saint?

Lilith comes up from the waters and stands
before him.

LILITH: Kneel thou to me.

TANCRED: The moonlight makes thee all one dewy pearl!
LILITH: Kneel, kneel, if thou wouldst wear me!
TANCRED: Now I know

Thy beauty and thy cunning! Thou art she
Who didst betray me seven years ago,
Slaying my heart's youth with thy treachery.
Thy hands are scarlet with the blood of Hope!


LILITH LILITH: For thine own good, O Prince!
AdIISc.j TANCRED: Not so:

the wound

Grows deeper with the years.
LILITH: I am thy cure.

She draws nearer.

TANCRED: There is no cure.

LILITH: But me my lips

and breast!

TANCRED: Thy beauty is an arrow in the heart
A sword upon the spirit and the sense,
And music is thy footfall into Time!
LILITH: Kneel, then!
TANCRED: I will not kneel!


must I kneel.

She bends a knee to Tancred and holds
forth her arms.

TANCRED: Christ! thou dost shake the night with


Thou pearl whose mother was the moon! Ah! thou
Dost brim the world with beauty!
LILITH: Kneel with me!

Accept me, for I am the breast of snow
That hides a heart of flame!
TANCRED: Ah! beautiful!

I kneel! I worship!
LILITH: Wilt thou waste my life?


Tell me thou loves t me! LILITH

TANCRED clasping Lilith: I love! Ah, God! Act II Sc. 3

Ah, God!

A cry is heard from the southern shore of the

lake. Tancred struggles to his feet l ,

Lilith clinging to him.

LILITH: Go not! Go not!

TANCRED: Was that my friend that called ?

There 's peril on the wind! Nay! let me go!

The distant cry is heard again. Lilith clings to him.

LILITH: Thou shalt not go! 'T was nothing. Hear thou me!

TANCRED: My friend hath called me!

LILITH: 'Twas the owl

the owl!

And I I call! Shall this be naught to thee
The beauty of the love-entreating breast?
The crying of the love-entreating lips?
Ah! lost in long oblivions of bliss,
Ah! given to some tide of dreadful joy,
Clasp me forever!

The cry, very faint ', is heard for the last time.

TANCRED: 'T is my friend!

LILITH: Come, thou,

Led by these hands through myriad Heavens of sense!

TANCRED: Alas! What cry was that ?

LILITH: Accept thou me!

So shall the golden harpstring of our joy

3 1

LILITH Tremble against infinity, nor cease.
Act II Sc. 3 TANCRED: I think it was my friend.

LILITH: Accept thou me,

That we, now twain in loneliness, become

One raging ecstasy of flesh and soul!

TANCRED: It may have been the owl. Give me thy lips!

tfhey sink to their knees in a long kiss. ^The silence

deepens. Lilith slips from his arms and

springs to the sands of the lake.

LILITH: Too late! Too late! O fool! It was thy friend!

He 's bloody now, who said that he had been

Dipt in the blood of lions for a charm.

TANCRED: Now will I die, if swords remain to slay!

Thee first I '11 strangle!

LILITH: Thou shalt seize as soon

The water-snake. A pearl of Hell, I sink

To gulfs thou knowest not. Thou shalt go forth

To new disasters and to hooded Fates.

Strange is the star thou followest. Her ray

Is downward, and the road is desolate

Whereon thou goest, dreaming of its end.

But all men falter, and the road abides,

That, sun by sun, the years are dust upon

Shadow and ashes and an echo lost,

And iris ending in eternal mist!

Lilith sinks into the lake, ^ancred kneels
in the moonlight.


Ad I II Sc. i

Scene i : Three years later. A noonday in Spring.

Tancred, mounted and alone, has stopped on a road

leading northward toward snow-capped

mountains, and looks down on

a village below him.

TANCRED: Half-nun, half-Maenad, April weeps and smiles.

The world's surprise of blossoming is come

In ancient woodlands beautiful with Spring.

My blood 's a-dance today, and in my heart

Great wings unfold. I hunger for the Far. . . .

The wind is cold and clear. Deep in the West

I see a fading rainbow's plinth, and dream

The mountain-gnomes are burning opal-stones.

The nearer mountains rise like frozen wine

On the northwestern sapphire. 'T is a day

And region made for marvel. I would seek

The flower Love finds in solitary places

The lonely rose he hath. Ah, surely I,

Somewhere between the sunset and the north,

Between the first-born lilies and the last,

Shall come on breathless wonderment, and know

The mortal love of an immortal breast,

Or solitude of beauty long asleep

Some rose that blossomed from the dust of kings.

The boy Ulf comes up the road.

ULF: A knight! A knight! Good morrow, mighty sir!


LILITH Wilt tell me of the wars?

Ad: III Sc. i TANCRED: First tell thou me

What's past the mountains yonder,
u L F : Kings and queens!

draw thy sword and let me feel its edge!
TANCRED: All in good time. Is this the road that leads
Up to the snows ?

ULF: It takes thee to that road.

On those far peaks a white snow-maiden sits,

Guarding great pearls for him who wins to her;

But it is told a dragon bars the way.

Hast slain a dragon?

TANCRED: Nay, but shall ere long.

Is there true word of where the monster waits?

ULF: None, but he's there. Show me thy dagger's point!

TANCRED: Be patient, imp! The dragon

breathes he fire?

ULF: Oh, little else! What giants hast thou slain?
Tell me a tale!

TANCRED: I first would eat. Where lies
Thy father's home ?

ULF: A quarter-league from here.

Come, if thou hungerest. The sun is high.
Now crawls the thick-lipped honey from the bowl,
And oaten cakes are pleasant.
TANCRED: Let us go.

1 will reveal how giants are subdued.

They pass on down the road, Tancred smiling,
the boy grasping the stirrup.


Scene 2: "The next day and the same road, but high LILITH
up among the greater hills. Snow-peaks rise farther Act III Sc. 2
north. Tancred, mounted, converses with
Geoffrey, a man of mature years.
It is late afternoon.

TAN c RED: One would have said the road ends here.


But it is rarely used. 'T is but a path.

Hence onward.

TANCRED: Is this home of thine the last

Below the snows ?

GEOFFREY: It is the last.

TANCRED: 'Tissaid

A dragon waits this side the heights.

GEOFFREY: 'Tissaid!

Down in the village they have time and tongues

For babbling.

TANCRED: Well, a pity! I had hoped

To slay the beast. Tell me: what is thy trade?

A shepherd ?

GEOFFREY: So and humbly.

TANCRED: Hast thou kin?

GEOFFREY: An only daughter. She is nowise fair.

TANCRED: Fear nothing. Yet before I take the road,

I 'd eat and slumber. Morning is the best

For things untried.

GEOFFREY: Dismount thee, then, and lead

Thy charger to the left. Yet tell me first

Thy title.


LILITH TANCRED:! was prince; now I am naught.
Act III Sc. 3 GEOFFREY: Oh, say not so! Lordship is in thy gaze!
Mine is too humble an abode for thee,
The fare too meagre, and the folk too low.
TANCRED: All breath is warm, and all men are akin.
'Tis evil makes the difference.
GEOFFREY: Knightly said!

Come thou this way. (Loudly) Amara, light the fire!

Scene 3 : A <week later. Evening. Tancred stands

alone by a mountain stream, near

the home of Geoffrey.

TANCRED: Ah! it is love ? So suddenly her voice
Slipt into music! But a few nights past
I heard the nightingale: into my heart
He sang a sadness. Now I stand and dream
Of things I have not known, and burning hours,
Closed in by darkness with the lips we love.
Now I am changed, becoming one with those
Whose hearts the moon hath set to mutiny
Made sadder than the saddest nightingale
Of all old midnights, still I seem to hear
A music from a silence past the world.
War-hungers die. I dream of tenderness
And beauty irresistible, that comes
About the heart like some eternal wind.
O strange and tender and enchanted thoughts,
Like flowers without a yesterday! Ye steal


In fragrance to my heart, and are of her LILITH

Whose vision haunts with marvel and desire. Act III Sc. 3

Now comes the star-companioned moon to cast

Her gentler day upon the world. Afar,

Washing with pearl the mountains and the stream,

She comes, more silent than the mist or flow'r.

And oh! another comes! Enter A mar a.

AMARA: I did not know

That thou wast here.

TANCRED: Yet am I here.

AMARA: I think

My father calls.

TANCRED: It is another calls.

AMARA: I hear him not.

TANCRED: Yet shalt thou hear. Ah, thou!

Thy mouth is made for kisses, and thine eyes

For tears!

AMARA: What sayest thou to me?


I shall be moon above thy snows of sleep.

Ah, wonderful! how shall I make thee know

Thy wonder?

AMARA: I am lowly and ashamed

And I must go.

TANCRED: Nay, listen thou, for I

Have slipt the flesh, and am a spirit now.

Nay, speak, for I would hear thy silvern voice,

Like moonlight audible a mystic strain,

Found but by Music in her farthest dream,

And found but once.


LILITH AMARA: What wouldst thou have me say?

Act III Sc. 3 TANCRED: Say that thou lovest me!

AMARA: Alas ! that thou

Shouldst stoop to me!

TANCRED: Unsay it, for 'tis thou

That bendest from thy throne!

AMARA: Thou lovest me?

TANCRED: I love thee, and I love thee, and I love!

I was a wanderer until this love

Closed in its crystal my unhappy soul

And made thy face the Everlasting Rose!

Thou art what other beauty can but seem!

Thou art what Music promises! Thine eyes

Are part of Paradise!

AMARA: Ah no! Ah no!

TANCRED: Ah yes! O goddess, woman, rose and star!

Lo! with what coals have these my lips been touched

Lit at an altar-flame of Love's despair!

O face that brings my spirit to her knees!

Turn to me, that the blinding sight may make

The world one silence, and our hearts one song!

Be merciful! For thee high Beauty takes

The raiment of her immortality.

AMARA: What thing is this? I do not understand.

TANCRED: Turn thou to me, for now is come a night

Of one still star, and thou its holy fire!

AMARA: Scarce hast thou seen me!

TANCRED: Deeply have I seen!

As men in one sweet breath may know the air,

Or water, with its crystal at the mouth,


So do I know all beauty from thy face, L i L i T H

Thou that art Beauty's word made flesh ah! thou Act III Sc. 4

Whose dreams are whiter than thy housing breast,

Whose love within my veins is wine of light,

Who in a thousand day-dreams hast my kiss!

Turn tenderly, for now I see thy tears,

Like pure nativities of dew. I weep,

For mystery is on thee as a veil,

And thou hast been the rose of darker worlds.

A MAR A: Thou lovest me?

TANCRED embracing her: I love thee!

AMARA: Say no more!

One tear is truer than a thousand words,

And warm upon my face I find thy vow.

A cloud covers the moon.

Scene 4: Tancred stands alone in the same place.
It is Autumn of the next year.

TANCRED: Now fall the shadows gaunter, as the wind
Plucks at the golden cerements of the year.
What is it Autumn sets us longing for?
Lost in the central gardens of delight,
I wandered. Now the rain is on the rose,
And mine are unknown hungers, and I seek
That which no man hath sought, nor dared to find.
O thou inexorable Satiety,
Who passest all the ramparts of the soul
Soundless as eagle-shadows on the snow!


LILITH O perishable iris of romance
Act III Sc. 4 And fringing flames of marvel, ye are fled!

The night and day were wonderful with her

The night that heard her holy whispers die.

The day that gave her murmurs to my heart.

What hast thou done, O strong and dreadful Change?

I did not wish it! What hast thou achieved?

I did not wish it! Who of his own will

Abandons Paradise? What hast thou done?

For I could build up Heaven from her face,

And from her voice the music of its harps. . . .

What more could she have given, she that drew

A rainbow through my soul ? What cravest thou,

heart of mine, so poor and yet so vast?
Something beyond ah! far beyond these hours!
Now, as the great cathedral of the day

Draws captive glories to its western nave,

1 travail, sending forth a peaceless heart

On quests that cease in splendor, and to dooms
That throne me, and to darkness lit by swords.
I turn from Time and circumstance, to hear
The sound of battles on another star.
Oh! comrades of that destiny! I

Lilith appears.

God! the witch!
LILITH: Come forth with me, O Prince!

The hour hath struck!
Put on thy mail the far Adventure waits.
TANCRED: Last night I saw the comet, like a sword


Upheld by Satan, searching Time and space. LILITH

Seeing, I thought of thee. A61 III 'Sc. 4

LILITH: Put on thy mail!

T A N c R E D : Why should I temporize, O witch, with


Shall I not rather slay thee? Thou dost go
With Hell's black halo round thy head.
LILITH: Put on

Thy mail!

TANCRED: Thy heart is colder than the light
Between the northern ocean and the moon!
Thou art of evil!

LILITH: I build up thy soul.

Why wast thou born, O mortal, save to feel
Sorrow or joy ? It little matters which.
Thou drowsest in contentment. Thou dost need
A fire-voiced wind to laugh thee from thy sleep,
Or trumpet of a god that never slept.
Wilt keep the small horizon of a snake?
Put on thy mail! The far Adventure waits!
TANCRED: Go, and abandon her?
LILITH: She but delays

Thy footsteps on the white, immortal road.
TANCRED: Witch, she hath need of me!
LILITH: Her need is naught

A peasant's fondness.
TANCRED: Christ! I cannot go!

The clinging arms and the surrendered breast
Are those, then, naught ?
LILITH: Diviner things await.

LILITH TANCRED : The gentle brow, the large entreating eyes.
Act III Sc. 4 The woven turquoise of her little veins!

LILITH: And were thy kisses there today ?
TANCRED: Nay, but ere long.
LILITH: New heavens shall beacon


Beyond the ashes of thy love's dead star.
TANCRED: It hath not died!

LILITH: It dies, and tediously.

TANCRED: I will not have it so!
LILITH: 'T is written.

TANCRED: Christ!

I shudder from the wisdom of this witch!
LILITH: My wisdom cannot harm thee. Let us go!
She is a humble creature. Dost thou think
Her puddle soul shall ever glass thine own?
So men turn ever to these human flow'rs,
Until the strange become the commonplace,
And ruin 's on the garden. Come thou forth!
TANCRED: I cannot go, I swear to thee by all
The hearts that Love hath broken or made whole!
LILITH: What is it she can give that I shall not
Give the more greatly? Turn thy lips to me!
Hers is a thin and sweetish wine: my draft
Is rapture unendurable.

Thy words are true, as wandering Passion takes
Music for voice. And yet I know them Talse.
LILITH: I wait thee as a night that waits its moon.


Forsake thy past love's poor idolatries! LILITH

Madness awaits, and midnights drunk with joy. Act III Sc. 4

Be wise!

TANCRED: I have found memory a night

Whereon thy beauty blazes like a star.

And yet I will not go.

LILITH: How cold thou art

Chill as the agates of a northern beach!

TANCRED: Yet do I find the beauty, in thy face,

Of all Time's saddest legends.

LILITH: I have dreamt

Of evening and a couch of ecstasies,

Whereon Love moans, like Music on the rack.

TANCRED: Thou art too beautiful! The sunset seems

A splendor shifting from thy face. . . . O witch,

I will not go!

LILITH: The gods within our loins

Shall wake at last. I dream of happiness,

And sweet, unnumbered subtleties of bliss

Of eyes grown wet with joy half-infinite!

TANCRED: Her eyes I see. They tell me of a grief

Whose tears are yet in darkness.

LILITH: 'Tis but fear

That seals thy heart, and thou dost waste thy life.

Prattle to famished lovers, not to me!

How shalt thou cling to her and yet be glad?

She was that dragon fatal to thy quest.

Her lips are deadly, and her arms, though white

As are the snows thou seekest, bar the way

To those eternal peaks. She hath set rust


LILITH Along thy sword, and dipt thy wings. They rot
Ad: III Sc. 5 Upon thy shoulders. Swift! Be brave, O Prince!
We shall go forth on steeds of malachite
And past the gulfs of sunset join the war
Of all the dead slain greatly. Thou shalt know
The captains of old battles. Thou shalt see
The face of Helen on another tow'r,
And roam that Land as eagles roam the dawn,
Seeking enchanted perils, and high dooms,
And Beauty set about with dreadful swords.
Heroes shall be thy comrades. Winds shall cry,
And golden galleys bear thee down the path
Of sunset on great waters. At the last,
My lips shall wait thee in a mystic place.
Ah! breast to breast in some forsaken land
A lonely isle in seas at truce with Time!
Come forth with me!

TANCRED: I will go forth, and hear

The song of Titans and the voice of gods!
Victorious winds shall be our company,
In realms unvisited except in dream!
A star shall guide us, and the dream be true.

Scene 5: The same mountains, a week afterward.

Tancred and Lilith stand within the shadow

of a wood. It is late morning.

TANCRED: Where is that realm I seek? Thou didst affirm
That I should know its perils; but we roam


In bleak defiles and high on granite flanks, LILITH

Achieving desolations. When the flesh Act III Sc. 5

Is fain of thee, my frustrate arms but close

On shadow. Thou art witch-fire and a lure

Portion, I dread, of Hell's black pageantry.

"Follow with me the sunset!" thou didst cry;

But seven sunsets have unbarred their gates,

'Mid fiery wings, and lilies of pure flame,

And shown the road to splendor; yet we stray

In great, sad places high among the hills,

Where barren suns reveal but loneliness

And the chill moon her silvern solitude.

My heart grows faint. A wind is in mine ears,

Blown from cold trumpets of the stormy North

In prophecy and terror. Yea! I fear!

Doubt is upon me, and thy gliding glance

Hath treachery in promise. Hast thou lied?

LILITH : Have patience, thou with hunger for strange things!

Soon shak thou drink a wine wrung from the grapes

That grow by light of nameless moons in Hell.

TANCRED: What meanest thou?

LILITH: Listen, O Prince!

The song of maidens is heard.

O lay her gently where the lark is nesting

And winged things are glad!
Tears end, and now begins the time of resting

For her whose heart was sad.


LILITH Give roses, but a fairer bloom is taken.

Aft III Sc. 5 Strew lilies she was one,

Gone in her silence to a place forsaken
By roses and the sun.

Deep is her slumber at the last of sorrow,

Of twilight and the rain.
Her eyes have closed forever on tomorrow

And on tomorrow's pain.

Youths and maidens pass near the wood, the latter sing-
ing, the former bearing the body of Amara upon a couch
of woven branches, heaped with flowers. Tancred
goes forward alone, stopping the
funeral cortege.

T A N c R E D : Put down your burden.

The youths obey. When I said farewell,

Alas! the desolation in those eyes
Eyes heavy with solemnities of pain!
Now they are closed. She sleeps, afar, with all
Whose love had end in silence. Let me weep!
Tears are the blood of souls, and I would die!
Yea, being dead, shall I not weep in Hell
The flaming crystal of eternal tears? . . .
Ah, homing dust! what was my gift to thee?
Alas my heart, guilty as Cain's right arm!
She has the lilies of a farther day,
Who was their mortal sister. Now her face
Implores not memory, but, tyrannous,
Shall haunt me, for the star is not more white,

Nor alabaster of the wintry moon. . . . LILITH

Rest thou, but I shall rest not, as I think *AcT: III Sc. 5

Of all my heart hath cherished and betrayed.

All mine she was awhile, and mine were love's

Sweet hesitancies and adoring quest,

In evenings early-starred. Her spirit's lure

And body's loveliness were all for me,

Nor dews more wholly given to the sun. . . .

The flesh I saw, but that diviner thing,

An inner iris and a subtler flame,

I saw not. Now the blinded eyes shall pay,

And all the wild farewell at music's heart

Be mine forever, or until my lips

Inherit hers in heaven. Rest thou, my Sweet,

Tender and beautiful and somehow tired!

I shall not rest, whose heart must ever cry

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Online LibraryGeorge SterlingLilith; a dramatic poem → online text (page 2 of 4)