George Sterling.

Lilith; a dramatic poem online

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For those lost days of wonder and delight,

Once all my own, my very own, now gone,

Now melted as the minarets of sleep. . . .

Thy joy was for a little while. Sleep thou,

Hushed, in a golden gloom of Paradise!

fo the youths and maidens.

Pass ye, and I shall pass to bitter things.
A sinner bids farewell. Renew the dirge,
And lay, amid the happy ones who sleep,
The dust that once was Beauty and her dream.

^he funeral cortege goes onward. Tancred
turns alone to the mountains.

47



LlLITH Aft IV

Ad IV Sc. i*

Scene i : Twenty years later. A Cook, a Fool, and

Raoul, a Troubadour, sit on the northern

battlements of a great castle.

Around are snow-peaks.

R A o u L : See how the low and black-bound sunset glares

Across the desolation.

COOK: They are crows

That fly so dark upon it.

FOOL: Troubadours,

Bound south for Italy.

COOK: Right glad am I

That I 'm no singer!

FOOL: Merry are the songs

You waken from the kettle and the spit.

Play on forever or until I die.

R A o u L : The long red wave of Autumn, creeping south,

Burst round us in a many-colored foam

That died, and left the gray shores of the world

More lonely.

FOOL: We are here the cook and I.

R A o u L : What know you of my thoughts, poor dolts ?

COOK: I kno

What they will be within an hour from now.

RAOUL: What then?

COOK: Of eating, when you smell the meat

I '11 fry.

RAOUL: The devil take you and your meat!



COOK: Till then. I know you singer-folk: you eat LILITH

As other men, but somewhat more. Act IV Sc. i

R A o u L leaving them: Farewell,

O clods! You comprehend me not.

COOK: He 'Using

His nonsense to the king tonight, and come

Drunk from the banquet.

FOOL: I shall be as drunk

And twice as happy on the morrow.

COOK: Fool,

Speak low, and tell me something of your thoughts

Concerning this new leman of the king.

FOOL:! think she is a witch.

COOK: 'T is common talk.

Men say none saw her enter: guards were out,

Portcullis up, and moonlight clear and strong.

Then, suddenly, that gliding thing is here

And asking for the king.

FOOL: I like it not.

Winter is almost on us, and the throne

Calls him from out the west, and yet he lingers

To tame that supple serpent.

COOK: It is strange!

Woman had never power on him before

Like that. Not even the archbishop's word

Avails with him.

FOOL: But think you Tancred's, now,

Would count against her witchery?

COOK: It might!

He deals in magic.

49



LILITH FOOL: Say you so?

AdIVSc. i COOK: 'T is said;

And Father Claude would have us 'ware of him.

FOOL: He 's jealous of his learning. Year by year

Has Tancred pondered in his narrow cell.

Seeking some wisdom that may profit men

Such common men as we. At least he said

As much to me.

COOK: Let him be burnt! The Church

Knows all, and tells us all. Let him be burnt!

FOOL: 'T is ill, I know, to mix with such affairs.

I never asked him for advice.

COOK: Nor I.

Let us not reach too high nor peer too deep,

Lest the world's mighty menace us. Content

Is found on humble ways. I cook right well,

Have deference for my betters, and escape

The dooms that fall upon the fair and strong.

Life is a trap.

FOOL: I knew it long ago.

It shall not snap its jaws on me. I say

Make others laugh, and they will love you well.

So shall you prosper.

COOK: Yea, we both delight

Men's midriffs. So the cruel arm and eye

Shall spare us. Stroke the lion!

FOOL: Look! Here comes

Our singer back.

Raoul returns.
5



RAOUL: Saw you the girl Jehanne? LILITH

COOK: She passed but lately with a man-at-arms, Ad IV Sc. i

Lothaire his name.

FOOL: He of the ruddy nose.

RAOUL: Saint Mark! I '11 make a ballad on that beak!

Exit.

COOK: Lothaire will make a sorry dirge of his!

FOOL: Be still! Look down! Tancred goes by! List now!

What word is that he says ?

COOK: He does but say

"Infinity! Infinity!" You 'd think

He faced the rack.

FOOL: 'T is ill to think of either.

COOK: My brother says infinity has end

In a stone wall.

FOOL: Your brother is a fool!

COOK: He's but a mason.

FOOL: Let him go and eat

The moss upon the farther side that wall!

COOK: That were strange food for any man.

FOOL: Then let

Him build with other mortar!

COOK: Night is on,

And I must hasten to my underlings,

Not one of whom will ever make a cook.

FOOL: Why not make fools of them?

COOK: You have usurped

All follies, and there 's not a silliness

Left for mankind.

5 1



LILITH FOOL drawing a wooden sword: Have at you for a pig!

Aft IV Sc. 2

Exeunt, the root striking the Cook with

the flat of the sword.



Scene 2: Evening of the next day. Lilith and King

Gerbert stand in a room high up in the castle

and look out across the night.

GERBERT: The day was still. The sun sank bloodily,

As though the horned crescent gored the skies.

Unrest is mine, but not for war. Thy face

Dethrones me.

LILITH: Honey hath a bitter dust.

GERBERT: Each hour makes sweeter all that is of thee.

I find within thy slow, disdainful voice

The silver of a moon that never rose.

Thine eyes are emeralds that dream, thy mouth

A rose some god hath kissed in solitude!

Deep in my heart, like singing heard in sleep,

The music of thy beauty faints and clings.

Night sent thee in as though from her first star.

All Paradise hath not

LILITH: Words, words!

GERBERT: What then?

Have I not trembled at thine every glance?

Command!

LILITH: There's one whom I mistrust.

GERBERT: And he

LILITH: Is Tancred.



GERBERT: That poor sage! LILITH

LILITH: He is not poor A&IVSc. 2

In wisdom.

GERBERT: Fear'st thou that?

LILITH: What should we fear

Above it? Without wisdom men are driven

As cattle. Wisdom is the quiet moth

That frets the royal arras. Wisdom is

An eagle, spy 'on all that crawls below;

And wisdom is a mole to undermine

The ramparts of old empire. It is flame

Consuming ancient testaments and laws!

Fear it like flame!

GERBERT: But what can Tancred do

T~* e\

I o me?

LILITH: Thou shalt not know what he can do,
Except thou question him. Learn what he thinks,
And find if he be enemy or no.
GERBERT: What, put him to the question?
LILITH: In due time.

First have him for thy guest at banquet. I
Will plan the feast. Have the archbishop there
And Foulques the chancellor.
GERBERT: I think it ill

To stoop to prey so paltry. That poor mouse
Hath had his refuge seven years and more
In this my refuge from the Summer's heat.
He asked for but a cell and crust. His feet
Were sore from many roads of many lands
Where he had wandered, gaining of their lore.

53



LILITH Lo! he hath been in Egypt, and Cathay;
Act IV Sc. 2 But shall a thing like that harm sovereignty?
He is no better than a monk!
LILITH: Say now:

What threatens most thy rule the force of foes
Or craft of them?

GERBERT: I never feared their might

Of armor. Still, I think thou mak'st a fool
Of me in this poor matter of the sage.
He 's harmless as a gosling!
LILITH: Let us see

What road his knowledge takes. Three nights from now
Thou shalt be wiser. In another night
He may be wiser still.
GERBERT: Enough of words!

Do as it pleases, only purge the feast
Of dullness, for I weary of all things
But thee.

LILITH: And I I weary but of thee!
GERBERT: I would not lose thy vision for an hour,
A breath, a fall of eyelids. One alone
Abides mine enemy, for eyes at last
Faint slowly with an ever-growing load;
And as the sea shuts round a sinking pearl,
So must I lose thy loveliness in sleep.
LILITH: And yet I sleep beside thee.
GERBERT: All the worse!

I lie then unaware of thee a swine
That drowses among lilies. Would that Sleep
Were man, and in my dungeons! I would spread

54



A sleepless couch for him! LILITH

LILITH: And yet, O King! Act IV Sc. 2

The day shall come when thou shalt pray for sleep.
GERBERT: Not yet! Not yet! Have me my harpers in!
Harps, and a grief of Music gently told!

The harpers come in. One sings.

HARP-SONG

What is it in thy face
That holds the hidden grace

Of vanished years?

Sorrows in long-forgotten midnights tombed.
Beauty disastrous, tender, and foredoomed,

For which the seas and suns are, and our tears.

O turn thou swift to me,
In whose great eyes I see

All I have lost!

Beyond thy silence waits thy tenderness,
Beyond all pain thy lingering caress,

The only rapture worthy of the cost.

Say nothing, for I know!
On the far path I go

Thy love shall save.

Hath not today made beautiful the Past ?
And when today is yesterday at last,

Shall not we two remember all it gave ?

55



L i L i T H Ah, love! this hour, too fleet,

Act IV Sc. 3 Spreads purple for thy feet.

The shadows close

Above the sunset ashes, ruby-embered;
And that old beauty lost in years remembered

Returns in stillness, as a moon that grows.



Scene 3 : It is evening, three days later. King Ger-

bert, Tancred, the Archbishop Arnulph, Foulques

the Chancellor, Odo the Fool, and a score

of lords and ladies are seated

at banquet.

GERBERT: What think'st thou, Fool, of this my feast?

ODO: I think

Of all the lowly larders that went bare

To make it.

GERBERT: Then indeed thou art a fool !

Who ever thought such thing before? And thou,

Tancred what of my feast?

TAN c RED: O King! I come

Thy guest.

GERBERT: Speak freely. Give me of thy lore

It shall not wound.

TANCRED: Odo spake truth. 'T is said

That there is want upon the plains below.

o D o : I meant it for a j est. Shall the king care ?

TANCRED: They starve with his taxations.

56



GERBERT: Let them starve, LILITH

For they are worms, and I am one whose hands Ad: IV Sc. 3

Set iron to the granite plinth of Time

And leave a name deep-bitten. I have fought,

And won, and will enjoy. 'T was theirs to take,

But I have taken. How now, Tancred?

TANCRED: I

Have dreamt of years when men shall not be wolves,

But brothers.

LILITH: Dreamt indeed! What wilt thou be,

Tiger or sheep? For thou canst not be both.

TANCRED: Is it a dream that there shall come a day

When one man's joy is not his brother's pain?

LILITH: It is the very ghost of dreams! Wouldstthou

Dance on Hell's lid, or on its red-hot floor?

TANCRED: I 'd do away with Hell.

LILITH: This earth is Hell

Today, and dungeon to an iron race.

How deeply I admire these men! Their hearts

Let them be merry while the torment clings

To other hearts. Why, in the crypts tonight

They make an end of Hunald for his crime

Against the king's red deer. He 's flayed alive

Who flayed the stag when it was dead. And we

Can feast and laugh women and men!

GERBERT: More wine!

And let them hold my deer in reverence!

LILITH: And art thou j oy ous, Tancred ? Hunald writhes

With skinless limbs but thou dost feast!

TANCRED: I know!

57



LILITH Alas! the sorrows of my fellow-men!
Act IV Sc. 3 Their tears are bitter in my drink! My bread
Is tasteless for their torment!
LILITH: 'Tis no fault

Of thine. Thou didst not build the wretched world.
Be happy! Lay thy burden on thy God!
TANCRED: There is no happiness in all this world
For him who thinks.

A R N u L p H : What right hast thou to think ?

She hath said truth in bidding thee to lay
Thy burden on the Lord.
TANCRED: Leave God to God.

Thou shalt not fathom if He be at all.
To skies unanswering and heavens austere
The faith of man pours yet its ancient cry,
He to the Voiceless raising still his voice.
Let fonder souls smile on the waiting Night
Fed with the lie of immortality;
But I smile not.

ARNULPH: Thou nearest, Gerbert?
GERBERT: I

Have heard, and though not like those cricket souls
That chirrup cheerfully concerning God,
Yet faith is mine to know Him good. This sage
Rots in a cell, and does not know mankind,
Much less its Maker. He hath held no sword.
TANCRED: I fight with lions that ye know not of.
Ye have not trod my roads, nor known my thirst
And my despairs, nor heard my winds of night
Moan in the porches of infinity.



We speak not the same tongue. LILITH

FOULQUES: If thou alone Ad IV 80.3

Hast such a language, speak it to thyself,

Nor taint our liegemen with thy leprosies

Of thought! Be gentle to thyself. Accept

Our ancient things, and so, without mishap,

Find peace and joy.

TANCRED: I find them otherwise

Peace but in war against the beast of Self,

And joy but in the joy one gives mankind.

It is thine ancient things that ail cold laws

And customs dead and hollow as a skull.

FOULQUES: The sage is mad! Where got he such designs

On God and man?

LILITH: It all was dreamed before,

Long since and far away, by men now dust.

He hath dug up their follies.

A R N u L P H : Let him know

The rack! Much wisdom 's there.

TANCRED: Not such as thine!

Better the truth with pain, than joy with lies.

A dream exalts me.

LILITH: Yea, but being dead

Thou shalt not even dream!

TANCRED: The dream will live

And pass, to touch the hearts of other men

With morning, and the glory of new light,

Somehow, somewhere, in years less blind than these.

GERBERT: This wrangling wearies me, so make an end!

ARNULPH:A little while, O King! The offended Church

59



L i L i T H Hath interest here.

AdtlVSc. 3 GERBERT: I cannot see his harm.

He makes a better fool than Odo there.
Let him be Fool! He '11 be fat merriment,
With Odo for his ape.
LILITH: Tonight, O King,

The fool goes not in motley. Be thou sure
That this man's word, if loosened on the world,
Will eat like acid all thy pomp and power.
Is it not true, O Arnulph?
ARNULPH: It is true.

Such thoughts must die, if Church and Throne would live.
TANCRED: I know that I must die. There is no friend
To plead for me. Yet one shall be my friend
Kind Death, who answers all by ending all.
ARNULPH: More blasphemy! Nay, thou shalt live in Hell !
TANCRED: I am too near the silence not to hope
It is eternal. There is one who sees
Deeper than thou.

ARNULPH: Thou sayest truth at last!

He rules in Rome.

TANCRED: There stands a mightier one

Reason, by whom the gods and worlds are weighed!
Reason, the queen to be! Her scything light
Is on thine ancient gardens.
FOULQUES: On the rack

Thou shalt think otherwise.
TANCRED: Her destined hand

Already lifts. Its shadow sets in dusk
The crosiers and the crowns.

60



GERBERT: The man is mad! LILITH

He '11 make a merry fool. Act IV Sc. 3

LILITH: He is not mad.

He but foretells, and is not of thy kind,
O Foulques! enswathed in optimistic fat.
Thy docile sages and thy muzzled seers
Are not his brothers of the soul.
TANCRED: Not such!

For they offend against the mind of man
Dwellers in darkness, beaters of the breast!
King! there is royal blood within these veins,
For I have walked with masters, men whose words,
Like windows opening on infinity,
Show night, but not mirage.

GERBERT: More wine! More wine!

Have at him, Foulques and Arnulph! Said I not
He'd make a jolly fool?
ARNULPH: The matter stands

Not thus. The Church demands him.
FOULQUES: He must die!

He is stained deeper with black heresy
Than is thy robe with purple. Infamies
Of pain await him.

LILITH: He must die, O King!

His hidden sneer is on thee, and derides
The life-laugh in thy throat.
TANCRED: I do not sneer

At any man, and least of all at him
Whose bread I long have eaten. I but say
The truth is thus, not otherwise. Must I

61



L i L i T H Forego the truth for gratitude ?
AdtlVSc. 3 ARNULPH: Thou seest,

Gerbert! The man is stuffed with lying pride
A snarling dog upon thy hearth!
FOULQUES: The rack

For him!

GERBERT: Saint Remi! Came I to a feast,
Or a monks' quarrel? Take him! Though I still
Am sure he 'd make a jolly fool.
LILITH: He'll find

What too much wisdom ends in.
GERBERT: At the worst,

I 'd cast him forth tonight.
FOULQUES: What! Loosen him

Upon the world ? A pretty time we 'd have,
Tracking his heresies!

ARNULPH: We '11 end them here.

Yet, Tancred, we will grant thee time for thought
Concerning all thy blasphemies. Three days
Foodless, within the crypts, may bless with light
Thy pagan darkness.

TANCRED: In Time's torture vaults

Many abide, and I have stood with them,
And wondered. Idly shalt thou prison me
Whose mind hath found horizons reaching not
On sea or land. Far wearier have I been,
In days that had no meaning and no joy;
Yet sought I truth a wanderer, a moth
Of many candles. I have sinned indeed
Have done so little right, and so much wrong!

62



But yet a star hath beaconed. Still I fare, LILITH

A searcher among shadows, frail as they Act IV Sc. 3

I to whom choirs of darkened suns might sing:

"Child of the Night, we also are a dream!"

But dream or no, I seek. Ah! human heart!

So blind! So wise! So base! So beautiful!

How soon wilt thou be one with all men's hearts?

What worth to the Adventure yea, what worth,

Except it end in love? And now mine eyes,

Beholding love beyond these tears of Time,

Are

GERBERT: Is this a feast, or sermon? Drag him out!

Two men-at-arms conduct Tancredfrom
the banquet-hall.

A R N u L P H : Thou hast done wisely.

GERBERT: I at least have stopped

A mouth that knew not weariness.

FOULQUES: A mouth

That soon shall make strange sounds.

A R N u L p H : Not joyful ones.

GERBERT: I '11 have none other. Bid the harps begin

And Raoul sing. More wine! 'T is long ere day,

And there are many things I would forget.

RAOUUS SONG

The birds have told their bliss,
And all too soon that ebbing music ends
On purple reach of streams where Twilight bends

The brow to Evening's kiss.

63



LILITH Turn thou as mute to mine!

Act IV Sc. 4 For on the white beginnings of thy breast
My brow and lips, idolatrous, would rest
And know the hour divine.

Now end the barren years.
The lucid evening star, a drop of dew
Hidden till sunset's rose had burned anew,

Shines also in thy tears.

Let not thy love delay,
Nor silence hold our destinies apart;
For what thy beauty says unto my heart

My heart can never say.



Scene 4: Midnight, two days afterward. Tancred

stands in a locked room of a tower of the

castle, and looks from a great

window on the stars.

TANCRED: O night, mysterious and terrible!
Thou womb of light! Thou charnel-house of suns!
I said, "The stars shall soothe before I sleep."
I gaze, and I am sleepless, on my soul
The threefold darkness of night, life, and pain.
He said to me, that sage of India,
Confirmed in all the doctrines of despair,
"The stars are suns, with each its vassal world,



And stars and stars forever!" Can it be LILITH

Those worlds are even as this world, blind with hate, Act IV Sc. 4

With self enthroned, hungers unsatisfied,

And Nature hiding horrors at her breast?

This life of mine how hath it all fled by,

Gone like the smoke of sacked and ashen Troy!

Peace to thine ashes, Love! and peace to thee,

Thou beauty long-departed that I sought

How vainly! Let the monstrous pageant pass

With all its harlot music! I have been

Part of its pomp and folly. . . . Still ye burn,

Old sores, old shames, pld failures, old despairs

The heart's deep wounds, slow-healing, if at all.

Yea! I have known this world, and now mine eyes

Gaze on infinity's abyss, and fail. . . .

Time, as of old mysterious and dread,

Who claspest all things as the winds a world

Where man and all his voices find an end,

Turning from thee as children from a storm

Unto the calm and shelter of a roof

Time, I am nearly done with thee. I feel

A sense of man's high homelessness. I find

No rest in thee, nor peace. I pause to hear,

Alone, the murmur of the seas that break

On shores of worlds untrodden yet by man.

And yet I know it is a dream. A breath,

And ever night shall be, and ever stars,

But I no more forever. What am I,

This heart by Time tormented and betrayed,

And girt by many mysteries ? This mote

65



LILITH Impinged on by infinities? This vast
Act IV Sc. 4 Where meet the dark abysses, to become
A new abyss, that hungers to be filled?
I do not know. To one the music comes,
To one the meaning. But this heart is tired. . . .
Close, close, O flower of consciousness, thy breast!
I would forget I am and I have been. . . .
I feel the shadows closing with my soul. . . .
O lapse of worlds on the eternal void!
Globed by the certain Darkness, still I wait,
Yesterday's dust, fire of today, tomorrow's night!

Lilith stands suddenly beside him.

White witch! What plannest thou?
LILITH: Thy happiness.

TANCRED: Lies, as of old!

LILITH: I swear I am thy friend!

Come, make thy peace with Arnulph! There is time.
Another day remains. The captain stars
Cross, and demand thy doom, but I can save.
Renounce thy folly! Let me say to Foulques
That thou dost love the law, to Arnulph thou
Dost love the Church.
TANCRED: I cannot. How shall I

Be traitor to myself?
LILITH: Remember thee

That blood of father, friend and wife is red
Upon thy hands!

TANCRED: What tears are mine! They leave

No stain but on the soul, and there they rust

66



Like to that blood. I know that I have sinned, LILITH

And blackly. Still, my soul hath stood for truth, Act IV Sc. 4

And loving truth, there truly have I loved

Father and friend and wife.

LILITH: Thy truth! Behold!

'The walls that surround 'Tancred seem to melt away^
leaving him standing unsupported in space^

with Lilith at his side.

\
Look down, O Tancred! What beholdest thou?

TANCRED: Nothingness. . . . Nay I see a drop of blood,

Far down, yet visible. Beside it now

A drop of dew appears, touched by a sun,

Unseen, to many hues. And now from each

Rise vapors, ever denser and more bright.

They soar, they robe us in magnificence.

Great chambers open in the splendor, rooms

Of changing opalescence. Phantom shapes

Are dwellers there, that woo and wed and war,

Mingling in shadow.

LILITH: Gaze thou fixedly

On any form.

TANCRED: Lo! as I gaze it melts,

And that mirage bears no close scrutiny.

LILITH: All is illusion, born of those twin drops

Alone found real. See! The mists subside,

Thou gazing in relentlessness, and now

That orb of Pain glows redly, and the orb

Of Pleasure gleams in subtle iris-flame.

Of those thy dreams are born, and every thought



LILITH Of good or evil. There is naught beside.
Act IV Sc. 4 Tancred, thou hast beheld thy soul.

TANCRED: What then?

LILITH: And shalt thou, so beholding, prate of "Truth"?

There is no truth. What seems so is the child

Of that illusion. Miserable life!

A babbling and a babbling then the grave!

A cry to which no song of any star

Returns an answer! Yet the thing abides,

And Pain is well to shrink from. Dost thou know

What waits thee in the crypts tomorrow night?

TANCRED: Death.

LILITH: Not at first. They '11 scourge thy

body raw,

Then dabble it with sharpest brine. The rack
Shall be thy couch for agonizing hours,
And what is left shall die on bedded coals.
TANCRED: I will die truthful.

LILITH: Wilt thou bear the rack

For an illusion? 'Tis reality,
That pain, though meaningless as life itself.
TANCRED: Such may be true; but there is that in me
Which must abhor abasement, finding fire
A sweeter thing than shame. I am a man,
And will not bow to them, truth or no truth.
LILITH: And all for what? A year, and that proud neck
Shall feed the nettle. Shame or honor, both
Are but illusion.

TANCRED: Then, to think at all
Is but illusion. Shall I be a slug

68



To please thee? Nay! I wear full panoply LILITH

Of manship, and shall serve the human dream, Act IV Sc. 4

Undoubting. Canst thou say what Life shall be,

From womb to worm ? Thou canst not, nor shalt know

The glory and the terror of a world

From birth to death.

LILITH: Lookup!

Tattered beholds the roof above him melt
away, showing the night sky.

Behold the Abyss!

The suns go blind and lost. Thy life abides
An instant of the pageant. God is not,
Nor devil, man being both unto himself.
Be wise, and say, "Life shall not cozen me!"
Be strong, and take whatever thing thou wilt!
Defer to Arnulph. In a silken sleeve
Thou then canst laugh nay, teach thy heresies
To lords and not to serfs.
T A N c R E D : Eternal night!

The heaven of stars is dreadful o'er my head,
Where worlds go forth forever and to what?
To know that there were Justice there!
LILITH: The sea

That Life is bubble of knows not a Why
Nor Whence nor Whither. "Justice!" Once again
Illusion, and the relative! The word
Means much to thee, but nothing to the Abyss.
TANCRED: It needs mean nothing save to man. Mine eyes
Turn from those cold frontiers and gaze within.



LILITH I see my rapture and my grief, and know
Act IV Sc. 4 That they suffice me. Life, accept this heart,


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Online LibraryGeorge SterlingLilith; a dramatic poem → online text (page 3 of 4)