The Project Gutenberg eBook of Leda

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Title: Leda

Author: Aldous Huxley

Release date: July 20, 2015 [eBook #49493]

Language: English

Credits: Produced by Marcia Brooks, Cindy Beyer and the online
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BROWN and bright as an agate, mountain-cool,

Eurotas singing slips from pool to pool;

Down rocky gullies; through the cavernous pines

And chestnut groves; down where the terraced vines

And gardens overhang; through valleys grey

With olive trees, into a soundless bay

Of the Ægean. Silent and asleep

Lie those pools now: but where they dream most deep,

Men sometimes see ripples of shining hair

And the young grace of bodies pale and bare,

Shimmering far down—the ghosts these mirrors hold

Of all the beauty they beheld of old,

White limbs and heavenly eyes and the hair’s river of gold,

For once these banks were peopled: Spartan girls

Loosed here their maiden girdles and their curls,

And stooping o’er the level water stole

His darling mirror from the sun through whole

Rapturous hours of gazing.

Rapturous hours of gazing.The first star

Of all this milky constellation, far

Lovelier than any nymph of wood or green,

Was she whom Tyndarus had made his queen

For her sheer beauty and subtly moving grace—

Leda, the fairest of our mortal race.

Hymen had lit his torches but one week

About her bed (and still o’er her young cheek

Passed rosy shadows of those thoughts that sped

Across her mind, still virgin, still unwed,

For all her body was her own no more),

When Leda with her maidens to the shore

Of bright Eurotas came, to escape the heat

Of summer noon in waters coolly sweet.

By a brown pool which opened smooth and clear

Below the wrinkled water of a weir

They sat them down under an old fir-tree

To rest: and to the laughing melody

Of their sweet speech the river’s rippling bore

A liquid burden, while the sun did pour

Pure colour out of heaven upon the earth.

The meadows seethed with the incessant mirth

Of grasshoppers, seen only when they flew

Their curves of scarlet or sudden dazzling blue.

Within the fir-tree’s round of unpierced shade

The maidens sat with laughter and talk, or played,

Gravely intent, their game of knuckle-bones;

Or tossed from hand to hand the old dry cones

Littered about the tree. And one did sing

A ballad of some far-off Spartan king,

Who took a wife, but left her, well-away!

Slain by his foes upon their wedding-day.

“That was a piteous story,” Leda sighed,

“To be a widow ere she was a bride.”

“Better,” said one, “to live a virgin life

Alone, and never know the name of wife

And bear the ugly burden of a child

And have great pain by it. Let me live wild,

A bird untamed by man!” “Nay,” cried another,

“I would be wife, if I should not be mother.

Cypris I honour; let the vulgar pay

Their gross vows to Lucina when they pray.

Our finer spirits would be blunted quite

By bestial teeming; but Love’s rare delight

Wings the rapt soul towards Olympus’ height.”

“Delight?” cried Leda. “Love to me has brought

Nothing but pain and a world of shameful thought.

When they say love is sweet, the poets lie;

’Tis but a trick to catch poor maidens by.

What are their boasted pleasures? I am queen

To the most royal king the world has seen;

Therefore I should, if any woman might,

Know at its full that exquisite delight.

Yet these few days since I was made a wife

Have held more bitterness than all my life,

While I was yet a child.” The great bright tears

Slipped through her lashes. “Oh, my childish years!

Years that were all my own, too sadly few,

When I was happy—and yet never knew

How happy till to-day!” Her maidens came

About her as she wept, whispering her name,

Leda, sweet Leda, with a hundred dear

Caressing words to soothe her heavy cheer.

At last she started up with a fierce pride

Upon her face. “I am a queen,” she cried,

“But had forgotten it a while; and you,

Wenches of mine, you were forgetful too.

Undress me. We would bathe ourself.” So proud

A queen she stood, that all her maidens bowed

In trembling fear and scarcely dared approach

To do her bidding. But at last the brooch

Pinned at her shoulder is undone, the wide

Girdle of silk beneath her breasts untied;

The tunic falls about her feet, and she

Steps from the crocus folds of drapery,

Dazzlingly naked, into the warm sun.

God-like she stood; then broke into a run,

Leaping and laughing in the light, as though

Life through her veins coursed with so swift a flow

Of generous blood and fire that to remain

Too long in statued queenliness were pain

To that quick soul, avid of speed and joy.

She ran, easily bounding, like a boy,

Narrow of haunch and slim and firm of breast.

Lovelier she seemed in motion than at rest,

If that might be, when she was never less,

Moving or still, than perfect loveliness.

At last, with cheeks afire and heaving flank,

She checked her race, and on the river’s bank

Stood looking down at her own echoed shape

And at the fish that, aimlessly agape,

Hung midway up their heaven of flawless glass,

Like angels waiting for eternity to pass.

Leda drew breath and plunged; her gasping cry

Splashed up; the water circled brokenly

Out from that pearly shudder of dipped limbs;

The glittering pool laughed up its flowery brims,

And everything, save the poor fish, rejoiced:

Their idiot contemplation of the Moist,

The Cold, the Watery, was in a trice

Ended when Leda broke their crystal paradise.

Jove in his high Olympian chamber lay

Hugely supine, striving to charm away

In sleep the long, intolerable noon.

But heedless Morpheus still withheld his boon,

And Jove upon his silk-pavilioned bed

Tossed wrathful and awake. His fevered head

Swarmed with a thousand fancies, which forecast

Delights to be, or savoured pleasures past.

Closing his eyes, he saw his eagle swift,

Headlong as his own thunder, stoop and lift

On pinions upward labouring the prize

Of beauty ravished for the envious skies.

He saw again that bright, adulterous pair,

Trapped by the limping husband unaware,

Fast in each other’s arms, and faster in the snare—

And laughed remembering. Sometimes his thought

Went wandering over the earth and sought

Familiar places—temples by the sea,

Cities and islands; here a sacred tree

And there a cavern of shy nymphs.

And there a cavern of shy nymphs.He rolled

About his bed, in many a rich fold

Crumpling his Babylonian coverlet,

And yawned and stretched. The smell of his own sweat

Brought back to mind his Libyan desert-fane

Of mottled granite, with its endless train

Of pilgrim camels, reeking towards the sky

Ammonian incense to his hornèd deity;

The while their masters worshipped, offering

Huge teeth of ivory, while some would bring

Their Ethiop wives—sleek wineskins of black silk,

Jellied and huge from drinking asses’ milk

Through years of tropical idleness, to pray

For offspring (whom he ever sent away

With prayers unanswered, lest their ebon race

Might breed and blacken the earth’s comely face).

Noon pressed on him a hotter, heavier weight.

O Love in Idleness! how celibate

He felt! Libido like a nemesis

Scourged him with itching memories of bliss.

The satin of imagined skin was sleek

And supply warm against his lips and cheek,

And deep within soft hair’s dishevelled dusk

His eyelids fluttered; like a flowery musk

The scent of a young body seemed to float

Faintly about him, close and yet remote—

For perfume and the essence of music dwell

In other worlds among the asphodel

Of unembodied life. Then all had flown;

His dream had melted. In his bed, alone,

Jove sweating lay and moaned, and longed in vain

To still the pulses of his burning pain.

In sheer despair at last he leapt from bed,

Opened the window and thrust forth his head

Into Olympian ether. One fierce frown

Rifted the clouds, and he was looking down

Into a gulf of azure calm; the rack

Seethed round about, tempestuously black;

But the god’s eye could hold its angry thunders back.

There lay the world, down through the chasméd blue,

Stretched out from edge to edge unto his view;

And in the midst, bright as a summer’s day

At breathless noon, the Mediterranean lay;

And Ocean round the world’s dim fringes tossed

His glaucous waves in mist and distance lost;

And Pontus and the livid Caspian Sea

Stirred in their nightmare sleep uneasily.

And ’twixt the seas rolled the wide fertile land,

Dappled with green and tracts of tawny sand,

And rich, dark fallows and fields of flowers aglow

And the white, changeless silences of snow;

While here and there towns, like a living eye

Unclosed on earth’s blind face, towards the sky

Glanced their bright conscious beauty. Yet the sight

Of his fair earth gave him but small delight

Now in his restlessness: its beauty could

Do nought to quench the fever in his blood.

Desire lends sharpness to his searching eyes;

Over the world his focused passion flies

Quicker than chasing sunlight on a day

Of storm and golden April. Far away

He sees the tranquil rivers of the East,

Mirrors of many a strange barbaric feast,

Where un-Hellenic dancing-girls contort

Their yellow limbs, and gibbering masks make sport

Under the moons of many-coloured light

That swing their lantern-fruitage in the night

Of overarching trees. To him it seems

An alien world, peopled by insane dreams.

But these are nothing to the monstrous shapes—

Not men so much as bastardy of apes—

That meet his eyes in Africa. Between

Leaves of grey fungoid pulp and poisonous green,

White eyes from black and browless faces stare.

Dryads with star-flowers in their woolly hair

Dance to the flaccid clapping of their own

Black dangling dugs through forests overgrown,

Platted with writhing creepers. Horrified,

He sees them how they leap and dance, or glide,

Glimpse after black glimpse of a satin skin,

Among unthinkable flowers, to pause and grin

Out through a trellis of suppurating lips,

Of mottled tentacles barbed at the tips

And bloated hands and wattles and red lobes

Of pendulous gristle and enormous probes

Of pink and slashed and tasselled flesh . . .

Of pink and slashed and tasselled flesh . . .He turns

Northward his sickened sight. The desert burns

All life away. Here in the forkéd shade

Of twin-humped towering dromedaries laid,

A few gaunt folk are sleeping: fierce they seem

Even in sleep, and restless as they dream.

He would be fearful of a desert bride

As of a brown asp at his sleeping side,

Fearful of her white teeth and cunning arts.

Further, yet further, to the ultimate parts

Of the wide earth he looks, where Britons go

Painted among their swamps, and through the snow

Huge hairy snuffling beasts pursue their prey—

Fierce men, as hairy and as huge as they.

Bewildered furrows deepen the Thunderer’s scowl;

This world so vast, so variously foul—

Who can have made its ugliness? In what

Revolting fancy were the Forms begot

Of all these monsters? What strange deity—

So barbarously not a Greek!—was he

Who could mismake such beings in his own

Distorted image. Nay, the Greeks alone

Were men; in Greece alone were bodies fair,

Minds comely. In that all-but-island there,

Cleaving the blue sea with its promontories,

Lies the world’s hope, the seed of all the glories

That are to be; there, too, must surely live

She who alone can medicinably give

Ease with her beauty to the Thunderer’s pain.

Downwards he bends his fiery eyes again,

Glaring on Hellas. Like a beam of light,

His intent glances touch the mountain height

With passing flame and probe the valleys deep,

Rift the dense forest and the age-old sleep

Of vaulted antres on whose pebbly floor

Gallop the loud-hoofed Centaurs; and the roar

Of more than human shouting underground

Pulses in living palpable waves of sound

From wall to wall, until it rumbles out

Into the air; and at that hollow shout

That seems an utterance of the whole vast hill,

The shepherds cease their laughter and are still.

Cities asleep under the noonday sky

Stir at the passage of his burning eye;

And in their huts the startled peasants blink

At the swift flash that bursts through every chink

Of wattled walls, hearkening in fearful wonder

Through lengthened seconds for the crash of thunder—

Which follows not: they are the more afraid.

Jove seeks amain. Many a country maid,

Whose sandalled feet pass down familiar ways

Among the olives, but whose spirit strays

Through lovelier lands of fancy, suddenly

Starts broad awake out of her dream to see

A light that is not of the sun, a light

Darted by living eyes, consciously bright;

She sees and feels it like a subtle flame

Mantling her limbs with fear and maiden shame

And strange desire. Longing and terrified,

She hides her face, like a new-wedded bride

Who feels rough hands that seize and hold her fast;

And swooning falls. The terrible light has passed;

She wakes; the sun still shines, the olive trees

Tremble to whispering silver in the breeze

And all is as it was, save she alone

In whose dazed eyes this deathless light has shone:

For never, never from this day forth will she

In earth’s poor passion find felicity,

Or love of mortal man. A god’s desire

Has seared her soul; nought but the same strong fire

Can kindle the dead ash to life again,

And all her years will be a lonely pain.

Many a thousand had he looked upon,

Thousands of mortals, young and old; but none—

Virgin, or young ephebus, or the flower

Of womanhood culled in its full-blown hour—

Could please the Thunderer’s sight or touch his mind;

The longed-for loveliness was yet to find.

Had beauty fled, and was there nothing fair

Under the moon? The fury of despair

Raged in the breast of heaven’s Almighty Lord;

He gnashed his foamy teeth and rolled and roared

In bull-like agony. Then a great calm

Descended on him: cool and healing balm

Touched his immortal fury. He had spied

Young Leda where she stood, poised on the river-side.

Even as she broke the river’s smooth expanse,

Leda was conscious of that hungry glance,

And knew it for an eye of fearful power

That did so hot and thunderously lour,

She knew not whence, on her frail nakedness.

Jove’s heart held but one thought: he must possess

That perfect form or die—possess or die.

Unheeded prayers and supplications fly,

Thick as a flock of birds, about his ears,

And smoke of incense rises; but he hears

Nought but the soft falls of that melody

Which is the speech of Leda; he can see

Nought but that almost spiritual grace

Which is her body, and that heavenly face

Where gay, sweet thoughts shine through, and eyes are bright

With purity and the soul’s inward light.

Have her he must: the teasel-fingered burr

Sticks not so fast in a wild beast’s tangled fur

As that insistent longing in the soul

Of mighty Jove. Gods, men, earth, heaven, the whole

Vast universe was blotted from his thought

And nought remained but Leda’s laughter, nought

But Leda’s eyes. Magnified by his lust,

She was the whole world now; have her he must, he must . . .

His spirit worked; how should he gain his end

With most deliciousness? What better friend,

What counsellor more subtle could he find

Than lovely Aphrodite, ever kind

To hapless lovers, ever cunning, too,

In all the tortuous ways of love to do

And plan the best? To Paphos then! His will

And act were one; and straight, invisible,

He stood in Paphos, breathing the languid air

By Aphrodite’s couch. O heavenly fair

She was, and smooth and marvellously young!

On Tyrian silk she lay, and purple hung

About her bed in folds of fluted light

And shadow, dark as wine. Two doves, more white

Even than the white hand on the purple lying

Like a pale flower wearily dropped, were flying

With wings that made an odoriferous stir,

Dropping faint dews of bakkaris and myrrh,

Musk and the soul of sweet flowers cunningly

Ravished from transient petals as they die.

Two stripling cupids on her either hand

Stood near with winnowing plumes and gently fanned

Her hot, love-fevered cheeks and eyelids burning.

Another, crouched at the bed’s foot, was turning

A mass of scattered parchments—vows or plaints

Or glad triumphant thanks which Venus’ saints,

Martyrs and heroes, on her altars strewed

With bitterest tears or gifts of gratitude.

From the pile heaped at Aphrodite’s feet

The boy would take a leaf, and in his sweet,

Clear voice would read what mortal tongues can tell

In stammering verse of those ineffable

Pleasures and pains of love, heaven and uttermost hell.

Jove hidden stood and heard him read these lines

Of votive thanks—

    Cypris, this little silver lamp to thee

      I dedicate.

    It was my fellow-watcher, shared with me

    Those swift, short hours, when raised above my fate

    In Sphenura’s white arms I drank

      Of immortality.

“A pretty lamp, and I will have it placed

Beside the narrow bed of some too chaste

Sister of virgin Artemis, to be

A night-long witness of her cruelty.

Read me another, boy,” and Venus bent

Her ear to listen to this short lament.

    Cypris, Cypris, I am betrayed!

    Under the same wide mantle laid

    I found them, faithless, shameless pair!

    Making love with tangled hair.

“Alas,” the goddess cried, “nor god, nor man,

Nor medicinable balm, nor magic can

Cast out the demon jealousy, whose breath

Withers the rose of life, save only time and death.”

Another sheet he took and read again.

    Farewell to love, and hail the long, slow pain

    Of memory that backward turns to joy.

    O I have danced enough and enough sung;

    My feet shall be still now and my voice mute;

    Thine are these withered wreaths, this Lydian flute,

      Cypris; I once was young.

And piêtous Aphrodite wept to think

How fadingly upon death’s very brink

Beauty and love take hands for one short kiss—

And then the wreaths are dust, the bright-eyed bliss

Perished, and the flute still. “Read on, read on.”

But ere the page could start, a lightning shone

Suddenly through the room, and they were ’ware

Of some great terrible presence looming there.

And it took shape—huge limbs, whose every line

A symbol was of power and strength divine,

And it was Jove.

                 “Daughter, I come,” said he,

“For counsel in a case that touches me

Close, to the very life.” And he straightway

Told her of all his restlessness that day

And of his sight of Leda, and how great

Was his desire. And so in close debate

Sat the two gods, planning their rape; while she,

Who was to be their victim, joyously

Laughed like a child in the sudden breathless chill

And splashed and swam, forgetting every ill

And every fear and all, save only this:

That she was young, and it was perfect bliss

To be alive where suns so goldenly shine,

And bees go drunk with fragrant honey-wine,

And the cicadas sing from morn till night,

And rivers run so cool and pure and bright . . .

Stretched all her length, arms under head, she lay

In the deep grass, while the sun kissed away

The drops that sleeked her skin. Slender and fine

As those old images of the gods that shine

With smooth-worn silver, polished through the years

By the touching lips of countless worshippers,

Her body was; and the sun’s golden heat

Clothed her in softest flame from head to feet

And was her mantle, that she scarcely knew

The conscious sense of nakedness. The blue,

Far hills and the faint fringes of the sky

Shimmered and pulsed in the heat uneasily,

And hidden in the grass, cicadas shrill

Dizzied the air with ceaseless noise, until

A listener might wonder if they cried

In his own head or in the world outside.

Sometimes she shut her eyelids, and wrapped round

In a red darkness, with the muffled sound

And throb of blood beating within her brain,

Savoured intensely to the verge of pain

Her own young life, hoarded it up behind

Her shuttered lids, until, too long confined,

It burst them open and her prisoned soul

Flew forth and took possession of the whole

Exquisite world about her and was made

A part of it. Meanwhile her maidens played,

Singing an ancient song of death and birth,

Seed-time and harvest, old as the grey earth,

And moving to their music in a dance

As immemorial. A numbing trance

Came gradually over her, as though

Flake after downy-feathered flake of snow

Had muffled all her senses, drifting deep

And warm and quiet.

And warm and quiet.From this all-but sleep

She started into life again; the sky

Was full of a strange tumult suddenly—

Beating of mighty wings and shrill-voiced fear

And the hoarse scream of rapine following near.

In the high windlessness above her flew,

Dazzlingly white on the untroubled blue,

A splendid swan, with outstretched neck and wing

Spread fathom wide, and closely following

An eagle, tawny and black. This god-like pair

Circled and swooped through the calm of upper air,

The eagle striking and the white swan still

’Scaping as though by happy miracle

The imminent talons. For the twentieth time

The furious hunter stooped, to miss and climb

A mounting spiral into the height again.

He hung there poised, eyeing the grassy plain

Far, far beneath, where the girls’ upturned faces

Were like white flowers that bloom in open places

Among the scarcely budded woods. And they

Breathlessly watched and waited; long he lay,

Becalmed upon that tideless sea of light,

While the great swan with slow and creaking flight

Went slanting down towards safety, where the stream

Shines through the trees below, with glance and gleam

Of blue aerial eyes that seem to give

Sense to the sightless earth and make it live.

The ponderous wings beat on and no pursuit:

Stiff as the painted kite that guards the fruit,

Afloat o’er orchards ripe, the eagle yet

Hung as at anchor, seeming to forget

His uncaught prey, his rage unsatisfied.

Still, quiet, dead . . . and then the quickest-eyed

Had lost him. Like a star unsphered, a stone

Dropped from the vault of heaven, a javelin thrown,

He swooped upon his prey. Down, down he came,

And through his plumes with a noise of wind-blown flame

Loud roared the air. From Leda’s lips a cry

Broke, and she hid her face—she could not see him die,

Her lovely, hapless swan.

Her lovely, hapless swan.Ah, had she heard,

Even as the eagle hurtled past, the word

That treacherous pair exchanged. “Peace,” cried the swan;

“Peace, daughter. All my strength will soon be gone,

Wasted in tedious flying, ere I come

Where my desire hath set its only home.”

“Go,” said the eagle, “I have played my part,

Roused pity for your plight in Leda’s heart

(Pity the mother of voluptuousness).

Go, father Jove; be happy; for success

Attends this moment.”

Attends this moment.”On the queen’s numbed sense

Fell a glad shout that ended sick suspense,

Bidding her lift once more towards the light

Her eyes, by pity closed against a sight

Of blood and death—her eyes, how happy now

To see the swan still safe, while far below,

Brought by the force of his eluded stroke

So near to earth that with his wings he woke

A gust whose sudden silvery motion stirred

The meadow grass, struggled the sombre bird

Of rage and rapine. Loud his scream and hoarse

With baffled fury as he urged his course

Upwards again on threshing pinions wide.

But the fair swan, not daring to abide

This last assault, dropped with the speed of fear

Towards the river. Like a winged spear,

Outstretching his long neck, rigid and straight,

Aimed at where Leda on the bank did wait

With open arms and kind, uplifted eyes

And voice of tender pity, down he flies.

Nearer, nearer, terribly swift, he sped

Directly at the queen; then widely spread

Resisting wings, and breaking his descent

’Gainst his own wind, all speed and fury spent,

The great swan fluttered slowly down to rest

And sweet security on Leda’s breast.

Menacingly the eagle wheeled above her;

But Leda, like a noble-hearted lover

Keeping his child-beloved from tyrannous harm,

Stood o’er the swan and, with one slender arm

Imperiously lifted, waved away

The savage foe, still hungry for his prey.

Baffled at last, he mounted out of sight

And the sky was void—save for a single white

Swan’s feather moulted from a harassed wing

That down, down, with a rhythmic balancing

From side to side dropped sleeping on the air.

Down, slowly down over that dazzling pair,

Whose different grace in union was a birth

Of unimagined beauty on the earth:

So lovely that the maidens standing round

Dared scarcely look. Couched on the flowery ground

Young Leda lay, and to her side did press

The swan’s proud-arching opulent loveliness,

Stroking the snow-soft plumage of his breast

With fingers slowly drawn, themselves caressed

By the warm softness where they lingered, loth

To break away. Sometimes against their growth

Ruffling the feathers inlaid like little scales

On his sleek neck, the pointed finger-nails

Rasped on the warm, dry, puckered skin beneath;

And feeling it she shuddered, and her teeth

Grated on edge; for there was something strange

And snake-like in the touch. He, in exchange,

Gave back to her, stretching his eager neck,

For every kiss a little amorous peck;

Rubbing his silver head on her gold tresses,

And with the nip of horny dry caresses

Leaving upon her young white breast and cheek

And arms the red print of his playful beak.

Closer he nestled, mingling with the slim

Austerity of virginal flank and limb

His curved and florid beauty, till she felt

That downy warmth strike through her flesh and melt

The bones and marrow of her strength away.

One lifted arm bent o’er her brow, she lay

With limbs relaxed, scarce breathing, deathly still;

Save when a quick, involuntary thrill

Shook her sometimes with passing shudderings,

As though some hand had plucked the aching strings

Of life itself, tense with expectancy.

And over her the swan shook slowly free

The folded glory of his wings, and made

A white-walled tent of soft and luminous shade

To be her veil and keep her from the shame

Of naked light and the sun’s noonday flame.

Hushed lay the earth and the wide, careless sky.

Then one sharp sound, that might have been a cry

Of utmost pleasure or of utmost pain,

Broke sobbing forth, and all was still again.


NIGHT is a void about me; I lie alone;

And water drips, like an idiot clicking his tongue,

Senselessly, ceaselessly, endlessly drips

Into the waiting silence, grown

Emptier for this small inhuman sound.

My love is gone, my love who is tender and young.

O smooth warm body! O passionate lips!

I have stretched forth hands in the dark and nothing found:

The silence is huge as the sky—I lie alone—

My narrow room, a darkness that knows no bound.


How shall I fill this measureless

Deep void that the taking away

Of a child’s slim beauty has made?

Slender she is and small, but the loneliness

She has left is a night no stars allay,

And I am cold and afraid.


Long, long ago, cut off from the wolfish pack,

From the warm, immediate touch of friends and mate,

Lost and alone, alone in the utter black

Of a forest night, some far-off, beast-like man,

Cowed by the cold indifferent hate

Of the northern silence, crouched in fear,

When through his bleared and suffering mind

A sudden tremor of comfort ran,

And the void was filled by a rushing wind,

And he breathed a sense of something friendly and near,

And in privation the life of God began.


Love, from your loss shall a god be born to fill

The emptiness, where once you were,

With friendly knowledge and more than a lover’s will

To ease despair?

Shall I feed longing with what it hungers after,

Seeing in earth and sea and air

A lover’s smiles, hearing a lover’s laughter,

Feeling love everywhere?


The night drags on. Darkness and silence grow,

And with them my desire has grown,

My bitter need. Alas, I know,

I know that here I lie alone.


BENEATH the sunlight and blue of all-but Autumn

  The grass sleeps goldenly; woodland and distant hill

Shine through the gauzy air in a dust of golden pollen,

  And even the glittering leaves are almost still.


Scattered on the grass, like a ragman’s bundles carelessly dropped,

  Men sleep outstretched or, sprawling, bask in the sun;

Here glows a woman’s bright dress and here a child is sitting,

  And I lie down and am one of the sleepers, one


Like the rest of this tumbled crowd. Do they all, I wonder,

  Feel anguish grow with the calm day’s slow decline,

Longing, as I, for a shattering wind, a passion

  Of bodily pain to be the soul’s anodyne?


THE irony of being two . . . !

Grey eyes, wide open suddenly,

Regard me and enquire; I see a face

Grave and unquiet in tenderness.

Heart-rending question of women—never answered:

“Tell me, tell me, what are you thinking of?”

Oh, the pain and foolishness of love!

What can I do but make my old grimace,

Ending it with a kiss, as I always do?


DIAPHENIA, drunk with sleep,

Drunk with pleasure, drunk with fatigue,

Feels her Corydon’s fingers creep—

Ring-finger, middle finger, index, thumb—

Strummingly over the smooth sleek drum

Of her thorax.

                Meanwhile Händel’s Gigue

Turns in Corydon’s absent mind

To Yakka-Hoola.

                  She can find

No difference in the thrilling touch

Of one who, now, in everything

Is God-like. “Was there ever such

Passion as ours?”

                    His pianoing

Gives place to simple arithmetic’s

Simplest constatations:—six

Letters in Gneiss and three in Gnu:

Luncheon to-day cost three and two;

In a year—he couldn’t calculate

Three-sixty-five times thirty-eight,

Figuring with printless fingers on

Her living parchment.


I faint, faint, faint at your dear touch.

Say, is it possible . . . to love too much?”


SIMEON, the withered stylite,

  Sat gloomily looking down

Upon each roof and skylight

  In all the seething town.


And in every upper chamber,

  On roofs, where the orange flowers

Make weary men remember

  The perfume of long-dead hours,


He saw the wine-drenched riot

  Of harlots and human beasts,

And how celestial quiet

  Was shattered by their feasts.


The steam of fetid vices

  From a thousand lupanars,

Like smoke of sacrifices,

  Reeked up to the heedless stars.


And the saint from his high fastness

  Of purity apart

Cursed them and their unchasteness,

  And envied them in his heart.


A CREAM of phosphorescent light

Floats on the wash that to and fro

Slides round his feet—enough to show

Many a pendulous stalactite

Of naked mucus, whorls and wreaths

And huge festoons of mottled tripes

And smaller palpitating pipes

Through which a yeasty liquor seethes.


Seated upon the convex mound

Of one vast kidney, Jonah prays

And sings his canticles and hymns,

Making the hollow vault resound

God’s goodness and mysterious ways,

Till the great fish spouts music as he swims.


SWAN, Swan,

Yesterday you were

The whitest of things in this dark winter.

To-day the snow has made of your plumes

An unwashed pocket handkercher,

An unwashed pocket handkercher . . .

“Lancashire, to Lancashire!”—

Tune of the antique trains long ago:

Each summer holiday a milestone

Backwards, backwards:—

Tenby, Barmouth, and year by year

All the different hues of the sea,

Blue, green and blue.

But on this river of muddy jade

There swims a yellow swan,

And along the bank the snow lies dazzlingly white.


HOW clear under the trees,

How softly the music flows,

Rippling from one still pool to another

Into the lake of silence.


OVER against the triumph and the close—

  Amber and green and rose—

    Of this short day,

The pale ghost of the moon grows living-bright

  Once more, as the last light

    Ebbs slowly away.

Darkening the fringes of these western glories

  The black phantasmagories

    Of cloud advance

With noiseless footing—vague and villainous shapes,

  Wrapped in their ragged fustian capes,

    Of some grotesque romance.

But overhead where, like a pool between

  Dark rocks, the sky is green

    And clear and deep,

Floats windlessly a cloud, with curving breast

  Flushed by the fiery west,

    In god-like sleep . . .

And in my mind opens a sudden door

  That lets me see once more

    A little room

With night beyond the window, chill and damp,

  And one green-lighted lamp

    Tempering the gloom,

While here within, close to me, touching me

  (Even the memory

    Of my desire

Shakes me like fear), you sit with scattered hair;

  And all your body bare

    Before the fire

Is lapped about with rosy flame. . . . But still,

  Here on the lonely hill,

    I walk alone;

Silvery green is the moon’s lamp overhead,

  The cloud sleeps warm and red,

    And you are gone.


YOU have sweet flowers for your pleasure;

  You laugh with the bountiful earth

In its richness of summer treasure:

  Where now are your flowers and your mirth?

Petals and cadenced laughter,

  Each in a dying fall,

Droop out of life; and after

  Is nothing; they were all.


But we from the death of roses

  That three suns perfume and gild

With a kiss, till the fourth discloses

  A withered wreath, have distilled

The fulness of one rare phial,

  Whose nimble life shall outrun

The circling shadow on the dial,

  Outlast the tyrannous sun.


A POOR degenerate from the ape,

Whose hands are four, whose tail’s a limb,

I contemplate my flaccid shape

And know I may not rival him,


Save with my mind—a nimbler beast

Possessing a thousand sinewy tails,

A thousand hands, with which it scales,

Greedy of luscious truth, the greased


Poles and the coco palms of thought,

Thrids easily through the mangrove maze

Of metaphysics, walks the taut

Frail dangerous liana ways


That link across wide gulfs remote

Analogies between tree and tree;

Outruns the hare, outhops the goat;

Mind fabulous, mind sublime and free!


But oh, the sound of simian mirth!

Mind, issued from the monkey’s womb,

Is still umbilical to earth,

Earth its home and earth its tomb.


IF, O my Lesbia, I should commit,

Not fornication, dear, but suicide,

My Thames-blown body (Pliny vouches it)

Would drift face upwards on the oily tide

With the other garbage, till it putrefied.


But you, if all your lovers’ frozen hearts

Conspired to send you, desperate, to drown—

Your maiden modesty would float face down,

And men would weep upon your hinder parts.


’Tis the Lord’s doing. Marvellous is the plan

By which this best of worlds is wisely planned.

One law He made for woman, one for man:

We bow the head and do not understand.


A MILLION million spermatozoa,

  All of them alive:

Out of their cataclysm but one poor Noah

  Dare hope to survive.


And among that billion minus one

  Might have chanced to be

Shakespeare, another Newton, a new Donne—

  But the One was Me.


Shame to have ousted your betters thus,

  Taking ark while the others remained outside!

Better for all of us, froward Homunculus,

  If you’d quietly died!


GOD’S in His Heaven: He never issues

  (Wise Man!) to visit this world of ours.

Unchecked the cancer gnaws our tissues,

  Stops to lick chops and then again devours.


Those find, who most delight to roam

  ’Mid castles of remotest Spain,

That there’s, thank Heaven, no place like home;

  So they set out upon their travels again.


Beauty for some provides escape,

  Who gain a happiness in eyeing

The gorgeous buttocks of the ape

  Or Autumn sunsets exquisitely dying.


And some to better worlds than this

  Mount up on wings as frail and misty

As passion’s all-too-transient kiss

  (Though afterwards—oh, omne animal triste!)


But I, too rational by half

  To live but where I bodily am.

Can only do my best to laugh.

  Can only sip my misery dram by dram.


While happier mortals take to drink,

  A dolorous dipsomaniac,

Fuddled with grief I sit and think,

  Looking upon the bile when it is black.


Then brim the bowl with atrabilious liquor!

  We’ll pledge our Empire vast across the flood:

For Blood, as all men know, than Water’s thicker,

  But water’s wider, thank the Lord, than Blood.


LIGHT through the latticed blind

Spans the dim intermediate space

With parallels of luminous dust

To gild a nuptial couch, where Goya’s mind

Conceived those agonising hands, that hair

Scattered, and half a sunlit bosom bare,

And, imminently above them, a red face

Fixed in the imbecile earnestness of lust.


HERE, every winter’s night at eight,

Epicurus lies in state,

Two candles at his head and two

Candles at his feet. A few

Choice spirits watch beneath the vault

Of his dim chapel, where default

Of music fills the pregnant air

With subtler requiem and prayer

Than ever an organ wrought with notes

Spouted from its tubal throats.

Black Ethiopia’s Holy Child,

The Cradled Bottle, breathes its mild

Meek spirit on the ravished nose,

The palate and the tongue of those

Who piously partake with me

Of this funereal agape.


BUBBLE-BREASTED swells the dome

Of this my spiritual home,

From whose nave the chandelier,

Schaffhausen frozen, tumbles sheer.

We in the round balcony sit,

Lean o’er and look into the pit

Where feed the human bears beneath,

Champing with their gilded teeth.

What negroid holiday makes free

With such priapic revelry?

What songs? What gongs? What nameless rites?

What gods like wooden stalagmites?

What steam of blood or kidney pie?

What blasts of Bantu melody?

Ragtime. . . . But when the wearied Band

Swoons to a waltz, I take her hand.

And there we sit in blissful calm,

Quietly sweating palm to palm.


THE mind has lost its Aristotelian elegance of shape: there is only a darkness where bubbles and inconsequent balloons float up to burst their luminous cheeks and vanish.

A woman with a basket on her head: a Chinese lantern quite askew: the vague bright bulging of chemists’ window bottles; and then in my ears the distant noise of a great river of people. And phrases, phrases—

It is only a question of saddle-bags,

Stane Street and Gondibert,

Foals in Iceland (or was it Foals in aspic?).

As that small reddish devil turns away with an insolent jut of his hindquarters, I become aware that his curling pug’s tail is an electric bell-push. But that does not disquiet me so much as the sight of all these polished statues twinkling with high lights and all of them grotesque and all of them colossal.


THE machine is ready to start. The symbolic beasts grow resty, curveting where they stand at their places in the great blue circle of the year. The Showman’s voice rings out. “Montez, mesdames et messieurs, montez. You, sir, must bestride the Ram. You will take the Scorpion. Yours, madame, is the Goat. As for you there, blackguard boy, you must be content with the Fishes. I have allotted you the Virgin, mademoiselle.” . . . “Polisson!” “Pardon, pardon. Evidemment, c’est le Sagittaire qu’on demande. Ohé, les dards! The rest must take what comes. The Twins shall counterpoise one another in the Scales. So, so. Now away we go, away.”

Ha, what keen air. Wind of the upper spaces. Snuff it deep, drink in the intoxication of our speed. Hark how the music swells and rings. . . . sphery music, music of every vagabond planet, every rooted star; sound of winds and seas and all the simmering millions of life. Moving, singing . . . so with a roar and a rush round we go and round, for ever whirling on a ceaseless Bank Holiday of drunken life and speed.

But I happened to look inwards among the machinery of our roundabout, and there I saw a slobbering cretin grinding at a wheel and sweating as he ground, and grinding eternally. And when I perceived that he was the author of all our speed and that the music was of his making, that everything depended on his grinding wheel, I thought I would like to get off. But we were going too fast.


BACK streets, gutters of stagnating darkness where men breathe something that is not so much air as a kind of rarefied slime. . . . I look back down the tunnelled darkness of a drain to where, at the mouth, a broader, windier water-way glitters with the gay speed and motion of sunlit life. But around all is dimly rotting; and the inhabitants are those squamous, phosphorescent creatures that darkness and decay beget. Little men, sheathed tightly in clothes of an exaggeratedly fashionable cheapness, hurry along the pavements, jaunty and at the same time furtive. There is a thin layer of slime over all of them. And then there are the eyes of the women, with their hard glitter that is only of the surface. They see acutely, but in a glassy, superficial way, taking in the objects round them no more than my western windows retain the imprint of the sunset that enriches them.

Back streets, exhalations of a difficulty puberty, I once lived on the fringes of them.


THERE have been visions, dark in the minds of men, death and corruption dancing across the secular abyss that separates eternity from time to where sits the ineluctable judge, waiting, waiting through the ages, and ponders all his predestinated decrees. There will be judgment, and each, in an agony of shame, reluctant yet compelled, will turn his own accuser. For

Tunc tua gesta noxia

Secreta quoque turpia

Videbunt mille millia

Virorum circumstantia.

There under the unwinking gaze of all the legions of just men made perfect, the poor prisoner will uncover each dirty secret of his heart, will act over again each shameful scene of his life. And those eyes of saints and angels will shine impassively down upon his beastliness, and to him, as he looks at their steady brilliance, they will seem a million of little blazing loopholes slotted in the walls of hell.

Hildebert, this was your vision as you brooded over death and judgment, hell and heaven, in your cloister, a thousand years ago. Do you not envy us our peace of mind who know not four ultimates, but only one? For whom the first of the Last Things is also the last—us, whom death annihilates with all our shame and all our folly, leaving no trace behind.


SHARP spires pierce upwards, and the clouds are full of tumbling bells. Reckless, breakneck, head over heels down an airy spiral of stairs run the bells. “Upon Paul’s steeple stands a tree.”

Up again and then once more to the bottom, two steps at a time. “As full of apples as can be.”

Up again and down again: centuries of climbing have not worn the crystal smoothness of the degrees.

Along the bellying clouds the little boys of London Town come running, running as best they may, seeing that at every step they sink ankle-deep through the woolly surface into the black heart of thunder beneath.

The apples on the trees are swaying in the wind, rocking to the clamour of bells. The leaves are of bright green copper, and rattle together with a scaly sound. At the roots of the tree sit four gargoyles playing a little serious game with dice. The hunch-backed ape has won from the manticore that crooked French crown with a hole in it which the manticore got from the friar with the strawberry nose; he had it in turn as an alms from the grave knight who lies with crossed legs down there, through the clouds and the dizzy mist of bell-ringing, where the great church is a hollow ship, full of bright candles, and stable in the midst of dark tempestuous seas.


“SANS Espoir, sans Espoir . . .” sang the lady while the piano laboriously opened its box of old sardines in treacle. One detected ptomaine in the syrup.

Sans Espoir . . . I thought of the rhymes—soir, nonchaloir, reposoir—the dying falls of a symbolism grown sadly suicidal before the broad Flemish back of the singer, the dewlaps of her audience. Sans Espoir. The listeners wore the frozen rapture of those who gaze upon the uplifted Host.

Catching one another’s eye, we had a simultaneous vision of pews, of hyenas and hysteria.

Three candles were burning. They behaved like English aristocrats in a French novel—perfectly, impassively. I tried to imitate their milordliness.

One of the candles flickered, snickered. Was it a draught or was it laughter?

Flickering, snickering—candles, you betrayed me. I had to laugh too.



THERE is a sea somewhere—whether in the lampless crypts of the earth, or among sunlit islands, or that which is an unfathomable and terrifying question between the archipelagos of stars—there is a sea (and perhaps its tides have filled those green transparent pools that glint like eyes in a spring storm-cloud) which is for ever troubled and in travail—a bubbling and a heaving up of waters as though for the birth of a fountain.

The sick and the crippled lie along the brims in expectation of the miracle. And at last, at last . . .

A funnel of white water is twisted up and so stands, straight and still by the very speed of its motion.

It drinks the light; slowly it is infused with colour, rose and mother-of-pearl. Slowly it takes shape, a heavenly body.

O dazzling Anadyomene!

The flakes of foam break into white birds about her head, fall again in a soft avalanche of flowers. Perpetual miracle, beauty endlessly born.


STEAMERS, in all your travelling have you trailed the meshes of your long expiring white nets across this sea, or dipped in it your sliding rail, or balanced your shadow far far down upon its glass-green sand? Or, forgetting the preoccupations of commerce and the well-oiled predestination of your machinery, did you ever put in at the real Paphos?


IN the city of Troy, whither our Argonautical voyages had carried us, we found Helen and that lamentable Cressid who was to Chaucer the feminine paradox, untenably fantastic but so devastatingly actual, the crystal ideal—flawed; and to Shakespeare the inevitable trull, flayed to show her physiological machinery and the logical conclusion of every the most heartrendingly ingenuous gesture of maidenhood. (But, bless you! our gorge doesn’t rise. We are cynically well up in the damning Theory of woman, which makes it all the more amusing to watch ourselves in the ecstatic practice of her. Unforeseen perversity.)

Fabulous Helen! At her firm breasts they used to mould delicate drinking cups which made the sourest vinegar richly poisonous.

The geometry of her body had utterly outwitted Euclid, and the Philosophers were baffled by curves of a subtlety infinitely more elusive and Eleusinian than the most oracular speculations of Parmenides. They did their best to make a coherent system out of the incompatible, but empirically established, facts of her. Time, for instance, was abolished within the circle of her arms. “It is eternity when her lips touch me,” Paris had remarked. And yet this same Paris was manifestly and notoriously falling into a decline, had lost whatever sense or beauty he once possessed, together with his memory and all skill in the nine arts which are memory’s daughters. How was it then, these perplexed philosophers wondered, that she could at one and the same moment give eternity like a goddess, while she was vampiring away with that divine thirsty mouth of hers the last dregs of a poor mortal life? They sought an insufficient refuge in Heraclitus’ theory of opposites.

Meanwhile Troilus was always to be found at sunset, pacing up and down the walls by the western gate—quite mad. At dusk the Greek camp-fires would blossom along Xanthus banks—one after another, a myriad lights dancing in the dark.

As when the moon, refulgent lamp of night,

O’er heaven’s pure azure spreads her something light.

He would repeat the simile to himself, but could never remember the correct epithets. Not that they mattered—any more than anything else.


THERE are fine cities in the world—Manhattan, Ecbatana and Hecatompylus—but this city of Troy is the most fabulous of them all. Rome was seven hills of butcher’s meat, Athens an abstraction of marble, in Alexandria the steam of kidney-puddings revolted the cœnobites, darkness and size render London inappreciable, Paris is full of sparrows, the snow lies gritty on Berlin, Moscow has no verisimilitude, all the East is peopled by masks and apes and larvæ. But this city of Troy is most of all real and fabulous with its charnel beauty.

“Is not Helen the end of our search—paradisal little World, symbol and epitome of the Great? Dawn sleeps in the transparent shadow of roses within her ear. The stainless candour of infinity—far-off peaks in summer and the Milky Way—has taken marvellous form in her. The Little World has its meteors, too, comets and shadowy clouds of hair, stars at whose glance men go planet-struck. Meteors—yes, and history it has. The past is still alive in the fragrance of her hair, and her young body breathes forth memories as old as the beginning of life—Eros first of gods. In her is the goal. I rest here with Helen.”

“Fool,” I said, “quote your Faustus. I go further.”


FURTHER—but a hundred Liliputian tethers prevent me, the white nerves which tie soul to skin. And the whole air is aching with epidermical magnetism.

Further, further. But Troy is the birthplace of my homesickness. Troy is more than a patriotism, for it is built of my very flesh; the remembrance of it is a fire that sticks and tears when I would pull it off.

But further. One last look at Troilus where he stands by the western gate, staring over the plain. Further. When I have learnt the truth, I will return and build a new palace with domes less ominously like breasts, and there I will invent a safer Helen and a less paradoxical Cressid, and my harem will be a library for enlightenment.


HERE are pagodas of diminishing bells. The leopard sleeps in the depth of his rosy cavern, and when he breathes it is a smell of irresistible sweetness; in the bestiaries he is the symbol of Christ in His sepulchre.

This listening conch has collected all the rumours of pantheism; the dew in this veined cup is the sacrament of nature, while these pale thuribles worship in the dark with yellow lamps and incense.

Everywhere alchemical profusion—the golden mintage of glades and ripples, vigils of passion enriched with silver under the fingers of the moon; everywhere lavishness, colour, music; the smoothness of machinery, incredible and fantastic ingenuities. God has lost his half-hunter in the desert.

But we have not come to worship among these Gothic beeches, for all their pillars and the lace-work of their green windows. We are looking for other things than churches.


TREES, the half-fossilised exuberances of a passionate life, petrified fountains of intemperance—with their abolition begins the realm of reason.

Geometry, lines and planes, smooth edges, the ordered horror of perspectives. In this country there are pavements bright and sleek as water. The walls are precipices to which giants have nailed a perpetual cataract of marble. The fringes of the sky are scalloped with a pattern of domes and minarets. At night, too, the down-struck lamps are pyramids of phantom green and the perfect circle they make upon the pavement is magical.

Look over the parapet of the Acropolis. The bridges go dizzily down on their swaying catenaries, the gull’s flight chained fast. The walls drop clear into the valley, all the millions of basalt blocks calcined into a single red monolith, fluted with thirstily shining organ pipes, which seem for ever wet. There are no crevices for moss and toadflax, and even the claws of the yellow lichen slip on its polished flanks.

The valley is all paved and inlaid with rivers of steel. No trees, for they have been abolished.

“Glorious unnature,” cries the watcher at the parapet. His voice launches into the abyss, following the curve of the bridges. “Glorious unnature. We have triumphed.”

But his laughter as it descends is like a flight of broken steps.


LET us abandon ourselves to Time, which is beauty’s essence. We live among the perpetual degenerations of apotheoses. Sunset dissolves into soft grey snow and the deep ocean of midnight, boundless as forgetfulness or some yet undiscovered Pacific, contracts into the green puddle of the dawn. The flowers burn to dust with their own brightness. On the banks of ancient rivers stand the pitiful stumps of huge towers and the ghosts of dead men straining to return into life. The woods are full of the smell of transience. Beauty, then, is that moment of descent when apotheosis tilts its wings downwards into the gulf. The ends of the curve lose themselves parabolically somewhere in infinity. Our sentimental eyes see only the middle section of this degeneration, knowing neither the upper nor the lower extremes, which some have thought to meet, godhead and annihilation.

Old Curiosity Shops! If I have said “Mortality is beauty,” it was a weakness. The sense of time is a symptom of anæmia of the soul, through which flows angelic ichor. We must escape from the dust of the shop.

Cloistered darkness and sleep offer us their lotuses. Not to perceive where all is ugly, eaten into by the syphilis of time, heart-sickening—this is beauty; not to desire where death is the only consummation—wisdom.

Night is a measureless deep silence: daybreak brings back the fœtid gutters of the town. O supreme beauty of a night that knows no limitations—stars or the jagged edges of cock-crowing. Desperate, my mind has desired it: never my blood, whose pulse is a rhythm of the world.

At the other extreme, Beatrice lacks solidity, is as unresponsive to your kisses as mathematics. She too is an oubliette, not a way of life; an oubliette that, admittedly, shoots you upwards into light, not down to death; but it comes to the same thing in the end.

What, then, is the common measure? To take the world as it is, but metaphorically, informing the chaos of nature with a soul, qualifying transience with eternity.

When flowers are thoughts, and lonely poplars fountains of aspiring longing; when our actions are the poem of which all geographies and architectures and every science and all the unclassed individual odds and ends are the words, when even Helen’s white voluptuousness matches some candour of the soul—then it will have been found, the permanent and living loveliness.

It is not a far-fetched, dear-bought gem; no pomander to be smelt only when the crowd becomes too stinkingly insistent; it is not a birth of rare oboes or violins, not visible only from ten to six by state permission at a nominal charge, not a thing richly apart, but an ethic, a way of belief and of practice, of faith and works, mediæval in its implication with the very threads of life. I desire no Paphian cloister of pink monks. Rather a rosy Brotherhood of Common Life, eating, drinking; marrying and giving in marriage; taking and taken in adultery; reading, thinking, and when thinking fails, feeling immeasurably more subtly, sometimes perhaps creating.

Arduous search for one who is chained by his desires to dead carcases, whose eyes are dimmed with tears by the slow heart-breaking twilights full of old family ghosts laid in lavender, whose despair cries out for opiate and anodyne, craving gross sleep or a place on the airy unsupported pinnacles which hang in the sterile upper chambers of ether.

Ventre à terre, head in air—your centaurs are your only poets. Their hoofs strike sparks from the flints and they see both very near and immensely far.



JOHN RIDLEY, the subject of this poem, was killed in February 1918. “If I should perish,” he wrote to me only five weeks before his death, “if I should perish—and one isn’t exactly a ’good life’ at the moment—I wish you’d write something about me. It isn’t vanity (for I know you’ll do me, if anything, rather less than justice!), not vanity, I repeat; but that queer irrational desire one has for immortality of any kind, however short and precarious—for frankly, my dear, I doubt whether your verses will be so very much more perennial than brass. Still, they’ll be something. One can’t, of course, believe in any au-delà for one’s personal self; one would have first to believe in some kind of a friendly god. And as for being a spiritualist spook, one of those wretched beings who seem to spend their eternity in trying to communicate with the earth by a single telephone, where the number is always engaged, and the line chronically out of order—well, all I can say is, Heaven preserve me from such a future life. No, my only hope is you—and a damned poor guarantee for eternity. Don’t make of me a khaki image, I beg. I’d rather you simply said of me, as Erasmus did of his brother, ‘Strenuus compotor, nec scortator ignavus.’ I sincerely hope, of course, that you won’t have to write the thing at all—hope not, but have very little doubt you will. Good-bye.”

The following poem is a tentative and provisional attempt to comply with his request. Ridley was an adolescent, and suffered from that instability of mind “produced by the mental conflict forced upon man by his sensitiveness to herd suggestion on the one hand and to experience on the other” (I quote from Mr. Trotter’s memorable work on Herd Instinct), that characteristic instability which makes adolescence so feebly sceptical, so inefficient, so profoundly unhappy. I have fished up a single day from Ridley’s forgotten existence. It has a bedraggled air in the sunlight, this poor wisp of Lethean weed. Fortunately, however, it will soon be allowed to drop back into the water, where we shall all, in due course, join it. “The greater part must be content to be as though they had not been.”


BETWEEN the drawing of the blind

And being aware of yet another day

There came to him behind

Close, pregnant eyelids, like a flame of blue,

Intense, untroubled by the wind,

A Mediterranean bay,

Bearing a brazen beak and foamless oars

To where, marmoreally smooth and bright,

The steps soar up in one pure flight

From the sea’s edge to the palace doors,

That have shut, have shut their valves of bronze—

And the windows too are lifeless eyes.

The galley grated on the stone;

He stepped out—and was alone:

No white-sailed hopes, no clouds, nor swans

To shatter the ocean’s calm, to break the sky’s.

Up the slow stairs:

Up the slow stairs:Did he know it was a dream?

First one foot up, then the other foot,

Shuddering like a mandrake root

That hears the truffle-dog at work

And draws a breath to scream;

To moan, to scream.

To moan, to scream.The gates swing wide,

And it is coolly dark inside,

And corridors stretch out and out,

Joining the ceilings to their floors,

And parallels ring wedding bells

And through a hundred thousand doors

Perspective has abolished doubt.

But one of the doors was shut,

And behind it the subtlest lutanist

Was shaking a broken necklace of tinkling notes,

And somehow it was feminine music.

Strange exultant fear of desire, when hearts

Beat brokenly. He laid his hand on the latch—

And woke among his familiar books and pictures;

Real as his dream? He wondered. Ten to nine.

Thursday. Wasn’t he lunching at his aunt’s?

Distressing circumstance.

But then he was taking Jenny out to dine,

Which was some consolation. What a chin!

Civilized ten thousand years, and still

No better way than rasping a pale mask

With imminent suicide, steel or obsidian:

Repulsive task!

And the more odious for being quotidian.

If one should live till eighty-five . . .

And the dead, do they still shave? The horrible dead, are they alive?

But that lute, playing across his dream . . .

Quick drops breaking the sleep of the water-wheel,

Song and ebbing whisper of a summer stream,

Music’s endless inconsequence that would reveal

To souls that listened for it, the all

Unseizable confidence, the mystic Rose,

Could it but find the magical fall

That droops, droops and dies into the perfect close . . .

And why so feminine? But one could feel

The unseen woman sitting there behind

The door, making her ceaseless slow appeal

To all that prowls and growls in the caves beneath

The libraries and parlours of the mind.

If only one were rational, if only

At least one had the illusion of being so . . .

Nine o’clock. Still in bed. Warm, but how lonely!

He wept to think of all those single beds,

Those desperate night-long solitudes,

Those mental Salons full of nudes.

Shelley was great when he was twenty-four.

Eight thousand nights alone—minus, perhaps,

Six, or no! seven, certainly not more.

  Five little bits of heaven

  (Tum-de-rum, de-rum, de-rum),

Five little bits of Heaven and one that was a lapse,

High-priced disgust: it stopped him suddenly

In the midst of laughter and talk with a tingling down the

(Like infants’ impoliteness, a terrible infant’s brightness),

And he would shut his eyes so as not to see

His own hot blushes calling him a swine.

Atrocious memory! For memory should be

Of things secure and dead, being past,

Not living and disquieting. At last

He threw the nightmare of his blankets off.

Cloudy ammonia, camels in your bath:

The earth hath bubbles as the water hath:

He was not of them, too, too solidly

Always himself. What foam of kissing lips,

Pouting, parting with the ghost of the seven sips

One smacks for hiccoughs!

One smacks for hiccoughs!Pitiable to be

Quite so deplorably naked when one strips.

There was his scar, a panel of old rose

Slashed in the elegant buff of his trunk hose;

Adonis punctured by his amorous boar,

Permanent souvenir of the Great War.

One of God’s jokes, typically good,

That wound of his. How perfect that he should

Have suffered it for—what?


OH, the dear front page of the Times!

Chronicle of essential history:

Marriage, birth, and the sly mysteriousness

Of lovers’ greetings, of lovers’ meetings,

And dirty death, impartially paid

To courage and the old decayed.

But nobody had been born to-day,

Nobody married that he knew,

Nobody died and nobody even killed;

  He felt a little aggrieved—

  Nobody even killed.

But, to make up: “Tuesday, Colchester train:

Wanted Brown Eyes’ address, with a view to meeting again.”

Dear Brown Eyes, it had been nice of her

To talk so friendly to a lonely traveller!

  Why is it nobody ever talks to me?

And now, here was a letter from Helen.

Better to open it rather than thus

Dwell in a long muse and maze

Over the scrawled address and the postmark,

Staring stupidly.

Love—was there no escape?

Was it always there, always there?

The same huge and dominant shape,

Like Windsor Castle leaning over the plain;

And the letter a vista cut through the musing forest,

At the end the old Round Tower,

Singing its refrain:

Here we are, here we are, here we are again!

The life so short, so vast love’s science and art,

So many conditions of felicity.

  “Darling, will you become a part

  Of my poor physiology?

  And, my beloved, may I have

  The latchkey of your history?

  And while this corpse is what it is

  Dear, we must share geographies.”

So many conditions of felicity.

And now time was a widening gulf and space,

A fixed between, and fate still kept them apart.

Her voice quite gone; distance had blurred her face.

The life so short, so vast love’s science and art.

So many conditions—and yet, once,

Four whole days,

Four short days of perishing time,

They had fulfilled them all.

But that was long ago, ah! long ago,

Like the last horse bus, or the Christmas pantomime,

Or the Bells, oh, the Bells, of Edgar Allan Poe.


“HELEN, your letter, proving, I suppose,

That you exist somewhere in space, who knows?

Somewhere in time, perhaps, arrives this morning,

Reminding me with a note of Lutheran warning

That faith’s the test, not works. Works!—any fool

Can do them if he tries to; but what school

Can teach one to credit the ridiculous,

The palpably non-existent? So with us,

Votaries of the copulative cult,

In this affair of love, quicumque vult,

Whoever would be saved, must love without

Adjunct of sense or reason, must not doubt

Although the deity be far removed,

Remote, invisible; who is not loved

Best by voluptuous works, but by the faith

That lives in absence and the body’s death.

I have no faith, and even in love remain

Agnostic. Are you here? The fact is plain,

Constated by the heavenly vision of you,

Maybe by the mouth’s warm touch; and that I love you,

I then most surely know, most painfully.

But now you’ve robbed the temple, leaving me

A poor invisibility to adore,

Now that, alas, you’re vanished, gone . . . no more;

You take my drift. I only ask your leave

To be a little unfaithful—not to you,

My dear, to whom I was and will be true,

But to your absence. Hence no cause to grieve;

For absence may be cheated of a kiss—

Lightly and laughing—with no prejudice

To the so longed-for presence, which some day

Will crown the presence of

Will crown the presence ofLe Vostre J.

(As dear unhappy Troilus would say).”


OH, the maggots, the maggots in his brains!

Words, words and words.

A birth of rhymes and the strangest,

The most unlikely superfœtations—

New deep thoughts begot by a jingle upon a pun,

New worlds glimpsed through the window of a word

That has ceased, somehow, to be opaque.

All the muses buzzing in his head.

Autobiography crystallised under his pen, thus:

  “When I was young enough not to know youth,

  I was a Faun whose loves were Byzantine

  Among stiff trees. Before me naked Truth

  Creaked on her intellectual legs, divine

  In being inhuman, and was never caught

  By all my speed; for she could outrun thought.

  Now I am old enough to know I am young,

  I chase more plastic beauties, but inspire

  Life in their clay, purity in their dung

  With the creative breath of my desire.

  And utter truth is now made manifest

  When on a certain sleeping face and breast

  The moonlight dreams and silver chords are strung,

  And a god’s hand touches the aching lyre.”

  He read it through: a pretty, clinquant thing,

  Like bright spontaneous bird-song in the spring,

  Instinct with instinct, full of dewy freshness.

  Yes, he had genius, if he chose to use it;

  If he chose to—but it was too much trouble,

  And he preferred reading. He lit his pipe,

  Opened his book, plunged in and soon was drowned

  In pleasant seas . . . to rise again and find

  One o’clock struck and his unshaven face

  Still like a record in a musical box,

  And Auntie Loo miles off in Bloomsbury.



THE Open Sesame of “Master John,”

And then the broad silk bosom of Aunt Loo.

“Dear John, this is a pleasure. How are you?”

“Well, thanks. Where’s Uncle Will?” “Your uncle’s gone

To Bath for his lumbago. He gets on

As well as anyone can hope to do

At his age—for you know he’s seventy-two;

But still, he does his bit. He sits upon

The local Tribunal at home, and takes

Parties of wounded soldiers out in brakes

To see the country. And three times a week

He still goes up to business in the City;

And then, sometimes, at night he has to speak

In Village Halls for the War Aims Committee.”


“Well, have you any news about the war?

What do they say in France?” “I daren’t repeat

The things they say.” “You see we’ve got some meat

For you, dear John. Really, I think before

To-day I’ve had no lamb this year. We score

By getting decent vegetables to eat,

Sent up from home. This is a good receipt:

The touch of garlic makes it. Have some more.

Poor Tom was wounded on the twenty-third;

Did you know that? And just to-day I heard

News from your uncle that his nephew James

Is dead—Matilda’s eldest boy.” “I knew

One of those boys, but I’m so bad at names.

Mine had red hair.” “Oh, now, that must be Hugh.”


“Colonel McGillicuddy came to dine

Quietly here, a night or two ago.

He’s on the Staff and very much in the know

About all sorts of things. His special line

Is Tanks. He says we’ve got a new design

Of super-Tank, with big guns, that can go

(I think he said) at thirty miles or so

An hour. That ought to make them whine

For peace. He also said, if I remember,

That the war couldn’t last beyond September,

Because the Germans’ trucks were wearing out

And couldn’t be replaced. I only hope

It’s true. You know your uncle has no doubt

That the whole thing was plotted by the Pope . . .”

“. . . Good-bye, dear John. We have had a nice talk.

You must soon come again. Good-bye, good-bye. . . .”

He tottered forth, full of the melancholy

That comes of surfeit, and began to walk

Slowly towards Oxford Street. The brazen sky

Burned overhead. Beneath his feet the stones

Were a grey incandescence, and his bones

Melted within him, and his bowels yearned.


THE crowd, the crowd—oh, he could almost cry

To see those myriad faces hurrying by,

And each a strong tower rooted in the past

On dark unknown foundations, each made fast

With locks nobody knew the secret of,

No key could open: save that perhaps love

Might push the bars half back and just peep in—

And see strange sights, it may be. But for him

They were locked donjons, every window bright

With beckoning mystery; and then, Good Night!

The lamp was out, they were passed, they were gone

For ever . . . ever. And one might have been

The hero or the friend long sought, and one

Was the loveliest face his eyes had ever seen,

(Vanished as soon) and he went lonely on.

Then in a sudden fearful vision he saw

The whole world spread before him—a vast sphere

Of seething atoms moving to one law:

“Be individual. Approach, draw near,

Yes, even touch: but never join, never be

Other than your own selves eternally.”

And there are tangents, tangents of thought that aim

Out through the gaps between the patterned stars

At some fantastic dream without a name

That like the moon shining through prison bars,

Visits the mind with madness. So they fly,

Those soaring tangents, till the first jet tires,

Failing, faltering half-way up the sky,

And breaks—poor slender fountain that aspires

Against the whole strength of the heavy earth

Within whose womb, darkly, it took birth.

Oh, how remote he walked along the street,

Jostling with other lumps of human meat!

He was so tired. The café doors invite.

Caverned within them, still lingers the night

In shadowy coolness, soothing the seared sight.

He sat there smoking, soulless and wholly crass,

Sunk to the eyes in the warm sodden morass

Of his own guts, wearily, wearily

Ruminating visions of mortality—

Memento Moris from the pink alcove,

Nightmare oppressiveness of profane love.

Cesspool within, and without him he could see

Nothing but mounds of flesh and harlotry.

Like a half-pricked bubble pendulous in space,

The buttered leatheriness of a Jew’s face

Looms through cigar-smoke; red and ghastly white,

Death’s-head women fascinate the sight.

It was the nightmare of a corpse. Dead, dead . . .

Oh, to wake up, to live again! he fled

From that foul place and from himself.


TWIN domes of the Alhambra,

Veiled tenderness of the sky above the Square:

He sat him down in the gardens, under the trees,

And in the dust, with the point of his umbrella,

Drew pictures of the crosses we have to bear.

The poor may starve, the sick have horrible pains—

But there are pale eyes even in the London planes.

Men may make war and money, mischief and love—

But about us are colours and the sky above.

Yes, here, where the golden domes ring clear,

And the planes patiently, hopefully renew

Their green refrain from year to year

To the dim spring burden of London’s husky blue,

Here he could see the folly of it. How?

Confine a boundless possible within

The prison of an ineluctable Now?

Go slave to pain, woo forth original sin

Out of her lair—and all by a foolish Act?

Madness! But now, Wordsworth of Leicester Square,

He’d learnt his lesson, learnt by the mere fact

Of the place existing, so finely unaware

Of syphilis and the restless in and out

Of public lavatories, and evening shout

Of winners and disasters, races and war.

Troubles come thick enough. Why call for more

By suiting action to the divine Word?

His spleen was chronic, true; but he preferred

Its subtle agony to the brute force

That tugged the barbs of deep-anchored remorse.

The sunlight wrapped folds of soft golden silk

About him, and the air was warm as milk

Against his skin. Long sitting still had made

Cramped soreness such a pleasure, he was afraid

To shift his tortured limbs, lest he should mar

Life’s evenness. London’s noise from afar

Smoothed out its harshness to soothe his thoughts asleep,

Sound that made silence much more calm and deep.

The domes of gold, the leaves, emerald bright,

Were intense, piercing arrows of delight.

He did not think; thought was a shallow thing

To his deep sense of life, of mere being.

He looked at his hand, lying there on his knee,

The blue veins branching, the tendons cunningly

Dancing like jacks in a piano if he shook

A knot-boned finger. Only to look and look,

Till he knew it, each hair and every pore—

It seemed enough: what need of anything more?

Thought, a blind alley; action, which at best

Is cudgelling water that goes back to rest

As soon as you give over your violences.

No, wisdom culls the flowers of the five senses,

Savouring the secret sweetness they afford:

Instead of which he had a Medical Board

Next week, and they would pass him fit. Good Lord!

Well, let all pass.

Well, let all pass.But one must outdo fate,

Wear clothes more modish than the fashion, run

Faster than time, not merely stand and wait;

Do in a flash what cannot be undone

Through ten eternities. Predestinate?

So would God be—that is, if there were one:

General epidemic which spoils nobody’s fun.

Action, action! Quickly rise and do

The most irreparable things; beget,

In one brief consummation of the will,

Remorse, reaction, wretchedness, regret.

Action! This was no time for sitting still.

He crushed his hat down over his eyes

And walked with a stamp to symbolise

Action, action—left, right, left;

Planting his feet with a slabby beat,

Taking strange Procrustean steps,

Lengthened, shortened to avoid

Touching the lines between the stones—

A thing which makes God so annoyed.

Action, action! First of all

He spent three pounds he couldn’t afford

In buying a book he didn’t want,

For the mere sake of having been

Irrevocably extravagant.

Then feeling very bold, he pressed

The bell of a chance house; it might

Disclose some New Arabian Night

Behind its grimy husk, who knows?

The seconds passed; all was dead.

Arrogantly he rang once more.

His heart thumped on sheer silence; but at last

There was a shuffling; something behind the door

Became approaching panic, and he fled.


“MISERY,” he said, “to have no chin,

Nothing but brains and sex and taste:

Only omissively to sin,

Weakly kind and cowardly chaste.

But when the war is over,

I will go to the East and plant

Tea and rubber, and make much money.

I will eat the black sweat of niggers

And flagellate them with whips.

I shall be enormously myself,

  Incarnate Chin.”

The anguish of thinking ill of oneself

(St. Paul’s religion, poignant beyond words)

Turns ere you know it to faint minor thirds

Before the ritualistic pomps of the world—

The glass-grey silver of rivers, silken skies unfurled,

Urim and Thummim of dawn and sun-setting,

And the lawn sleeves of a great episcopal cloud,

Matins of song and vesperal murmuring,

Incense of night-long flowers and earth new-ploughed;

All beauties of sweetness and all that shine or sing.

Conscience is smoothed by beauty’s subtle fingers

Into voluptuousness, where nothing lingers

Of bitterness, saving a sorrow that is

Rather a languor than a sense of pain.

So, from the tunnel of St. Martin’s Lane

Sailing into the open Square, he felt

His self-reproach, his good resolutions melt

Into an ecstasy, gentle as balm,

Before the spire, etched black and white on the calm

Of a pale windless sky, St. Martin’s spire,

And the shadows sleeping beneath the portico

And the crowd hurrying, ceaselessly, to and fro.

Alas, the bleached and slender tower that aches

Upon the gauzy sky, where blueness breaks

Into sweet hoarseness, veiled with love and tender

As the dove’s voice alone in the woods: too slender,

Too finely pencilled—black and bleaching white

On smoky mist, too clear in the keen light

Of utmost summer: and oh! the lives that pass

In one swift stream of colour, too, too bright,

Too swift—and all the lives unknown,


                                  Alas. . . .

A truce to summer and beauty and the pain

Of being too consciously alive among

The things that pass and the things that remain,

(Oh, equal sadness!) the pain of being young.

Truce, truce. . . . Once again he fled;—

All his life, it seemed, was a flight;—

Fled and found

Sanctuary in a cinema house.

Huge faces loomed and burst,

Like bubbles in a black wind.

He shut his eyes on them and in a little

Slept; slept, while the pictures

Passed and returned, passed once more and returned.

And he, like God in the midst of the wheeling world,

Slept on; and when he woke it was eight o’clock.

Jenny? Revenge is sweet; he will have kept

  Dear Jenny waiting.


TALL straight poplars stand in a meadow;

The wind and sun caress them, dappling

The deep green grass with shine and shadow;

And a little apart one slender sapling

Sways in the wind and almost seems

Conscious of its own supple grace,

And shakes its twin-hued leaves and gleams

With silvery laughter, filling the place

Where it stands with a sudden flash of human

Beauty and grace; till from her tree

Steps forth the dryad, now turned woman,

And sways to meet him. It is she.

Food and drink, food and drink:

Olives as firm and sleek and green

As the breasts of a sea god’s daughter,

Swimming far down where the corpses sink

Through the dense shadowy water.

Silver and black on flank and back,

The glossy sardine mourns its head.

The red anchovy and the beetroot red,

With carrots, build a gorgeous stair—

Bronze, apoplexy and Venetian hair—

And the green pallor of the salad round

Sharpens their clarion sound.

  De lady take hors d’œuvres? and de gentleman too?

  Per due! Due! Echo answers: Du’ . . .

 “So, Jenny, you’ve found another Perfect Man.”

“Perfect, perhaps; but not so sweet as you,

Not such a baby.” “Me? A baby. Why,

I am older than the rocks on which I sit. . . .”

  Oh, how delightful, talking about oneself!

Golden wine, pale as a Tuscan primitive,

And wine’s strange taste, half loathsome, half delicious:

Come, my Lesbia, let us love and live.

What though the mind still think that one thing’s vicious

More than another? If the thought can give

This wine’s rich savour to our laughing kiss,

Let us preserve the Christian prejudice.

Oh, there are shynesses and silences,

Shynesses and silences!

But luckily God also gave us wine.

“Jenny, adorable—” (what draws the line

At the mere word “love”?) “has anyone the right

To look so lovely as you look to-night,

To have such eyes, such a helmet of bright hair?”

But candidly, he wondered, do I care?

He heard her voice and himself spoke,

But like faint light through a cloud of smoke,

There came, unreal and far away,

Mere sounds utterly empty—like the drone

Of prayers, crambe repetita, prayers and praise,

Long, long ago, in the old School Chapel days;

Senseless, but so intrusive on one’s own

Interior life one couldn’t even think . . .

O sweet, rare, perilous, retchy drink!

Another glass . . .


HOW cool is the moonless summer night, how sweet

After the noise and the dizzy choking heat!

The bloodless lamps look down upon their own

Green image in the polished roadway thrown,

And onward and out of sight the great road runs,

Smooth and dark as a river of calm bronze.

Freedom and widening space: his life expands,

Ready, it seems, to burst the iron bands

Of self, to fuse with other lives and be

Not one but the world, no longer “I” but “She.”

See, like the dolorous memory

Of happy times in misery,

An aged hansom fills the street

With the superannuated beat

Of hollow hoofs and bells that chime

Out of another quieter time.

“Good-night,” the last kiss, “and God bless you, my dear.”

So, she was gone, she who had been so near,

So breathing-warm—soft mouth and hands and hair—

A moment since. Had she been really there,

Close at his side, and had he kissed her? It seemed

Unlikely as something somebody else had dreamed

And talked about at breakfast, being a bore:

Improbable, unsubstantial, dim, yet more

Real than the rest of life; real as the blaze

Of a sudden-seen picture, as the lightning phrase

With which the poet-gods strangely create

Their brief bright world beyond the reach of fate.

Yet he could wonder now if he had kissed

Her or his own loved thoughts. Did she exist

Now she was history and safely stowed

Down in the past? There (with a conscious smile),

There let her rest eternal. And meanwhile,

Lamp-fringed towards meeting parallels, the road

Stretched out and out, and the old weary horse,

Come from the past, went jogging his homeward course

Uphill through time to some demoded place,

On ghostly hoofs back to the safe Has-Been:—

But fact returns insistent as remorse;

Uphill towards Hampstead, back to the year of grace

Nineteen hundred and seventeen.


BETWEEN the drawing of the blind

  And being aware of yet another day . . .



Misspelled words and printer errors have been corrected.

Inconsistencies in punctuation have been maintained.

A cover was created for this eBook.


[The end of Leda, by Aldous Huxley.]