Corpus of Electronic Texts Edition
The Sphinx (Author: Oscar Wilde)
- In a dim corner of my room for longer than my fancy thinks,
A beautiful and silent Sphinx has watched me through the shifting gloom.
- Inviolate and immobile she does not rise she does not stir
For silver moons are nought to her and nought to her the suns that reel.
- Red follows grey across the air, the waves of moonlight ebb and flow
But with the Dawn she does not go and in the night-time she is there.
- Dawn follows Dawn and Nights grow old and all the while this curious cat
Lies couching on the Chinese mat with eyes of satin rimmed with gold.
- Upon the mat she lies and leers and on the tawny throat of her
Flutters the soft and fur or ripples to her pointed ears.
- Come forth my lovely seneschal! so somnolent, so statuesque!
Come forth you exquisite grotesque! half woman and half animal!
- Come forth my lovely languorous Sphinx! and put your head upon my knee!
And let me stroke your throat and see your body spotted like the Lynx!
- And let me touch those curving claws Of yellow ivory and grasp
The tail that like a monstrous Asp coils round your heavy velvet paws!
- A thousand weary centuries are thine while I have hardly seen
Some twenty summers cast their green for Autumn's gaudy liveries.
- But you can read the Hieroglyphs on the great sand-stone obelisks,
And you have talked with Basilisks, and you have looked on Hippogriffs.
- O tell me, were you standing by when Isis to Osiris knelt?
And did you watch the Egyptian melt her union for Anthony
- And drink the jewel-drunken wine and bend her head in mimic awe
To see the huge proconsul draw the salted tunny from the brine?
- And did you mark the Cyprian kiss with Adon on his catafalque?
And did you follow Amenalk the god of Heliopolis?
- And did you talk with Thoth, and did you hear the moon-horned Io weep?
And know the painted kings who sleep beneath the wedge-shaped Pyramid?
- Lift up your large black satin eyes which are like cushions where one sinks!
Fawn at my feet, fantastic Sphinx! And sing me all your memories!
- Sing to me of the Jewish maid who wandered with the Holy Child,
And how you led them through the wild, and how they slept beneath your shade.
- Sing to me of that odorous green eve when crouching by the marge
You heard from Adrian's gilded barge the laughter of Antinous
- And lapped the stream and fed your drouth and watched with hot and hungry stare
The ivory body of that rare young slave with his pomegranate mouth!
- Sing to me of the Labyrinth in which the two-formed bull was stalled!
Sing to me of the night you crawled across the temple's granite plinth
- When through the purple corridors the screaming scarlet Ibis flew
In terror, and a horrid dew dripped from the moaning Mandragores,
- And the great torpid crocodile within the tank shed slimy tears,
And tare the jewels from his ears and staggered back into the Nile,
- And the Priests cursed you with shrill psalms as in your claws you seized their snake
And crept away with it to slake your passion by the shuddering palms.
- Who were your lovers? who were they who wrestled for you in the dust?
Which was the vessel of your Lust? What Leman had you, every day?
- Did giant lizards come and crouch before you on the reedy banks?
Did Gryphons with great metal flanks leap on you in your trampled couch?
- Did monstrous hippopotami come sidling to you in the mist?
Did gilt-scaled dragons write and twist with passion as you passed them by?
- And from that brick-built Lycian tomb what horrible Chimera came
With fearful heads and fearful flame to breed new wonders from your womb?
- Or had you shameful secret guests and did you harry to your home
Some Nereid coiled in amber foam With curious rock-crystal breasts?
- Or did you treading through the froth call to the brown Sidonian
For tidings of Leviathan, Leviathan or Behemoth?
- Or did you when the sun was set climb up the cactus-covered slope
To meet your swarthy Ethiop whose body was of polished jet?
- Or did you while the earthen skiffs dropped down the grey Nilotic flats
At twilight and the flickering bats flew round the temple's triple glyphs
- Steal to the border of the bar and swim across the silent lake
And slink into the vault and make the Pyramid your lúpanar
- Till from each black sarcophagus rose up the painted swathèd dead?
Or did you lure unto your bed the ivory-horned Tragelaphos?
- Or did you love the god of flies who plagued the Hebrews and was splashed
With wine unto the waist? or Pasht, who had green beryls for her eyes?
- Or that young God, the Tyrian, who was more amorous than the dove
Of Ashtaroth? or did you love the god of the Assyrian
- Whose wings, like strange transparent talc, rose high above his hawk-faced head
Painted with silver and with red and ribbed with rods of Oreichalch?
- Or did huge Apis from his car leap down and lay before your feet
Big blossoms of the honey-sweet and honey-coloured nenuphar?
- How subtle-secret is your smile! Did you love none then? Nay, I know
Great Ammon was your bedfellow! He lay with you beside the Nile!
- The river-horses in the slime trumpeted when they saw him come
Odorous with Syrian galbanum and smeared with spikenard and with thyme.
- He came along the river bank Like some tall galley argent-sailed,
He strode across the waters, mailed in beauty and the waters sank.
- He strode across the desert sand: he reached the valley where you lay:
He waited till the dawn of day: then touched your black breasts with his hand.
- You kissed his mouth with mouths of flame: you made the hornèd-god your own:
You stood behind him on his throne: you called him by his secret name.
- You whispered monstrous oracles into the caverns of his ears:
With blood of goats and blood of steers you taught him monstrous miracles.
- White Ammon was your bedfellow! Your chamber was the steaming Nile!
And with your curved archaic smile you watched his passion come and go.
- With Syrian oils his brows were bright: and wide-spread as a tent at noon
His marble limbs made pale the moon and lent the day a larger light.
- His long hair was nine cubits' span and coloured like that yellow gem
Which hidden in their garments' hem the merchants bring from Kurdistan.
- His face was as the must that lies upon a vat of new-made wine:
The seas could not insapphirine the perfect azure of his eyes.
- His thick, soft throat was white as milk and threaded with thin veins of blue:
And curious pearls like frozen dew were broidered on his flowing silk.
- On pearl and porphyry pedestalled he was too bright to look upon:
For on his ivory breast there shone the wondrous ocean-emerald,
- That mystic, moonlight jewel which some diver of the Colchian caves
Had found beneath the blackening waves and carried to the Colchian witch.
- Before his gilded galiot ran naked vine-wreathed corybants,
And lines of swaying elephants knelt down to draw his chariot,
- And lines of swarthy Nubians bare up his litter as he rode
Down the great granite-paven road between the nodding peacock fans.
- The merchants brought him steatite from Sidon in their painted ships:
The meanest cup that touched his lips was fashioned from a chrysolite.
- The merchants brought him cedar chests of rich apparel bound with cords;
His train was borne by Memphian lords: young kings were glad to be his guests.
- Ten hundred shaven priests did bow to Ammon's altar day and night,
Ten hundred lamps did wave their light through Ammon's carven houseand now
- Foul snake and speckled adder with their young ones crawl from stone to stone
For ruined is the house and prone the great rose-marble monolith!
- Wild ass or trotting jackal comes and couches in the mouldering gates:
Wild satyrs call unto their mates across the fallen fluted drums.
- And on the summit of the pile the blue-faced ape of Horus sits
And gibbers while the fig-tree splits the pillars of the peristyle.
- The god is scattered here and there: deep hidden in the windy sand
I saw his giant granite hand still clenched in impotent despair.
- And many a wandering caravan of stately negroes silken-shawled,
Crossing the desert halts appalled before the neck that none can span.
- And many a bearded Bedouin draws back his yellow-striped burnous
To gaze upon the Titan thews of him who was thy paladin.
- Go, seek his fragments on the moor and wash them in the evening dew,
And from their pieces make anew thy mutilated paramour!
- Go, seek them where they lie alone and from their broken pieces make
Thy bruisèd bedfellow! And wake mad passions in the senseless stone!
- Charm his dull ear with Syrian hymns! he loved your body! oh, be kind,
Pour spikenard on his hair, and wind soft rolls of linen round his limbs!
- Wind round his head the figured coins! stain with red fruits the pallid lips!
Weave purple for his shrunken hips! and purple for his barren loins!
- Away to Egypt! Have no fear. Only one God has ever died,
Only one God has let His side be wounded by a soldier's spear.
- But these, thy lovers, are not dead. Still by the hundred-cubit gate
Dog-faced Anubis sits in state with lotus lilies for thy head.
- Still from his chair of porphyry gaunt Memnon strains his lidless eyes
Across the empty land, and cries each yellow morning unto thee.
- And Nilus with his broken horn lies in his black and oozy bed
And till thy coming will not spread his waters on the withering corn.
- Your lovers are not dead, I know. They will rise up and hear thy voice
And clash their cymbals and rejoice and run to kiss your mouth! And so,
- Set wings upon your argosies! Set horses to your ebon car!
Back to your Nile! Or if you are grown sick of dead divinities
- Follow some roving lion's spoor across the copper-coloured plain,
Reach out and hale him by the mane and bid him to be your paramour!
- Couch by his side upon the grass and set your white teeth in his throat
And when you hear his dying note lash your long flanks of polished brass
- And take a tiger for your mate, whose amber sides are flecked with black,
And ride upon his gilded back in triumph through the Theban gate,
- And toy with him in amorous jests, and when he turns, and snarls, and gnaws,
O smite him with your jasper claws! and bruise him with your agate breasts!
- Why are you tarrying? Get hence! I weary of your sullen ways,
I weary of your steadfast gaze, your somnolent magnificence.
- Your horrible and heavy breath makes the light flicker in the lamp,
And on my brow I feel the damp and dreadful dews of night and death.
- Your eyes are like fantastic moons that shiver in some stagnant lake,
Your tongue is like a scarlet snake that dances to fantastic tunes,
- Your pulse makes poisonous melodies, and your black throat is like the hole
Left by some torch or burning coal on Saracenic tapestries.
- Away! The sulphur-coloured stars are hurrying through the Western gate!
Away! Or it may be too late to climb their silent silver cars!
- See, the dawn shivers round the grey gilt-dialled towers, and the rain
Streams down each diamonded pane and blurs with tears the wannish day.
- What snake-tressed fury fresh from Hell, with uncouth gestures and unclean,
Stole from the poppy-drowsy queen and led you to a student's cell?
- What songless tongueless ghost of sin crept through the curtains of the night,
And saw my taper burning bright, and knocked and bade you enter in?
- Are there not others more accursed, whiter with leprosies than I?
Are Abana and Pharphar dry that you come here to slake your thirst?
- Get hence, you loathsome misery! Hideous animal, get hence!
You wake in me each bestial sense, you make me what I would not be.
- You make my creed a barren sham, you wake foul dreams of sensual life,
And Atys with his blood-stained knife were better than the thing I am.
- False Sphinx! False Sphinx! By reedy Styx old Charon, leaning on his oar,
Waits for my coin. Go thou before, and leave me to my crucifix,
- Whose pallid burden, sick with pain, watches the world with wearied eyes,
And weeps for every soul that dies, and weeps for every soul in vain.