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The Sphinx

Author: Oscar Wilde

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Electronic edition compiled and proof-read by Margaret Lantry

Funded by University College, Cork

1. First draft, revised and corrected.

Extent of text: 3360 words


CELT: Corpus of Electronic Texts: a project of University College, Cork
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(1997) (2008)

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Text ID Number: E850003-025

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There is not as yet an authoritative edition of Wilde's works.


    Select editions
  1. The writings of Oscar Wilde (London; New York: A. R. Keller & Co. 1907) 15 vols.
  2. Robert Ross (ed), The First Collected Edition of the Works of Oscar Wilde (London: Methuen & Co. 1908). 15 vols. Reprinted Dawsons: Pall Mall 1969.
  3. Complete works of Oscar Wilde (Glasgow: HarperCollins, 1994).
    Select bibliography
  1. 'Notes for a bibliography of Oscar Wilde', Books and book-plates (A quarterly for collectors) 5, no. 3 (April 1905), 170-183.
  2. Karl E. Beckson, The Oscar Wilde encyclopedia (New York: AMS Press 1998). AMS Studies in the nineteenth century 18.
  3. Richard Ellmann; John Espey, Oscar Wilde: two approaches: papers read at a Clark Library seminar, April 17, 1976 (Los Angeles: William Andrews Clark Memorial Library, University of California 1977).
  4. Richard Ellmann (ed), The Artist as Critic: Critical Writings of Oscar Wilde (Chicago 1982).
  5. Richard Ellmann, Oscar Wilde at Oxford: a lecture delivered at the Library of Congress on March 1, 1983 (Washington, DC: Library of Congress 1984).
  6. Richard Ellmann, Oscar Wilde: a biography (London: Hamilton 1987).
  7. Juliet Gardiner, Oscar Wilde: a life in letters, writings and wit (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1995).
  8. Frank Harris, Oscar Wilde, including My memories of Oscar Wilde, by George Bernard Shaw and an introductory note by Lyle Blair (London: Robinson, 1992).
  9. Rupert Hart-Davis (ed), Selected letters of Oscar Wilde (Oxford: Oxford University Press 1979).
  10. Rupert Hart-Davis (ed), More letters of Oscar Wilde (London: Murray 1985).
  11. Vyvyan Beresford Holland, Oscar Wilde: a pictorial biography (London: Thames & Hudson 1960).
  12. H. Montgomery Hyde, Oscar Wilde: a biography (London: Methuen 1977).
  13. Andrew McDonnell, Oscar Wilde at Oxford: an annotated catalogue of Wilde manuscripts and related items at the Bodleian Library, Oxford, including many hitherto unpublished letters, photographs and illustrations (A. McDonnell 1996). Limited edition of 170 copies.
  14. Stuart Mason, Bibliography of Oscar Wilde (London: E. G. Richards 1907). Also pubd. New York 1908, London 1914 in 2 vols. Repr. of 1914 edition: New York: Haskell House 1972.
  15. E. H. Mikhail, Oscar Wilde: an annotated bibliography of criticism (London: Macmillan 1978). Also pubd. Totowa NJ: Rowman & Littlefield 1978.
  16. Thomas A. Mikolyzk, Oscar Wilde: an annotated bibliography (Westport CT: Greenwood Press 1993). Bibliographies and indexes in world literature, 38.
  17. Norman Page, An Oscar Wilde chronology (London: Macmillan 1991).
  18. Hesketh Pearson, A Life of Oscar Wilde (London 1946).
  19. Richard Pine, The thief of reason: Oscar Wilde and modern Ireland (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1996).
  20. Horst Schroeder, Additions and corrections to Richard Ellmann's Oscar Wilde (Braunschweig: H. Schroeder 1989).
    The edition used in the digital edition
  1. Oscar Wilde The Sphinx in The Works of Oscar Wilde. , London, Galley Press (1987) page 812–821


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Created: By Oscar Wilde (1854–1900). (1894)

Use of language

Language: [EN] The text is in English.

Revision History

Corpus of Electronic Texts Edition: E850003-025

The Sphinx: Author: Oscar Wilde


  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Come forth my lovely seneschal! so somnolent, so statuesque!
    Come forth you exquisite grotesque! half woman and half animal!
  7. 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!
  8. 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!
  9. A thousand weary centuries are thine while I have hardly seen
    Some twenty summers cast their green for Autumn's gaudy liveries.

  10. p.813

  11. But you can read the Hieroglyphs on the great sand-stone obelisks,
    And you have talked with Basilisks, and you have looked on Hippogriffs.
  12. O tell me, were you standing by when Isis to Osiris knelt?
    And did you watch the Egyptian melt her union for Anthony
  13. 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?
  14. And did you mark the Cyprian kiss with Adon on his catafalque?
    And did you follow Amenalk the god of Heliopolis?
  15. 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?
  16. 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!
  17. 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.
  18. Sing to me of that odorous green eve when crouching by the marge
    You heard from Adrian's gilded barge the laughter of Antinous
  19. 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!
  20. 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

  21. p.814

  22. When through the purple corridors the screaming scarlet Ibis flew
    In terror, and a horrid dew dripped from the moaning Mandragores,
  23. And the great torpid crocodile within the tank shed slimy tears,
    And tare the jewels from his ears and staggered back into the Nile,
  24. 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.
  25. 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?
  26. 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?
  27. Did monstrous hippopotami come sidling to you in the mist?
    Did gilt-scaled dragons write and twist with passion as you passed them by?
  28. And from that brick-built Lycian tomb what horrible Chimera came
    With fearful heads and fearful flame to breed new wonders from your womb?
  29. Or had you shameful secret guests and did you harry to your home
    Some Nereid coiled in amber foam With curious rock-crystal breasts?
  30. Or did you treading through the froth call to the brown Sidonian
    For tidings of Leviathan, Leviathan or Behemoth?
  31. 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?
  32. 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
  33. Steal to the border of the bar and swim across the silent lake
    And slink into the vault and make the Pyramid your lúpanar
  34. Till from each black sarcophagus rose up the painted swathèd dead?
    Or did you lure unto your bed the ivory-horned Tragelaphos?
  35. 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?
  36. Or that young God, the Tyrian, who was more amorous than the dove
    Of Ashtaroth? or did you love the god of the Assyrian
  37. 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?
  38. Or did huge Apis from his car leap down and lay before your feet
    Big blossoms of the honey-sweet and honey-coloured nenuphar?
  39. 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!
  40. The river-horses in the slime trumpeted when they saw him come
    Odorous with Syrian galbanum and smeared with spikenard and with thyme.

  41. p.816

  42. He came along the river bank Like some tall galley argent-sailed,
    He strode across the waters, mailed in beauty and the waters sank.
  43. 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.
  44. 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.
  45. You whispered monstrous oracles into the caverns of his ears:
    With blood of goats and blood of steers you taught him monstrous miracles.
  46. White Ammon was your bedfellow! Your chamber was the steaming Nile!
    And with your curved archaic smile you watched his passion come and go.
  47. 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.
  48. His long hair was nine cubits' span and coloured like that yellow gem
    Which hidden in their garments' hem the merchants bring from Kurdistan.
  49. 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.
  50. 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.

  51. p.817

  52. On pearl and porphyry pedestalled he was too bright to look upon:
    For on his ivory breast there shone the wondrous ocean-emerald,
  53. That mystic, moonlight jewel which some diver of the Colchian caves
    Had found beneath the blackening waves and carried to the Colchian witch.
  54. Before his gilded galiot ran naked vine-wreathed corybants,
    And lines of swaying elephants knelt down to draw his chariot,
  55. And lines of swarthy Nubians bare up his litter as he rode
    Down the great granite-paven road between the nodding peacock fans.
  56. The merchants brought him steatite from Sidon in their painted ships:
    The meanest cup that touched his lips was fashioned from a chrysolite.
  57. 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.
  58. Ten hundred shaven priests did bow to Ammon's altar day and night,
    Ten hundred lamps did wave their light through Ammon's carven house—and now
  59. 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!
  60. Wild ass or trotting jackal comes and couches in the mouldering gates:
    Wild satyrs call unto their mates across the fallen fluted drums.

  61. p.818

  62. 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.
  63. The god is scattered here and there: deep hidden in the windy sand
    I saw his giant granite hand still clenched in impotent despair.
  64. And many a wandering caravan of stately negroes silken-shawled,
    Crossing the desert halts appalled before the neck that none can span.
  65. And many a bearded Bedouin draws back his yellow-striped burnous
    To gaze upon the Titan thews of him who was thy paladin.
  66. Go, seek his fragments on the moor and wash them in the evening dew,
    And from their pieces make anew thy mutilated paramour!
  67. Go, seek them where they lie alone and from their broken pieces make
    Thy bruisèd bedfellow! And wake mad passions in the senseless stone!
  68. 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!
  69. 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!
  70. 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.

  71. p.819

  72. 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.
  73. Still from his chair of porphyry gaunt Memnon strains his lidless eyes
    Across the empty land, and cries each yellow morning unto thee.
  74. 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.
  75. 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,
  76. Set wings upon your argosies! Set horses to your ebon car!
    Back to your Nile! Or if you are grown sick of dead divinities
  77. 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!
  78. 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
  79. 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,
  80. 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!

  81. p.820

  82. Why are you tarrying? Get hence! I weary of your sullen ways,
    I weary of your steadfast gaze, your somnolent magnificence.
  83. 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.
  84. Your eyes are like fantastic moons that shiver in some stagnant lake,
    Your tongue is like a scarlet snake that dances to fantastic tunes,
  85. Your pulse makes poisonous melodies, and your black throat is like the hole
    Left by some torch or burning coal on Saracenic tapestries.
  86. Away! The sulphur-coloured stars are hurrying through the Western gate!
    Away! Or it may be too late to climb their silent silver cars!
  87. 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.
  88. 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?
  89. 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?
  90. Are there not others more accursed, whiter with leprosies than I?
    Are Abana and Pharphar dry that you come here to slake your thirst?

  91. p.821

  92. Get hence, you loathsome misery! Hideous animal, get hence!
    You wake in me each bestial sense, you make me what I would not be.
  93. 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.
  94. 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,
  95. 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.