Mirage

A poem by Madison Julius Cawein

Scene, the Arizona Desert, its most desolate part.



He closed his eyes, yet still could see
The leprous hills loom thirstily;
The mesquit glimmering; and the dust
Of alkali; and, rimmed with rust
Of emerald, a mineral pool
From which his horse had drunk him full.

Now he would drink how good to die
After the torture days gone by!
And so he rose, and through the sage
And sand groped, blind with thirst, and rage
At God, whose hand in hate had wrought
This trap of hell where he was caught.

Now what was this that held him fast?
Had he then reached relief at last,
After long years of heat and hate?
Surely there rose a marble gate,
A towered castle! and the sand
And sage had vanished from the land.

He entered where a fountain fell
On foaming crystal Like a spell
He caught its freshness. Then his ear
Heard lute-like music drawing near;
And through a rainbowed mist a girl
Beckoned, her beauty like a pearl.

And there two slave-girls on a mat,
Two naked Nubians, drowsing, sat,
Fingering dim-gemmed and nacreous lutes;
He knew at once that they were mutes,
And this the same Seraglio,
Where love had met him lives ago.

The entrance doors he knew were nine:
Three were of agate, red as wine,
And three of lapis-lazuli,
Cerulean-blue as is the sky;
And three of feldspar, veined with gold,
Each leading to her bower of old.

Behind a lattice or a screen
He knew she smiled and watched, unseen:
He felt her presence in the gloom
As one may sense a strange perfume:
And musk of myrrh and sandalwood
Were guides to lead him where she stood.

Once more he'd see her; hold her fast,
Come back again from out the past;
And, locked in her divine embrace,
Watch, in the heaven of her face,
The ardor of her heart's desire
Change her dark eyes to starry fire.

And then far-off he heard a horn,
And, turning, saw that it was morn
And there she rode, in dawn and dew,
And with her Chevaliers he knew.
The horn led on; he heard its song
The air he had forgot so long:

"How good, " it sang, "How good at dawn
To ride with her of Roussillon!
To ride with her through dawn and dew
Beneath a heaven gentian-blue,
With hawk on wrist, a madcap crew,
That wild the horn leads on,

With her of Roussillon!
To hear the falcons' jesses ringing
Bells that set the pulses singing!
To see the heron wildly winging,
O'er mountained Roussillon,
Far, towered Roussillon.

"How good to hear by wood and lawn
Our Lady laugh of Roussillon!
Where wild the torrent leaps the crag,
Through mists that on the mountain lag,
As in the forest leaps the stag,
While clear the horn leads on,

With her of Roussillon!
How good to hear the falcon crying,
To see it strike the quarry flying,
And watch the stricken lapwing dying
By towered Roussillon,
Old, mountained Roussillon!" . . .

The music died. His hot head swung
Upon his neck as wire-hung,
And he awoke to see again
The thirsty peaks, the fevered plain,
Shutting him in with all their hate,
Malignantly, content to wait.

Was it a dream of some old past?
Or would he see her there at last?
He sat and thought; no thing occurred.
The desert watched him, never stirred;
Like some gaunt beast with burning eyes
It stared at him with all its skies.

Around he gazed and searched again
The peaks, like blisters on the plain;
No creature moved. The pool nearby
With its green glitter caught his eye.
Yes, he would drink, and know at last
That secret of the long-gone past. . . .

They found him in that poisoned place
With blackened lips and twisted face
Dead with seared eyes on something far,
Some unknown thing perhaps a star
Or was 't the gold, for which he 'd sought?
The far mirage that turned to naught?

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