The Land Of Illusion

A poem by Madison Julius Cawein


So we had come at last, my soul and I,
Into that land of shadowy plain and peak,
On which the dawn seemed ever about to break
On which the day seemed ever about to die.


Long had we sought fulfillment of our dreams,
The everlasting wells of Joy and Youth;
Long had we sought the snow-white flow'r of Truth,
That blooms eternal by eternal streams.


And, fonder still, we hoped to find the sweet
Immortal presence, Love; the bird Delight
Beside her; and, eyed with sidereal night,
Faith, like a lion, fawning at her feet.


But, scorched and barren, in its arid well,
We found our dreams' forgotten fountain-head;
And by black, bitter waters, crushed and dead,
Among wild weeds, Truth's trampled asphodel.


And side by side with pallid Doubt and Pain,
Not Love, but Grief did meet us there: afar
We saw her, like a melancholy star,
Or pensive moon, move towards us o'er the plain.


Sweet was her face as song that sings of home;
And filled our hearts with vague, suggestive spells
Of pathos, as sad ocean fills its shells
With sympathetic moanings of its foam.


She raised one hand and pointed silently,
Then passed; her eyes, gaunt with a thirst unslaked,
Were worlds of woe, where tears in torrents ached,
Yet never fell. And like a winter sea,--


Whose caverned crags are haunts of wreck and wrath,
That house the condor pinions of the storm,--
My soul replied; and, weeping, arm in arm,
To'ards those dim hills, by that appointed path,


We turned and went. Arrived, we did discern
How Beauty beckoned, white 'mid miles of flowers,
Through which, behold, the amaranthine Hours
Like maidens went each holding up an urn;


Wherein, it seemed--drained from long chalices
Of those slim flow'rs--they bore mysterious wine;
A poppied vintage, full of sleep divine
And pale forgetting of all miseries.


Then to my soul I said, "No longer weep.
Come, let us drink; for hateful is the sky,
And earth is full of care, and life's a lie.
So let us drink; yea, let us drink and sleep."


Then from their brimming urns we drank sweet must,
While, all around us, rose-crowned faces laughed
Into our eyes; but hardly had we quaffed
When, one by one, these crumbled into dust.


And league on league the eminence of blooms,
That flashed and billowed like a summer sea,
Rolled out a waste of thorns and tombs; where bee
And butterfly and bird hung dead in looms


Of worm and spider. And through tomb and brier,
A thin wind, parched with thirsty dust and sand,
Went wailing as if mourning some lost land
Of perished empire, Babylon or Tyre.


Long, long with blistered feet we wandered in
That land of ruins, through whose sky of brass
Hate's Harpy shrieked; and in whose iron grass
The Hydra hissed of undestroyable Sin.


And there at last, behold, the House of Doom,--
Red, as if Hell had glared it into life,
Blood-red, and howling with incessant strife,--
With burning battlements, towered in the gloom.


And throned within sat Darkness.--Who might gaze
Upon that form, that threatening presence there,
Crowned with the flickering corpse-lights of Despair,
And yet escape sans madness and amaze?


And we had hoped to find among these hills
The House of Beauty!--Curst, yea, thrice accurst,
The hope that lures one on from last to first
With vain illusions that no time fulfills!


Why will we struggle to attain, and strive,
When all we gain is but an empty dream?--
Better, unto my thinking, doth it seem
To end it all and let who will survive;


To find at last all beauty is but dust;
That love and sorrow are the very same;
That joy is only suffering's sweeter name;
And sense is but the synonym of lust.


Far better, yea, to me it seems to die;
To set glad lips against the lips of Death--
The only thing God gives that comforteth,
The only thing we do not find a lie.

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