A poem by Madison Julius Cawein


Is it uneasy moonlight
On the restless field, that stirs?
Or wild white meadow-blossoms
The night-wind bends and blurs?
Is it the dolorous water,
That sobs in the woods and sighs?
Or heart of an ancient oak-tree,
That breaks and, sighing, dies?
The wind is vague with the shadows
That wander in No-Man's Land;
The water is dark with the voices
That weep on the Unknown strand.

O ghosts of the winds that call me!
O ghosts of the whispering waves!
As sad as forgotten flowers
That die upon nameless graves!
What is this thing you tell me
In tongues of a twilight race,
Of death, with the vanished features,
Mantled, of my own face?


The old enigmas of the deathless dawns
And riddles of the all immortal eves,
That still o'er Delphic lawns
Speak as the gods spoke through oracular leaves
I read with new-born eyes,
Remembering how, a slave;
They buried me, a living sacrifice,
Once in a dead king's grave.

Or crowned with hyacinth and helichrys,
How, towards the altar in the marble gloom,
Hearing the magadis
Dirge through the pale amaracine perfume,
'Mid chanting priests I trod,
With never a sigh or pause,
To give my life to pacify a god,
And save my country's cause.

Again: Cyrenian roses on wild hair,
And oil and purple smeared on breasts and cheeks,
How, with mad torches there,
Reddening the cedars of Cithæron's peaks,
With gesture and fierce glance,
Lascivious Mænad bands
Once drew and slew me in the Pyrrhic dance,
With Bacchanalian hands.


In eons of the senses,
My spirit knew of yore,
I found the Isle of Circe
And felt her magic lore;
And still the soul remembers
What I was once before.

She gave me flowers to smell of
That wizard branches bore,
Of weird and sorcerous beauty,
Whose stems dripped human gore
Their scent when I remember
I know that world once more.

She gave me fruits to eat of
That grew upon the shore,
Of necromantic ripeness,
With human flesh at core
Their taste when I remember
I know that life once more.

And then, behold! a serpent,
That glides my face before,
With eyes of tears and fire
That glare me o'er and o'er
I look into its eyeballs,
And know myself once more.

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