The Paphian Venus

A poem by Madison Julius Cawein

With anxious eyes and dry, expectant lips,
Within the sculptured stoa by the sea,
All day she waited while, like ghostly ships,
Long clouds rolled over Paphos: the wild bee
Hung in the sultry poppy, half asleep,
Beside the shepherd and his drowsy sheep.

White-robed she waited day by day; alone
With the white temple's shrined concupiscence,
The Paphian goddess on her obscene throne,
Binding all chastity to violence,
All innocence to lust that feels no shame -
Venus Mylitta born of filth and flame.

So must they haunt her marble portico,
The devotees of Paphos, passion-pale
As moonlight streaming through the stormy snow;
Dark eyes desirous of the stranger sail,
The gods shall bring across the Cyprian Sea,
With him elected to their mastery.

A priestess of the temple came, when eve
Blazed, like a satrap's triumph, in the west;

And watched her listening to the ocean's heave,
Dusk's golden glory on her face and breast,
And in her hair the rosy wind's caress, -
Pitying her dedicated tenderness.

When out of darkness night persuades the stars,
A dream shall bend above her saying, "Soon
A barque shall come with purple sails and spars,
Sailing from Tarsus 'neath a low white moon;
And thou shalt see one in a robe of Tyre
Facing toward thee like the god Desire.

"Rise then! as, clad in starlight, riseth Night -
Thy nakedness clad on with loveliness!
So shalt thou see him, like the god Delight,
Breast through the foam and climb the cliff to press
Hot lips to thine and lead thee in before
Love's awful presence where ye shall adore."

Thus at her heart the vision entered in,
With lips of lust the lips of song had kissed,
And eyes of passion laughing with sweet sin,
A shimmering splendor robed in amethyst, -
Seen like that star set in the glittering gloam, -
Venus Mylitta born of fire and foam.

So shall she dream until, near middle night, -
When on the blackness of the ocean's rim
The moon, like some war-galleon all alight
With blazing battle, from the sea shall swim, -
A shadow, with inviolate lips and eyes,
Shall rise before her speaking in this wise:

"So hast thou heard the promises of one, -
Of her, with whom the God of gods is wroth, -
For whom was prophesied at Babylon
The second death - Chaldaean Mylidoth!
Whose feet take hold on darkness and despair,
Hissing destruction in her heart and hair.

"Wouldst thou behold the vessel she would bring? -
A wreck! ten hundred years have smeared with slime:
A hulk! where all abominations cling,
The spawn and vermin of the seas of time:
Wild waves have rotted it; fierce suns have scorched;
Mad winds have tossed and stormy stars have torched.

"Can lust give birth to love? The vile and foul
Be mother to beauty? Lo! can this thing be? -
A monster like a man shall rise and howl
Upon the wreck across the crawling sea,
Then plunge; and swim unto thee; like an ape,
A beast all belly. - Thou canst not escape!"

Gone was the shadow with the suffering brow;
And in the temple's porch she lay and wept,
Alone with night, the ocean, and her vow. -
Then up the east the moon's full splendor swept,
And dark between it - wreck or argosy? -
A sudden vessel far away at sea.

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