Anna Hempstead Branch
Selene - Poem by Anna Hempstead Branch
But when Endymion, wandering alone,
With youth and love of loveliness forlorn,
Being greatly sorrowful with beauty, came
Upon the silence of a moonlit lake
Deep in a sacred grove; and when he saw
How in the water a pale presence shone,
So he might touch that ancient loveliness,
Yet never lay a hand upon the moon;
He cried aloud,'Oh, Spirit of this earth,
That in the flame and cloud, water and wind,
Hast shed thine image, yet art never seen!
Invisible! Where art thou?'
Then to him
Selene from her fastness in the air
Spoke, with no mortal voice in his ear,
But to his soul and as a goddess speaks
With divine utterance. 'Oh, Watcher! Thou,
Mover among innumerable shapes
And lover of my shadow, many years
With shining substance have thy hands been filled
And pleased with lovely changes. But on me
Thy flesh has not laid hold. Not with thine eye
Hast thou perceived my smoothness and thine ear
Has heard me never. Underneath a tree
When hast thou found me sleeping? To what spring
Have I come down to drink? In what dark groves
Have my feet led thee, shining among leaves?
Thou hast not seen me dance among the nymphs
Nor sport with fauns at dusk. For in this world
I say there dwells a spirit and she lives
Hidden even from the gods, and of her face
Zeus has not dreamed. She is consuming, fierce,
Beautiful and withheld. She layeth waste
The gardens of men's flesh—and I am She.
I am the fearful Huntress. With my hounds
I all men must pursue until they seek
My silent altar in an ancient place
No man has thought on and no eye has seen.
I am the Runner. I am the goddess chaste.
If with thy fleshly eye thou shouldst perceive
Mine angry whiteness, swiftly would I slay.
For I am set apart and spiritual,
And me in spiritual ways thou must discern.
Oh, not with doves or bleeding snow-white hinds
Or incense burned or harvest of wild grapes
Shalt thou appease me. But thou shalt lay down
Upon my shrine the shadow and the sound,
The sheen and whisper of the tender earth,
All shapes and brightnesses and music sweet,
And soft mysterious touch, the breath, the look
The beauty changing ever. From thine eyes
All loveliness shall pale. Then not for thee
Shall Aphrodite from the golden wave
Blush rosily nor from the snow-white foam
Float like a star before thee. Not for thee
Shall the soft nymphs their shining dances weave
In places sweet with loveliness. But then,
Out of the hollow of thy hand shall fall
All lovely substance that has ever pleased
Thy finger tips with shapes, all curves that shed
Sweet music in the concave of thy palm
As in the sky the orbèd planets sing.
Thy sense shall be obscured. Thy austere touch
Deny the chilly sweetness of the dew
That cools the apple plucked at early dawn
Or whitens the blue grape. Never again
Shall thy smooth body plunging between waves
Divide the hard bright water nor thy brow
Flush in the noonday sun nor thy feet cling
To the bare rock when thou dost climb high hills.
Thou shall forego the tenderness of hands
Nor ever feel upon thy human cheek
The sweetness of a mortal breath. No kiss
Shall leave its softest shadow on thy lips,
But thou shalt find thyself in a still place
Where light nor shade nor forms of visible things
Nor sense of things perceived with hands shall wake
Thy heart in thee—not one least sound at all—
As when the shadow of a cloud shall drift
Dim music from a lonely lake. Not then
Shalt thou love voices, oh, Endymion!
Then not for thee strong laughter and the shouts
Of boys beside the sea cliffs dragging in
Their nets at yellow evening; not the cries
Of girls on the brown beaches; nor the speech
Of mortal love. I bid thee light for me
A blazing fire on my shrine—all flames
Of suns and moons and stars, such glories as burn
In sunset and the rose, all loveliest hues
That on this earth glow brightest. In their midst
Cast down the vision of thine eyes as one
Snares from the sky a bird whose radiant plumes
Burn amid sacrificial flames. Oh, Thou!
Give me the sound that in thine ears doth make
Earth good to thee. Relinquish from thy hands
All feelings of fair things, sweetly entwined
With votive wreaths of flowers. Yet not in death
Yield me thy body's sweetness, but alive,
Rapturous, alert, with thy desires swift,
Warm, breathing, upright, in thy bourgeoning youth,
With consecrated purpose and with will
Cast in my flames thy sense and make of it
A fragrance to the gods, and of thy flesh
A vapor of light smoke. For I am one
That once suspected shall not ever more
Let go of thee, but being invisible
Must needs disturb thee ever. Never again
Shall earth seem simple to thee, beautiful
With shapes familiar and with readable signs,
But thou shalt move a stranger in the land
And thine own threshold seem an alien thing
And thy hearth fearful. Earth shall complain to thee.
Then all things shall be haunted and the stones
Shall falter words obscure, like men in dreams,
Of things unguessed by thee. The dust shall utter
A bright foreboding. Sound shall prophesy,
The air grow thick with shapes unseen, thy hands
Lay hold on wonder and thy heart shall break
For mystery of this earth. But thou must be
Unto thy kindred as a man unknown,
Unheard of, in thy village, and thy words
Explain thee to them never. I shall lie
About thy spirit with my ancient mirth
And vex thy soul in secret, disturbing thee
With hurrying brightnesses that come and go
And are not unto others, but to thee
Obscure dull earth with beauty. Thou shalt suspect
A presence in the solitude, a light
Where no light is. This world shall be to thee
A voice that cries' Behold!' So all seen things
Shall drive thee to my bosom, mine—that men
Flee from in terror, hating me, the strong,
The ancient, the eternal, the wide spread,
The many-breasted mother, the Unseen!
Dreadful am I to them; yes, feared the most
Of all the gods—whom Zeus from the beginning
Made separate and supreme, relentless, fierce,
The great avenger, scourger of men's souls,
Flesh-eater! Aye! Me do they hate indeed.
And they would slay me in my secret lair
And smite me with sharp whips and bleed with swords
And drive me to the market branded `slave,'
Me, the fierce Woman, mistress of living men!
This would they do and nudge each other and cry
'Well done' to one another.
But I am set
Beyond the reach of hate. Not any sword,
No, not the sharpest, can search out my breast
Here in my silence where I sit and watch
With my eternal laughter and disdain
And scorn unspeakable. Justly they fear,
For I am goddess of the bow and strike
With my bright arrows all who know me not.
Yes, with my darts pursue them till they pluck
From out their breasts the bleeding barbs of sense
And cast them underneath their feet and fall
With faces in the dust crying,'Pity us,
Oh, Vanquisher of all things! Ease in us
Our sharp affliction, heal our wounds and take
Thine anguish from us.' Them do I heal indeed.
But those who see, yet heed not, being unwise,
How this earth trembles and brightness ails and time
Blows all things from us like a mist disturbed
By silent air; all those that having perceived
My dangerous presence have not sought with gifts
My altar, and from consecrated urns
Pour no libations of rich tears, I scourge
With my sharp rods and I unleash my hounds
And set them on them, dividing their frantic flesh,
And drive them into Hell. For I am queen
Of earth and of the shades, and of the gods
The dark mysterious mother, and the dead
Worship me in deep places. So I set
My anguish on them, until they fill the air
With lamentation and cast themselves abroad
Like men who burn. But thou, Endymion,
Hast sought me ever and art not afraid,
Feeling earth reel beneath thee, seeing the rocks
Soft as dissolving cloud and the strong hills
Not more substantial than vague dreams when I
Steal forth upon thee. Thou art not dismayed
At my strange brightness when I lay my hand
Upon the dust and turn to vanishings
All that has pleased thee. Thou hast not turned away,
Hiding thy face, for fear thou shouldst perceive
My shrine, built in the air, that once being found
Men worship me forever, and their flesh
Floats from them like pale smoke. But I have seen
How thou hast sought me, yearning unto me,
And all things grow distasteful and thine eyes
Weary of all things. I have watched thee all
Among thy kindred, seeing they have grown
Alien to thee, not friendly to thy tears,
Marvelling at thy laughter and at thy speech
Nudging each other; for thou seest cause
For solitary mirth when in their eyes
The tears are heaviest. Thou art cast down
When they are brave with gladness. Beauty strange
Comes on thee unaware and lures thee forth
Under their very eyes to a far land
That lies betwixt two breaths, and is as deep
With hidden beauty as Olympian vales.
Then seek me ever, where in a secret place
I have for centuries waited, aye, all time
Have waited for thee—virgin to the gods,
Untouched, unseen of any. Hunt me forth;
Yes, spy upon me in my hiding place
Behind the branchéd forests of the stars
In my deep lairs of silence. I would be found,
Yes, feel man's eyes upon me and a breath
Laid on my eternal sweetness, richly chaste.
Rend from me all the shadowy veils of sense
That men in the beginning wrought for me
In terror lest my loveliness, left bare,
Should strike them dead. For I am beautiful,
And to men's ways destruction, and to their flesh
A menace always. Wherefore do I wear
My robes of brightness, spun of gorgeous dyes,
Woven of waters and pale stars and hills
And lovely sky, and wrought with devious sound
And weavings of dim music. Strip from me
My mantle of the sun and moon and earth,
Seasons and earthquakes and fierce thunderbolts,
Heavy with deep mid ocean, soft with tears,
Sweet colored with rich buds and mellow fruit,
Aglow with mortal smiles and floating hair,
And flashing with innumerable eyes.
Rend it in twain. Lay hold on it, I say,
For what ye dream is solid and stout earth,
Is mine apparel, fluttering like smoke
About mine inner fire. Oh, be swift,
And watchful with thy spirit, for on hills
Invisible to man, in forests deep,
Unthought of by the gods, I hunt men's souls,
And rush upon them with sharp savage cries.
Reach forth thy mighty hands and rend from me
The mortal garment, hiding from thine eyes
My deep immortal beauty. Unswathe the light.
Then, then, Endymion, with what rich reward
Shall I delight thee? With what circumstance
Shall I uplift thee to the eyes of the world,
A flaming pillar set in a pillar of cloud?
This will I give to thee; thou shalt be struck
With blinding awfulness, and beauty fierce
Consume with splendor every mortal dream
From thy soul's tissue. Thou shalt sink unsaved
From anguish into anguish. Yes, shall drift
Like spiritual ashes in a wind of flame.
But when I see thee cleansed with beauty, fresh
As tenderest mist of morning, mild as dew,
With wisdom infantile, helpless as cloud,
Lovely as starry water, beneath mine eyes
A placid well that knows not anything
Save to be bright; then will I shine on thee.
Thou shalt receive my beauty in thy soul
As the clear lake accepts the radiant moon;
And I will lead thee to a pleasant land
Whose greener vales no eye has ever seen.'
But now Endymion stretched his mighty arms
Up to the starry heavens and the hills
And to the whirling clouds and cried aloud:
'How shall I rend this earth in twain or snatch
From thy pure being the sky with all its suns,
And its strong meteors? How shall I strip from thee
The mountains and the violence of wars,
And human breath and mortal loveliness,
Woven with spells! Magical! Beautiful!
How shall I rid thee of it? Should I slay
Thousands of doves, nature would have a mind
To breed again innumerable wings.
Shall I stab water at its source? Unweave
The solid earth beneath me? With what sword
Shall I divide the sky and with what chains
Bind into slavery the snow-white cloud?
Oh, what is man that he should rend the earth
And tear its webs of splendor? Yet on me
Has this desire fallen! I must turn
To ways unheard of and with spiritual hands
Unswathe the veils that hide thee, goddess strange,
Loved always, terrible. Wherefore I say,
Ye sights and sounds of earth, I will deny
Your presence to my spirit. I will forbid
Touch to my hands and vision to mine eyes.
Yes, I will lift my radiant senses up,
Burning with sweetest odors at thy shrine,
Like golden vials, to be filled by thee.
Thee will I worship only. Never more
Shall my thought covet earthly loveliness
That is thy vesture, but my will shall turn
My spirit to things spiritual. I will rend
Thy moral garment, hiding from mine eyes
Thy deep immortal beauty. Lift the veil
And from thy secret brightness, unswathe the light.
Then lead me forth into a pleasant land
Whose greener vales no man has ever seen.'
But ere his words were done, upon his eyes
A flaming spirit rushed, wearing a shape
Of virgin nothingness, whose whiteness shone
Like frost on fire. She was beautiful
Beyond men's prayers for beauty, and she drew
Her silvery flesh out of the starlit air
And her cold sweetness from the midnight dew.
Virginal was she, loveliest, austere
With visible purity. A godlike love
Swathed her soft shape in plumes of snow-white flame,
And unto him she cried 'Endymion,
What hast thou sworn? Behold how in a shape
I come to thee and out of substance weave
A visible semblance for thee of my soul.
My flesh is breathed out of the glittering air
And fragrance of the night. I come to thee
With beauty terrible—to the gods austere—
But unto thee on fire with love. Lo now,
Shall I not tempt thee from my own soul's plea,
I—that am in her image, beautiful?
Wilt thou refuse me? Shall my splendor all
Before thee and my loveliness blow out
Before thy blindness like a midnight gale?
Lo now—I am embodied, lord, for thee,
Of sight and sound and sweetest, shyest earth.
Wilt thou forswear my visible loveliness
For my far spirit, consuming and unseen?
Me thou canst master! Me thou needst not fear
For all my fearful shining! Me thou canst drive
Before thee like a slave, humbled and bright,
Meek with afflicted beauty. Thou canst scourge
My magic powers to do thy will and I
Shall have no word before thee but to cry
`Master' beneath thy hand.
But She, my bright
And Heavenly Spirit, thou canst not subdue,
But she will rule thee always, and thou shalt be
Helpless before her. While the moment waits,
Wilt thou deny me, whom the gods in vain
Have wooed on high Olympus? Chase me, I say—
Hunt me, as she has hunted thee, with hounds.
Heed not my godlike screams when in the vales
I run from thee in terror lest thy breath
Shall burn my hurrying whiteness as it flees.
Rush on me, seize me, rend me with thy hands—
Streak me with blood and cast me on the ground
Throbbing beneath thine eyes like a white hind
Slain by the hunter. Then thou shall comfort me—
And lift me to thy bosom, of fleetness shorn,
As a wild bird of wings, and pitying
My godlike terror, with thy mighty arms
Bind my deep pantings back into my breast.'
But when Endymion saw how beautiful
She paled before him, poisèd in the air
Like music amid silvery strings, he cried,'
'Oh Divine Ghost, that from an invisible shrine
Communed with me in secret, save me! Save
My helpless spirit from thy beauty seen.
Oh not with wrath avenge thy semblance cast
Forth from thy vision, if I shake thy dews
Of mortal sweetness, hissing among flames
Of sacrificial fire! Oh sight! Oh sound!
Oh Beauty seen, begone! For I am sworn
To one invisible!'…
Then from the savage precincts of mid-air
Rose laughter of disdain and ghost-like tones
That uttered things unspeakable and strange.
And the Shape wavered like a snow-white cloud
Dispersed at morning. Fearfully she shone,
Out of a brightly changing vapor. Then
Her starry presence melted on the gale
And her pale substance mingled with the stream.
But at Endymion's feet in ruin lay
All of earth's beauty, and the watchful nymphs
Wept in their fastness. Brightness had withered. Shape
Was crumbled into dust. From leaf and bough
And star and hill and sky, the glory waned.
All of earth's splendor, beating round about,
Fell back before his sightless eyes as foam,
Dashed from the sharp rocks, sinks into the sea.
All things whereon his eyes that night had gazed
With mortal longing, lay about his feet
Like planets dead, while he, obscured with dream,
Seemed gazing on some inner thing. The earth
Smoked palely forth in curling wreaths. The rocks
Swam dizzily. The solid mountains gleamed
Like the unsteady sea. Upon the air
Melodious ashes blew of music burned.
Then did he stand like a god blackened and charred
Amid the ruins of the world, transfixed
By things invisible but unto him
Visible now forever. Only once
He seemed like one in traps of anguish snared.
His introspective eyes, in a far place,
Fought battles with fierce visions and laid hold
Of spiritual horror, nameless and unknown
To any man on earth. His body wept
Great drops of living tears and his pale flesh
Quivered, as if upon an altar lone,
They had stretched him bare amid a fire to burn.
Once, in the silence, great Endymion groaned.
Then did the nymphs with their pure eyes discern
Another world grow visible. It gleamed
Upon the circling vapors of stout earth
With sudden brightnesses of tower and dome.
Great blazing cities changed upon the gale.
Fair courts and blossoming gardens, lovelier groves
Than had by mortal eyes been seen. The night
Was full of rushing gods, whose large white feet
Sloped up the midnight gale. Bright swarms of eyes
Flashed in the air like multitudinous stars.
Prophetic voices screamed upon the wind.
Then from a place, beyond all countries far,
Beyond all beauty, beautiful—a land
Of pleasantness divine, a land unseen—
There came a godlike and exalted cry
And a great voice proclaimed 'Endymion!'
But on the bank beside the glittering lake
Sank great Endymion, his limbs, moon-charmed,
Stretched in the moss. And the moon sunk and day
Reddened—and lo—out of the glen stole forth
Full many a silent-looted wondering nymph
To watch his dreaming loveliness. For now
His blossoming splendor breathed such fragrance sweet
As divine roses yield. His body seemed
Like garlands of cool flowers lightly twined
About a heavenly fountain of clear flame.
His chastèd substance shaped of burning snow
Shone rose and silver. For a godlike change
Had come on him in slumber and he lay
In youth eternal, exquisite with dream.
Now from his spirit ever and anon
A ghostly beauty floated into sight
And like a lily in a lake moon-pale
Swam in the placid silence of his smile.
Then did the nymph who hovered near his sleep
Cry to the dryads, ''T is Selene's kiss.'
Now from his shape divinest odors rose
As if a golden casket set in flames
Breathed out sweet vapors on a shrine. Warm shades
Hovered about him, tender hues obscure
And mothlike splendors of invisible wings
Whereby men's eyes had never yet been pleased.
Now from the lyre of his exalted flesh
Music exhaled, unutterably strange.
Now from his secret fountains of delight
The radiant smiles up welled and then the nymph
Feared not to lean her cold and virgin mouth
And sip the scarlet bubble from his lips.
All nature fed on him. She cried, 'Behold—
Thou fount of golden loveliness! thou spring
Of silvery sweetness flowing! thou basin bright
Wherein life pours with solemn melodies
The music of her waters! let me drink
Of thy immortal presence and not die.'
But when a goat-herd, wondering that his flocks
Were prospered and that they each night returned,
Their udders plenteous with fragrant milk
And with such odors clinging to their flanks
It seemed the nymphs had dressed them with sweet wreaths,
Sought out the pastures, wandering at dusk,
And in the moonlight stole upon the glen
And saw Endymion lying and beheld
Him beautiful with slumber and alone,
Solemn as alabaster, as austere,
Effigied on the silent tomb of night;
Carved in the magic marble of pale sleep;
And saw the unearthly splendor of the grove,
How dark and deep and radiant its trees
Swathed in the mystic terror of the night;
How shadowed with black grapes or glowing pale
With amber-colored grapes; and saw strange fruits
Strewn on the ground as if invisible boughs
Had shed their glories at his feet and saw
How from the bee-loved crevices of rock
Streamed the warm honey; and beheld his herd
Crop the deep grass whereon Endymion
Had shed the fertile shadow of his sleep;
He was affrighted, and stealing silently
Out of that grove, god-haunted, he went his way
Back to the village and there he told strange things,
So that thereafter if a herd grew fat
They said, 'It is Endymion's.'And that land
Was prospered like the secret vales that lie
In the footholds of Olympus, and they knew
The river of Endymion's sacred sleep
Had overflowed the valley and blessed its fruits
And made its harvests bountiful.
Once and again, some vision-haunted youth
Would seek the glens and forests and alone
Commune with the high gods, they warned him, saying,
'Be thou content with thine own kind. At home,
Love thine own thatch and at a quiet hearth
Grow old like us, in peace, knowing not much,
But living as men live, and at the last
Dying as men die, underneath a roof.
Commune not with the gods. They give to thee
Strange gifts and alien and on thee will bring
A doom unhuman.'
Thus spake they, of their kind,
In the small village, fearing the unseen.
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