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ON a queer, queer journey
I heard the queerest sound,–
'Twas the Devil with a banjo
In a cavern underground,
Where the merry, merry skeletons
Were waltzing round and round,
While the clicking of their bones kept time.

Through a low, iron door,
With a huge iron bar,
A door perchance some careless
Imp had left ajar,

I crept behind a column cut
All out of Iceland spar,
And the carven angles twinkled frostily.

I was frightened of the Devil,
And I wouldn't look at him,
But I watched a thousand goblins
From nook and cranny dim
A-glowering on the skeletons,
And every goblin grim
And ugly as an old gargoyle.

And bogles played on fiddles
To help the banjo out,
For 'twas nothing but the music
Kept alive that crazy rout;
But the big green toads could
Only hop about
To the rumbling of the bass bassoon.

Behind the Iceland column
I watched them on the sly,
Above them arched the cavern
With its roof miles high,
All ribbed with blue rock-crystal, shining
Bluer than the sky,
And studded with enormous stalactites.

But the lovely floor below,
With its level crystalline
Splendid surface spreading
Radiantly green!–
As if a lone, impearlèd lake
Of waters subterrene
Had frozen to a flawless emerald!

And down, down, down,
Its moveless depths were clear;
And down, down, down,
In wonder I did peer
At lost and lovely imagery
Beneath me far and near,–
Silent there and white forevermore.

But from the sunken beauty
Of that white imagery
Lissome shadows loosened
Flame-like and fitfully,
That formed anon to spheres serene
And mounted airily
And broke in golden bubbles through the floor.

There, bubble-like, they vanished
Amid the whirling crew,
Yet left a radiance trailing
Slowly out of view,
That sometimes o'er the skeletons
Such carnal glamour threw,
It flattered them to human shape again.

How long I watched I know not;
The weird hours went on,
Lost hours that bring the midnight
No nearer to the dawn,
When suddenly I felt a clutch,
And swiftly I was drawn
From out behind that carven block of spar.

My soul!–a skeleton!–
A rattling little thing,
Twined itself about me
As close as it could cling!
And in its arms with horror I
Perforce 'gan circling
Compelled by that fantastic orchestra.

Onward swept the waltzers
To the wicked tunes they played,
And soon we were amongst them,
And my rattling partner swayed
Whene'er the golden bubbles broke,
And trailing lights arrayed
Elusively around its naked bones.

A minute or an hour,–
Or maybe half a night,–

No matter, for at last
I was over all my fright,
And the music rippled through me till
I shivered with delight,
Fascinated like the fat green toads.

And by and by I noticed
How 'mid that grisly swarm
My clinging little partner
'Gan strangely to transform,–
I saw the bones as through a mist
Of something pink and warm,
That quivered and grew firm from top to toe.

Bright copper-coloured hair
Soon round her did curl,
Her mouth grew sweet with tints
Of coral and of pearl,
And she looked on me with eyes that seemed
Of lambent chrysoberyl,
While her body fair as alabaster shone.

A witch she was so lovely,
To all else I was blind,
And the Devil and the Goblins
And the Rout we left behind,
In our wild waltz whirling on
The cool sweet wind
Of the lone lorn caverns underground.

Like rose-leaves strewn
Upon a crystal tide,
Like thistle-down blown
By Zephyrs far and wide,
We swept in aimless ecstasy,
Silent side by side,
Careening through those caverns underground.

A minute or an hour,–
Or maybe half a night,–
No way have I to measure
The madness of that flight,

For the loosened zone of witchery
Made drunk with sheer delight,
Till we sank in happy stupor to the floor.

Nearby there was a grotto
That opened chapel-wise,
As from a rich cathedral,
In sacrilegious guise;
On the high Masonic altar were
Three crystal chalices,
And they held the sweetest poisons Hell can brew.

One was a liquor golden
That sparkled like the dew,
One was a wine that trembled,
And blood-red was its hue,
But the last Lethean elixir
Was dark as night, shot through
With glimmerings of green and violet.

Then rose the witch and muttered,
'Quick, for the hour is late!
Quick ere the music ceases
And the locks of the dungeons grate
O'er the host of haunted skeletons
That here brief revel make!
Come free me by this altar's alchemy!

'Drink thou the golden liquor
That lights yon jewelled rim,–
That sparkles fair as sunshine
On curls of seraphim!
Drink for the love I gave thee!
Or drink for a devil's whim!
But pledge me to the time that yet shall be!

'But the gloomy elixir
Give me, that I may sleep
With the white wraiths that slumber
In the dim green deep!
Where the silence of the under-world
Shall wrap me round and keep
My soul untouched by any dreams of day!'

I drank the cup of sunshine,
She drank the cup of night,
But the red we spilled between us
For sacrifice and plight
Of passion that must centre in
The sphereless Infinite
Ere her sweet life shall mix with mine again.

A moment all her beauty
Was lightened as with fire,
Her fair voluptuous body
With its trailing, loose attire,
And her eyes to mine did glow as in
A sunset of desire,–
Then prone she fell upon the chapel floor.

And the white flesh wasted from her
As she was falling dead,
Her very bones had crumbled,
Ere one farewell I said,–
From sight of that dire sorcery
In wild dismay I fled,
Seeking madly for the low iron door.

Behind the Iceland column
I found it still ajar,–
Through galleries of darkness
I travelled swift and far,
Until I reached the upper-world
And saw the morning star
Paling o'er a meadow by the sea.

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4/16/2021 10:16:57 AM #