We present this work in honor of the 50th anniversary of the poet’s death.
Cast back the doors! I stifle! Let the air
Of the outer night rush in and seize my hair
As with swift hands! My slender body bare
Stretches, and sighs, and tautens like a thong…
Oh, every hour of daylight does me wrong!
Why are the nights so brief, the days so long?
The days of mask-like faces, formalness.
Of downcast eyelid, pearl-entwisted tress;
I am the Emperor’s wife; the ceilings press
Downward trap-fashion; rafters sheathed in gold
Are as cross-beams of pits that take and hold—
Tall pits of marble, glassy-smooth and cold.
I am the Emperor s wife … I wore the hide
Of a she-leopard once; I rode the tide
Of splendid, savage seas, my glistening side
Compressed by triton-arms; I leapt and screamed
Where down the hill the naked Maenads streamed.
Beneath the droop of boughs, the faun’s eyes gleamed
Goat-golden. Oh, he found me where I lay!
I was a striving, but a laughing prey;
Crushed, conquered, wed—I knew not night or day.
Earth’s unmixed passion gorges all my veins—
The scourging suns, the blinding summer rains,
The breast-white mountains and the panting plains.
What do I know of templed gods, and laws,
Honour, and duty? All my essence draws
From older founts. I see the clamped, stark jaws
Of rearing centaurs in their mating-fights;
The smell of blood and sweat and love delights
My widened nostrils. Oh, those forest nights!—
The crying dark, the heavy blood-like dew,
The feet of Life and Death that doth pursue,
The lusty, rank, insatiate satyr-crew…
1 am the Emperors wife—no! I am I!
The hot Earth bore me: though I live or die
111 seek my old companions where they lie.
Stain both my lids with blue, my soles with red;
Sweeten with myrrh the black hair o’er me shed;
I will rise up and leave this empty bed.
A straight, thin, purple robe is all I’ll wear;
111 take no veil; unto my knees my hair
Falls. Am I pale and burning? Am I fair
As some lithe forest-thing with bloody lips?
Now—now to steal where the dark city dips
In reeking alleys, and the river slips…
My jungles! Quick with lawless, fearless life;
The teeth of love, the death-fang of a knife.
And satyr-brawls, and Maenad-women’s strife.
ril enter by some strait, scarce-lighted door,
Cross with bare feet the dank and wine-wet floor—
Ah! Now I am the Emperor’s wife no more!
Swordsman, Greek boxer, Goth—they wait for me;
Now does my body live—now am I free!
My shredded robe slips downward to my knee.
I am as naked as Life’s naked flame!
None ever spoke of law or coward shame
In that spring-fevered world from which I came
I fear no death. Let swift sleep end the game!