ACELDAMA

A PLACE TO BURY STRANGERS IN.

A PHILOSOPHICAL POEM.

1898.

[The poems collected in Volume I. comprise the whole of the first period of Crowley's life; namely, that of spiritual and mystic enthusiasm. The poet himself would be inclined to class them as Juvenilia. A few other early poems appear in “Oracles,” Vol. II., chosen as illustrative of the progress of his art. The great bulk of the early MSS. from 1887 to 1897 have been sedulously sought out and destroyed. They were very voluminous.] {col. start below}

 

ACELDAMA

"I contemplate myself in that dim sphere
Whose hollow centre I am standing at
With burning eyes intent to penetrate
The black circumference, and find out God.”

“Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone; but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal.” — ST. JOHN xii, 24, 25.

It was a windy night, that memorable seventh night of December, when this philosophy was born in me. How the grave old Professor1 wondered at my ravings! I had called at his house, for he was a valued friend of mine, and I felt strange thoughts and emotions shake within me. Ah! how I raved! I called to him to trample me, he would not. We passed together into the stormy night. I was on horseback, how I galloped round him in my phrenzy, till he became the prey of a real physical fear! How I shrieked out I know not what strange words! And the poor good old man tried all he could to calm me; he thought I was mad! The fool! I was in the death struggle with self: God and Satan fought for my soul those three long hours. God conquered - now I have only one doubt left -- which of the twain was God? Howbeit, I aspire!

“And falling headlong, he burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out. ... Insomuch as that field is called in their proper tongue, Aceldama, that is to say -- the field of blood.” -- ACTS i. 18,19. {1A}

DEDICATION

DIVINE PHILOSOPHER!2 Dear Friend!3

Lover and Lord!4 accept the verse

That marches like a sombre hearse,

Bearing truth's coffin, to the end.

Let man's distorted worships blend

In this, the worthier and the worse,

And penetrate the primal curse.

Alas! They will not comprehend.

Accept this gospel of disease

In wanton words proclaimed, receive

The blood-wrought chaplet that I weave.

Take me, and with thine infamies

Mingle my shame, and on my breast

Let thy desire achieve the rest.

ACELDAMA.

"Six months and I sit still and hold

In two cold palms her cold two feet;

Her hair, half grey half ruined gold,

Thrills me and burns me in kissing it.

Love bites and stings me through to see

Her keen face made of sunken bones.

Her worn-out eyelids madden me,

That were shot through with purple once."

SWINBURNE, "The Leper,"

"Poems and Ballads," 1866. {1B}

 

ACELDAMA.

DARK night, red night. This lupanar5

Has rosy flames that dip, that shake,

Faint phantoms that disturb the lake

Of magic mirror-land. A star

Like to a beryl, with a flake

Of olive light

Struck through its dull profound, is steadfast in the night.

I.

I AM quite sane, quite quiet. Sober though

Is as a woof to my mad dreams. My brain

Beats to the double stroke; the double strain

Warps its gray fibres; all the dream is wrought

A spider-tapestry; the old blood-stain

Spreads through the air

Some hot contagious growth to slay men unaware.

II.

I have discovered God! His ghastly way

Of burning ploughshares for my naked feet

Lies open to me -- shall I find it sweet

To give up sunlight for that mystic day

That beams its torture, whose red banners beat

Their radiant fire

Into my shrivelled head, to wither Love's desire?

III.

I was a child long years ago, it seems,

Or months it may be -- I am still a child!

They pictured me the stars as wheeling wild

In a huge bowl of water; but my dreams

Built it of Titan oak, its sides were piled

of fearful wood

Hewn from God's forests, paid with sweat and tears and blood. {2A}

IV.

I crept, a stealthy, hungry soul, to grasp

Its vast edge, to look out to the beyond;

To know. My eyes strained out, there was no bond,

No continuity, no bridge to clasp.

No pillars for the universe. Immond,6

Shapeless, unstayed,

Nothing, Nothing, Nothing, Nothing! I was afraid.

V.

That was my sanity. Brought face to face

Suddenly with the infinite, I feared.

My brain snapped, broke; white oarage-wings7 appeared

On stronger shoulders set, a carapace,

A chariot. I did essay that wierd

Unmeasured dome;

Found in its balance, peace; found in its silence, home.

VI.

That was my madness. On bright plumage poised

I soared, I hovered in the infinite;

Nothing was everything; the day was night,

Dark and deep light together, that rejoiced

In their strange wedlock. Marvellously white

All rainbows kissed

Into one sphere that stood, a circumambient mist.

VII.

I climbed still inwards. At the moveless point

Where all power, light, life, motion concentrate,

I found God dwelling. Strong, immaculate,

He knew me and he loved! His lips anoint

My lips with love; with thirst insatiate

He drank my breath,

Absorbed my life in His, dispersed me, gave me death. {2B}

VIII.

This is release, is freedom, is desire;

This is the one hole that a man may gain;

This is the lasting ecstasy of pain

That fools reject, the dread, the searching fire

That quivers in the marrow, that in vain

Burns secretly

The unconsumed bush where God lurks privily.

IX.

This was a dream -- and how may I attain?

How make myself a worthy acolyte?

How from my body shall my soul take flight,

Being constrained in this devouring chain

Of selfishness? How purge the spirit quite

Of gross desires

That eat into the heart with their corrupting fires?

X.

Old Buddha gave command; Jehovah spake;

Strange distant gods that are not dead to-day

Added their voices; Heaven's desart way

Man wins not by by sorrow -- let him break

The golden image with the feet of clay!8

Let him despise

That earthen vessel which the potter marred9 -- and rise!

XI.

As life burns strong, the spirit's flame grows dull;

The ruddy-cheeked sea-breezes shame its spark;

Wan rainy winds of autumn on the dark

Leafless and purple moors, that rage and lull

With a damned soul's despair, these leave their mark,

Their brand of fire

That burns the dross, that wings the heart to its desire. {3A}

XII.

No prostitution may be shunned by him

Who would achieve this Heaven. No Satyr-song.

No maniac dance shall ply so fast the thong

Of lust's imagining perversely dim

That no man's spirit may keep pace, so strong

Its pang must pierce;

Nor all the pains of hell may be one tithe as fierce.

XIII.

All degradation, all sheer infamy,

Thou shalt endure. Thy head beneath the mire

And dung of worthless women shall desire

As in some hateful dream, at last to lie;

Woman must trample thee till thou respire

That deadliest fume;11

The vilest worms must crawl, the loathliest vampires gloom.

XIV.

Thou must breathe in all poisons; for thy meat,

Poison; for drink, still poison; for thy kiss,

A serpent's lips! An agony is this

That sweats out venom; thy clenched hands, thy feet

Ooze blood, thine eyes weep blood; thine anguish is

More keen than death.

At last -- there is no deeper vault of hell beneath!

XV.

Then thine abasement bringeth back the sheaves

Of golden corn of exaltation.

Ripened and sweetened by the very sun {3B}

Whose far-off fragrance steals between the leaves

Of the cool forest, filling every one

That reaps yon gold

With strange intoxications mad and manifold.

XVI.

Only beware gross pleasure -- the delight

Of fools: the ecstasy, the trance of love --

Life's atom-bonds must strain -- aye, and must move,

And all the body be forgotten quite,

And the pure soul flame forth, a deathless dove,

Where all worlds end!

If thou art worthy God shall greet thee for a friend.

XVII.

I am unworthy. In the House of Pain

There are ten thousand shrines. Each one enfolds

A lesser, inner, more divine, that holds

A sin less palpable and less profane.

The inmost is the home of God. He moulds

Infinity,

The great within the small, one stainless unity!

XVIII.

I dare not to the greater sins aspire;

I might -- so gross am I -- take pleasure in

These filthy holocausts, that burn to sin

A damned incense in the hellish fire

Of human lust -- earth's joys no heaven may win;

Pain holds the prize

In blood-stained hands; Love laughs, with anguish in His eyes.

XIX.

These little common sins may lead my lust

To more deceitful vices, to the deeds

At whose sweet name the side of Jesus bleeds {4A}

In sympathy new-nurtured by the trust

Of man's forgiveness that his passion breeds --

These petty crimes!

God grant they grow intense in newer, worthier times!

XX.

Yet -- shall I make me subject to a pang

So horrible? O God, abase me still!

Break with Thy rod my unrepentant will,

Lest Hell entrap me with an iron fang!

Grind me, most high Jehovah, in the mill

That grinds so small!

Grind down to dust and powder Pride of Life -- and all!

XXI.

In every ecstasy exalt my heart;

Let every trance make loose and light the wings

My soul must shake, ere her pure fabric springs

Clothed in the secret dream-delights of Art

Transcendant into air, the tomb of Things;

Let every kiss

Melt on my lips to flame, fling back the gates of Dis!12

XXII.

Give me a master! not some learned priest

Who by long toil and anguish has devised

A train of mysteries, but some despised

Young king of men, whose spirit is released

From all the weariness, whose lips are prized

By men not much --

Ah! let them only once grow warm, my lips to touch.

XXIII.

Ah! under his protection, in his love,

With my abasements emulating his,

We surely should attain to That which Is, {4B}

And lose ourselves, together, far above

The highest heaven, in one sweet lover's kiss,

So sweet, so strong,

That with it all my soul should unto him belong.

XXIV.

An ecstasy to which no life responds,

Is the enormous secret I have learned;

When self-denial's furnace-flame has burned.

Through love, and all the agonizing bonds

That hold the soul within its shell are turned

To water weak;

Then may desires obtain the cypress crown they seek.

XXV.

Browning attained, I think, when Evelyn Hope

Gave no response to his requickening kiss;

In the brief moment when exceeding bliss

Joined to her sweet passed soul his soul, its scope

Grew infinite for ever. So in this

Profane desire

I too may join my song unto his quenchless quire.

XXVI.

When Hallam died, did Tennyson attain

When his warm kisses drew no answering sigh

From that poor corpse corrupted utterly.

When four diverse sweet dews exude to stain

With chaste foul fervour the cold canopy?

Proud Reason's sheath

He cast away; the sword of Madness flames beneath!

XXVII.

Read his mad rhymes; their sickening savour taste;

Bathe in their carnal and depraving stream:

Rise, glittering with the dew-drops of his dream, {5A}

And glow with exaltation; to thy waist

Gird his gold belt; the diamond settings gleam

With fire drawn far

Through the blue suddering vault from some amazing star.

XXVIII.

Aubrey13 attained in sleep when he dreamt this

Wonderful dream of women, tender child

And harlot, naked all, in thousands piled

On one hot writhing heap, his shameful kiss

To shudder through them, with lithe limbs defiled

To wade, to dip

Down through the mass, caressed by every purple lip.

XXIX.

Choked with their reek and fume and bitter sweat

His body perishes; this life is drained;

The last sweet drop of nectar has not stained

Another life; his lips and limbs are wet

With death-dews! Ha! The painter has attained

As high a meed

As his who first begot sweet music on a reed.

XXX.

And O! my music is so poor and thin!

I am poor Marsyas14; where shall I find

A wise Olympas and a lover kind

To teach my mouth to sing some secret sin,

Faint, fierce, and horrible; to tune my mind,

And on a reed

Better beloved to bid me discourse at his need? {5B}

XXXI.

Master!15 I think that I have found thee now:

Deceive me not, I trust thee, I am sure

Thy love will stand while ocean winds endure.

Our quest shall be our quest till either brow

Radiate light, till death himself allure

Our love to him

When life's desires are filled beyond the silver brim.

 

XXXII.

Here I abandon all myself to thee,

Slip into thy caresses as of right,

Live in thy kisses as in living light,

Clothed in thy love, enthroned lazily

In thine embrace, as naked as the night,

As love and lover

More pure, more keen, more strong than all my dreams discover. {6A}

 

EPILOGUE.

My heavy hair upon my olive skin

("Baise la lourde criniere!")

Frames with its ebony a face like sin.

My heavy hair!

You touched my lips and told me I was fair;

It was your wickedness my love to win.

("Baise la lourde criniere!")

Your passion has destroyed my soul -- what care

If you desire me, and I hold you in

My arms a little, and you love for lair

My heavy hair!

It is fatal web your fingers spin.

("Baise la lourde criniere!")

Let our love end as other loves begin,

Or, slay me in a moment, unaware!

Nay? Kiss in double death-pang, if you dare!

Or one day I will strangle you within

My heavy hair! {6B}

 

1. C.G.Lamb, Demonstrator of Engineering at Cambridge.

2. Von Eckartshausen

3. An adept who was in correspondence with the author.

4. Christ.

5. Brothel.

6. Unclean -- from the French “immonde.”

7. Cf. Virgil, Aeneid, vi. 20.

8. Vide Daniel ii.

9. Oriental symbol for the body.

10. The concrete expression of the horror of the individual.

11. Morbid imaginations, which ever torment the traveller upon the path of asceticism.

12. A name contracted from Dives, sometimes given to Pluto and hence also the the lower world. But vide Dante, Inferno, Canto xxxiv.

13. Aubrey Beardsley. The dream is authentic.

14. Marsyas, a Satyr, inventor of the pastoral flute; Olympas, his favourite pupil. It will be seen that the names are carelessly transposed.

15. Christ.