THE TEMPLE OF SOLOMON THE KING

The Slave

THE SLAVE

THE blue vault of heaven is red and torn as the wound of a tongueless mouth; for the West has drawn her sword, and the Sun lies sweltering in his blood. The sea moans as a passionate bridegroom, and with trembling lips touches the swelling breasts of night. Then wave and cloud cling together, and as lovers who are maddened by the fire of their kisses, mingle and become one.

Come, prepare the feast in the halls of the Twilight! Come, pour out the dark wine of the night, and bring in the far-sounding harp of the evening! Let us tear from our burning limbs the dusty robes of the morning, and, naked, dance in the silver radiance of the moon. Voices echo from the darkness, and the murmur of many lips lulls the stillness of departing day, as a shower in springtime whispering amongst the leaves of the sprouting beech trees. Now the wolves howl outside, and the jackals call from the thicket; but none heed them, for all inside is as the mossy bank of a sparkling streamlet — full of softness and the flashing of many jewels.

O where art thou, my loved one, whose eyes are as the blue of the far-off hills? O where art thou whose voice is as the murmur of distant waters? I stretch forth mine hands and feel {205} the rushes nodding in the wind; I gaze through the shadows, for the night mist is rising from the lake; but thee I cannot find. Ah! there thou art by the willow, standing between the bulrush and the water-lily, and thy form is as a shell of pearl caught up by the waves in the moonlight. Come, let us madden the night with our kisses! Come, let us drink dry the vats of our passion! Stay! Why fleest thou from me, as the awakened mist of the morning before the arrows of day? Now I can see thee no more; thou art gone, and the darkness hath swallowed thee up. O wherefore hast thou left me, me who loved thee, and wove kisses in thine hair? Behold, the Moon hath followed thee! Now I see not the shadows of the woods, and the lilies in the water have become but flecks of light in the darkness. Now they mingle and melt together as snow-flakes before the sun, and are gone; yea! the stars have fled the skies, and I am alone.

How cold has grown the night, how still! O where art thou! Come, return unto me, that I stray not in vain; call unto me that I lose not my way! Lighten me with the brightness of thine eyes, so that I wander not far from the path and become a prey to the hunger of wild beasts!

I am lost; I know not where I am; the mossy mountains have become as hills of wind, and have been blown far from their appointed places; and the waving fields of the valleys have become silent as the land of the dead, so that I hear then not, and know not whither to walk. The reeds whisper not along the margin of the lake; all is still; heaven has closed her mouth and there is no breath in her to wake the slumber of desolation. The lilies have been sucked up by the greedy waters, and now night sleeps like some mighty {206} serpent gorged on the white flesh and the warm blood of the trembling maidens of dawn, and the wild youths of the noon-tide.

O my dove, my loved one! Didst thou but approach as a wanderer in the wilderness, thine hair floating as a raiment of gold about thee, and thy breasts lit with the blush of the dawn! Then would mine eyes fill with tears, and I would leap towards thee in the madness of my joy; but thou comest not. I am alone, and tremble in the darkness like the bleached bones of a giant in the depths of a windy tomb.

There is a land in which no tree groweth, and where the warbling of the birds is as a forgotten dream. There is a land of dust and desolation, where no river floweth, and where no cloud riseth from the plains to shade men’s eyes from the sand and the scorching sun. Many are they who stray therein, for all live upon the threshold of misery who inhabit the House of joy. There wealth taketh wing as a captive bird set free, and fame departeth as a breath from fainting lips; love playeth the wanton, and the innocence of youth is but as a cloak to cover the naked hideousness of vice; health is not known, and joy lies corrupted as a corpse in the grave; and behind all standeth the great slave master called Death, all-encompassing with his lash, all-desolating in the naked hideousness and the blackness wherewith he chastiseth.

“I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and behold all was vanity and vexation of spirit.” Yea! all are of dust, and turn to dust again, and the dead know not anything. Health has left me, wealth has departed from me, those whom I love have been taken from me, and now Thou {207} (O my God!) hast abandoned me, and cast me out, and setting a lock upon Thy lips hast stopped Thine ears with wax and covered Thine eyes with the palms of Thine hands, so that Thou seest me not, nor hearest me, nor answerest unto my bitter cry. Thus I am cast out from Thy presence and sit alone as one lost in a desert of sand, and cry unto Thee, thirsting for Thee, and then deny Thee and curse Thee in my madness, until death stop the blasphemies of my lips with the worm and the dust of corruption, and I am set free from the horror of this slavery of sorrow.

I am alone, yea! alone, sole habitant of this kingdom of desolation and misery. Hell were as Paradise to this solitude. O would that dragons came from out the deep and devoured me, or that lions tore me asunder for their food; for their fury would be as milk and honey unto the bitterness of this torture. O cast unto me a worm, that I may no longer be alone, and that in its writhings on the sand I read Thine answer to my prayer! Would I were in prison that I might hear the groans of the captives; would I were on the scaffold that I might listen to the lewd jests of bloody men! O would I were in the grave, wound in the roots of the trees, eyeless gazing up into the blackness of death!

Between the evening and the morning was I born, like a mushroom I sprang up in the night. At the breast of desolation was I fed, and my milk was as whey, and my meat as the bitterness of aloes. Yet I lived, for God was with me; and I feared, for the devil was at hand. I did not understand what I needed, I was afraid, and fear was as a pestilence unto my soul. Yet was I intoxicated and drunken on the cup of life, and joy was mine, and reeling I shrieked blasphemies {208} to the storm. Then I grew sober, and diced with mine understanding, and cheated mine heart, and lost my God, and was sold into slavery, and became as a coffin-worm unto the joy of my life. Thus my days grew dark, and I cried unto myself as my spirit left me: “O what of to-day which is as the darkness of night? O what then of to-morrow which is as the darkness of Eternity? Why live and tempt the master’s lash?” So I sought the knife at my girdle to sunder the thread of my sorrow; but courage had taken flight with joy, and my hand shook so that the blade remained in its sheath. Then I cried unto myself: “Verily why should I do aught, for life itself hath become unto me as a swordless scabbard” — so I sat still and gloomed into the darkness.

{209}

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