AHAB AND OTHER POEMS

Ahab and Other Poems by Aleister Crowley

Ahab
and Other Poems

by Aleister Crowley

With an Introduction and Epilogue by
Count Vladimir Svareff

1903

TO G. C. J.

PILGRIM of the sun, be this thy scrip!
    The severing lightnings of the mind
Avail where soul and spirit slip,
    And the Eye is blind.

PARIS, December 9, 1902.

BY palm and pagoda enchaunted o'er-shadowed, I lie in the light
    Of stars that are bright beyond suns that all poets have vaunted
In the deep-breathing amorous bosom of forests of amazon might
    By palm and pagoda enchaunted.

By spells that are murmured and rays of my soul strongly flung, never daunted;
    By gesture of tracery traced with a wand dappled white;
I summon the spirits of earth from the gloom they for ages have haunted.

O woman of deep-red skin! Carved hair like the teak! O delight
    Of my soul in the hollows of earth – how my spirit hath taunted –
Away! I am here, I am laid to the breast of the earth in the dusk of the night,
    By palm and pagoda enchaunted. {121A}

THE polished silver flings me back
    Dominant brows and eyes of bronze,
A curling beard of vigorous black,
    And dusky red of desert suns
Burnt in my cheeks. Who saith me Nay?
Who reigns in Israel to-day?

Samaria in well-ordered ranks
    Of houses stands in honoured peace:
Sweet nourishment from Kenah's banks
    Flows, and the corn and vine increase.
In two pitched fields the Syrian hordes
Fled broken from our stallion swords.

Ay me! But that was Life! I see
    Now, from that hill, the ordered plain;
The serried ranks like foam flung free,
    Long billows, flashing on the main.
Past the eye's grip their legions roll –
Anguish of death upon my soul!

For, sheltered by the quiet hill,
    Like two small flocks of kids that wait,
Going to water, ere the chill
    Flow from the East's forsaken gate,
Lie my weak spears: O trembling tide
Of fear false-faced and shifty-eyed!

God! how we smote them in the morn!
    Their ravening tides rolled back anon,
As if the cedared crest uptorn
    Roared from uprooted Lebanon
Down to the sea, its billows hurled
Back, past the pillars of the world! {121B}

Ah, that was life! I feel my sword
    Live, bite, and shudder in my hand,
Smite, drink, the spirit of its lord
    Exulting through the infinite brand!
My chariot dyed with Syrian blood!
My footmen wading through the flood!

Ay! that was life! Before the night
    Dipped its cool wings, their hosts were stricken
Like night itself before the light.
    An hundred thousand corpses sicken
The air of heaven. Yet some by speed
Escape our vengeance – ours, indeed!

Fate, the red hound, to Aphek followed.
    Some seven and twenty thousand died
When the great wall uprising hollowed
    Its terror, crashed upon its side,
And whelmed them in the ruin. Strife,
Strength, courage, victory – that is Life!

Then – by my father's beard! What seer
    Promised me victory? What sage
Now in my triumph hour severe
    Spits out red oracles of rage?
Jehovah's. The fanatic churl
Stands – see his thin lips writhe and curl!

“Because thou has loosed the kingly man,
    To uttermost destruction's dread
In my almighty power and plan
    Appointed, I will have thy head
For his, thy life for his make mine,
And for his folk thou hast spared, slay thine.”

But surely I was just and wise!
    Mercy is God's own attribute!
Mercy to noble enemies
    Marks man from baser mould of brute,
To fight their swordsmen – who would shirk?
To slay a captive – coward's work!

“I have loved mercy,” that He said;
    Nor bade me slay the Syrian Chief.
Yet my head answers for his head;
    My people take his people's grief.
Sin, troth, to spare one harmless breath,
Sith all my innocents earn death! {122A}

By timely mercy peace becomes,
    And kindly love, and intercourse
Of goodly merchandise, that sums
    Contention in united force.
“Praise who, relenting, shweth pity;
Not him who captureth a city!”

A wild strong life I've made of mine.
    Not till my one good deed is done –
Ay! for that very deed divine –
    Comes the fierce mouth of malison.
So grows my doubt again, so swell
My ancient fears for Israel.

I hurled Jehovah's altars down;
    I slew and I pursued his priests;
I took a wife from Zidon Town;
    I gave his temple to the beasts;
I set up gods and graven shapes
Of calves an crocodiles and apes.

Myself to sorceries I betook;
    All sins that are did I contrive,
Sealed in the Thora's dreadful book –
    I live, and like my life, and thrive!
Doth God not see! His ear is dull?
Or His speech strangled, His force null?

Nay, verily! These petty sins
    His mercy and long-suffering pardon.
What final crime of horror wins
    At last His gracious heart to harden?
What one last infamy shall wake
His anger, for His great Name's sake?

Is there on sin so horrible
    That no forgiveness can obtain,
That flings apart the bars of hell,
    For which repentance shall be vain?
Ay! but there is! One act of ruth
Done in my rash unthinking youth!

Who wonders if I hold the scale
    Poised in my deep deliberate mind,
Between the weight of Zidon's Baal
    And Judah's God – each in his kind
A god of power – each in his fashion
The hideous foeman of compassion? {122B}

The blood alike of man and beast
    The worship of each God demands.
All priests are greedy – gold and feast
    Pour from the poor folk to their hands.
The doubtful power from heaven to strike
The levin bolt they claim alike.

I take no heed of trickery played
    By cunning mad Elijah's skill,
When the great test of strength was made
    On Carmel's melancholy hill,
And on the altar-stone the liar
Cried “Water,” and poured forth Greek fire!

Then while the fools peer heavenward,
    Even as he prays, to see the skies
Vomit the flash, his furtive sword
    Fast to the flinty altar flies.
Whoof! the wild blaze assures the clods
Jehovah is the God of gods!

Nor do I set peculiar store
    By tricks twin-born to this they show
When, with well-simulated lore
    Of learning, Baal's great hierarchs go
Into the gold god's graven shell
And moan the ambiguous oracle.

In my own inmost heart I feel,
    Deep as a pearl in seas of Ind,
A vision, keen as tempered steel,
    Lofty and holy as the wind,
And brighter than the living sun:
If these be gods, then there is none!

Baal and Jehovah, Ashtoreth
    And Chemosh and these Elohim,
Life's pandars in the brothel, Death!
    Cloudy imaginings, a dream
Built up of fear and words and woe.
All, all my soul must overthrow.

For these are devils, nothing doubt!
    Yet nought should trouble me: I see
My folk secure from foes without,
    Worship in peace and amity
Baal and Jehovah, sects appeased
By peace assured and wealth increased. {123A}

Yet am I troubled. Doubt exists
    And absolute proof recoils before me.
Truth veils herself in awful mists,
    And darkness wakens, rolling o'er me
When I approach the dreadful shrine,
In my own soul, of the divine.

And what cries laughing Jezebel?
    Golden and fragrant as the morn,
Painted like flames adorning Hell,
    Passions and mysteries outworn,
Ever enchanting, ever wise,
And terror in her wondrous eyes!

Her fascination steals my strength,
    Her luxury lures me as she comes;
Reaches her length against my length,
    And breaks my spirit; life succumbs –
A nameless avatar of death
Incarnate in her burning breath.

I know her gorgeous raiment folded
    In snaky subtle draperies,
All stalwart captains mighty-moulded
    To lure within her sorceries,
Within her bed – and I, who love,
See, and am silent, and approve!

Strange! Who shall call the potter knave
    Who moulds a vessel to his will?
One, if he choose, a black-browed slave;
    One, if he choose, a thing of ill,
Writhing, misshapen, footless, cruel:
One, like a carved Assyrian jewel?

Shame on the potter heavy sit,
    If he revenge his own poor skill
That marred a work by lack of wit,
    By heaping infamy and ill
On the already ruined clay.
Shame on the potter, then, I say!

But what cries laughing Jezebel?
    Scornful of me as all her lovers,
More scornful as we love her well!
    “Good king, this rage of doubt discovers
The long-hid secret! All thy mind
A little shadow lurks behind.” {123B}

Hers are the delicate sorceries
    In black groves: hers the obscure, obscene
Rites in dim moonlight courts; the wise
    Dreadful occasions when the queen
Like to a bat, flits, flits, to gloat
Blood-drunk upon a baby's throat!

Therefore: all doubt, this fierce unrest
    Between the knowledge self bestows
And leaves of palm, and palimpsest,
    Scrawled sacred scrolls, whose legend goes
Beyond recorded time, and founds
Its age beyond all history's bounds;

Therefore: all search for truth beyond
    The doubtful cannon of the law,
The bitter letter of the bond
    Given when Sinai shook with awe,
They swear; all wit that looks aslant
Shamed at the shameful covenant;1)

Therefore: this brooding over truth
    She much avers cuts short my day,
Steals love and laughter from my youth,
    Will dye my beard in early grey.
“Go forth to war! Shall Judah still
Set mockery to thy kingly will?”

May be. I often feel a ghost
    Creeping like darkness through my brain;
Sensed like uncertainty at most,
    Nowise akin to fear or pain.
Yet it is there. To yield to such
And brood, will not avail me much.

Ho! harness me my chariot straight,
    My white-maned horses fleet and strong!
Call forth the trumpeters of state!
    Proclaim to all Samaria's throng:
The King rides forth! Hence, slaves! Away!
Haste ye! The King rides forth today. {124A}

WOULD God that I were dead! Like Cain,
    My punishment I cannot bear.
There is a deep corrosive pain
    Invades my being everywhere.
Spring from a seed too small to see,
A monster spawns and strangles me.

'Tis scarce a week! In power and pride
    I rode in state about the city;
Took pleasure in the eager ride,
    Saw grief, took pleasure in my pity;
Say joy, took pleasure in the seeing,
And the full rapture of well-being.

Would God that I had stayed, and smote
    My favourite captain through the heart,
Caught my young daughter by the throat,
    And torn her life and limbs apart,
Stabbed my queen dead; remorse for these
Might ape, not match, these miseries.

For, hard behind the palace gate,
    I spied a vineyard fair and fine,
Hanging with purple joy, and weight
    Of golden rapture of the vine:
And there I bade my charioteer
Stay, and bid Naboth to appear.

The beast! A gray, deceitful man,
    With twisted mouth the beard would hide,
Evil yet strong: the scurril clan
    Exaggerate for its greed and pride,
The scum of Israel! At one look
I read my foe as in a book.

The beast! He grovelled in the dust.
    I heard the teeth gride as he bowed
His forehead to the earth. Still just,
    Still patient, passionless, and proud,
I ruled my heavy wrath. I passed
That hidden insult: spake at last.

I spake him fair. My memory held
    Him still a member of my folk;
A warrior might be bold of eld,
    My hardy spearman when we broke
The flashing lines of Syrians. Yea!
I spake him fair. Alas the day! {124B}

“Friend, by my palace lies thy field
    Fruitful and pleasant to the sight.
Therefore I pray thee that thou yield
    Thy heritage for my delight.
Wilt thou its better? Or its fee
In gold, as seemeth good to thee?

“Content thyself!” As by a spell
    He rears his bulk in surly rage.
“The Lord forbid that I should sell
    To thee my father's heritage!”
No other word. Dismissal craves?2)
Nay, scowls and slinks among his slaves.

Hath ever a slave in story dared
    Thus to beard openly his lord?
My chariot men leapt forth and flared
    Against him with indignant sword.
Why wait for king's word to expunge
Live so detested with one lunge?

“Cease!” My strong word flamed out. The men
    Shook with dead fear. They jumped and caught
With savage instinct, brutal ken,
    At what should be my crueller thought:
Torture! And trembled lest their haste
Had let a dear life run to waste.

They argued after their brute kind.
    I have two prides; in justice, one:
In mercy, one: “No ill I find
    In this just man,” I cried; “the sun
Is not defiled, and takes no hurt
When the worm builds his house of dirt.

“Curse ye Jehovah! He abides,
    Hears not, nor smites; the curse is pent
Close with the speaker; ill betides
    When on himself the curve is bent,
And like the wild man's ill-aimed blow,3)
Hits nought, swerves, swoops, and strikes him low. {125A}

“Let the man go!” The short surprise
    Sinks in long wonder: angrily
Yet awed they spurn him forth. “Arise!
    O swine, and wallow in thy sty!
The King hath said it.” Thus the men
Turned the beast free – to goad again.

For not the little shadow shapes
    An image ever in my brain;
Across my field of sight there gapes
    Ever a gulf, and draws the pain
Of the whole knowledge of the man
Into its vague and shifting span.

Moreover, in that gulf I see
    Now the bright vineyard sweet and clean,
Now the dog Naboth mocking me
    With rude curt word and mouth obscene
Wried in derision – well relied
Dog's insolence on monarch's price.

Ah, friend! Some winds may shake a city!
    Some dogs may creep too near a feast!
Thou, reckoning on my scorn, my pity,
    Thine own uncleanness as a beast:
Wilt thou not take thy count again?
Seest thou the shadow on my brain?

It grows, it grows. Seven days slide past:
    I groan upon an empty bed:
I turn my face away: I fast:
    There cometh in my mouth no bread.
No mad dare venture near to say:
“Why turns the King his face away?”

It grows. Ah me! the long days slide;
    I brood; due justice to the man
Dogging desire. A monarch's pride
    Outweighs his will: yet slowlier ran
To-day the thought: “I will no wrong:“
“The vines are cool,” more sweet and strong

There is no sleep. All natural laws
    Suspend their function: strange effects
And mighty for so slight a cause!
    What whim of weakling strength protects
This dog of Satan at my gate
From the full whirlwind of my hate? {125B}

What mighty weakness stays the king
    If he arise, and cast desire
Far from its seat and seed and spring
    To Hinnom the detested fire?
Ay! both were wise. Madness alone
Sits throned on the king's vacant throne.

Dogs! Who dares break on me? “Dread lord!
    Mightiest of monarchs!” – “Cease, thou crow!
Thine errand! ere the eunuch's sword
    Snatch thy bald head off at a blow.”
“Mercy, World's Light!” Swings clear and clean
The call “Room for the Queen! The Queen!”

Strong as a man, the Queen strides in.
    Even she shrank frighted! – my aspect
More dreadful than all shapes of sin
    Her dreams might shape or recollect,
Hideous with fasting, madness, grief,
Beyond all speaking or belief.

But the first glance at those bold eyes!
    Ah! let me fling me at her feet!
Take me, O love! Thy terror flies.
    Kiss me again, again, O sweet!
O honeyed queen, old paramour,
So keen our joy be and so sure!

“The king would be alone!” Fast fly
    The trembling lackeys at her voice.
Lapped in her billowy breasts I lie,
    And love, and languish, and rejoice,
And – ah – forget! The ecstatic hour
Bursts like a poppy into flower.

Back! thou black spectre! In her arms
    Devouring and devoured of love,
Feeding my face in myriad charms,
    As on a mountain feeds a dove,
Starred with fresh flowers, dew-bright, and pearled
With all the light of all the world: {126A}

Back! With the kisses ravening fast
    Upon my panting mouth, the eyes
Darting hot showers of light, the vast
    And vicious writings, the caught sighs
Drunk with delight, on love's own throne,
The moment where all time lies prone:

Back! At the very central shrine,
    Pinnacled moment of excess
Of immolation's blood divine:
    Back! from the fleshy loveliness:
Back! loved and loathed! O face concealed!
Back! One hath whispered “Naboth's field.”

I am slain. Her body passion-pearled
    Dreams her luxurious lips have drawn
My spirit, as the dust wind-whirled
    Sucks up the radiance of the dawn
In rainbow beauty4) – yet remains
Mere dust upon the barren plains.

Reluctance to reveal my grief
    Is of my sickness a strange feature.
Yea, verily! beyond belief
    Is the machinery of man's nature!
If thus spake Solomon in kind
Of body, I of soul and mind!

The lazy accents stir at last
    The scented air: “Oh, wherefore, lord,
Is thy soul sad? This weary fast
    Strikes to my heart a lonely sword!”
In brief words stammered forth I spoke
My secret; and the long spell broke.

And now the gilded sin of her
    Leapt and was lambent in a smile:
“Give me but leave to minister
    This kingdom for a little while!
The vineyard shall be thine. O king,
This trouble is a little thing!” {126B}

I gave to her the signet's gold
    Carved in the secret charactery,
Whose flowers of writing bend and fold
    The star of Solomon, the eye
Whence four rays run – the Name! the seal
Written within the burning wheel.

And now I lean with fevered will
    Across the carven screen of palm.
All nature holds its function still;
    The sun is mild; the wind is calm;
But on my ear the voices fall
Distant, and irk me, and appal.

Two men have sworn the solemn oath:
    “God and the king this dog blasphemed,”
Two judges, just, though little loth,
    Weigh, answer. As on one who dreamed
Comes waking – in my soul there groaned:
“Carry forth Naboth to be stoned!”

Nine days! And still the king is sad,
    And hides his face, and is not seen.
The tenth! the king is gaily clad;
    The king will banquet with the queen;
And, ere the west be waste of sun,
Enjoy the vineyard he hath won.

All this I hear as one entranced.
    The king and I are friend and friend,
As if a cloud of maidens danced
    Between my vision and the end.
I see the king as one afeared,
Hiding his anguish in his beard.

I laugh in secret, knowing well
    What waits him in the field of blood;
What message hath the seer to tell;
    What bitter Jordan holds its flood
Only for Ahab, sore afraid
What lurks behind the vine's cool shade.

Yet – well I see – the fates are sure,
    And Ahab will descend, possess
The enchanting green, the purple lure,
    The globes of nectared loveliness,
And, as he turns! who wonders now
The grim laugh wrinkles on my brow? {127A}

I see him, a fantastic ghost,
    The vineyard smiling white and plain,
And hiding ever innermost
    The little shadow on his brain;
I laugh again with mirthless glee,
As knowing also I am he.

A fool in gorgeous attire!
    An ox decked bravely for his doom!
So step I to the great desire.
    Sweet winds upon the gathering gloom
Bend like a mother, as I go,
Foreknowing, to my overthrow.

O FRIENDS and brothers! Hath the year deceased,
And ye await the bidding to fare well?
How shall ye fare, thus bound of fate in hell?
How, whom no light hath smitten, and released?
Yet trust perchance in God, or man, or priest?
Ay! Let them serve you, let them save you! Spell
The name that guards the human citadel,
And answer if your course hath checked or ceased.

Path of the eightfold star! Be thou revealed!
Isle of Nirvana, be the currents curled
About thee, that the swimmer touch thy shore!
Thought be your sword, and virtue be your shield!
Press on! Who conquers shall for evermore
Pass from the fatal mischief of the world.

TO M. M. M.

HANGS over me the fine false gold
    Above the bosom epicene
        That hides my head that hungereth.
The steady eyes of steel behold,
    When on a sudden the fierce and thin
        Curled subtle mouth swoops on my breath, {127B}
And like a serpent's mouth is cold,
    And like a serpent's mouth is keen,
        And like a serpent's mouth is death.

Lithe arms, wan with love's mysteries,
    Creep round and close me in, as Thule
        Wraps Arctic oceans ultimate;
Some deathly swoon or sacrifice,
    This love – a red hypnotic jewel
        Worn in the forehead of a Fate!
And like a devil-fish is ice,
    And like a devil-fish is cruel,
        And like a devil-fish is hate.

Beneath those kisses songs of sadness
    Sob, in the pulses of desire,
        Seeking some secret in the deep;
Low melodies of stolen gladness,
    The bitterness of death; the lyre
        Broken to bid the viol weep:
And like a Maenad's chants are madness,
    And like a Maenad's chants are fire,
        And like a Maenad's chants are sleep.

A house of pain is her bedchamber.
    Her skin electric clings to mine,
        Shakes for pure passion, moves and hisses;
Whose subtle perfumes half remember
    Old loves, and desolate divine
        Wailings among the wildernesses;
And like a Hathor's skin is amber,
    And like a Hathor's skin is wine,
        And like a Hathor's skin is kisses.

Gray steel self-kindled shine her eyes.
    They rede strange runes of time defiled,
        And ruined souls, and Satan's kin.
I see their veiled impurities,
    An harlot hidden in a child,
        Through all their love and laughter lean;
And like a witch's eyes are wise,
    And like a witch's eyes are wild,
        And like a witch's eyes are Sin.

She moves her breasts in Bacchanal
    Rhymes to that music manifold
        That pulses in the golden head, {128A}
Seductive phrase perpetual,
    Terrible both to change or hold;
        They move, but all their light is fled;
And like a dead girl's breasts are small,
    And like a dead girl's breasts are cold,
        And like a dead girl's breasts are dead.

Forests and ancient haunts of sleep
    See dawn's intolerable spark
        While yet fierce darkness lingereth.
So I, their traveller, sunward creep,
    Hail Ra uprising in his bark,
        And feel the dawn-wind's sombre breath.
Strange loves rise up, and turn, and weep!
    Our warm wet bodies may not mark
        How these spell Satan's shibboleth
And like a devil's loves are deep,
    And like a devil's loves are dark,
        And like a devil's loves are death.

BEND down in dream the shadow-shape
    Of tender breasts and bare!
Let the long locks of gold escape
And cover me and fall and drape
    A pall of whispering hair!
And let the starry eyes look through
    That mist of silken light,
And lips drop forth their honey-dew
And gentle sighs of sleep renew
    The scented winds of night!
As purple clusters of pure grapes
    Distil their dreamy wine
Whose fragrance from warm fields escapes
On shadowy hills and sunny capes
    In lands of jassamine!
So let thy figure faintly lined
    In pallid flame of sleep
With love inspire the dreamer's mind,
Young love most delicate and kind,
    With love – how calm and deep!
Let hardly half a smile revive
    The thoughts of waking hours.
How sad it is to be alive!
How well the happy dead must thrive
    In green Elysian bowers! {128B}
A sleep as deep as their bestow,
    Dear angel of my dreams!
Bid time now cease its to-and-fro
That I may dwell with thee, and know
    The soul from that which seems!
The long hair sobs in closer fold
    And deeper curves of dawn;
The arms bend closer, and the gold
Burns brighter, and the eyes are cold
    With life at last withdrawn.
And all the spirit passing down
    Involves my heart with gray:
So the pale stars of even crown
The glow of twilight; dip and drown
    The last despairs of day.
Oh! closer yet and closer yet
    The pearl of faces grows.
The hair is woven like a net
Of moonlight round me: sweet is set
    The mouth's unbudded rose.
Oh never! did our lips once meet
    The dream were done for ever,
And death should dawn, supremely sweet,
One flash of knowledge subtle and fleet
    Borne on the waveless river. {129A}
And therefore in the quiet hour
    I rose from lily pillows
And swiftly sought the jasmine bower
Still sleeping, moonlight for a dower,
    And bridal wreaths of willows.
And there I laid me down again:
    The stream flowed softly by:
And thought the last time upon pain,
Earth's joy – the sad permuted strain
    Of tears and ecstasy.
And there the dream came floating past
    Borne in an ivory boat,
And all the world sighed low “At last.”
The shallop waited while I cast
    My languid limbs afloat
To drift with eyelids skyward turned
    Up to the shadowy dream
Shaped like a lover's face, that burned;
To drift toward the soul that yearned
    For this – the hour supreme!
So drifting I resigned the sleep
    For death's diviner bliss;
As mists in rain of springtide weep,
Life melted in the dewfall deep
    Of death's kiss in a kiss. {129}

To A. M. B.

Sleep, O deep splendour of disastrous years,
    Gone like a star fallen at the fall of night !
    Wake, O mute mouth and majesty of light,
Made of no sound that even silence hears,
But born of strings intangible, of spheres
    Shaken of love, a mightier music’s might,
    Frailer to sound than dewfall is to sight!
Wake, O sweet soul incorporate of tears!

Or else dream on, and let no tears begem
Love’s crown of thorns, ensanguinne diadem,
    But let pale kisses blossom, starry shrine
    Of lips most deathlike, that endure divine
Past sleeps or parting’s or death’s spoil of them
    In the pomegranate walks of Proserpine!

V. S.


1)
Circumcision, medically commendable, is both ridiculous and obscene if considered as a religious rite. Gen. xviii. 9-14.
2)
In the East the inferior dare not leave the presence of his superior without permission.
3)
Another reference to the boomerang.
4)
“Dust-devils” show opalescence in certain aspects of light.


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