by: Aleister Crowley (1875-1947)

      HERE, in the coppice, oak and pine
      And mystic yew and elm are found,
      Sweeping the skies, that grew divine
      With the dark wind's despairing sound,
      The wind that roars from the profound,
      And smites the mountain-tops, and calls
      Mute spirits to black festivals,
      And feasts in valleys iron-bound,
      Desolate crags, and barren ground;--
      There in the strong storm-shaken grove
      Swings the pale censer-fire for love.
      The foursquare altar, roughly hewn,
      And overlaid with beaten gold,
      Stands in the gloom; the stealthy tune
      Of singing maidens overbold
      Desires mad mysteries untold,
      With strange eyes kindling, as the fleet
      Implacable untiring feet
      Weave mystic figures manifold
      That draw down angels to behold
      The moving music, and the fire
      Of their intolerable desire.
      For, maddening to fiercer thought,
      The fiery limbs requicken, wheel
      In formless furies, subtly wrought
      Of swifter melodies than steel
      That flashes in the fight: the peal
      Of amorous laughters choking sense,
      And madness kissing violence,
      Ring like dead horsemen; bodies reel
      Drunken with motion; spirits feel
      The strange constraint of gods that clip
      From Heaven to mingle lip and lip.
      The gods descend to dance; the noise
      Of hungry kissings, as a swoon,
      Faints for excess of its own joys,
      And mystic beams assail the moon,
      With flames of their infernal noon;
      While the smooth incense, without breath,
      Spreads like some scented flower of death,
      Over the grove; the lover's boon
      Of sleep shall steal upon them soon,
      And lovers' lips, from lips withdrawn,
      Seek dimmer bosoms till the dawn.
      Yet on the central altar lies
      The sacrament of kneaded bread,
      With blood made one, the sacrifice
      To those, the living, who are dead--
      Strange gods and goddesses, that shed
      Monstrous desires of secret things
      Upon their worshippers, from wings
      One lucent web of light, from head
      One labyrinthine passion-fed
      Palace of love, from breathing rife
      With secrets of forbidden life.
      But not the sunlight, nor the stars,
      Nor any light but theirs alone,
      Nor iron masteries of Mars,
      Nor Saturn's misconceiving zone,
      Nor any planet's may be shown,
      Within the circle of the grove,
      Where burn the sanctities of love:
      Nor may the foot of man be known,
      Nor evil eyes of mothers thrown
      On maidens that desire the kiss
      Only of maiden Artemis.
      But horned and huntress from the skies,
      She bends her lips upon the breeze,
      And pure and perfect in her eyes,
      Burn magical virginity's
      Sweet intermittent sorceries.
      When the slow wind from her sweet word
      In all their conchéd ears is heard.
      And like the slumber of the seas,
      There murmur through the holy trees
      The kisses of the goddess keen,
      And sighs and laughters caught between.
      For, swooning at the fervid lips
      Of Artemis, the maiden kisses
      Sobs and the languid body slips
      Down to enamelled wildernesses.
      Fallen and loose the shaken tresses;
      Fallen the sandal and girdling gold,
      Fallen the music manifold
      Of moving limbs and strange caresses,
      And deadly passion that possesses
      The magic ecstasy of these
      Mad maidens, tender as blue seas.
      Night spreads her yearning pinions,
      The baffled day sinks blind to sleep;
      The evening breeze outswoons the sun's
      Dead kisses to the swooning deep.
      Upsoars the moon; the flashing steep
      Of Heaven is fragrant for her feet;
      The perfume of the grove is sweet
      As slumbering women furtive creep
      To bosoms where small kisses weep,
      And find in fervent dreams the kiss
      Most memoried of Artemis.
      Impenetrable pleasure dies
      Beneath the madness of new dreams;
      The slow sweet breath is turned to sighs
      More musical than many streams
      Under the moving silver beams,
      Fretted with stars, thrice woven across.
      White limbs in amorous slumber toss,
      Like sleeping foam, whose silver gleams
      On motionless dark seas; it seems
      As if some gentle spirit stirred,
      Their lazy brows with some swift word.
      So, in the secret of the shrine,
      Night keeps them nestled, so the gloom
      Laps them in waves as smooth as wine,
      As glowing as the fiery womb
      Of some young tigress, dark as doom,
      And swift as sunrise. Love's content
      Builds its own monument,
      And carves above its vaulted tomb
      The Phoenix on her fiery plume,
      To their own souls to testify
      Their kisses' immortality.

"The Altar of Artemis" is reprinted from The Soul of Osiris. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner and Co., 1911.




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