by: Francis Saltus (1846-1889)

      ERE rose the reeking altar-grees of Bel,
      And Yem, the king of the exalted Gods,
      And Bar, the hero of all heroes, stood
      In lustrous bronze beside all potent Nin,
      With Bita, king of oceans and of fish,
      And Anu, holier than the holy stars.
      Here reigned the great terror-dealing Beltis,
      The pure, impeccable and beauteous goddess,
      And in the perfumed temples before her
      Maidens would swoon in holy prostitution,
      Adoring her fecundity and beauty,
      Filling the temple with their sighs of rapture,
      Low and delicious like the dove's soft cooing.
      Here would they wait to lure the idle passer,
      Tempting his glance by bare and fragrant bosoms,
      Calling upon their goddess and Sheruba,
      Divine Ishtar, and lily limbed Anuta,
      To make their flesh a love-light and a wonder,
      To win the timorous stranger and the passer
      Their languid limbs were radiant with jewels;
      Their thighs were smeared with warm, voluptuous ointments
      And tiaras of gold coin amid their tresses
      Shone in the gloom like the fond eyes of angels.
      They smiled and languished in their lustful dreaming,
      Watching their eyes flash in their copper mirrors,
      Beautiful, redolent, supple-limbed and tempting,
      Carelessly tapping on their noisy tabrets,
      Screened by the goddess in the temple's arches,
      Yearning for some sweet stripling of the city
      Or the grave, palm-oiled warriors of Gomorrah,
      And, as they toyed with gold and silver ouches,
      Prayed unto Hea to relieve and send them
      Some dainty zonah, some delicious zonah,
      Who, lacking lovers, would with joy caress them,
      Ay love them sweetlier for lacking lovers.
      Within Ashur's colossal almug temple,
      Around the holy altar sacrificial,
      Drowsy with cassia fumes and stringent spices,
      The heady nekoth, the sweet smell of heaven,
      Lying and dozing with the sacred serpents,
      Listening to eunuchs idly thrum the viol,
      Nodding their chins upon their tuneless nebels,
      Linger the chosen lovers of the altar.
      Perfumed and supple, in a gaudy raiment,
      Oiled to the beard and like fresh lilies fragrant,
      Drenched with balsam and cinnamon's sweet juices,
      Praying to Anu to secure them lovers;
      Lovers who would reward their warm caresses
      With costly gifts of onycha and ointment;
      Lovers who lavish galbanum in plenty,
      When cloyed and satisfied with their embracing,
      And they to all will amorously pander,
      Being of love's mysterious and strange passions
      The slaves, the chosen and the perfect masters.

"In Sodom" is reprinted from Poetica Erotica. Ed. T.R. Smith. New York: Crown Publishers, 1921.




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