THE TWO BEHEADINGS
Omnis plaga tristitia cordis est et omnis
malitia nequitia mulieris.
JUDITH AND HOLOFERNES
White and round were the breasts that subtly stirred
And shone in rhythm with the Hebrew's tread,
Waking the murmurous harmonies of the red
Of rubies and the cincture's starlight gird.
Her lip's two jacinths made of every word
A vase of lurking essence harvested;
Her flesh a treasury with honey fed;
Her cheeks by tear or pallor yet unblurred.
Stretched on his sandal couch the Assyrian
Lay prone, the while the uncertain shadows ran
Lugubrious patterns from the torch's glow;
And she, as in his sloth he slumbered there,
Lone and inscrutable, the sword laid bare,
Made ready in the darkness for her blow.
* * *
As the sleek tigress crouches in the vine,
So Israel's daughter for the deed prepared;
Then, the sheer blade in silent fury bared,
She clave the head from the great form supine.
In floods, as from some broken jar of wine,
The sudden stream broke round her, as she dared,
A murderess amid the crimson snared,
To raise on high her haggard countersign.
In the blank eyes, the bloodless cheek, the beard
Entangled in the blackened moist that clung
In baleful knots of shadow where the white
Steel bit the ripened pomegranate as it seared,—
The trunkless head amid the darkness hung,
A rose unhallowed in the bowers of night.
* * *
SALOME AND JAOKANANN
A woman and a serpent formed in one,
The dancer Salome swung round and round
Lasciviously unto the crotals' sound,
Her body bared in perfumed unison.
All of the Orient through her dance was spun,
Pacings that fire the sleeping blood to bound,
Or bow to earth the human despot crowned,
And leave life flowerless and the soul undone.
His eyes inflamed within his parchment face,
The ghastly Tetrarch leans him from his place
Upon the fair one, murmuring in his greed:
"For thy lips' honey, my Tiberiades!"—
And she: "Keep thy dead cities; on my knees
Grant me the Esenian's head mine eyes to feed!"
As the swift wind amid an ancient wood,
So passion through the aged Tyrant played;
His eyes gave signal; the great slave obeyed
Whose gleaming sword against his muscles stood.
Vast was the silence as the Just Man's blood
Burst in a scarlet stream beneath the blade;
Then Antipas signed to have the salver laid
Before the siren in her bestial mood.
A light immortal gleaming from afar
Lit with the radiance of a dying star
The martyr's pallid lips and marble brows;
And like the foam of some death-brooding deep,
The holy head all bloodless seemed to keep
The breath of myrrh as from the censer blows.
THE WORD OF GOD
When Jonathan the Rabbin (incarnate
The soul and body of all Bible lore)
My poem heard, — his lips were smiling for
The thoughThe from the Inspired Text would state.
«To womankind», he said, «trust not your fate;
She breedeth madness; she is mandragore;
Drink of her cup, your conscience lives no more,
Your songs are done, your roads are desolate!»
And more he added, «Yet withhold your fear;
Woman, man's ancient enemy, is here
Among us flaming like a comet dread;
»She cleanses earth from love that is but vice,
And makes — to ease her burning thirst — suffice
The very dews the wounds of martyrs shed».
Translation by Thomas Walsh