Canto VII


The host had trimmed his lamp. The downy moth
Came from the garden. Where the lamplight shed
Its circle of smooth white upon the cloth,
Down mid the rinds of fruit and broken bread,
Upon his sprawling arms lay Dymer’s head;
And often, as he dreamed, he shifted place,
Muttering and showing half his drunken face.


The beating stillness of the dead of night
Flooded the room. The dark and sleepy powers
Settled upon the house and filled it quite;
Far from the roads it lay, from belfry towers
And hen-roosts, in a world of folded flowers,
Buried in loneliest fields where beasts that love
The silence through the unrustled hedgerows move.


Now from the Master’s lips there breathed a sigh
As of a man released from some control
That wronged him. Without aim his wandering eye,
Unsteadied and unfixed, began to roll.
His lower lip dropped loose. The informing soul
Seemed fading from his face. He laughed out loud
Once only: then looked round him, hushed and cowed.


Then, summoning all himself, with tightened lip,
With desperate coolness and attentive air,
He touched between his thumb and finger-tip,
Each in its turn, the four legs of his chair,
Then back again in haste⁠—there!⁠—that one there
Had been forgotten⁠ ⁠… once more!⁠ ⁠… safer now;
That’s better! and he smiled and cleared his brow.


Yet this was but a moment’s ease. Once more
He glanced about him like a startled hare,
His big eyes bulged with horror. As before,
Quick!⁠—to the touch that saves him. But despair
Is nearer by one step; and in his chair
Huddling he waits. He knows that they’ll come strong
Again and yet again and all night long;


And, after this night comes another night
—Night after night until the worst of all.
And now too even the noonday and the light
Let through the horrors. Oh, could he recall
The deep sleep and the dreams that used to fall
Around him for the asking! But, somehow,
Something’s amiss⁠ ⁠… sleep comes so rarely now.


Then, like the dog returning to its vomit,
He staggered to the bookcase to renew
Yet once again the taint he had taken from it,
And shuddered as he went. But horrors drew
His feet, as joy draws others. There in view
Was his strange heaven and his far stranger hell,
His secret lust, his soul’s dark citadel:⁠—


Old Theomagia, Demonology,
Cabbala, Chemic Magic, Book of the Dead,
Damning Hermetic rolls that none may see
Save the already damned⁠—such grubs are bred
From minds that lose the Spirit and seek instead
For spirits in the dust of dead men’s error,
Buying the joys of dream with dreamland terror.


This lost soul looked them over one and all,
Now sickening at the heart’s root; for he knew
This night was one of those when he would fall
And scream alone (such things they made him do)
And roll upon the floor. The madness grew
Wild at his breast, but still his brain was clear
That he could watch the moment coming near.


But, ere it came, he heard a sound, half groan,
Half muttering, from the table. Like a child
Caught unawares that thought it was alone,
He started as in guilt. His gaze was wild,
Yet pitiably with all his will he smiled,
—So strong is shame, even then. And Dymer stirred,
Now waking, and looked up and spoke one word:


“Water!” he said. He was too dazed to see
What hell-wrung face looked down, what shaking hand
Poured out the draught. He drank it thirstily
And held the glass for more. “Your land⁠ ⁠… your land
Of dreams,” he said. “All lies!⁠ ⁠… I understand
More than I did. Yes, water. I’ve the thirst
Of hell itself. Your magic’s all accursed.”


When he had drunk again he rose and stood,
Pallid and cold with sleep. “By God,” he said,
“You did me wrong to send me to that wood.
I sought a living spirit and found instead
Bogies and wraiths.” The Master raised his head,
Calm as a sage, and answered, “Are you mad?
Come, sit you down. Tell me what dream you had.”


—“I dreamed about a wood⁠ ⁠… an autumn red
Of beech-trees big as mountains. Down between⁠—
The first thing that I saw⁠—a clearing spread,
Deep down, oh, very deep. Like some ravine
Or like a well it sank, that forest green
Under its weight of forest⁠—more remote
Than one ship in a landlocked sea afloat.


“Then through the narrowed sky some heavy bird
Would flap its way, a stillness more profound
Following its languid wings. Sometimes I heard
Far off in the long woods with quiet sound
The sudden chestnut thumping to the ground,
Or the dry leaf that drifted past upon
Its endless loiter earthward and was gone.


“The next⁠ ⁠… I heard twigs splintering on my right
And rustling in the thickets. Turning there
I watched. Out of the foliage came in sight
The head and blundering shoulders of a bear,
Glistening in sable black, with beady stare
Of eyes towards me, and no room to fly
—But padding soft and slow the beast came by.


“And⁠—mark their flattery⁠—stood and rubbed his flank
Against me. On my shaken legs I felt
His heart beat. And my hand that stroked him sank
Wrist-deep upon his shoulder in soft pelt.
Yes⁠ ⁠… and across my spirit as I smelt
The wild thing’s scent, a new, sweet wildness ran
Whispering of Eden-fields long lost by man.


“So far was well. But then came emerald birds
Singing about my head. I took my way
Sauntering the cloistered woods. Then came the herds,
The roebuck and the fallow deer at play,
Trooping to nose my hand. All this, you say,
Was sweet? Oh, sweet!⁠ ⁠… do you think I could not see
That beats and wood were nothing else but me?


“… That I was making everything I saw,
Too sweet, far too well fitted to desire
To be a living thing? Those forests draw
No sap from the kind earth: the solar fire
And soft rain feed them not: that fairy brier
Pricks not: the birds sing sweetly in that brake
Not for their own delight but for my sake!


“It is a world of sad, cold, heartless stuff,
Like a bought smile, no joy in it.”⁠—“But stay;
Did you not find your lady?”⁠—“Sure enough!
I still had hopes till then. The autumn day
Was westering, the long shadows crossed my way,
When over daisies folded for the night
Beneath rook-gathering elms she came in sight.”


—“Was she not fair?”⁠—“So beautiful, she seemed
Almost a living soul. But every part
Was what I made it⁠—all that I had dreamed⁠—
No more, no less: the mirror of my heart,
Such things as boyhood feigns beneath the smart
Of solitude and spring. I was deceived
Almost. In that first moment I believed.


“For a big, brooding rapture, tense as fire
And calm as a first sleep, had soaked me through
Without thought, without word, without desire⁠ ⁠…
Meanwhile above our heads the deepening blue
Burnished the gathering stars. Her sweetness drew
A veil before my eyes. The minutes passed
Heavy like loaded vines. She spoke at last.


“She said, for this land only did men love
The shadow-lands of earth. All our disease
Of longing, all the hopes we fabled of,
Fortunate islands or Hesperian seas
Or woods beyond the West, were but the breeze
That blew from off those shores: one far, spent breath
That reached even to the world of change and death.


“She told me I had journeyed home at last
Into the golden age and the good countrie
That had been always there. She bade me cast
My cares behind forever:⁠—on her knee
Worshipped me, lord and love⁠—oh, I can see
Her red lips even now! Is it not wrong
That men’s delusions should be made so strong?


“For listen, I was so besotted now
She made me think that I was somehow seeing
The very core of truth⁠ ⁠… I felt somehow,
Beyond all veils, the inward pulse of being.
Thought was enslaved, but oh, it felt like freeing
And draughts of larger air. It is too much!
Who can come through untainted from that touch?


“There I was nearly wrecked. But mark the rest:
She went too fast. Soft to my arms she came.
The robe slipped from her shoulder. The smooth breast
Was bare against my own. She shone like flame
Before me in the dusk, all love, all shame⁠—
Faugh!⁠—and it was myself. But all was well,
For, at the least, that moment snapped the spell.


“As when you light a candle, the great gloom
Which was the unbounded night, sinks down, compressed
To four white walls in one familiar room,
So the vague joy shrank wilted in my breast
And narrowed to one point, unmasked, confessed;
Fool’s paradise was gone: instead was there
King Lust with his black, sudden, serious stare.


“That moment in a cloud among the trees
Wild music and the glare of torches came.
On sweated faces, on the prancing knees
Of shaggy satyrs fell the smoky flame,
On ape and goat and crawlers without name,
On rolling breast, black eyes and tossing hair,
On old bald-headed witches, lean and bare.


“They beat the devilish tom-tom rub-a-dub;
Lunging, leaping, in unwieldy romp,
Singing Cotytto and Beelzebub,
With devil-dancers’ mask and phallic pomp,
Torn raw with briers and caked from many a swamp,
They came, among the wild flowers dripping blood
And churning the green mosses into mud.


“They sang, ‘Return! Return! We are the lust
That was before the world and still shall be
When your last law is trampled into dust,
We are the mother swamp, the primal sea
Whence the dry land appeared. Old, old are we.
It is but a return⁠ ⁠… it’s nothing new,
Easy as slipping on a well-worn shoe.’


“And then there came warm mouths and finger-tips
Preying upon me, whence I could not see,
Then⁠ ⁠… a huge face, low-browed, with swollen lips
Crooning, ‘I am not beautiful as she,
But I’m the older love; you shall love me
Far more than Beauty’s self. You have been ours
Always. We are the world’s most ancient powers.’


“First flatterer and then bogy⁠—like a dream!
Sir, are you listening? Do you also know
How close to the soft laughter comes the scream
Down yonder?” But his host cried sharply, “No.
Leave me alone. Why will you plague me? Go!
Out of my house! Begone!”⁠—“With all my heart,”
Said Dymer. “But one word before we part.”


He paused, and in his cheek the anger burned:
Then turning to the table, he poured out
More water. But before he drank he turned⁠—
Then leaped back to the window with a shout
For there⁠—it was no dream⁠—beyond all doubt
He saw the Master crouch with levelled gun,
Cackling in maniac voice, “Run, Dymer, run!”


He ducked and sprang far out. The starless night
On the wet lawn closed round him every way.
Then came the gun-crack and the splash of light
Vanished as soon as seen. Cool garden clay
Slid from his feet. He had fallen and he lay
Face downward among leaves⁠—then up and on
Through branch and leaf till sense and breath were gone.