Ἔγων δ’ ἐμαύτᾳ
CLIMBING the hill a coil of snakes
Impedes Tiresias' path ; he breaks
His staff across them—idle thrust
That lays the female in the dust,
But dooms the prophet to forego
His manhood, and, as woman, know
The unfamiliar, sovereign guise
Of passion he had dared despise.
Ah, not in the Erinnys' ground
Experience so dire were found
As that to the enchanter known
When womanhood was round him thrown :
He trembled at the quickening change,
He trembled at his vision's range,
His finer sense for bliss and dole,
His receptivity of soul ;
But when love came, and, loving back,
He learnt the pleasure men must lack,
It seemed that he had broken free
Almost from his mortality.
Seven years he lives as woman, then
Resumes his cruder part 'mong men,
Till him indignant Hera becks
To judge betwixt the joys of sex,
For the great Queen in wrath has heard
By her presumptuous lord averred
That, when he sought her in his brave,
Young godhead, higher bliss he gave
Than the unutterable lure
Of her veiled glances could procure
For him, as balmy-limbed and proud
She drew him to Olympia's cloud.
" In marriage who hath more delight ?"
She asks ; then quivers and grows white,
As sacrilegious lips reveal
What woman in herself must feel—
And passes an avenging hand
Across his subtle eyelids bland.
Deep-bosomed Queen, fain would'st thou hide
The mystic raptures of the bride !
When man's strong nature draweth nigh
'Tis as the lightning to the sky,
The blast to idle sail, the thrill
Of springtide when the saplings fill.
Though fragrant breath the sun receives
From the young rose's softening leaves,
Her plaited petals once undone
The rose herself receives the sun.
Tiresias, ere the goddess smite,
Look on me with unblinded sight,
That I may learn if thou hast part
In womanhood's secluded heart:
Medea's penetrative charm
Own'st thou to succour and disarm,
Hast thou her passion inly great
Heroes to mould and subjugate?
Can'st thou divine how sweet to bring
Apollo to thy blossoming
As Daphne ; or, as just a child
Gathering a bunch of tulips wild,
To feel the flowery hill-side rent
Convulsive for thy ravishment ?
Thou need'st not to unlock thine eyes,
Thy slow, ironic smile replies :
Thou hast been woman, and although
The twining snakes with second blow
Of golden staff thou did'st assail,
And, crushing at a stroke the male,
Had'st virtue from thy doom to break,
And lost virility re-take—
Thou hast been woman, and her deep,
Magnetic mystery dost keep ;
Thou hast been woman, and can'st see
Therefore into futurity :
It is not that Zeus gave thee power
To look beyond the transient hour,
For thou hast trod the regions dun,
Where life and death are each begun ;
Thy spirit from the gods set free
Hath communed with Necessity.
Tilphusa's fountain thou may'st quaff
And die, but still thy golden staff
Will guide thee with perceptive hand
Among the Shades to understand
The terrors of remorse and dread,
And prophesy among the dead.