Climbing the hill a coil of snakes


       Ἔγων δ’ ἐμαύτᾳ
    τοῦτο σύνοιδα·

    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.