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.