The disinherited

I move in darkness—widowed—beyond solace,
The Prince of Aquitaine in a ruined tower.
My one star is dead; the black sun of sadness
Eclipses the constellation of my guitar.

O you who brought me light in the night of the tomb,
Bring back Posillipo and the Italian sea;
Bring back the flower that made my sad heart glad,
The grove where the rose and vine twined joyously.

Am I Eros or Apollo, Lusignan or Biron?
My brow still burns red from my Queen’s kisses.
I dreamed such dreams in the cave of a swimming siren,

And I’ve crossed Acheron in glory, twice
To play on the lyre of Orpheus and intone
The sighs of the saint and the fairy’s clear cries.



Myrtho, I think of you, divine sorceress,
At proud Posillipo a thousand fires made bright;
I think of your brow bathed with morning light,
Black grapes wound in your golden tresses.

From your cup I drank the draft of drunkenness;
One peek at the lightning of your smiling eye—
Next I knew I was on my knees to Bachhus.
The Muse had made me one of the sons of Greece.

I know why the volcano boiled up again:
You touched it with your light footfall yesterday.
The horizon grew dark with ashes all of a sudden.

Once, a Norman duke shattered your gods of clay;
Still today, under the boughs of Virgil’s laurel,
Pale hydrangea’s wedded to your green myrtle.



Kneph the god shuddered, shaking the cosmos;
Mother Isis sat upright in bed,
Pointed with spite to her barbarous spouse,
Her green eyes afire as of old, and said:

“See, the old lecher. He’s almost dead
Through whose mouth every killing frost has blown.
Quick bind his feet, blind his crossed eyes,
This God of volcanoes, this Monarch of ice.

“Hail the love-child of Hermes and Osiris,
For Him I put on Cybele’s livery.
The eagle has flown, a new spirit calls me . . .”

On a golden seashell the Goddess had gone
But the ocean returned her sweet image to us:
In the sash of Iris’s rainbow, the skies shone.



You ask me why I dare stick out my neck,
Bull-headed, why my heart’s so full of rage?
It’s because I come from Antaeus’s lineage—
God hurls his darts at me, I throw them back.

I am inspired by the Vengeful God
Who planted his angry kiss upon my brow.
Sometimes I’m pale as Abel, then the blood
Of Cain burns to the surface, even now,

O Jehovah! What did your genius avail
Against Dagon my father, or grandsire Baal
Who cursed you “tyrants” from the pit of Hell?

They steeped me thrice in Cocytus from Hades’s shore,
And I guard my mother, the pagan Amalekite.
At her feet I sow the dragon’s teeth once more.



Daphne beneath pale laurel or in the lee
Of the fig tree, hear, do you know the old refrain,
Daphne in shade of olive or myrtle tree,
Remember the love song, ever beginning again?

You know the Temple, the range of enormous columns,
The imprint of your teeth in bitter lemons,
The cave that devoured impetuous guests,
Where the old seed of the vanquished dragon rests.

They shall return, the Gods you have been mourning!
Time will bring back the rites of ancient days.
The earth trembles from a prophet’s breathing;

Meanwhile the sibyl with her Roman face
Sleeps still beneath the Arch of Constantine,
And nothing has disturbed its rigid line.



The Thirteenth comes ’round again. Still she’s first
And always my Only, the moment unchanging.
O Queen of the lovely! Of all, first or last,
My last lover, dear one, are you also my King?

Love the one who adored you from cradle to tomb.
She still loves me tenderly, my only love:
Death, my joy, my heartache, my dear departed!
She tenders the branching hollyhock all abloom,

Pale rose with violet heart, St. Gudule’s rose.
O Saint of Naples with your bouquet of flames,
In the desert of heaven did you find your cross?

O fall, fall from that burning sky, white blossoms,
Come down! You insult our Gods, pale phantoms.
Holier is the saint who has known the abyss.


Christ on the Mount of Olives

God is dead! The sky empty . . .
Weep, children, you have no more father!
                 —Jean-Paul Richter
Our Lord lifted his arms skyward, like a poet
In a sacred wood. For a long, long time
He had been lost in sorrow too deep for rhyme,
Thinking ungrateful friends had sold him out.

He looked down. Awaiting him there was the crowd,
Folks dreaming of becoming wits, prophets, and kings—
Stupid people, lost in their bestial slumberings,
And he cried: “Now listen to me! There is no God!”

Nobody stirred. “Friends,” he called, “have you
Heard the news? I cracked my head on the blue
Vault everlasting; for days now I’ve been hurt, bleeding!

“Brothers, I steered you wrong! Here’s the abyss!
God left me alone at the altar, a vain sacrifice.
God is no more!” But nothing could wake them, nothing . . .


He began again: “Everything is dead! I’ve passed
Through all the worlds (got lost in the Milky Way)
As far as life’s richest veins ever spread
Sands of gold and waves of silver, especially

Where tides lapped the deserts, and in the chaos
Of sea maelstroms . . . a vague breath in places
Moves the stray spheres, but no spirit
Exists in any of these enormous spaces.

Looking for God’s eye I found only a socket—
Huge, pitch dark, and bottomless. Such night
Seethes there it seeps into this world, deepening always;

And around this pit arches a strange rainbow,
The sill of Old Chaos. The void is a mere shadow
Of that vortex devouring our worlds and days!”


“Mute sentinel, unmoving Destiny,
Cold Necessity! Chance, traversing
Dead worlds beneath eternal snows, making
The whitening universe colder degree by degree,

Unmoving mover, do you know what you’re doing
With your burnt-out suns colliding randomly . . .
Will you pass the breath of immortality
To a world being reborn from another dying?

O my father! Is it you that I feel in me?
Can you live, conquer death, do you have the power
Or have you given in at the final hour

To that angel of night so direly
Accursed? I feel so alone in my suffering.
Alas! If I die, it’s the end of everything.”


No one heard him groaning, the timeless victim
As he poured out his heart to the world in vain.
On the verge of fainting he murmured down
To the only soul awake in Jerusalem:

“Judas! You know what they think of me
Down there? Sell me out! Close the deal right now!
I’m hurting, my friend, far-gone, laid low.
Come, you at least have a criminal’s energy!”

But Judas passed on, pissed off, lost in thought,
Bitter he’s been paid so little to see
His name scribbled on walls, an obscenity . . .

At last it was Pilate, Caesar’s lookout
Whom pity prodded to turn a partisan,
Saying, on impulse: “Bring me the madman.”


This was he, the sublime fool indeed, the madman,
Sweet, torn Atys, whom Cybele gave new life,
This Phaeton in his prime God’s thunder cut off,
This sky-climbing Icarus, all but forgotten.

The augur pored over the guts of the sacrifice,
Earth got drunk on his blood and flesh.
Tipsy the universe reeled on its axis,
Olympus lurched toward the abyss.

“Tell me,” cried Caesar to Jupiter Ammon,
Via his oracle. “Who’s this new God today
Lording it over us, a god or a demon?”

No mortal or oracle ever would say.
But the one who gave souls to the children of clay
Holds the key to the mystery—He alone.


The golden verses

        So! Everything is sentient!

Man, freethinker! Do you believe that you alone
Can think, in this world where life’s splendor
Bursts forth in everything? Your freedom has its power
—But you leave the universe out of the conversation.

Let us honor the beast for his irrepressible spirit;

Each flower is a soul that Nature discloses;

Even in metal one of love's mysteries reposes.

"All is conscious!" And we're under the spell of it.


Now beware using the Word to please the devil,

For matter cleaves to every utterance.

Beware the eye watching you in the blind rock wall,


For a god often is hidden among the "dark ones."

Like the eye born under the eyelids veil,

A pure spirit quickens beneath the skin of stones.



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    THEDISINHERITED: Posillipo is a beautiful town near Naples associated with Virgil. Guy de Lusignan (1129–94) was King of Jerusalem and later Cyprus. The family was in legend said to be descended from the fairy Mélusine. Charles, duc de Biron, was a famous lover and adventurer.

    MYRTHO: Nerval made up the name of his erotic sorceress.

    HORUS: Horus, the falcon-headed Egyptian god of light, represents the dawn of a new age. Kneph is the Egyptian god who made the earth. The eagle is Zeus’s sign and a conventional symbol of empires.

    ANTEROS: Anteros, brother of Eros, is the avenger of unrequited love. Baal is a generic name for any of the agrarian gods of the Canaanites and Moabites. Dagon is a Philistine idol dethroned by Jehovah. Cocytus is the “river of cries” in Hades. The Amalekites were descendants of Esau who fought the Jews until Saul defeated them.

    DELFICA: Nerval made up the title to evoke the Delphic oracle of Apollo.

    ARTEMIS: The Thirteenth is the pivotal hour, which returns after the previous twelve have passed. The Hollyhock, the rose trémière, bears many blossoms on a stalk, symbolizing the incarnations of the soul. Saint Gudule is a patron saint of Brussels, whose Church of Saint Gudule had a fine rose window. Saint of Naples is a conflation of several saints including Rosalie of Naples and St. Lucie of Syracuse.


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This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 19 Number 4, on page 31
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