A Comedy By Aleister Crowley
[Privately Printed in 1912]
TO LEILA WADDELL
THE HEARTH OF CRASSUS; AFTERWARDS THE LAWNS, THE WOODS, THE LAKE, THE ISLE.
CRASSUS, a barbarian from Britain. ADELA, his wife, a noble Roman lady. ALICIA, a servant in the house. A STATUE OF PAN. A FAUN.
THE SCENE is at the hearth of CRASSUS, where is a little bronze altar dedicated to the Lares and Penates. A pale flame rises from the burning sandal-wood, on which CRASSUS throws benzoin and musk. He is standing in deep dejection.
CRASSUS. Smoke without fire! No thrill of tongues licks up The offerings in the cup. Dead falls desire.
Black smoke thou art, O altar-flame, that dost dismember, Devour the hearth, to leave no ember To warm this heart.
I see her still - Adela dancing here Till dim gods did appear To work our will.
The delicate girl! Diaphanous gossamer Subtly revealing her Brave breast of pearl!
Now - she's withdrawn At dusk to the wild woods, Mystic beatitudes That dure till dawn.
Let life exclaim Against these things of spirit, Mankind that disinherit Of love's pure flame! [He bends before the altar and begins to weep.]
Ye household gods! By these male tears I swear That ye shall grant this prayer. All things at odds
Shall be put straight - Harmonized, reconciled By some appointed child Of some far Fate! [A curtain has been drawn aside during this invocation, and ALICIA advances. She smiles subtly upon him; and, giving a strange gesture, makes one or two noiseless steps of dancing.]
ALICIA. Master still sad?
CRASSUS. These faint and fearful shores Of time are beaten by the surge of sense, Love worn away - by love? - to indifference. Who knows what god - or demon - she adores? Or in what wood she shelters, or what grove Sees her profane our sacrament of love?
ALICIA. I saw her follow The stream in the hollow Where never Apollo Abides. So thick are the trees That never the breeze Stirs them, or sees What satyr inhabits the glen, what nymph in the pools of it hides.
Lighter of foot Than a sylph or a fairy, Sinuous, wary, I passed from the airy Lawns, where the flute Of the winds made tremulous music for man.
I followed the ripple Of the stream; I crept Where the waters wept - The floss in the foss Gurgling across The bosses of moss, Like a dryad's nipple In the mouth of Pan!
CRASSUS. O pearl of the house! you came to the end?
ALICIA. The dusk of the slave, the dawn of a friend?
CRASSUS. Freedom is thine for the skill and the will.
ALICIA. The skill is mine - but the will lies still, Still as the earth that dare not stir Till the kiss of the sun awaken her!
CRASSUS. Yet at these secrets and riddles? Behold! I can fill thy lap with a harvest of gold.
ALICIA. Yet all the gold you could give to me Would fall at my feet when I rose to be free.
CRASSUS. What will you then?
ALICIA. No gift from men. Of my own free will I give you wit, (O man so sorely in need of it!) And happiness; and the flame that hath dwindled On this dull hearth shall be rekindled. But this you must swear: To will, and to dare, To seek the spirit and slay the sense; And for this hour To give me power To lead you in silent obedience, Though I bade you fall on your sword....
CRASSUS. Enough! I give my life as I gave my love.
ALICIA. O! love you have not understood. You have not guessed its secret food. You have not seen its single eye; But fear and doubt and jealousy Have risen, and now your love is trembling Like a mountebank dissembling When his trick's detected. Come! To find home we must leave home.
CRASSUS. Starless and moonless, hidden in cloud, The night's one flame of pearl.
ALICIA. The bat flaps; the owl hoots aloud.
CRASSUS. Lead on; I trust you, girl.
ALICIA. You are bold to trust me; or, have you divined My secret?
CRASSUS. No; the crystal of your mind Shows only faint disturbing images, Things passing strange, as if enchanted seas Kept their great swell upon it, and strange fish Played in its oily depths. Some monstrous wish, The shadow of some unspeakable desire, Strikes my heart cold, and sets my brain on fire.
ALICIA. Learn this, as we pass through the portico: Fear nothing; there is nothing you can know! And by these terraces and steps that gleam Wintry, although the summer night is hot, This - what we seek is never what we find!
Life is a dream, like love; and from the dream If we may wake, we never find it what We would; for the wisdom of a mightier mind Leads us in its own ways To a perfected praise.
CRASSUS. Why are these shadows thrown across the lawn From the elms and yews? They were not wont to reach Beyond the branches of that copper-beech.
ALICIA. Attend the dawn Of an unknown comet, that shall come From the unfathomable wells of space Into its halidom.
CRASSUS. I know it not. Last night I walked alone Here, and saw nothing.
ALICIA. I was not with you! There is no God upon the eternal throne Of stars begemming the bewildering blue Unless one has the eyes to see him. Think How we two stand upon the brink Of nothing! Here's a globe, whereto we trust, No larger than the smallest speck of dust Or mote in the sunbeam is to that sun's self, And we are like dead leaves in autumn's whil Of wind upon it.
CRASSUS. Mystify me, girl! It is the right of an elf. Surely your flickering fire Will draw me to some mire!
ALICIA. Here the stream dips its mouth into the wood. So does youth's calm and chaste beatitude Touch the black mouth of Love, the ancient whore.
CRASSUS. Girl! what a scorpion leaping from your lips!
ALICIA. My mouth stings as no scorpion ever stang. in this round impudent smiling face of mine There is a poison fiercer than all wine; And from these eyes more subtle sorrows pour Than you can dream. These teeth have been at grips With gods; I have sung what no girl ever sang. These ears have heard An insufferable word!
CRASSUS. What do you mean?
ALICIA. The secret's in a kiss. Here are no kisses. Here great Artemis Rules; only in the woodland may a man Hide his eyes from her, pledge himself to Pan. Come! through the tangled arches Of cypresses and larches, Stoop; under Artemis we walked upright; But this is Pan's home, and the House of Night. [They enter the wood.]
CRASSUS. So when I stoop, my cheek comes close to yours. Give me a kiss.
ALICIA. The poisonous apple lures Thus the boy's mouth. Beware!
CRASSUS. O you are fair! Fairer than ever! In this tangle of trees Your hot breath wraps you in perfume.
ALICIA. There is some gloom or doom, A bitter harsh ingredient In these my sorceries Of animal scent.
CRASSUS. Yes! there is fear mixed with the fascination. It is the reverence that chastity, be sure! Gains from the impure.
ALICIA. O virtuous nation! It is the fear of the uninitiate Before the throne of Fate The hierophant.
CRASSUS. Kiss me, however!
ALICIA. Did I grant This favour, all were lost. It is your truth To Adela that tempts my youth. [Henceforth Alicia shakes with silent laughter.]
CRASSUS. What little breasts you have!
ALICIA. Ay, maiden breasts! Would you betray my oath?
CRASSUS. My will contests My wishes.
ALICIA. Wait, and you shall surely see Part of the secret that ensorcels me. See all these bosses! It is not As if a Titan smote himself into the earth, And was caught into her, made one with her?
CRASSUS. The scent is fierce and hot Like a rutting panther's slot. Yet you are matched with mirth, Shaking each other like two wrestlers.
ALICIA. What should stir Your melancholy but laughter?
CRASSUS. Look, before us Light streams, a tremulous chorus. Oh, it is vague and vacillating!
ALICIA. Love, Young love of maidens, is the soul thereof. And in the midst, behold, O man! The image of great Pan.
CRASSUS. I fear him.
ALICIA. Go and lie there, at his feet. Lie supine! Lie on that moss-covered root, While I draw forth the flute And make a marvellous music. [She ceases laughing and begins to play.]
CRASSUS. O I writhe Beneath the force of lips, of fingers lithe That touch the delicate stops so delicately.
ALICIA. Hush! I have drawn the bird from the bush. Pan will appear anon.
CRASSUS. Ah! Ah! ... Ah! Ah!
ALICIA. This music moves you. Now I'll play a tune That would make mad the melancholy moon. This.
CRASSUS. Ah! you tear my soul out with the trills. Your fingers play like summer lightning on the shaft. It is like a storm on the mountains when it shrills; Like the angry sea when it booms. Hark!
ALICIA. Some god laughed.
CRASSUS. Your mouth is like some god's It burns and blooms With fire unheard of, with unguessed perfumes. O let me kiss you!
ALICIA. So you stop my song! [She ceases the tune.]
CRASSUS. There is another song.
ALICIA. You do me wrong. For you love Adela!
CRASSUS. By God, girl, no! I love Alicia.
ALICIA. Ah! you love her SO! [She laughs]
CRASSUS. Your laugh is shocking - why do you mock me, dear?
ALICIA. Because you will not guess my secret here. But - put your arms about my neck, and swar You love me, and will always keep them there. Then I might dare.
CRASSUS. I swear it. O my sweet!
ALICIA. Then take my kiss.
CRASSUS. Your mouth is like a rose of fire. But what is this? I cannot bear it.
ALICIA. Ai! Uhu! Uhu! It is my heart; this arrow strikes me through. Stir not one muscle for a moment. Death! You beast, you kill me with your urgent breath.
CRASSUS. O how I love you! [He moves violently.]
ALICIA. Fool! Now all my pain Must be gone through again. It is sure your chastity's unstained by crime; You do the wrong thing just at the right time!
CRASSUS. Why do you taunt me? All the wood is spring's, And love is hovering o'er us with his wings.
ALICIA. Sub pennis, penis!
CRASSUS. Hush! you break the spell.
ALICIA. Oh! you great fools fo men, I know you well. But nothing is so detrimental To love as to be sentimental. I will yet make you wise. Know that I have the magic to disguise Myself in manyt ways. Do you feel this? (Lie still, this heaven were ruined by a kiss!) I am a butterfly, such idle flitting As to a flower like you is fitting Now I'm a mole. Do you think you know me now? Here is the earthworm severed by the plough.
CRASSUS. You are a witch. I want your love; you give Only love's comedy.
ALICIA. The way to live Is to find comedy and tragedy In everything. But if you cannot see Through to the Bacchanal spirit, this should suit. Here is the blacksmith hammering a flute.
CRASSUS. Oh love, love, kiss me!
ALICIA. I will forge a ring Of bloom of blood-kisses upon your neck, Till it is like a garden of roses in late spring.
CRASSUS. "Soft, and stung softly, fairer for a fleck."
ALICIA. O marvellous nation! Vanity, dullness, slobber, and quotation!
CRASSUS. Why do you love me if you scorn me so?
ALICIA. Why, did I say I loved you? I say no.
CRASSUS. Why do you make love?
ALICIA. To beguile the hour; To crown my rose-wreath with a greener flower' To do my master's bidding, that's to give Life to yourself, who only think you live. But listen! Have you seen the nine waves roll Monotonous upon the shoal, Rising and falling like a maiden asleep; Then with a lift and a leap The ninth wave curls, and breaks upon the beach, And rushes up it, swallowing the sand? I am that ocean.... Now, you understand?
CRASSUS. Alicia! O! this is unbearable. Surely this wave washes the shore of hell!
ALICIA. Each follows each Remorseless and indifferent as Nature Is to each creature.
CRASSUS. Wonderful, wonderful woman! [She throws her head back, and laughs]
ALICIA. Now, you think You know my secret. I have given you drink, And you are wise. But hush! to all emotion Save this the pulse and swell of Ocean For at the last with mouth and fingers wried All must proclaim the triumph of the tide.
CRASSUS. Ah! still you mock me with your cruel laugh.
ALICIA. It is your foolish epitaph.
CRASSUS. But this can be no mockery. Heave and sway And curl and thrust - these waves are not at play.
ALICIA. You feel the ocean breaking on the shoal; But passionless and moveless is its soul.
CRASSUS. Ah! but your soul is in your breath.
ALICIA. Only as the graven image of death Which men call life, and ignorantly adore!
CRASSUS. Spare me! I cannot bear you more.
ALICIA. Then will I drown you. Lock your fingers fast In mind, and let our mouths mix at the last. [The stuatue of PAN is seen to be alive.]
PAN. Shrill, shrill Over the hill! The hunter is hot - this is the kill! Scream! Scream! Dissolving the dream Of life, the knife to the heart of the wife! The fountain jets Its flood of blood, And the moss that it wets Is an amethyst flame of violets.
Who shall escape Murder and rape What I am alive in my solemn shape? Shrill, shrill, Over the hill! The hunter is hot - this is the kill! The heart of the home Is a fury of foam; The storm is awake, and the billows comb. But though I be Their frenzy of glee, I am also the passionless soul of the sea!
Mine eyes glint fire, And my cruel lips curl; Mine the desire Of the god and the girl; But fierier and fleeter, And subtler and sweeter Than the race of the rhythm, the march of the metre, Is the shrilling, shrilling Of the knife in the killing That ends, when it must, (O the throb and the thrust!) In a death, in the dust, The silence, the stillness, of satiate lust, The solemn pause When the veil withdraws And man looks on his god, on the Causeless Cause. Still, still, Under the hill! The hunter is dead - this is the kill!
CRASSUS. Pan spoke.
ALICIA. Pan never speaks till man is dumb, And only then if he be like a child Silently curled within its mother's womb, Or feeding at her breast. There is a wild Way also - when his dumbness is of death. And there's a first and second death. Remember To die so that no god's or angel's breath May quicken into life the wasted ember!
CRASSUS. I am dead now.
ALICIA. But I must raise you up. The night grows darker; all Pan's light is gone, And you and I are pledged to sup Upon a secret.
CRASSUS. All your secret shone. [She laughs again.]
ALICIA. Oh, when you know it! But you must divine Adela's shrine.
CRASSUS. I am weary of Adela grown chaste and chill.
ALICIA. The hunter lags; how heavy is the hill! But you are bound to Adela.
CRASSUS. To you!
ALICIA. But you have given me freedom. I will leave you.
CRASSUS. What have I done to grieve you?
ALICIA. You have been the solemn fool with face awry That I have gathered in my ecstasy. You are only a vulgar primrose I have plucked.
CRASSUS. At least, she-devil, you have been well-treated.
ALICIA. O tragic farce - not even rimes completed! Nay, darling! no rebellion. When you know My secret, you will understand. You are bound To Adela within the portico, To me upon this ground. By day, in life, adore the Lares, man! By night, in deaht, make offering to Pan! Can you cut day from night by any endeavour? If so, both life and death were lost for ever. Come, the stream steepens.
CRASSUS. This road leads to hell.
ALICIA. The way to heaven is shorter.
CRASSUS. Who can tell?
ALICIA. I have measured it.
CRASSUS. You, girl?
ALICIA. It is not hard.
CRASSUS. What did you make the height of it?
ALICIA. One yard.
CRASSUS. You always mock me?
ALICIA. Pity of my youth! I swerve not from, you stumble at, the truth.
CRASSUS. I like not jests. This is a serious journey.
ALICIA. Why did you make a mocker your attorney? The way to Rome leads through the Apennines. Bacchus has horns beneath the crown of vines. If you fear horns, make some polite excuse Not to invoke him by the name Zagreus!
A FAUN [Passing among the trees]. Ye thought me a lamb With a crown of thorns; I am royal, a ram With death in my horns. So mild and soft And feminine, Ye held me aloft And frowned on sin! But I was awake In your clasp as I lay; I roused the snake From its nest of clay; And ere ye knew I had sunk my forehead Through and through; Harsh and horrid Through all the pleasure Of rose and vine I thrust my treasure, The cone of the pine. Irru's maid Was easily sated, For she was afraid When Irru mated!
CRASSUS. Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!
ALICIA. You would not laugh Were you the maid!
CRASSUS. How could I be?
ALICIA. Great calf! But you are all the same, blaspheme and jeer At any mystery beyond your sphere Of beer, and beef, and beer, and beef, and beer. Now you have frightened the shy god!
CRASSUS. Why heed? Between your - arms - is all the god I need.
ALICIA. Prudish and coarse to the last. Now hush indeed! The stream kisses the lake. We near the shrine. Stir no snapped twig. Let your foot - even yours - Fall like a fawn's.
CRASSUS. Your breath is like new wine.
ALICIA. Hush now! no porpoise gambols!
CRASSUS. How obscure's The glimmer of the lake. Is that the isle?
ALICIA. Yes! in that shadow lurks a smile. See; from that jagged cloud Diana starts Like a deer from the brake; her silver splendour darts Through the crisp air to the grove upon the isle... Do you see her? Do you see her?
CRASSUS. Monstrous! Vile! These eyes betray me.
ALICIA. No! your Adela lies With arms thrown back, head tilted, open thighs. Her lips flame out like poppies in the dusk. The breeze brings back to us a scent of musk. Her mouth is oozing kisses!
CRASSUS. Filthy harlot!
ALICIA. I never fed on a superber scarlet. And look! the wonder of plumes that foams upon Her tidal breast - oh, but a swan! a swan! A swan snow-white with his sole scarlet hidden In the abode forbidden!
O but his eye swoons as his broad beak slips Within her luscious lips. O but - I cannot see - I long to die Alike for wonder - and for jealousy!
CRASSUS. Vile, filthy whore! I'll catch you at it.
ALICIA. Soft! See how his feathers hold her soul aloft!
CRASSUS. Beast! Have you brought me through the wood for this?
ALICIA. Now wonder I must teach you how to kiss.
CRASSUS. I'll clip his wings.
ALICIA. Sub pennis, penis! 'Slife! It's not the wings of him that clip your wife.
CRASSUS. Thou art as filthy a creature as she!
ALICIA. Fat fool! All your emotions vary with your -
ALICIA. Your state of health.
CRASSUS. Be off with you, foul —
CRASSUS. I'll swim and stab them. The black mouth of hell Yawns for their murder.
ALICIA. I'll be at the death. Dive then, but softly. Scarcely draw your breath.
CRASSUS. O, she's unwary!
ALICIA. Is your love forgotten?
CRASSUS. All love is rotten.
ALICIA. But your pure love for me you boasted of?
CRASSUS. Ay, that was perfect love.
ALICIA. You love me then, not her?
CRASSUS. Indeed I do.
ALICIA. Swear me the oath anew!
CRASSUS. I swear to love you till the world shall end.
ALICIA. Then, Crassus, I will always be your friend.
CRASSUS. Ah, that is good! You do not mock me now!
ALICIA. Creep softly to the land. Kiss but my brow. My curls are wet... No, never touch me there!
CRASSUS. Why? Have I not?
ALICIA. You have not.
CRASSUS. Just my hand.
ALICIA. You disobey your mistress's command? The time is near when you shall see The keyhole of my comedy!
CRASSUS. Ha! Ha! Ha!
ALICIA. Hush, you coarse slave; we'll surprise Your good wife in her mystic exercise. Quick, through the bramble! [They burst through upon ADELA.]
CRASSUS. Now, you beast, I've got you! The curst of God, and plague of Naples, rot you! For this white brute - one slit! [He cuts the throat of THE SWAN with his dagger.]
ADELA. Oh love betrayed! O my dead beauty! Faugh! deceitful maid. Not Crassus found me out. Had I the wings Of my dead love - oh love! -
ALICIA. Why, wondrous things!
ADELA. These nails shall serve. A servant!
CRASSUS. She shall be My wife, damned witch, when I have done with thee! [THE SWAN dies.]
ADELA. I'll kill her now. But see! my swan is dead.
ALICIA. Yes! and what light is breaking overhead? What blaze of blue and gold envelops us?
CRASSUS. O marvel! O miraculous!
ADELA. What is it? Why, my lover's life, in me Once concentrated, now diffused, illumes The endless reaches of eternity With infinite brilliance, with intense perfumes.
ALICIA. O then your lover was some god's disguise.
ADELA. And you have robbed me. Now beware your eyes! [She springs at ALICIA, who guards herself easily. But in the struggle her robe tears.]
ALICIA. Take care!
ADELA. A boy!
CRASSUS. A boy! Then what am I?
ALICIA. That is the key-word of the comedy. You thought you had two vices at your need; But she had Jove and you had Ganymede. [They are struck dumb and still with amazement. ALICIA claps her hands four times.]
Sweep through the air, bright blaze of eagle-wings! Crassus, sub pennis, penis! How he swings His bulk from yonder sightless poise, to bear me back to the Dominion of the air Where I shall bear the cup of Jupiter! Blind babes, love one another, no less true Because the gods have deigned to dwell with you! [The eagle bears GANYMEDE aloft.]
CRASSUS. Adela! these mysteries too great For you and me to estimate. But, widowed both, come, seek domestic charms As we were wont, in one another's arms! What perfect moss for you to lie upon!
ADELA. I am your wife, dear Crassus. (sotto voce) Oh, my swan!