A snake came to my water-trough
On a hot, hot day, and I in pyjamas for the heat,
To drink there.
In the deep, strange-scented shade of the great dark carob-tree
I came down the steps with my pitcher
And must wait, must stand and wait, for there he was at the trough before
He reached down from a fissure in the earth-wall in the gloom
And trailed his yellow-brown slackness soft-bellied down, over the edge of
the stone trough
And rested his throat upon the stone bottom,
And where the water had dripped from the tap, in a small clearness,
He sipped with his straight mouth,
Softly drank through his straight gums, into his slack long body,
Someone was before me at my water-trough,
And I, like a second comer, waiting.
He lifted his head from his drinking, as cattle do,
And looked at me vaguely, as drinking cattle do,
And flickered his two-forked tongue from his lips, and mused a moment,
And stooped and drank a little more,
Being earth-brown, earth-golden from the burning bowels of the earth
On the day of Sicilian July, with Etna smoking.
The voice of my education said to me
He must be killed,
For in Sicily the black, black snakes are innocent, the gold are venomous.
And voices in me said, If you were a man
You would take a stick and break him now, and finish him off.
But must I confess how I liked him,
How glad I was he had come like a guest in quiet, to drink at my water-trough
And depart peaceful, pacified, and thankless,
Into the burning bowels of this earth?
Was it cowardice, that I dared not kill him? Was it perversity, that I longed to talk to him? Was it humility, to feel so honoured?
I felt so honoured.
And yet those voices:
If you were not afraid, you would kill him!
And truly I was afraid, I was most afraid, But even so, honoured still more
That he should seek my hospitality
From out the dark door of the secret earth.
He drank enough
And lifted his head, dreamily, as one who has drunken,
And flickered his tongue like a forked night on the air, so black,
Seeming to lick his lips,
And looked around like a god, unseeing, into the air,
And slowly turned his head,
And slowly, very slowly, as if thrice adream,
Proceeded to draw his slow length curving round
And climb again the broken bank of my wall-face.
And as he put his head into that dreadful hole,
And as he slowly drew up, snake-easing his shoulders, and entered farther,
A sort of horror, a sort of protest against his withdrawing into that horrid black hole,
Deliberately going into the blackness, and slowly drawing himself after,
Overcame me now his back was turned.
I looked round, I put down my pitcher,
I picked up a clumsy log
And threw it at the water-trough with a clatter.
I think it did not hit him,
But suddenly that part of him that was left behind convulsed in undignified haste.
Writhed like lightning, and was gone
Into the black hole, the earth-lipped fissure in the wall-front,
At which, in the intense still noon, I stared with fascination.
And immediately I regretted it.
I thought how paltry, how vulgar, what a mean act!
I despised myself and the voices of my accursed human education.
And I thought of the albatross
And I wished he would come back, my snake.
For he seemed to me again like a king,
Like a king in exile, uncrowned in the underworld,
Now due to be crowned again.
And so, I missed my chance with one of the lords
And I have something to expiate:
She bade me follow to her garden where
The mellow sunlight stood as in a cup
Between the old grey walls; I did not dare
To raise my face, I did not dare look up
Lest her bright eyes like sparrows should fly in
My windows of discovery and shrill 'Sin!'
So with a downcast mien and laughing voice
I followed, followed the swing of her white dress
That rocked in a lilt along: I watched the poise
Of her feet as they flew for a space, then paused to press
The grass deep down with the royal burden of her:
And gladly I'd offered my breast to the tread of her.
'I like to see,' she said, and she crouched her down,
She sunk into my sight like a settling bird;
And her bosom crouched in the confines of her gown
Like heavy birds at rest there, softly stirred
By her measured breaths: 'I like to see,' said she,
'The snap-dragon put out his tongue at me.'
She laughed, she reached her hand out to the flower
Closing its crimson throat: my own throat in her power
Strangled, my heart swelled up so full
As if it would burst its wineskin in my throat,
Choke me in my own crimson; I watched her pull
The gorge of the gaping flower, till the blood did float
Over my eyes and I was blind --
Her large brown hand stretched over
The windows of my mind,
And in the dark I did discover
Things I was out to find:
My grail, a brown bowl twined
With swollen veins that met in the wrist,
Under whose brown the amethyst
I longed to taste: and I longed to turn
My heart's red measure in her cup,
I longed to feel my hot blood burn
With the lambent amethyst in her cup.
Then suddenly she looked up
And I was blind in a tawny-gold day
Till she took her eyes away. So she came down from above
And emptied my heart of love . . .
So I helf my heart aloft
To the cuckoo that fluttered above,
And she settled soft.
It seemed that I and the morning world
Were pressed cup-shape to take this reiver
Bird who was weary to have furled
Her wings on us,
As we were weary to receive her:
This bird, this rich
Sumptuous central grain,
This mutable witch,
This one refrain,
This laugh in the fight,
This clot of light,
This core of night.
She spoke, and I closed my eyes
To shut hallucinations out.
I echoed with surprise
Hearing my mere lips shout
The answer they did devise.
Again, I saw a brown bird hover
Over the flowers at my feet;
I felt a brown bird hover
Over my heart, and sweet
Its shadow lay on my heart.
I thought I saw on the clover
A brown bee pulling apart
The closed flesh of the clover
And burrowing into its heart.
She moved her hand, and again
I felt the brown bird hover
Over my heart . . . and then
The bird came down on my heart,
As on a nest the rover
Cuckoo comes, and shoves over
The brim each careful part
Of love, takes possession and settles down,
With her wings and her feathers does drown
The nest in a heat of love.
She turned her flushed face to me for the glint
Of a moment. 'See,' she laughed, 'if you also
Can make them yawn.' I put my hand to the dint
In the flower's throat, and the flower gaped wide with woe.
She watched, she went of a sudden intensely still,
She watched my hand, and I let her watch her fill.
I pressed the wretched, throttled flower between
My fingers, till its head lay back, its fangs
Poised at her: like a weapon my hand stood white and keen,
And I held the choked flower-serpent in its pangs
Of mordant anguish till she ceased to laugh,
Until her pride's flag, smitten, cleaved down to the staff.
She hid her face, she murmured between her lips
The low word 'Don't!' I let the flower fall,
But held my hand afloat still towards the slips
Of blossom she fingered, and my crisp fingers all
Put forth to her: she did not move, nor I,
For my hand like a snake watched hers that could not fly.
Then I laughed in the dark of my heart, I did exult
Like a sudden chuckling of music: I bade her eyes
Meet mine, I opened her helpless eyes to consult
Their fear, their shame, their joy that underlies
Defeat in such a battle: in the dark of her eyes
My heart was fierce to make her laughter rise . . .
Till her dark deeps shook with convulsive thrills, and the dark
Of her spirit wavered like water thrilled with light,
And my heart leaped up in longing to plunge its stark
Fervour within the pool of her twilight:
Within her spacious gloom, in the mystery
Of her barbarous soul, to grope with ecstasy.
And I do not care though the large hands of revenge
Shall get my throat at last -- shall get it soon,
If the joy that they are lifted to avenge
Have risen red on my night as a harvest moon,
Which even Death can only put out for me,
And death I know is beter than not-to-be.