The Sphinx

By Oscar Wilde

In a dim corner of my room
    For longer than my fancy thinks,
    A beautiful and silent Sphinx
Has watched me through the shifting gloom.

Inviolate and immobile
    She does not rise she does not stir
    For silver moons are nought to her
And nought to her the suns that reel.

Red follows grey across the air,
    The waves of moonlight ebb and flow
    But with the Dawn she does not go
And in the night-time she is there.

Dawn follows Dawn and Nights grow old
    And all the while this curious cat
    Lies couching on the Chinese mat
With eyes of satin rimmed with gold.

Upon the mat she lies and leers
    And on the tawny throat of her
    Flutters the soft and fur
Or ripples to her pointed ears.

Come forth my lovely seneschal!
    So somnolent, so statuesque!
    Come forth you exquisite grotesque!
Half woman and half animal!

Come forth my lovely languorous Sphinx!
    And put your head upon my knee!
    And let me stroke your throat and see
Your body spotted like the Lynx!

And let me touch those curving claws
    Of yellow ivory and grasp
    The tail that like a monstrous Asp
Coils round your heavy velvet paws!

A thousand weary centuries
    Are thine while I have hardly seen
    Some twenty summers cast their green
For Autumn's gaudy liveries.

But you can read the Hieroglyphs
    On the great sand-stone obelisks,
    And you have talked with Basilisks,
And you have looked on Hippogriffs.

O tell me, were you standing by
    When Isis to Osiris knelt?
    And did you watch the Egyptian melt
Her union for Anthony

And drink the jewel-drunken wine
    And bend her head in mimic awe
    To see the huge pro-consul draw
The salted tunny from the brine?

And did you mark the Cyprian kiss
    With Adon on his catafalque,
    And did you follow Amanalk
The god of Heliopolis?

And did you talk with Thoth, and did
    You hear the moon-horned Io weep
    And know the painted kings who sleep
Beneath the wedge-shaped Pyramid?

Lift up your large black satin eyes
    Which are like cushions where one sinks,
    Fawn at my feet, fantastic Sphinx,
And sing me all your memories.

Sing to me of the Jewish maid
    Who wandered with the Holy Child,
    And how you led them through the wild,
And how they slept beneath your shade.

Sing to me of that odorous
    Green eve when crouching by the marge
    You heard from Adrian's gilded barge
The laughter of Antinous,

And lapped the stream, and fed your drouth,
    And watched with hot and hungry stare
    The ivory body of that rare
Young slave with his pomegranate mouth.

Sing to me of the Labyrinth
    In which the two-formed bull was stalled,
    Sing to me of the night you crawled
Across the temple's granite plinth

When through the purple corridors
    The screaming scarlet Ibis flew
    In terror, and a horrid dew
Dripped from the moaning Mandragores,

And the great torpid crocodile
    Within the great shed slimy tears,
    And tore the jewels from his ears
And staggered back into the Nile,

And the Priests cursed you with shrill psalms
    As in your claws you seized their snake
    And crept away with it to slake
Your passion by the shuddering palms.

Who were your lovers, who were they
    Who wrestled for you in the dust?
    Which was the vessel of your Lust,
What Leman had you every day?

Did giant lizards come and crouch
    Before you on the reedy banks?
    Did Gryphons with great metal flanks
Leap on you in your trampled couch,

Did monstrous hippopotami
    Come sidling to you in the mist
    Did gilt-scaled dragons write and twist
With passion as you passed them by?

And from that brick-built Lycian tomb
    What horrible Chimaera came
    With fearful heads and fearful flame
To breed new wonders from your womb?

Or had you shameful secret guests
    And did you harry to your home
    Some Nereid coiled in amber foam
With curious rock-crystal breasts;

Or did you, treading through the froth,
    Call to the brown Sidonian
    For tidings of Leviathan,
Leviathan or Behemoth?

Or did you when the sun was set,
    Climb up the cactus-covered slope
    To meet your swarthy Ethiop
Whose body was of polished jet?

Or did you while the earthen skiffs
    Dropt down the gray Nilotic flats
    At twilight, and the flickering bats
Flew round the temple's triple glyphs

Steal to the border of the bar
    And swim across the silent lake
    And slink into the vault and make
The Pyramid your lúpanar,

Till from each black sarcophagus
    Rose up the painted, swathèd dead?
    Or did you lure unto your bed
The ivory-horned Trageophos?

Or did you love the God of flies
    Who plagued the Hebrews and was splashed
    With wine unto the waist, or Pasht
Who had green beryls for her eyes?

Or that young God, the Tyrian,
    Who was more amorous than the dove
    Of Ashtaroth? or did you love
The God of the Assyrian,

Whose wings that like transparent talc
    Rose high above his hawk-faced head
    Painted with silver and with red
And ribbed with rods of Oreichalch?

Or did huge Apis from his car
    Leap down and lay before your feet
    Big blossoms of the honey-sweet,
And honey-coloured nenuphar?

How subtle secret is your smile;
    Did you love none then? Nay I know
    Great Ammon was your bedfellow!
He lay with you beside the Nile!

The river-horses in the slime
    Trumpeted when they saw him come
    Odorous with Syrian galbanum
And smeared with spikenard and with thyme.

He came along the river bank
    Like some tall galley argent-sailed
    He strode across the waters, mailed
In beauty and the waters sank.

He strode across the desert sand,
    He reached the valley where you lay:
    He waited till the dawn of day:
Then touched your black breasts with his hand.

You kissed his mouth with mouth of flame,
    You made the hornèd-god your own,
    You stood behind him on his throne:
You called him by his secret name,

You whispered monstrous oracles
    Into the caverns of his ears:
    With blood of goats and blood of steers
You taught him monstrous miracles,

While Ammon was your bedfellow
    Your chamber was the steaming Nile
    And with your curved Archaic smile
You watched his passion come and go.

With Syrian oils his brows were bright
    And wide-spread as a tent at noon
    His marble limbs made pale the moon
And lent the day a larger light,

His long hair was nine cubits span
    And coloured like that yellow gem
    Which hidden in their garments' hem,
The merchants bring from Kurdistan.

His face was as the must that lies
    Upon a vat of new-made wine,
    The seas could not insapphirine
The perfect azure of his eyes.

His thick, soft throat was white as milk
    And threaded with thin veins of blue
    And curious pearls like frozen dew
Were broidered on his flowing silk.

On pearl and porphyry pedestalled
    He was too bright to look upon
    For on his ivory breast there shone
The wondrous ocean-emerald,

That mystic, moonlight jewel which
    Some diver of the Colchian caves
    Had found beneath the blackening waves
And carried to the Colchian witch.

Before his gilded galiot
    Ran naked vine-wreathed corybants
    And lines of swaying elephants
Knelt down to draw his chariot,

And lines of swarthy Nubians
    Bore up his litter as he rode
    Down the great granite-paven road,
Between the nodding peacock fans.

The merchants brought him steatite
    From Sidon in their painted ships;
    The meanest cup that touched his lips
Was fashioned from a chrysolite.

The merchants brought him cedar chests
    Of rich apparel, bound with cords;
    His train was borne by Memphian lords;
Young kings were glad to be his guests.

Ten hundred shaven priests did bow
    To Ammon's altar day and night,
    Ten hundred lamps did wave their light
Through Ammon's carven house, and now

Foul snake and speckled adder with
    Their young ones crawl from stone to stone
    For ruined is the house, and prone
The great rose-marble monolith;

Wild ass or strolling jackal comes
    And crouches in the mouldering gates,
    Wild satyrs call unto their mates
Across the fallen fluted drums.

And on the summit of the pile,
    The blue-faced ape of Horus sits
    And gibbers while the fig-tree splits
The pillars of the peristyle.

The God is scattered here and there;
    Deep hidden in the windy sand
    I saw his giant granite hand
Still clenched in impotent despair.

And many a wandering caravan
    Of stately negroes, silken-shawled,
    Crossing the desert, halts appalled
Before the neck that none can span.

And many a bearded Bedouin
    Draws back his yellow-striped burnous
    To gaze upon the Titan thews
Of him who was thy paladin.

Go seek his fragments on the moor,
    And wash them in the evening dew,
    And from their pieces make anew
Thy mutilated paramour.

Go seek them where they lie alone
    And from their broken pieces make
    Thy bruisèd bedfellow! And wake
Mad passions in the senseless stone!

Charm his dull ear with Syrian hymns;
    He loved your body; oh be kind!
    Pour spikenard on his hair and wind
Soft rolls of linen round his limbs;

Wind round his head the figured coins,
    Stain with red fruits the pallid lips;
    Weave purple for his shrunken hips
And purple for his barren loins!

Away to Egypt! Have no fear;
    Only one God has ever died,
    Only one God has let His side
Be wounded by a soldier's spear.

But these, thy lovers, are not dead;
    Still by the hundred-cubit gate
    Dog-faced Anubis sits in state
With lotus lilies for thy head.

Still from his chair of porphyry
    Giant Memnon strains his lidless eyes
    Across the empty land and cries
Each yellow morning unto thee.

And Nilus with his broken horn
    Lies in his black and oozy bed
    And till thy coming will not spread
His waters on the withering corn.

Your lovers are not dead, I know,
    And will rise up and hear thy voice
    And clash their cymbals and rejoice
And run to kiss your mouth, and so,

Set wings upon your argosies!
    Set horses to your ebon car!
    Back to your Nile! Or if you are
Grown sick of dead divinities;

Follow some roving lion's spoor
    Across the copper-coloured plain,
    Reach out and hale him by the mane
And bid him to be your paramour!

Crouch by his side upon the grass
    And set your white teeth in his throat,
    And when you hear his dying note,
Lash your long flanks of polished brass

And take a tiger for your mate,
    Whose amber sides are flecked with black,
    And ride upon his gilded back
In triumph through the Theban gate,

And toy with him in amorous jests,
    And when he turns and snarls and gnaws,
    Oh smite him with your jasper claws
And bruise him with your agate breasts!

Why are you tarrying? Get hence!
    I weary of your sullen ways.
    I weary of your steadfast gaze,
Your somnolent magnificence.

Your horrible and heavy breath
    Makes the light flicker in the lamp,
    And on my brow I feel the damp
And dreadful dews of night and death,

Your eyes are like fantastic moons
    That shiver in some stagnant lake,
    Your tongue is like a scarlet snake
That dances to fantastic tunes.

Your pulse makes poisonous melodies,
    And your black throat is like the hole
    Left by some torch or burning coal
On Saracenic tapestries.

Away! the sulphur-coloured stars
    Are hurrying through the Western gate!
    Away! Or it may be too late
To climb their silent silver cars!

See, the dawn shivers round the gray,
    Gilt-dialled towers, and the rain
    Streams down each diamonded pane
And blurs with tears the wannish day.

What snake-tressed fury, fresh from Hell,
    With uncouth gestures and unclean,
    Stole from the poppy-drowsy queen
And led you to a student's cell?

What songless, tongueless ghost of sin
    Crept through the curtains of the night
    And saw my taper burning bright,
And knocked and bade you enter in?

Are there not others more accursed,
    Whiter with leprosies than I?
    Are Abana and Pharphar dry,
That you come here to slake your thirst?

False Sphinx! False Sphinx! By reedy Styx,
    Old Charon, leaning on his oar,
    Waits for my coin. Go thou before
And leave me to my crucifix,

Whose pallid burden, sick with pain,
    Watches the world with wearied eyes.
    And weeps for every soul that dies,
And weeps for every soul in vain.