Saturday, October 27, 2007
For Halloween II: "Sonnets of the Midnight Hours" by Donald Wandrei
I. "After Sleep"
It is not blessed sleep. It looms as hateful,
As dreaded as some strange disease's pain,
As fearful as the haunts of the insane.
The days for which the heart should be most grateful
Are sick with memories awesome, eerie, fateful,
Of nights that seemed eternities, of vain
Attempts to flee from depths where hope was slain;
Of secret worlds that have no name or place.
For in the midnight hours, when sleep descends,
I dream through realms where naught begins or ends,
Where all things are, yet are not; time and space
But phantoms; life and death part each of other;
Where far, unhuman beings' dark embrace
Holds me till in unending dooms I smother.
There where I wandered, purple shadows ran
Along a purple ground to purple cliffs
And back; and purple suns flamed northerly
Across a velvet sky. And when I came,
And when I crossed the imperial weaving span
Of purple leagues, violet hippogriffs
With wings of beating purple flew to me
Through sullen skies empurpled with vast flame.
And so I soared on pinions of the night
Through mightier gulfs where still the purple rule
Held sway, with purple dreamlands all around.
And when my steed permitted me to light,
I seemed to sink in some huge cosmic pool,
And in a sea of purple shadows drowned.
III. "The Hungry Flowers"
The fleshly flowers whispered avidly:
This being's face is soft, he shall not pass;
And all the little jeweled blades of grass
Made mutterings that sounded like low glee.
I looked across the great plain warily.
These glittering swords that shone like splintered glass,
Though singly impotent, might be in mass
A savage, indestructible enemy.
So, hesitantly, I put forth my foot
To seek, beneath the flower-heads, a path.
I found my leg become a hellish root,
I saw the hungry flowers toward me crawl
With bright-eyed ecstacy, exultant wrath,
And on my flesh their mouths, devouring, fall.
IV. "The Eye"
A deep force pulls me toward the window-blind,
Some impulse urges me to raise the shade;
Why is it that I tremble, half afraid,
With formless terrors running through my mind?
What are the dim dread images that bind
My hand? Why is my arm so strongly stayed?
What sense of overhanging doom has made
Me fearful? What the sight that I shall find?
Some warning voice calls out: Go back--go back!
I could not turn though fronted by the rack.
And so I slowly raise the shade to greet
Whatever on the other side should lie,
And stare and stare in horror as I meet
The leering of a huge and sightless eye.
V. "The Torturers"
As I remember, there were clanging gongs
That beat the air to frenzy; dirges, knells,
A tolling like a myriad decibels
From metal monsters humming voiceless songs.
As I remember, there were flaming tongs
That flayed my flesh, and I was bound by spells
Of lunar sorcerers; a thousand hells
Were better than their hideous, measured wrongs.
As I remember, in my agony
I begged the gods to save me from such pain.
I heard a sound of cosmic revelry,
Then beating to the chambers of my brain
The answer came, where I in torment lay,
For silence unto silence died away.
VI. "The Statues"
I knocked upon the portal till with clang
On long, metallic clang, the brazen door
Curled inward, flowerwise. I stood before
Weird, lifeless birds that talked and harshly sang.
Quick to my side two black, sleek leopards sprang
With eyes of golden fury; while a score
Of revelers turned statue, and no more
Their mirthless muttering through the palace rang.
Past them the leopards led me on and on
Where vast, dark marbles stood in endless miles,
And when I saw these titans, thereupon
Their enigmatic laughter filled the aisles;
But when I passed and left them in their gloom,
the vacant halls were quiet as a tomb.
VII. "The Old Companions"
Amidst great cobwebs hanging everywhere
My old companions waited all around:
Wan hands and heads that showed no trace of wound,
Misshapen creatures peering through the air.
Out of a dusky corner came the stare
Of some white form that made a rattling sound.
Along the walls dwelt living mummies, bound
In swathes of long, still growing, human hair.
What goal, what new companion did I seek?
Was it an hour? Eternity? A week?--
Until I felt that tongue or talon stroke
My neck, and heard that husky, gurgling choke
As of some ancient corpse about to speak . . . .
I could not move though mind and spirit broke.
VIII. "The Head"
The head most strangely seemed like one I knew;
It rolled, and spun, and stopped in front of me,
While its pale eyes kept watching patiently
Till memory slowly came, and knowledge grew.
It was my own; my own face had that hue,
My own the lineaments that seemed to be
Bloodless, the blind eyes of eternity,
The mouth where something dark was trickling through.
It watched me, waiting, while I stared as long
As all the years of Hercules' great labors,
Stared at my own dead eyes unearthly lit.
Oh heart, cease beating; ears, close; sight, be wrong:
The head sprang high; but slashed by unseen sabers
It fell in parts, and I was part of it.
IX. "In the Attic"
Slowly I climbed the worn old attic stairs
In darkness absolute, and listening hard,
For what, I did not know, yet tense, on guard
As I went onward toward those upper lairs.
Then at the top I stood on magic squares
That glowed with fitful lights, and each one starred
With signs unreadable, on each the shard
Of some imprisoned thing with old despairs.
I watched them till, from out the greater dark,
The swart hand crawled, through mid-air lengthening,
And I drew back; but still the hand with stark,
Trememdous fingers, growing, strengthening,
Pursued and pounced; an arm that had no source
Yet twined around me with inhuman force.
X. "The Cocoon"
My loved one made soft cooing sounds, and so
I stroked the glistening webwork on its head,
The strange cocoon, not living yet nor dead
But inbetween; whose phosphorescent glow
And shining eyes bespoke caresses, slow
And languid, warming into life; no dread
Had I, although I knew on what it fed,
The substance of it in the long ago.
But all at once the shell of that cocoon
Burst; mindless, mewing as it tried to speak,
Not woman, man, or child crawled in my lap,
But something from the dark side of the moon
Whose balck, scaled body had for head a beak,
A beak that, darting, closed me in its trap.
XI. "The Metal God"
In that far, future time where I wasa fleeing
Through mighty chambers, hunted and alone,
I came upon a curious great throne
Where sat an even greater, stranger being.
A king who saw but used no eyes for seeing,
A metal titan shapen like a cone,
Quicksilvery, pulsing with a deep soft tone
That filled all worlds, all space; vibrations freeing
All substances and creatures from the bond
Of aimless life, of aimless death. Long since
The hands wrought it vanished in its power,
And I, though struggling, in that selfsame hour
Felt flesh dissolve in motes of silver tints
That streamed to join the nothingness beyond.
XII. "The Little Creature"
Oh little creature, lost in time and space,
You've come again. You keep me company here,
You drift upon the moonlight hovering near
And watch, or seem to watch, me for your face
I can not find, nor do I seem to place
Your limbs, if limbs you have; nor is it clear
What form you have, for always you appear
Changing and new, so hard to know, to trace.
Oh little creature, whether old or young,
Make this your home for I will make it yours;
And though you never talk (do you have tongue?)
I'll talk of future times and alien shores.
Oh little creature, here's a tale of doom . . . .
How strange. How strangely empty is the room.
XIII. "The Pool"
Unto my feet a little trickle crept
Progressing slowly underneath the door
And widening inch by inch along the floor
Until, my shaking limbs grown weak, I stepped
Aside. The flow turned toward me, and it kept
Increasing, spreading more and ever more
As if there never were an end in store.
Now here, now there I fled; still on it swept.
Around me, solid walls of no escape,
Before me, one closed portal, and the flow
Whose source could only be some fearful shape
With blood that had so curious a glow:
The door must open, showing why the hue
Of this fresh pool of thin and brilliant blue.
XIV. "The Prey"
Vast wings were flapping in the night. I heard
Them fill the air with measureless strong beat--
What nameless hunter searching for its meat?
So huge the wings, I wondered what the bird
That clove through midnight where no other stirred,
What sight in later hours would haply greet
The dawn, when those great wings had made retreat:
For in the talons I was fast immured.
Though endlessly we traversed far abysses,
At length all motion ceased, upon a crag,
And when the talons loosened, I could see
The burning harpy eyes, head of a hag,
Before I dropped away, for I was free--
To fall amid colossal precipices.
XV. "The Rack"
They clamped hot irons on my throbbing head;
They poured fresh acid on my blinding eyes;
They added madness to my frantic cries
By bathing me in streams of molten lead.
They slit me till a hundred raw wounds bled;
They burned me, bound me with deep-knotted ties;
They crushed me, broke me till I could not rise,
Then hurled me shapeless, on a needle-bed.
Beyond the rack's red searing agony
One thought more torturing usurped my brain,
A thought my tongueless mouth could never speak;
Though they, with cruel joy, had given me
This never ending night of mounting pain,
It merely hinted of the coming week.
Now was I destined after all to die,
I who had fought so hard to reach my goal?
Would maggots in my starved, gaunt body loll
When I collapsed beneath that burning sky?
The sun stared on me like a blood-rd eye,
In all this hideous land the only soul!
Yet, wehn toward farther desolate wastes I stole,
I thought ironic laughter passed me by.
Though they who tortured me were far behind,
My bloodprints in the dead sands marked my trail.
Each step eternal, on I struggled, trying
to reach the haven I would never find.
I stumbled forward, knowing I must fail,
For they were deathless hunters, I the dying.
They caught me in the wasteland in the west,
Caught me with safety but a league away.
For my escape I knew what I must pay:
Tortures would mark the finish of my quest.
They drove me back with never pause for rest,
Back through the desert for those fiends to flay,
To burn, to break; their pleasure not to slay
But punish, since their power I dared to test.
The dark walled city slowly came in view,
The magic towers, the skyward thrusting spires,
The windows burning bright with eldritch fires;
And when at last my captors bore me through
the ebony gates, one savage curse I cried,
And I, and all that phantom city, died.
XVIII. "In the Pit"
Now they have buried me in this dark pit,
And all around their other victims wait,
Like me uncertain of their final fate
Though they are broken too, and their flesh slit.
There's one small shape that mews upon a spit;
The chewed remains of something used for bait;
Another mass their hungry pet half-ate,
Rejected. Nameless others near me sit.
They gave me back my eyes so I could peer
Around and see the comrades that are mine;
They left me morsels, curious and queer,
To make my sufferings worse if I should dine.
I know that I'll by them be watched for ever
And in recurring deaths escape them never.
XIX. "The Bell"
All night I heard the tolling of a bell;
All night I heard the cadences of doom
Across the boiling seas' own muffled boom;
From sunken cities rose the solemn knell.
The waters mounted in one surge whose swell
Laid bare the mystery of the vast sea-tomb,
And from those giant caverns' lifted gloom
The tolling came like measures for a spell.
Then all the seas united with a roar
Of wave that smote against colossal wave,
engulfed again the riddles of the ocean;
The bell beneath the seas, beyond the shore,
Grew fainter in the silence of its grave:
I heard alone the surging tides in motion.
XX. "The Ultimate Vision"
I dreamed the waters of the world had dried,
The ocean beds were open now, and free,
And all strange things once covered by the sea
Showed everywhere, while flopping creatures died.
There lay a bed of shells and bones; I spied
A city of vast antiquity;
Ten thousand ships and more; shapes great and wee
And weird encrusted forms on every side.
I saw the vales and mountains of the deep,
I saw the dwellers of the ocean night,
The weedy pastures and the drowned, the dead;
And in the fading vision of my sleep
I saw rise up a substance soft and white
That feebly moved its pulpy, eyeless head.