The Works of Sydney Fowler Wright 1874 - 1965

Some Songs Of Bilitis

by S. Fowler Wright

2, Vyse Street, Birmingham, England.
1/- net.


(With such acknowledgments to Pierre Louys as the truth may require).

"My father was a wandering Greek."

My father was a wandering Greek. A fair
              Phoenician girl he saw,
Woo'd, and begot, and left who would not share
              His tribe's Odysseyan law.

Pamphylia saw my birth. My venturous feet
              Its wildest mountains trod.
I watched them from my bolder search retreat -
              Satyr, and nymph, and god.

The sources of the world were mine, beside
              Its secret streams. The same
Where Paris woo'd, and where OEnone died,
              And Aphrodite came.

And though close death my nearer sight may blind,
              Mine eyes' last light shall know
The great gloom of the mighty woods behind,
              The shining seas below.


'My hair was blown across my mouth."

My hair was blown across my mouth. My feet
              Sank in the mountain snow.
He said, What think ye in these wilds to meet,
              That in such haste ye go?

There was a satyr in the vale, I said;
              I traced it where it trod.
He said, The satyrs with the fauns are dead;
              Nor oread lives, nor god.

But rest thou by the fire I make, and I
              A naiad's tomb will show.

With iron-shod staff he smote the stream-bed dry,
              And told the tomb below.

He said, The winter binds the hills more fast
              Than ten years' space should know.

He bore me lamb-like o'er his shoulder cast
              Down the long slopes of snow.


"From when the night invades the woodland sky"

From when the night invades the woodland sky,
              Beneath the branches low,
The world is ours, its secret haunts to try,
              Its nameless ways to go.

The wild cat, hunting, heeds not where we tread;
              Shades of the night are we.
The wild deer, hearing, lifts a startled head,
              And turns mild eyes to see.

The stars can light not here, too faint and few,
              Through cypress, larch and fir.
The thickets where we break are drenched with dew,
              And when the night winds stir,

A meaning to the wakened sense is brought,
              Surer than sound or sight, -
Diviner is not than the scent unthought
              Of roses in the night.


"It is not for the shrine of Artemis."

It is not for the shrine of Artemis,
              Where those of Perga pray,
Though is not known a milder rule than this,
              And wise of heart are they.

It is not for Athene's awful brows,
              Though wharves of Sidon see
The wealth her grace her hardy sect allows,
              Piled gold and ivory.

It is for one that in my heart is throned,
              I twist the iris sweet,
Whose heart as mine its tender need hath owned -
              For Aphrodite's feet.

I will not speak aloud the thing I would,
              But I will whisper low,
Faint-heard as leaves that fall in Méla's wood,
              And she will hear and know.


'The children love me."

The children love me. Where I pass them by
              They overtake my way.
Caught in small hands by tunic, belt, and thigh,
              Of laughing need I stay.

Scarab or stone, or gathered flower, alike
              Their tribute-wealth they pay.
They draw me downward to the grassy dyke
              That lines the beaten way.

They draw me to themselves. They press more near
              On either hand. They lay
Their heads against my breast. Bilitis, dear,
              They lift large eyes, and say,

Tell us of Helen. Or the Beast that came
              Huge from the ocean bed,
Of Perseus from the skies the falling flame,
              And of the Gorgon's head.


"Still on the route they passed the roses lie."

Still on the route they passed the roses lie:
              Still here the torches burn.
Melissa goes beneath a kinder sky
              The joy of life to learn.

Not yet for me the bridal torches glow,
              Though like of years am I.
I think her first our equal hope to know,
              And as I think, I sigh.

Shall I not also hear the nuptial song,
              The train attendant see,
The olives arched the rose-strewn path along,
              Some other night, for me?

For I would also break the last conceal,
              Of love at night to know;
Nor later, dearer, at my breasts to feel
              The sweet small hands forego.


"I sing not loves long ceased."

I sing not loves long ceased, and lost within
              The cold receding sea.
What are the Paphian's woes, or Byblis' sin,
              Or Helen's arms to me?

What thirst of life was theirs, what hope, what fear,
              But in me beats today?
I spoil or lose, I reach or hunger here,
              And sterile shades are they.

In me, in me, the exultant pulses stir,
              As here supine I lie.
It is my life I sing. Shall life recur?
              Shall the great darkness die?

But when no more my veins their strength renew,
              When the last road I go,
Be then no cup I have not lifted too,
              No draught I did not know.


"Mother, self-born, from whom all births must be."

Mother, self-born, from whom all births must be,
              Astarte of the night,
Grant me the reading of thy mystery,
              For I would serve aright.

Between thy knees the gods were born: between
              Thy breasts the daemons lay.
Thou wast and wilt be when their times have been,
              For thou art more than they.

Formed of thy thought herself the Cyprian came
              From out the bright salt sea.
Virgin thou art and spouse, and chaste and flame,
              For all things meet in thee.

Grant me the reading of thy mystery,
              For I would serve aright,
Mother, self-born, from whom all births must be,
              Astarte of the night.


"O sombre woods, reveal if here she came."

O sombre woods, reveal if here she came.
              She sought the vale below.
O vale, I call again my mistress' name.
              The river trail ye know.
O river, tell me, did she wander here?
              By the great road she goes.
O road, reveal. Thy barren course is clear.
              The city street she chose.
O happy street, that felt her naked tread, -
              She took the golden way.
O way, what closes all they space ahead?
              The palace gates are they.

O palace, yield her whom I seek so far.
              Beneath her breasts are bound
Pearls and great gems, for honour's fallen star.
              Herself thou hast not found

"The first had wealth."

The first had wealth beyond a dream's conceit.
              A rope of pearls he gave:
A city's worth, with palace, hall, and street,
              Market, and ware, and slave.

The second sang my hair, a cloud that lay
              Night on the moving mere:
My eyes that drew him from that night away
As though blue dawn were here.

The third had beauty, like a holding net
              To snare a girl's entreat.
His hands upon my naked knees he set,
              Bending to kiss my feet.

Thou hast no words to sing me (nay, not me!)
              Thou hast no pearls to pay;
Thou hast not beauty; yet I long for thee,
              And utter naught are they.


"Thou shalt not seek me."

Thou shalt not seek me, lest thy tender feet
              Bruise on the stony way,
But where thou art, thy present doom to meet,
              My coming haste shalt stay.

Thou shalt not braid thy hair in curious wise,
              Lest scorch or singe ye bear.
O Eros' victim! - loose it where it lies,
              Till I shall find thee there.

Thou shalt not clothe thee, lest the cincture press
              Too hard on loin or side.
Wait as thou art these hours that hourly less
              Thy maiden days divide.

I would not any flaw thy pride had marred,
              Nor any stain should wrong,
Save where I strain thee in embrace too hard,
              Or where I kiss too long.


"When the great river to the heights return."

When the great river to the heights return
              The snows from whence it grew,
Or when the ocean's liquid fields shall learn
              The sower's task to do.

When the great pines their rooted rocks shall cleave
              To seek the lakes below,
Or when the grass the sheltered lakes shall leave
              On the bleak heights to grow,

That morn, that only morn, the lighting sky
              Another's joys shall see.
That night another in thy place shall lie,
              Soul of my soul to me.

To me, when morning moved the eastern sky,
              The tender words he said.
Was ever night of bliss with mine to vie?
              Was ever dawn so red?


"The night is dark, it blinds me where I tread."

The night is dark, it blinds me where I tread;
              I cannot feel my way.
The forest climbs a tangled waste ahead, -
              Then wert thou wise to stay.

The noise of waters in the night is high:
              Loud is the fall, and near--,
Thou would'st not heed him though he passed thee by:
              His call thou would'st not hear

The odours of the flowers of night prevail,
              The heavy scents oppress, -
Thou would'st but swoon, that not the nightingale
              Should rouse, - and he the less.

Then must I wait, with all the hills between,
              For while I dreaming lie,
He comes again to where he once hath been,
              And I can feel him nigh.


"Where the great cliffs repulse the Cyprian sea."

Where the great cliffs repulse the Cyprian sea,
              On the last verge I lie.
Scarcely the first faint lights of dawn to be
              Reach the deep vault of sky.

As ere the goddess to our blinded eyes
              The wine-dark waters pearled,
So, stretched beneath, more dusk than violets, lies
              The dawn-awaiting world.

The sudden sunlight comes. Across the deep
              An instant lance it drave.
Trance-held, I watch the blinding splendour leap
              From silvered wave to wave.

I hide mine eyes. From out the shining way
              The goddess' self doth show.
There is more wonder in the dawn today
              Than mortal thought should know.


"The dawn is near."

The dawn is near. The morning rains descend.
              Surely I watch too long.
Drop after drop on sill and porch they blend,
              Falling throughout my song.

The dawn is near. The western waves have wet
              The stars the midnight knew.
All night I watched them drown. What hope is yet
              When the whole arc is through?

The young men pass. The others laugh to see
              But shall they gain at last,
Thais, or Glykera, or Myrtale,
              When their good days are past?

The young men pass me, and the old forget.
              Sad and most lone am I.
But stars are mine that never wave shall wet,
              My songs, that shall not die.


"There is no laughter in my heart today."

There is no laughter in my heart today;
              There are no tears to shed.
Hope of delight of life is ceased away,
              And any fear is fled.

My petals fell long since in trampled ways;
              Dried is the empty stem.
The laurels only from my part of praise
              I have not left to them.

Is this the form that Mnasidika knew,
              That Sappho loved to sing,
When the day's strength would every night renew.
              And every month was spring?

Implacable goddess! thy withdrawn delight
              Shall never prayer recall.
There is no laughter in my heart tonight,
              Nor any fear at all.


"I feel tonight the shadow's cold decline."

I feel tonight the shadow's cold decline.
              The noonday's heat is fled.
The darkness nears. In other skies than mine
              The feet of morning tread.

But when from life's retreat of ended days
              My body's loss ye lay,
I would not that ye weep, nor chide, nor praise
              My laureled right, but say:

She lived with Sappho on the Lesbian shore,
              Freely she loved at will,
And whom did first her fervent youth adore,
              Dim-eyed, she worshipped still.

The gods who form us, and the fates who doom,
              Only her end can tell.
We leave her with the roses round her tomb,
              That once she loved so well.

*        *        *        *        *

The End