Poems by Isaac Rosenberg/The Amulet

FRAGMENTS OF "THE UNICORN"

I

THE AMULET

Lilith. Saul. Amak. Nubian.

Lilith sits under pomegranate trees watching her child Amak playing with Saul his father's helm and spear. A light smoke is ascending from the chimney of their hut, and through the doorway a naked Nubian man is seen stirring the embers. Saul sleeps.

Lilith

Amak, you'll break your father's sleep:
Come here and tell me what those spices are
This strange man bakes our cakes with.
It makes the brain wild. Be still, Amak:
I'll give you the strange man your father brought,
And he will run with you upon his back to-day.

Come from your father or you'll get no cake;
He's been a long journey.
Bring me the pictured book he brought for you.
What! Already cut to pieces?
Put away that horn from your father's ear,
And stay that horrid noise: come, Amak.

[Amak runs to his mother with a jade amulet, shouting.]

Amak

Look, mother, what I've found.

[He runs back again, making great shouts.]

Lilith

It dances with my blood: when my eyes caught it first
I was like lost, and yearned and yearned and yearned,
And strained like iron to stay my head from falling
Upon that beggar's breast where the jade stone hung.
Perhaps the spirit of Saul's young love lies here
Strayed far and brought back by this stranger near.
Saul said his discourse was more deep than Heaven.

For the storm trapped him ere he left the town
Loaded with our week's victuals: the slime clung
And licked and clawed and chewed the clogged dragging wheels
Till they sunk right to the axle: Saul, sodden and vexed,
Like fury smote the mules' mouths, pulling but sweat
From his drowned hair and theirs, while the thunder knocked
And all the air yawned water, falling water,
And the light cart was water, like a wrecked raft,
And all seemed like a forest under the ocean.
Sudden the lightning flashed upon a figure
Moving as a man moves in the slipping mud,
Singing, but not as a man sings, through the storm,
Which could not drown his sounds. Saul bawled "Hi! Hi!"
And the man loomed, naked, vast, and gripped the wheels;
Saul fiercely dug from under; he tugged the wheels;
The mules foamed straining, straining.
Suddenly they went.
Saul and the man leaped in: Saul, miserably sodden,

Marvelled at the large cheer in a naked glistening man;
Yet soon fell in with that contented mood,
That when our hut's light broke on his new mind
lie could not credit it—too soon it seemed:
The stranger man's talk was witchery.
I pray his baking be as magical;
The cakes should be nigh burnt.

[She calls the Nubian. He answers from within.]

Nubian

They are laid by to cool, housewife.

Lilith

Bring me the sherbet from the ledge and the fast-dried figs.

[The Nubian brings sherbet, figs, and a bowl of ice, and lays them down.]

[She looks curiously at him. He is an immense man with squat, mule-skinned features: his jet-black curled beard, crisp hair, glistening nude limbs, appear to her like some heathen idol of ancient stories.]

[She thinks to herself.]

Out of the lightning
In a dizzying cloven wink
This apparition stood up,
Of stricken trunk or beast's spirit,
Stirred by Saul's blasphemies;
So Saul's heart feared, aghast.
But lo, he touched the mischance and life ran straight!
Was it the storm-spirit, storm's pilot,
With all the heaving debris of Noah's sunken days
Dragged on his loins;
Law's spirit wandering to us
Through Nature's anarchy,
Wandering towards us when the Titans yet were young?
Perhaps Moses and Buddha he met.

[She speaks aloud.]

The shadow of these pomegranate boughs
Is sweet and restful; sit and ease your feet. Eat of these figs;
You have journeyed long.

Nubian

All my life, housewife.

Lilith

You have seen men and women,
Soaked yourself in powers and old glories,
In broken days and tears and glees,
And touched cold hands—
Hands shut in pitiless trances where the feast is high.
I think there is more sorrow in the world
Than man can bear.

Nubian

None can exceed their limit, lady:
You either bear or break.

Lilith

Can one choose to break? To bear,
Wearily to bear, is misery.
Beauty is this corroding malady.

Nubian

Beauty is a great paradox—
Music's secret soul creeping about the senses
To wrestle with man's coarser nature.
It is hard when beauty loses.

Lilith

I think beauty is a bad bargain made of life.
Men's iron sinews hew them room in the world
And use deceits to gain them trophies:
O, when our beauty fails us did we not use
Deceits, where were our room in the world—
Only our room in the world?
Are not the songs and devices of men
Moulds they have made after my scarlet mouth,
Of cunning words and contours of bronze
And viols and gathered air?
They without song have sung me
Boldly and shamelessly.
I am no wanton, no harlot;
I have been pleased and smiled my pleasure,
I am a wife with a woman's natural ways.
Yet through the shadow of the pomegranates
Filters a poison day by day,
And to a malady turns
The blond, the ample music of my heart:
Inward to eat my heart
My thoughts are worms that suck my softness all away.
I watch the dumb eyeless hours
Drop their tears, then shapeless moaning drop.

Unfathomable is my mouth's dream
Do not men say?
So secret are my far eyes,
Weaving for iron men profound subtleties.

Sorceress they name me;
And my eyes harden, and they say,
"How may those eyes know love
If God made her without a heart?

"Her tears, her moaning,
Her sad profound gaze,
The dishevelled lustres of her hair
Moon-storm like" they say,
"These are her subtleties" men say.
My husband sleeps,
The ghosts of my virgin days do not trouble him
His sleep can be over-long,
For there is that in my embers
Pride and blushes of fire, the outraged blood,
His sleep makes me remember.

Sleep, hairy hunter; sleep!
You are not hungry more,
Having fed on my deliciousness ;
Your sleep is not adultery to me,

For you were wed to a girl
And I am a woman.
My lonely days are not whips to my honour.

[She dries her tears with her hair, then fingers the amulet at her throat.]

Yours, friend.

Nubian

[Eagerly.] My amulet! My amulet!

[He speaks gravely.] Small comfort is counsel to broken lives;
But tolerance is medicinal.
In all our textures are loosed
Pulses straining against strictness
Because an easy issue lies therefrom.
(Could they but slink past the hands holding whips
To hunt them from the human pale
Where is the accident to cover? Spite fears bias.)
I am justified at my heart's plea;
He is justified also.

For the eyes of vanity are sleepless—are suspicious.
Are mad with imaginings
Of secret stabs in words, in looks, in gestures.

Man is a chimera's eremite,
That lures him from the good kindness of days
Which only ask his willingness.

There is a crazed shadow from no golden body
That poisons at the core
What smiles may stray:
It mixes with all God-ancestralled essences,
And twists the brain and heart.
This shadow sits in the texture of Saul's being,
Mauling your love and beauty with its lies:
I hold a power like light to shrivel it—
There, in your throat's hollow—that green jade.

[He snatches at it as she lets it fall. He grows white and troubled, and walks to where Amak is playing, and sees minutely strewn pieces of paper.]

[He mutters.] Lost—lost.
The child has torn the scroll in it,
And half is away. It cannot be spelt now.

Lilith

God, restore me his love.
Ah! Well!

[She rises.]

I will go now; prepare our evening meal;
And waken my husband, my love once.

Nubian

[Musing.] The lightning of the heavens
Lifts an apocalypse:
The dumb night's lips are scared and wide,
The world is reeling with sound:
Was I deaf before, mute, tied?
What shakes here from lustre-seeded pomegranates
Not in the great world,
More vast and terrible?
What is this ecstasy in form,
This lightning
That found the lightning in my blood,
Searing my spirit's lips aghast and naked?
I am flung in the abyss of days,
And the void is filled with rushing sound
From pent eternities:
I am strewn as the cypher is strewn.
A woman—a soft woman!
Our girls have hair
Like heights of night ringing with never-seen larks,
Or blindness dim with dreams:
Here is a yellow tiger gay that blinds your night,
Mane—Mane—Mane!

Your honey spilt round that small dazzling face
Shakes me to golden tremors;
I have no life at all,
Only thin golden tremors.
Light tender beast!
Your fragile gleaming wrists
Have shaken the scaled glacier from under me,
And bored into my craft
That is now with the old dreamy Adam
With other things of dust.

Lilith

You lazy hound! See my poor child.

[He turns to see Lilith drop the bowl and cakes and run to Amak—who is crying, half stifled under Saul's huge shield.]

[Saul opens his eyes.]


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