Christopher John Brennan

1 November 1870 – 5 October 1932 / Sydney / Australia

The Watch At Midnight

Dead stars, beneath the midnight's granite cope
and round your dungeon-gulf that blindly grope
and fall not, since no lower than any place
needs when the wing is dash'd and foil'd the face:
is this your shadow on the watcher's thought
imposed, or rather hath his anguish taught
the dumb and suffering dark to send you out,
reptile, the doubles of his lurking doubt,
in coasts of night that well might be supposed
the exiled hall of chaos late-deposed,
to haunt across this hour's desuetude,
immense, that whelms in monumental mood
the broad waste of his spirit, stonily
strewn with the wreck of his eternity?

The plumes of night, unfurl'd
and eyed with fire, are whirl'd
slowly above this watch, funereal:
the vast is wide, and yet
no way lies open; set
no bar, but the flat deep rises, a placid wall.
Some throne thou think'st to win
or pride of thy far kin;
this incomplete and dusty hour to achieve:
know that the hour is one,
eternally begun,
eternally deferr'd, thy grasp a Danaid sieve.
O weary realm, O height
the which exhausted flight
familiar finds, home of its prompting ill!
here, there, or there, or there,
even the same despair;
rest in thy place, O fool, the heart eludes thee still.
Rest — and a new abyss
suddenly yawns, of this
the moment sole, and yet the counterpart:
and thou must house it, thou,
within thy fleshy Now,
thyself the abyss that shrinks, the unbounded hermit-heart:
the mightier heart untold
whose paining depths enfold
all loneliness, all height, all vision'd shores;
and the abyss uncrown'd,
blank failure thro' each bound
from the consummate point thy broken hope implores.

The trees that thro' the tuneful morn had made
bride-dusk for beams that pierce the melting shade,
or thro' the opulent afternoon had stood
lordly, absorb'd in hieratic mood, —
now stricken with misgiving of the night
rise black and ominous, as who invite
some fearful coming whose foreblown wind shall bow,
convuls'd and shuddering, each dishevell'd brow:
the garden that had sparkled thro' its sheen
all day, a self-sufficing gem serene,
hiding in emerald depths the vision'd white
of limbs that follow their own clear delight,
exhales towards the inaccessible skies,
commencing, failing, broken, scents or sighs:

O mother, only,
where that thou hidest thee,
crown for the lonely brow,
bosom for the spent wanderer,
or balm for ache:
O mother,
nightly —
undiscoverable —
O heart too vast to find,
whelming our little desire:
we wander and fail —
But on the zenith, mass'd, a glittering throng,
the distant stars dropt a disdainful song:

They said, because their parcel-thought
might nor her shadowy vast embrace,
nor be refurl'd within that nought
which is the hid heart of all place,
they said: She is not anywhere!
have we not sought her and not seen?
nor is there found in earth or air
a sign to tell if she hath been!
— O fools and blind, not to have found!
is her desire not as your own?
stirs she not in the arms that round
a hopeless clasp, lone with the lone!
And the tense lips towards her bliss
in secret cells of anguish'd prayer
might know her in the broken kiss
she prompts nor, prompting, fails to share.
We drift from age to age nor waste
our strenuous song's exultant tone,
disdaining or to rest or haste:
because each place is still our throne.

The anguish'd doubt broods over Eden; night
hangs her rent banners thro' the viewless height;
trophies and glories whence a trouble streams
of lamentable valour in old dreams:
out of its blank the watcher's soul is stirr'd
to take unto itself some olden word:

O thou that achest, pulse o' the unwed vast,
now in the distant centre of my brain
dizzily narrow'd, now beyond the last
calm circle widening of the starry plain,
where, on the scatter'd edge of my surmise,
the twilit dreams fail off and rule is spent
vainly on vagrant bands the gulfs invite
to break away to the dark: they, backward sent,
tho' dumb, with dire infection in their eyes,
startle the central seat: — O pulse of night,
passing the hard throb of sun-smitten blood
when the noon-world is fused in fire and blent
with my then unattained hero-mood;
what will with me the imperious instinct
that hounds the gulfs together on that place
vanishing utterly out of mortal trace,
the citadel where I would seem distinct —
if not thou ween'st a vanity, my deep
unlighted still, the which thy refluent sweep
intolerably dilates, a tide that draws
with lunatic desire, distraught and fond,
to some dark moon of vastness, hung beyond
our little limits of familiar cause,
as tho' the tense and tortured voids should dash
ruining amorously together, a clash
portentous with some rose of thinnest flame,
secret, exhaled in the annull'd abyss,
that, with this soul, passes in that fell kiss
and to the soft-sprung flush all sanctity
surrenders, centring in the blossom'd Name,
as the dark wings of silence lovingly
hover above the adventurous song that fares
forth to the void and finds no lip that shares
its rapture, just the great wings spreading wide.

O mother thou or sister or my bride,
inevitable, whom this hour in me declares,
were thine of old such rhythmic pangs that bore
my shivering soul, wind-waif upon the shore
that is a wavering twilight, thence astray
beneath the empty plainness of the day?
me thy first want conceived to some dim end,
that my unwelcom'd love might henceward tend
to the dumb home that draws it in thy breast
and the veil'd couch of some divine incest,
where thou didst wait some hour of sharp delight
to wither up in splendour the stark night
and haggard shame that ceremented thy dearth,
with purest diamond-blaze, some overbirth
of the dark fire thy foresight did enmesh
within this hither and thither harried flesh?
Ay, yet obscurely stirs, a monstrous worm
in the rear cavern of my dazzled thought,
a memory that wavers, formless form
of superhuman nuptials, clasp'd and caught
unto the breast that is our loathed tomb:
then, issuing from the violated womb,
tremendous birth of dreadful prodigies
begotten on the apocalyptic skies:
one moment's hope, one thrill alone was given
of pinions beating up the parting heaven;
but straight thereon the spectral mirk was riven
by shapes of snaky horror, grisly jaw,
cold fear, and scaly fold, and endless maw.
What terror clutch'd me, even as ecstasy
smote dire across transfigured mystery?
and whose the sin that doom'd thee to disgrace,
to haunt the shapeless dark, a burning face,

eyes that would cling to mine and lips that seek
some baffled kiss, some word they may not speak,
condemn'd to yearn where the worn foam is hoar
and vain against the unshaken nightly shore.
Nightly thy tempting comes, when the dark breeze
scatters my thought among the unquiet trees
and sweeps it, with dead leaves, o'er widow'd lands
and kingdoms conquer'd by no human hands;
nightly thou wouldst exalt me in the deep,
crown'd with the morn that shines beyond our sleep,
nightly renew those nuptials, and re-win
virginity, and shed the doubtful sin:
but I am born into dividual life
and I have ta'en the woman for my wife,
a flowery pasture fenced and soft with streams,
fill'd with slow ease and fresh with eastern beams
of coolest silver on the sliding wave:
such refuge the derisive morning gave,
shaped featly in thy similitude, to attract
earthward the gusty soul thy temptings rack'd.
I sicken with the long unsatisfied
waiting: the sombre gulfs of night divide:
no dawn is shown that keeps its grace nor soon
degraded not to brutal fires of noon;
and heavy on my soul the tyrant lays
his hand, and dazzles with his common blaze
eyes that are fain, when evening brings the dew,
to cool them in the grasses: few, how few
are now the hours that thou mayst claim as thine!
— And shall I not take heart? if no divine
revealment star me with the diadem
hermetic, magian, alchemic gem,
shall I not feel the earth with firmer tread

if abdicating to the viewless dead
the invaluable round of nothingness?
Kingdom awaits me, homage, swords, liesse,
battle, broad fame in fable, song: shall I
confide all hope to scanty shapes that fly
in dreams, whom even if they be all I know
not, or fore-runners of the One? I go,
shaking them from my spirit, to rule and mould
in mine own shape the gods that shall be old.
— Nay, not thus lightly, heart the winds have mock'd!
wings of fierce winds that o'er the star-strown height
sweep, and adown the wide world-ways unlock'd
feign for thy trouble a last conclusive fight:
O heart wherethro' these insolent powers stray,
pass and repass, and thou dost foolish hold
aught else inspires them than their cynic play,
the aimless idle sport they plann'd of old
to while the waste hours of their tedious state
and shall pursue when thou art seal'd in dust,
thou latest toy, framed for this silly fate,
to watch their pastime turning, tremble and trust
some deathless gain for thee should issue of it
imblazed in stars on some thy kindred's brow;
O thou, all laughable for thy short wit,
not lightly thus shalt thou put off their slight
and steady thee to build in their despite
secure, some seat, and hold thy being safe,
joying in this at last that thou art thou,
distinct, no longer in wilful tides a waif:
O heart the winds have emptied of all clear
and natural impulse, O wasted brain
and spirit expent with straining from thy sphere,
turn thee to earth, if that be not a cheat,

and, childlike, lay thee in her torpid lap,
there to reflush these flaccid veins with sap
from spilth of sleep, where herbs of drowsy bane
spring in slow shade and death is sprinkled sweet,
with promis'd coolness dark — perchance a lure..
Thou sleep, at least, receive and wrap me sure
in midmost of thy softness, that no flare,
disastrous, from some rending of the veil,
nor dawn from springs beyond thy precincts, rare
with revelation, risen, or dewy-pale
exhaled from fields of death, disturb that full
absorption of robustness, and I wake
in placid large content, replete and dull,
fast-grown to earth, whom winds no longer shake.

Thick sleep, with error of the tangled wood,
and vapour from the evening marsh of sense,
and smoothness of the glide of Lethe, would
inaugurate his dullard innocence,
cool'd of his calenture, elaborate brute:
but, all deceitful of his craven hope,
the devious and covert ways of dream
shall lead him out upon no temper'd beam
or thick-grass'd ease, where herbs of soothing shoot
in asphodel, but on the shuddering scope
and the chill touch of endless distances
still thronging on the wingless soul that flees
along the self-pursuing path, to find
the naked night before it and behind.
What night is this, made denser, in his breast
or round him, suddenly or first confest
after its gradual thickening complete?
as tho' the mighty current, bearing fleet
the unresting stars, had here devolved its lees,
stagnant, contempt, on recreant destinies;
as tho' a settling of tremendous pens,
above the desolate dream, had shed immense
addition to the incumbence of despair
downward, across this crypt of stirless air,
from some henceforth infrangible attitude,
upon his breast, that knows no dawn renew'd,
builded enormously, each brazen stage,
with rigor of his hope in hopeless age
mummied, and look that turns his thew to stone:
even hers, that is his strangling sphinx, made known
with, on her breast, his fore-erected tomb,
engraven deep, the letters of his doom.

Terrible, if he will not have me else,
I lurk to seize and strangle, in the cells
where he hath made a dusk round his delight:
whether he woo the bride's incarnate bright
and natural rose to shimmer thro' the dense
of odour-motes whereby the brooding sense
flows forth beyond its aching bounds and lies,
full-brimm'd and sombre, around her clear disguise
that saturates the dusk with secret gold;
or the miraculous rose of Heaven to unfold
out from its heart of ruby fire and rain
unceasing drift of petals, and maintain
a tabernacle about the little hour
where his eternity hath phantom power:
and terrible I am moulded in the stone
that clamps for ever, rigid, stark, alone,
round nought but absence of the man he was,
some cell of that cold space against whose laws
he seeks a refuge in his inner deep
of love, and soften'd fire, and quicken'd sleep,
tho' knowing that I, the bride his sin dethroned
and exiled to the wastes that lie disown'd,
can bring that icy want even to the heart
of his most secret bliss, that he shall start
aghast, to see its burning centre fade
and know his hope, the impious, vain, unmade.
Lo now, beneath the watch of knitted boughs
he lies, close-folded to his newer spouse,
creature of morn, that hath ordain'd its fresh
dew and cool glimmer in her crystal flesh
sweetly be mix'd, with quicken'd breath of leaves
and the still charm the spotless dawning weaves.
But I have set my hand upon his soul

and moulded it to my unseen control;
and he hath slept within my shadowy hair
and guards a memory how in my far lair
the forces of tremendous passion stir:
my spectral face shall come between his eyes
and the soft face of her, my name shall rise,
unutter'd, in each thought that goes to her;
and in the quiet waters of her gaze
shall lurk a siren-lure that beckons him
down halls of death and sinful chambers dim:
he shall not know her nor her gentle ways
nor rest, content, by her sufficing source,
but, under stress of the veil'd stars, shall force
her simple bloom to perilous delight
adulterate with pain, some nameless night
stain'd with miasm of flesh become a tomb:
then baffled hope, some torch o' the blood to illume
and flush the jewel hid beyond all height,
and sombre rage that burst the holy bourne
of garden-joy, murdering innocence,
and the distraught desire to bring a kiss
unto the fleeting centre of the abyss,
discovering the eternal lack, shall spurn
even that sun-god's garden of pure sense,
not wisely wasted with insensate will.
I am his bride and was and shall be still,
tho' infamous as devil's dam, a fear
to wives that watch the cradle-side and hear
how I devour the newling flesh, and none
shall void my claim upon his latest son,
because the father fell beneath my harm,
not god invented late, nor anxious charm;
tho' with the chemic mind he holds in trust

to show me gem, he celebrate the dust;
dumb earth, in garb of borrow'd beauty dight
by the fond day that curtains him in light;
green pleasaunces, whose smiling would attest
his heart true-born of her untroubled breast
and leaves that beckon on the woodland ways
of the stream-side, where expectation strays
of water-brides, swift blight to them that see,
because the waters are to mirror me:—
of these his hunted thought, seeking retreat
in narrow light, and some sure bosom-heat
to cherish him, and friendly face of kin,
shall mould him fancied ancestors, to win
some certitude that he is in his home
rescued from any doom that bids him roam,
and him the blossom of the day presume,
unheeding that its roots are in my womb
nor song may breathe a magic unconfest
of the anterior silence of my breast:
but I shall lurk within the sightless stare
of his impassive idols, housing there
an unknown that allures and makes him fain
to perish for his creatures' fancied gain;
and they shall gaze and see not while his brood
befouls their stony presence with much blood,
their children's, and their captive enemies',
stretch'd out, exenterate, on those callous knees,
and, last, their own, ere some ill-fortuned field
drink all of it, since faith forbids them yield
and brings to learn in full, the fool's just trade,
the gratitude of gods themselves have made.
Last, since a pinch of dust may quench the eyes
that took the azure curve of stainless skies

and still the fiercest heart, he seeks to whelm
infinite yearning with a little realm,
beating together with ungentle hands,
enslaved, the trembling spawn of generous lands,
whom he shall force, a busy swarm, to raise,
last bulwarks of his whelming discontent,
heaven-threatening Babels, iron Ninevehs
square-thought with rigid will, a monument
of stony rage in high defiant stones
eternized with blasphemous intent,
and carve the mountain-cone to hide his bones,
a wonder to blank tribes of shrunken days:
but in that cave before his upstart gates
where elder night endures unshaken, waits
that foe of settled peace, the smiling sphinx,
or foul Echidna's mass'd insidious links,
reminding him that all is vanities;
and when, at last, o'er his nine roods he lies,
stretch'd in the sarcophage whereover grief
makes way before one huge gust of relief,
not the wing-blast of his vain shade shall drive
his wizen'd captives from their dungeon-hive,
and make a solitude about his bed;
nor the chill thought petrific his low head
exudes in rays of darkness, that beyond
this perturb'd sphere congeal, an orb of dread:
I, Lilith, on his tomb immensely throned,
with viewless face and viewless vans outspread;
in the wide waste of his unhallow'd work,
calm coils of fear, my serpent-brood shall lurk;
and I shall muse above the little dust
that was the flesh that held my word in trust.
Warrior and prince and poet, thou that fain
over some tract of lapsing years wouldst reign

nor know'st the crown that all thy wants confess
is Lilith's own, the round of nothingness:
warrior, whose witless game is but to feel
thyself authentic thro' the wielded steel
and give thy ghost assurance that thou art,
what aimless endless wars shall make thy heart
arena for the wheeling of their play!
king, that wast mighty in the easy way
of thy desire, what time these thews were young,
how bitter is the wisdom on thy tongue
in the late season, when a westering sun
shows thee thy work, that it is evil done!
O priest and poet, thou that makest God,
woe, when the path of thine illusion, trod
even to the end, reveals thee thy worn face,
eternal hermit of the unhallow'd place!
O man, the coward hope of thy despair
to be confounded with the driven air,
the grass that grows and knows not, the kind herds
that are not wrought with dreams nor any words,
to hollow out some refuge sunk as deep
as that was high thou hadst not sense to keep,
and here thy vexing shade to obliterate
ensuring that it rise not, soon or late,
thou knowing I claim thee whole when that thou art dead.
Go forth: be great, O nothing. I have said.

Thus in her hour of wrath, o'er Adam's head
Lilith, then first reveal'd, a name of dread,
thus in her hour of sorrow: and the rage,
that drove the giant-hunters in that age
since whelm'd beneath the weltering cataclysm,
was the mad flight from her instant abysm
and iron sadness and unsatisfied
despair of kings that by Euphrates' side
rein the wing'd steer or grasp the stony mane
of lions dared, if so they might obtain
surcease of lingering unnamed distress.
And if she kept the word forgetfulness
absorb'd, sole ear of sunken sleep, it is
to them that wander thro' Persepolis,
Ekbatan, or where else o'er arrow'd bricks
her snakes make the dry noise of trodden sticks,
known and well-known how that revolt was dash'd
and cruel keeps with lustral silence wash'd.
A name of dread reveal'd: and tho' forgot
in strenuous times to whom the lyre was not,
yet, when her hour awoke, the peoples heard
her coming and the winds no more deferr'd
that sweep along the expected day of wrath,
and rear'd the soaring aisles along her path
to house the massive gloom where she might dwell,
conjectured, hovering, impenetrable,
while o'er the mortal terror crouch'd beneath
the shuddering organ pour'd black wave of death;
when man withheld his hand from life, in fear
to find her, temptress, in the flesh most dear
or on the lowliest ways of simple peace —
vain-weening he that thus their feud might cease:
ay, and the cynic days that thought them blest
to know this earth a plunder-ground confest

and calm within them of the glutted beast
knew her, the emptiness that, when the feast
hath quench'd its lamps, makes, in the invaded hall,
stray'd steps, reverberated from the wall,
sound on the ear like some portentous stride,
companion's fixt, to mock our tread, beside,
nor near and show his apprehended guise
familiar, ease to our intended eyes.
Lilith, a name of dread: yet was her pain
and loving to her chosen ones not vain
hinted, who know what weight of gelid tears
afflicts the widow'd uplands of the spheres,
and whence the enrapturing breaths are sent that bring
a perfume of the secular flowering
of the far-bleeding rose of Paradise,
that mortal hearts in censer-fume arise
unto the heart that were an ardent peace,
and whence the sibyl-hints of song, that cease
in pale and thrilling silence, lest they wrong
her beauty, whose love bade live their fleeting throng,
even hers, who is the silence of our thought,
as he that sleeps in hush'd Valvins hath taught.

She is the night: all horror is of her
heap'd, shapeless, on the unclaim'd chaotic marsh
or huddled on the looming sepulchre
where the incult and scanty herb is harsh.
She is the night: all terror is of her
when the distemper'd dark begins to boil
with wavering face of larve and oily blur
of pallor on her suffocating coil.
Or majesty is hers, when marble gloom
supports her, calm, with glittering signs severe
and grandeur of metallic roof of doom,
far in the windows of our broken sphere.
Or she can be all pale, under no moon
or star, with veiling of the glamour cloud,
all pale, as were the fainting secret soon
to be exhaled, bride-robed in clinging shroud.
For she is night, and knows each wooing mood:
and her warm breasts are near in the charm'd air
of summer eve, and lovingly delude
the aching brow that craves their tender care.
The wooing night: all nuptials are of her;
and she the musky golden cloud that hangs
on maiden blood that burns, a boding stir
shot thro' with flashes of alluring pangs,
far off, in creeks that slept unvisited
or moved so smoothly that no ripple creas'd
their mirror'd slip of blue, till that sweet dread
melted the air and soft sighs stole, releas'd;

and she the shame of brides, veiling the white
of bosoms that for sharp fulfilment yearn;
she is the obscure centre of delight
and steals the kiss, the kiss she would return
deepen'd with all the abysm that under speech
moves shudderingly, or as that gulf is known
to set the astonied spouses each from each
across the futile sea of sighs, alone.
All mystery, and all love, beyond our ken,
she woos us, mournful till we find her fair:
and gods and stars and songs and souls of men
are the sparse jewels in her scatter'd hair.

This rose, the lips that kiss, and the young breast
they kindle, flush'd throughout its waking snows;
and this, that tremulous on the morning blows,
heart's youth some golden dew of dream hath blest;
auroras, grace and sooth! no tragic west
shed splendid the red anger of your close:
how soon within this wandering barrow grows
the canker'd heap of petals once caress'd!
Old odours of the rose are sickening; night,
hasten above the corpse of old delight,
if in decay the heart cherish some heat,
to breed new spice within the charnel-mould,
that eyes unseal'd with living dew may greet
the morning of the deathless rose of gold.
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