George Sylvester Viereck

A Ballad Of Sin

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In dreams on a far-off shore I lay
(Dreams that were full of dread),
Where the purple clouds of a dying day
Shadowed a sea of red —
Shadowed a sea as red as the blood
Of one that was slain in his lustihood,
A sea as red as a lover's blood
Struck down in his amorous lustihood.

A silver shallop glides to and fro,
Over the ghostly crimson sea,
(Over the ghostly crimson sea
I watch its oars as they come and go);
The wavelets quiver and gleam:
No sounds are there that the silence break,
But astern in the shallop's silvery wake
Strange circles swirl in the stream.

The moon shines down on the ghostly night,
But pale and dim is its faint, far light,
And now to the island the boat draws near
(My veins run cold with fear!),
And the shadows spring to the magic shore —

For each has known of a bliss before,
A sinful, sorrowful bliss before,
Of God and of man forbidden;
And each is wrapped in a robe of state,
These in the moonlight that come so late
(Where the quivering, shivering moonbeams mate)
To their tryst on the island hidden.

Go further into the mystic shore
And see a castle rise,
A spirit-castle rise,
And a flood of light from the windows pour,
From all the shimmering windows pour,
And colour the moonlit skies;
And hark to the magic melodies
(The ringing, singing melodies)
That float o'er the waves as red as the blood
Of a lover slain in his lustihood.

The song goes deep to the inmost soul —
Its notes o'er the silent waters roll
In the heavy languorous pleading
Of a wanton will to which the grave
Never a moment of respite gave
And hearts that with love are bleeding.
(O ancient song of passionate dole,
Whose notes o'er the silent waters roll
In heavy languorous pleading!)

I am drawn by its might (there is none to save!)
To the midst of the castle hall;
And there, escaped from the cold, cold grave,
Sin holds its bacchanal
(Aye, there, escaped from the cold, cold grave,
Lust holds its bacchanal) —
And 'neath the flickering candle-light
The dance of the shadows has reached its height!

They must renew, as the midnight chimes,
The kisses that a thousand times,
A thousand times and in far-off climes,
Have died on their lips enchanted:
The flowers that gleam in their tossing hair
Are painted like flowers that otherwhere
(Thousand times and in far-off climes)
Long ages ago were planted.
Heaven had no hand in the pageantry
Of the wondrous scene that was shown to me!

With songs of pleasure they tread the measure,
That throng so pale and wan —
These that of old for sinful pleasure
Through the gates of hell have gone,
Yet tossed forever on passion's flood
Come sailing over the sea of blood.

The queen of Egypt there I saw,
Tiberius and Caligula,
In silks and purples flaunting;
Aholibah, Alaciel,
And she whose love came straight from hell
Were there, and boldly vaunting
Her skill in transport lubricous,
The shameless wife of Claudius.

With bliss that is bitter, pain that is sweet
Shudders each ghostly form,
And stirred alone by their flying feet
The scented air grows warm.
Madly the dancers revel and sway
In the dazzling colours that round them play.

The fire that heaven has kindled dies
When the joys of sight from the straining eyes
Death's endless night shall sever;
All vainly mounts the aspiring flame,
Each love that has a noble aim
Bears death at its heart forever;
And only the love that flaunts in red
Lives on when all things else are dead.

For only the love that flaunts in red
A shadow of bliss can save,
And here in the night, though life be sped,
Comes back from the cold, dark grave,
By sin's old tyrannous longings led
Comes back from the cold, dark grave —
O'er waves as red as a lover's blood
Struck down in his amorous lustihood!

O evil love in whose tossing hair
The fires of infamous longings glow,
We, too, shall not win sleep from care —
Where heaven's high army hears
The anthems of its spheres,
Nor where majestic Lucifer,
In burning vesture fronts his Foe —
Condemned like them, sans hopes and fears
Sans laughter or the gifts of tears,
Monotonously round to go
In endless pleasure's endless woe.

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George Sylvester Viereck