by George Sterling (1869–1926)
Its red and emerald beacons from the night
Draw human moths in melancholy flight,
With beams whose gaudy glories point the way
To safety or destruction—choose who may!
Crystal and powder, oils or tincture clear,
Such the dim sight of man beholds, but here
Await, indisputable in their pow’r,
Great Presences, abiding each his hour;
And for a little price rash man attains
This council of the perils and the pains—
This parliament of death, and brotherhood
Omnipotent for evil and for good.
Venoms of vision, myrrh of splendid swoons,
They wait us past the green and scarlet moons.
Here prisoned rest the tender hands of Peace,
And there an angel at whose bidding cease
The clamors of the tortured sense, the strife
Of nerves confounded in the war of life.
Within this vial pallid Sleep is caught,
In that, the sleep eternal. Here are sought
Such webs as in their agonizing mesh
Draw back from doom the half-reluctant flesh.
There beck the traitor joys to him who buys,
And Death sits panoplied in gorgeous guise.
The dusts of hell, the dews of heavenly sods,
Water of Lethe or the wine of gods,
Purchase who will, but, ere his task begin,
Beware the service that you set the djinn!
Each hath his mercy, each his certain law,
And each his Lord behind the veil of awe;
But ponder well the ministry you crave,
Lest he be final master, you the slave.
Each hath a price, and each a tribute gives
To him who turns from life and him who lives.
If so you win from Pain a swift release,
His face shall haunt you in the house of Peace;
If so from Pain you scorn an anodyne,
Peace shall repay you with a draft divine.
Tho’ toil and time be now by them surpast,
Exact the recompense they take at last—
These genii of the vials, wreaking still
Their sorceries on human sense and will.
Sterling, George. The House of Orchids and Other Poems. (San Francisco: A. M. Robertson, 1911).
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