The Golden Past

by George Sterling (1869–1926)


Within the stillness of the crypt he lay—
    The vanquished tyrant, quivering and stark,
    Shackled, alone with anguish and the dark,
And conscious that the immolating day
Swept on him as a tiger on its prey,
    To quench with agonies the vital spark,
    When cruel eyes should gloat and laughters mark
The final shames of the tormented clay.

Astounded by atrocities of pain,
    He broke the offended silence with a moan—
        This offal of the rack and glowing brand—
While, as he strove at the relentless chain
    And shuddered, prostrate, on the salted stone,
        A dungeon-rat fed on his mangled hand.


But they, his conqueror and faithless queen,
    Beneath the midnight moon lay arrogant,
    Nor saw her beams on kingly marble slant,
On jasmine and the crowding roses’ sheen,
Nor heard the fingers of the harper glean
    Harvests of sound, nor heard the ceaseless chant
    Of voices to their godhood consonant.
For them the naked dancer swayed unseen.

For them there stood no past, nor time to be,
For whom all rapture was a tideless sea
    Wherein they dwelt beyond all sound and sight,
        Without a star to touch them with its ray
        Nor pulse of waves to reach them where they lay,
    Welded in dumb convulsions of delight.

Smith, T.R., ed.  Poetica Erotica.  (New York:  Crown Publishers, 1921).

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