Crimen Amoris

Clark Ashton Smith

(From Paul Verlaine)

In a palace of silk and gold, in Ecbatana,
Beautiful demons, adolescent Satans brave,
Mid the sound of dulcimers of Arabia,
To the seven sins their fivefold senses gave.

How fair it was, that feast of the sins which are seven!
Every desire glowed out in a brutal blaze;
The appetites, prompt pages harried and driven,
Set forth the rose-red wines upon golden trays.

Dances were danced to the rhythm of hymens of old,
Swooning and sinking away like unfinished sighs,
And the choral voices of men and women unrolled
With the beating of seas that fall, of billows that rise;

And from all these things a fulness went forth and a power
And a sorcery too strong for earthly bonds,
Till the plains around were filled with roses in flower
And the night itself was adorned with diamonds.

The fairest of all that evil seraphic host
Was but sixteen. Bowing his blossom-crowned head,
With arms upon jewelled fringe and collar crossed,
He dreamed, his eyes full of flames and tears unshed.

Vainly mounted the feast to a dizzier madness,
Vainly the brother Satans, the Satanesses,
To win him away from his desolating sadness,
Would hearten him with cajolements and caresses.

Deaf was he, and wholly insensate now,
And sorrow had set an ebon butterfly
Amid the jewels that burdened his ivory brow.
O dreadful despair! despair that could not die!

He said to his brothers and sisters: "Let me be."
When one by one they had kissed him with tender care,
He slid from their arms, evading them agilely,
And left in their hands his lappets of purple and vair.

They beheld him soon on the most celestial tower
Of the proud palace, bearing a torch on high
As a warrior bears the brandished sword of power.
From below, it blazed like a morning star in the sky.

They heard him cry in a deep and tender voice
(With the crackling torch for chorus and period)
That made the pale, ecstatical moon rejoice)
"I am he, that rebellious one who will be God!

"Too greatly have we suffered, angels and men,
In this endless war between the Worst and the Best,
Humiliated, unhappy have we been
In darkling flights by the simplest vows addressed.

"Enough and too much of battles that none wins,
Whose ultimate end is only to reunite
The Three Divine Virtues with the Seven Sins,
Enough and too much of these combats dull and trite.

"In retort to Christ, who believes that He does well
To equilibrate the duel from above,
Through me this golden, silken lair which is Hell
Shall be sacrificed to the universal Love!"

From his outspread hand the flaring torch fell down. . . .
And the fires kindled, rising and howling behind—
A monstrous war of red eagles that seemed to drown
In the black eddyings of the smoke and wind.

The gold ran molten in streams and the marble shattered,
A mighty furnace with heat and splendor brimmed,
And the burning silk in splendid flakes was scattered
From a furnace hearted with light and luminous-rimmed.

And the dying Satans sang amid the flame,
Having understood, with hearts and souls resigned,
And the choral voices of men and women became
One with the clamors of fire and the fiery wind.

And he, with folded arms, with a haughty air,
His eyes to heaven, where the licking flames grew long,
Spoke in an undertone a sort of prayer
That sank and died in the gladness of the song,

Spoke in an undertone a kind of prayer,
His eyes to heaven, where the licking flames grew long,
Till a frightful thunder resounded above the glare
And made an end of the gladness and the song.

But inacceptable was the sacrifice,
Someone among the strong and the just had surely
Unmingled the malice and the artifice
In the skeins of a lying pride involved obscurely.

Of that high palace, proud with its hundred towers,
No ruin remained . . . no shadow nor any gleam.
How frightful the prodigy! the halls, the bowers
Became no more than a vain and vanished dream. . . .

Night, blue night with a thousand stars comes back.
A sweet, severe and evangelical plain
Extends, and vastnesses that are veils of black;
The boughs of trees seem ready to tremble again,

The cold streams run in a bed of pebbles and stone,
The sweet owls vaguely swim in an atmosphere
Where the balms of prayer and mystery are blown;
Sometimes in the rill a ripple flashes clear;

A doubtful figure climbs on the distant steep
Like a love whose unshapen features change and flow;
And the mists that soar from immobile roots asleep
Aspire, it would seem, to a goal where all things go.

And all these things, like a single heart and soul,
Like a spoken word, and with a virginal love,
Worship, and flower in ecstasy, and extol
Him that guards from evil, the clement God above.

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