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    The Sphinx

    by Oscar Wilde
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    (To Marcel Schwob in friendship and in admiration)

    In a dim corner of my room for longer than
    my fancy thinks
    A beautiful and silent Sphinx has watched me
    through the shifting gloom.

    Inviolate and immobile she does not rise she
    does not stir
    For silver moons are naught to her and naught
    to her the suns that reel.

    Red follows grey across the air, the waves of
    moonlight ebb and flow
    But with the Dawn she does not go and in the
    night-time she is there.

    Dawn follows Dawn and Nights grow old and
    all the while this curious cat
    Lies couching on the Chinese mat with eyes of
    satin rimmed with gold.

    Upon the mat she lies and leers and on the
    tawny throat of her
    Flutters the soft and silky fur or ripples to her
    pointed ears.

    Come forth, my lovely seneschal! so somnolent,
    so statuesque!
    Come forth you exquisite grotesque! half woman
    and half animal!

    Come forth my lovely languorous Sphinx! and
    put your head upon my knee!
    And let me stroke your throat and see your
    body spotted like the Lynx!

    And let me touch those curving claws of yellow
    ivory and grasp
    The tail that like a monstrous Asp coils round
    your heavy velvet paws!

    A thousand weary centuries are thine
    while I have hardly seen
    Some twenty summers cast their green for
    Autumn's gaudy liveries.

    But you can read the Hieroglyphs on the
    great sandstone obelisks,
    And you have talked with Basilisks, and you
    have looked on Hippogriffs.

    O tell me, were you standing by when Isis to
    Osiris knelt?
    And did you watch the Egyptian melt her union
    for Antony

    And drink the jewel-drunken wine and bend
    her head in mimic awe
    To see the huge proconsul draw the salted tunny
    from the brine?

    And did you mark the Cyprian kiss white Adon
    on his catafalque?
    And did you follow Amenalk, the God of
    Heliopolis?

    And did you talk with Thoth, and did you hear
    the moon-horned Io weep?
    And know the painted kings who sleep beneath
    the wedge-shaped Pyramid?

    Lift up your large black satin eyes which are
    like cushions where one sinks!
    Fawn at my feet, fantastic Sphinx! and sing me
    all your memories!

    Sing to me of the Jewish maid who wandered
    with the Holy Child,
    And how you led them through the wild, and
    how they slept beneath your shade.

    Sing to me of that odorous green eve when
    crouching by the marge
    You heard from Adrian's gilded barge the
    laughter of Antinous

    And lapped the stream and fed your drouth and
    watched with hot and hungry stare
    The ivory body of that rare young slave with
    his pomegranate mouth!

    Sing to me of the Labyrinth in which the twi-
    formed bull was stalled!
    Sing to me of the night you crawled across the
    temple's granite plinth

    When through the purple corridors the screaming
    scarlet Ibis flew
    In terror, and a horrid dew dripped from the
    moaning Mandragores,

    And the great torpid crocodile within the tank
    shed slimy tears,
    And tare the jewels from his ears and staggered
    back into the Nile,

    And the priests cursed you with shrill psalms as
    in your claws you seized their snake
    And crept away with it to slake your passion by
    the shuddering palms.

    Who were your lovers? who were they
    who wrestled for you in the dust?
    Which was the vessel of your Lust? What
    Leman had you, every day?

    Did giant Lizards come and crouch before you
    on the reedy banks?
    Did Gryphons with great metal flanks leap on
    you in your trampled couch?

    Did monstrous hippopotami come sidling toward
    you in the mist?
    Did gilt-scaled dragons writhe and twist with
    passion as you passed them by?

    And from the brick-built Lycian tomb what
    horrible Chimera came
    With fearful heads and fearful flame to breed
    new wonders from your womb?

    Or had you shameful secret quests and did
    you harry to your home
    Some Nereid coiled in amber foam with curious
    rock crystal breasts?

    Or did you treading through the froth call to
    the brown Sidonian
    For tidings of Leviathan, Leviathan or
    Behemoth?

    Or did you when the sun was set climb up the
    cactus-covered slope
    To meet your swarthy Ethiop whose body was
    of polished jet?

    Or did you while the earthen skiffs dropped
    down the grey Nilotic flats
    At twilight and the flickering bats flew round
    the temple's triple glyphs

    Steal to the border of the bar and swim across
    the silent lake
    And slink into the vault and make the Pyramid
    your lupanar

    Till from each black sarcophagus rose up the
    painted swathed dead?
    Or did you lure unto your bed the ivory-horned
    Tragelaphos?

    Or did you love the god of flies who plagued
    the Hebrews and was splashed
    With wine unto the waist? or Pasht, who had
    green beryls for her eyes?

    Or that young god, the Tyrian, who was more
    amorous than the dove
    Of Ashtaroth? or did you love the god of the
    Assyrian

    Whose wings, like strange transparent talc, rose
    high above his hawk-faced head,
    Painted with silver and with red and ribbed with
    rods of Oreichalch?

    Or did huge Apis from his car leap down and
    lay before your feet
    Big blossoms of the honey-sweet and honey-
    coloured nenuphar?

    How subtle-secret is your smile! Did you
    love none then? Nay, I know
    Great Ammon was your bedfellow! He lay with
    you beside the Nile!

    The river-horses in the slime trumpeted when
    they saw him come
    Odorous with Syrian galbanum and smeared with
    spikenard and with thyme.

    He came along the river bank like some tall
    galley argent-sailed,
    He strode across the waters, mailed in beauty,
    and the waters sank.

    He strode across the desert sand: he reached
    the valley where you lay:
    He waited till the dawn of day: then touched
    your black breasts with his hand.

    You kissed his mouth with mouths of flame:
    you made the horned god your own:
    You stood behind him on his throne: you called
    him by his secret name.

    You whispered monstrous oracles into the
    caverns of his ears:
    With blood of goats and blood of steers you
    taught him monstrous miracles.

    White Ammon was your bedfellow! Your
    chamber was the steaming Nile!
    And with your curved archaic smile you watched
    his passion come and go.

    With Syrian oils his brows were bright:
    and wide-spread as a tent at noon
    His marble limbs made pale the moon and lent
    the day a larger light.

    His long hair was nine cubits' span and coloured
    like that yellow gem
    Which hidden in their garment's hem the
    merchants bring from Kurdistan.

    His face was as the must that lies upon a vat of
    new-made wine:
    The seas could not insapphirine the perfect azure
    of his eyes.

    His thick soft throat was white as milk and
    threaded with thin veins of blue:
    And curious pearls like frozen dew were
    broidered on his flowing silk.

    On pearl and porphyry pedestalled he was
    too bright to look upon:
    For on his ivory breast there shone the wondrous
    ocean-emerald,

    That mystic moonlit jewel which some diver of
    the Colchian caves
    Had found beneath the blackening waves and
    carried to the Colchian witch.

    Before his gilded galiot ran naked vine-wreathed
    corybants,
    And lines of swaying elephants knelt down to
    draw his chariot,

    And lines of swarthy Nubians bare up his litter
    as he rode
    Down the great granite-paven road between the
    nodding peacock-fans.

    The merchants brought him steatite from Sidon
    in their painted ships:
    The meanest cup that touched his lips was
    fashioned from a chrysolite.

    The merchants brought him cedar chests of rich
    apparel bound with cords:
    His train was borne by Memphian lords: young
    kings were glad to be his guests.

    Ten hundred shaven priests did bow to Ammon's
    altar day and night,
    Ten hundred lamps did wave their light through
    Ammon's carven house--and now

    Foul snake and speckled adder with their young
    ones crawl from stone to stone
    For ruined is the house and prone the great
    rose-marble monolith!

    Wild ass or trotting jackal comes and couches
    in the mouldering gates:
    Wild satyrs call unto their mates across the
    fallen fluted drums.

    And on the summit of the pile the blue-faced
    ape of Horus sits
    And gibbers while the fig-tree splits the pillars
    of the peristyle

    The god is scattered here and there: deep
    hidden in the windy sand
    I saw his giant granite hand still clenched in
    impotent despair.

    And many a wandering caravan of stately
    negroes silken-shawled,
    Crossing the desert, halts appalled before the
    neck that none can span.

    And many a bearded Bedouin draws back his
    yellow-striped burnous
    To gaze upon the Titan thews of him who was
    thy paladin.

    Go, seek his fragments on the moor and
    wash them in the evening dew,
    And from their pieces make anew thy mutilated
    paramour!

    Go, seek them where they lie alone and from
    their broken pieces make
    Thy bruised bedfellow! And wake mad passions
    in the senseless stone!

    Charm his dull ear with Syrian hymns! he loved
    your body! oh, be kind,
    Pour spikenard on his hair, and wind soft rolls
    of linen round his limbs!

    Wind round his head the figured coins! stain
    with red fruits those pallid lips!
    Weave purple for his shrunken hips! and purple
    for his barren loins!

    Away to Egypt! Have no fear. Only one
    God has ever died.
    Only one God has let His side be wounded by a
    soldier's spear.

    But these, thy lovers, are not dead. Still by the
    hundred-cubit gate
    Dog-faced Anubis sits in state with lotus-lilies
    for thy head.

    Still from his chair of porphyry gaunt Memnon
    strains his lidless eyes
    Across the empty land, and cries each yellow
    morning unto thee.

    And Nilus with his broken horn lies in his black
    and oozy bed
    And till thy coming will not spread his waters on
    the withering corn.

    Your lovers are not dead, I know. They will
    rise up and hear your voice
    And clash their cymbals and rejoice and run to
    kiss your mouth! And so,

    Set wings upon your argosies! Set horses to
    your ebon car!
    Back to your Nile! Or if you are grown sick of
    dead divinities

    Follow some roving lion's spoor across the copper-
    coloured plain,
    Reach out and hale him by the mane and bid
    him be your paramour!

    Couch by his side upon the grass and set your
    white teeth in his throat
    And when you hear his dying note lash your
    long flanks of polished brass

    And take a tiger for your mate, whose amber
    sides are flecked with black,
    And ride upon his gilded back in triumph
    through the Theban gate,

    And toy with him in amorous jests, and when
    he turns, and snarls, and gnaws,
    O smite him with your jasper claws! and bruise
    him with your agate breasts!

    Why are you tarrying? Get hence! I
    weary of your sullen ways,
    I weary of your steadfast gaze, your somnolent
    magnificence.

    Your horrible and heavy breath makes the light
    flicker in the lamp,
    And on my brow I feel the damp and dreadful
    dews of night and death.

    Your eyes are like fantastic moons that shiver
    in some stagnant lake,
    Your tongue is like a scarlet snake that dances
    to fantastic tunes,

    Your pulse makes poisonous melodies, and your
    black throat is like the hole
    Left by some torch or burning coal on Saracenic
    tapestries.

    Away! The sulphur-coloured stars are hurrying
    through the Western gate!
    Away! Or it may be too late to climb their silent
    silver cars!

    See, the dawn shivers round the grey gilt-dialled
    towers, and the rain
    Streams down each diamonded pane and blurs
    with tears the wannish day.

    What snake-tressed fury fresh from Hell, with
    uncouth gestures and unclean,
    Stole from the poppy-drowsy queen and led you
    to a student's cell?

    What songless tongueless ghost of sin crept
    through the curtains of the night,
    And saw my taper burning bright, and knocked,
    and bade you enter in?

    Are there not others more accursed, whiter with
    leprosies than I?
    Are Abana and Pharphar dry that you come here
    to slake your thirst?

    Get hence, you loathsome mystery! Hideous
    animal, get hence!
    You wake in me each bestial sense, you make me
    what I would not be.

    You make my creed a barren sham, you wake
    foul dreams of sensual life,
    And Atys with his blood-stained knife were
    better than the thing I am.

    False Sphinx! False Sphinx! By reedy Styx
    old Charon, leaning on his oar,
    Waits for my coin. Go thou before, and leave
    me to my crucifix,

    Whose pallid burden, sick with pain, watches
    the world with wearied eyes,
    And weeps for every soul that dies, and weeps
    for every soul in vain.
    If you're writing a The Sphinx essay and need some advice, post your Oscar Wilde essay question on our Facebook page where fellow bookworms are always glad to help!

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