Ode to Sappho, by Aleister Crowley

Gustav Klimt - Sappho
Gustav Klimt – Sappho (c.1888-90) – from Wikimedia Commons

Crowley’s 1905 collection Oracles, subtitled The Biography of an Art, consists of unpublished poems written between 1886 and 1903. According to The 100th Monkey Press, Crowley had planned to publish a special limited edition, printed in one hundred copies only, and containing additional matter; however it never materialized. Moreover, ten poems in it were originally meant to appear in a separate collection titled Green Alps, which was never published, as a fire at the publisher destroyed it.

These ten poems include “My wife dies,” as well as two poems that seem to extol love between girls: “Ode to Sappho” and “In a lesbian meadow.” I give here the first one, devoted to the famous ancient Greek poetess from the island of Lesbos, who is reputed to have loved young girls.


O LESBIAN maiden!
O plumèd and snowlike in glory of whiteness!
O mystical brightness
With love-lyrics laden!
Joy’s fulness is fainting for passion and sorrow.
To-night melts divine to the dawn of to-morrow,
O Lesbian maiden!

The flame-tongue of passion
Is lambent and strong;
In mystical fashion
Sucks sweetness from shade,
As the voice of thy song
In the halls of the dead,
Breaking fitful and wild,
Weird waking the slumber of Venus, the sleep of her child,
O Lesbian maiden!

Thy tongue reaches red
On that pillar of might!
Flaming gold from thy head
Is a garland of light
On the forehead of night,
As we lie and behold
All the wonders untold
That the joys of desire
In their secrets enfold,
As the pillars of fire
On the ocean of old!
O Lesbian maiden!

The delight of thy lips
Is the voice of the Spring
That the nightingales sing
Over Winter’s eclipse,
While my fingers enring
The white limbs of thy sleep
And my lips suck the lips
Of the house of my dream,
And press daintily deep,
Till the joys are supreme
That thine amorous mouth
On the home of thy love
Would exhaust the fierce drouth
Of the rivers thereof,
Till thy white body quiver
With mystic emotion
As the star-blossoms shiver
On silvery river
Rushed into the ocean!
O Lesbian maiden!

Source of the poem: Oracles, in The Collected Works of Aleister Crowley, Volume II (1906). See the digitisation of the original on David Moews’s home page, and the simple text online version by The Hermetic Library.

Previously published on Agapeta, 2017/12/30.

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