May200914

The Waste Places
James Stephens

I
As a naked man I go
T hrough the desert sore afraid,
Holding up my head although
I’m as frightened as a maid.

The couching lion there I saw
From barren rocks lift up his eye;
He parts the cactus with his paw,
He stares at me as I go by.

He would follow on my trace
If he knew I was afraid,
If he knew my hardy face
Hides the terrors of a maid.

In the night he rises and
He stretches forth, he snuffs the air;
He roars and leaps along the sand,
He creeps and watches everywhere.

His burning eyes, his eyes of bale,
Through the darkness I can see;
He lashes fiercely with his tail,
He would love to spring at me.

I am the lion in his lair;
I am the fear that frightens me;
I am the desert of despair
And the nights of agony.

Night or day, whate’er befall,
I must walk that desert land,
Until I can dare to call
The lion out to lick my hand.

II
As a naked man I tread
The gloomy forests, ring on ring,
Where the sun that’s overhead
Cannot see what’s happening.

There I go: the deepest shade,
The deepest silence pressing me;
And my heart is more afraid
Than a maiden’s heart would be.

Every day I have to run
Underneath the demon tree,
Where the ancient wrong is done
While I shrink in agony.

There the demon held a maid
In his arms, and as she, daft,
Screamed again in fear, he laid
His lips upon her lips and laughed.

And she beckoned me to run,
And she called for help to me,
And the ancient wrong was done
Which is done eternally.

I am the maiden and the fear;
I am the sunless shade, the strife;
I the demon lips, the sneer
Showing under every life.

I must tread that gloomy way
Until I shall dare to run
And bear the demon with his prey
From the forest to the sun.

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