Since multiple friends have told me how much they enjoyed the Ernest Dowson I posted earlier this week, I thought I’d furnish them (and all of you, dear readers) with a remarkable Decadent poem by Lionel Johnson which I have recommended as follow-up reading. It strikes a rather different spiritual vein. If Dowson’s spiritual theme is the retreat into silence and ascesis in the face of the world’s vanity, Johnson’s is the lure of temptation. Like Dowson, Johnson was a Catholic convert.
DARK Angel, with thine aching lust
To rid the world of penitence:
Malicious Angel, who still dost
My soul such subtile violence!
Because of thee, no thought, no thing,
Abides for me undesecrate:
Dark Angel, ever on the wing,
Who never reachest me too late!
When music sounds, then changest thou
Its silvery to a sultry fire:
Nor will thine envious heart allow
Delight untortured by desire.
Through thee, the gracious Muses turn,
To Furies, O mine Enemy!
And all the things of beauty burn
With flames of evil ecstasy.
Because of thee, the land of dreams
Becomes a gathering place of fears:
Until tormented slumber seems
One vehemence of useless tears.
When sunlight glows upon the flowers,
Or ripples down the dancing sea:
Thou, with thy troop of passionate powers,
Beleaguerest, bewilderest, me.
Within the breath of autumn woods,
Within the winter silences:
Thy venomous spirit stirs and broods,
O Master of impieties!
The ardour of red flame is thine,
And thine the steely soul of ice:
Thou poisonest the fair design
Of nature, with unfair device.
Apples of ashes, golden bright;
Waters of bitterness, how sweet!
O banquet of a foul delight,
Prepared by thee, dark Paraclete!
Thou art the whisper in the gloom,
The hinting tone, the haunting laugh:
Thou art the adorner of my tomb,
The minstrel of mine epitaph.
I fight thee, in the Holy Name!
Yet, what thou dost, is what God saith:
Tempter! should I escape thy flame,
Thou wilt have helped my soul from Death:
The second Death, that never dies,
That cannot die, when time is dead:
Live Death, wherein the lost soul cries,
Dark Angel, with thine aching lust!
Of two defeats, of two despairs:
Less dread, a change to drifting dust,
Than thine eternity of cares.
Do what thou wilt, thou shalt not so,
Dark Angel! triumph over me:
Lonely, unto the Lone I go;
Divine, to the Divinity.
One thought on ““The Ardour of Red Flame is Thine””
I was just teaching today on the Belle Epoque and mentioned the Decadents and how many of them turned to Christianity. It’s kind of remarkable. Huysmans, Wilde, and possibly even Baudelaire died in communion with the CC.