Lilith [poem by Henry Kendall]

[Editor: This poem by Henry Kendall was published in Songs from the Mountains (1880).]


Strange is the song; and the soul that is singing
Falters, because of the vision it sees!
Voice that is not of the living is ringing
Down in the depths where the darkness is clinging,
Even when Noon is the lord of the leas,
Fast like a curse to the ghosts of the trees!

Here, in a mist that is parted in sunder,
Half with the darkness and half with the day,
Face of a woman, but face of a wonder,
Vivid and wild as a flame of the thunder,
Flashes and fades; and the wail of the gray
Water is loud on the straits of the bay!

Father, whose years have been many and weary —
Elder, whose life is as lovely as light
Shining in ways that are sterile and dreary —
Tell me the name of this beautiful Peri
Flashing on me like the wonderful, white
Star, at the meeting of morning and night!

“Look to thy Saviour, and down on thy knee, man,
Lean on the Lord, as the Zebedee leaned!
Daughter of hell is the neighbour of thee, man —
Lilith, of Adam the luminous leman!
Turn to the Christ to be succoured and screened —
Saved from the eyes of a marvellous fiend!

“Serpent she is in the shape of a woman —
Brighter than woman — ineffably fair!
Shelter thyself from the splendour and sue, man.
Light that was never a loveliness human
Lives in the face of this sinister snare,
Longing to strangle thy soul with her hair!

“Lilith who came to the father and bound him
Fast with her eyes in the first of the Springs —
Lilith she is; but remember she drowned him,
Shedding her flood of gold tresses around him —
Lulled him to sleep with the lyric she sings:
Melody strange with unspeakable things!

“Low is her voice; but beware of it ever —
Swift bitter death is the fruit of delay!
Never was song of its beauty — ah, never —
Heard on the mountain, or meadow, or river,
Not of the night is it, not of the day —
Fly from it, stranger, away and away!”

Back on the hills are the blossom and feather,
Glory of noon is on valley and spire!
Here is the grace of magnificent weather —
Where is the Woman from gulfs of the nether?
Where is the Fiend with the face of desire?
Gone, with a cry, in miraculous fire!

Sound that was not of this world, or the spacious
Splendid blue heaven, has passed from the lea.
Dead is the voice of the devil audacious:
Only a dream is her music fallacious,
Here, in the song and the shadow of tree,
Down by the green and the gold of the sea.

Henry Kendall, Songs from the Mountains, Sydney: William Maddock, 1880, pages 92-95

Editor’s notes:
lea = field, grassland, meadow, pasture

Saviour = in a religious context, a reference to Jesus or God

succour = assistance, help, or support, particularly in a time of distress or difficulty (also spelt “succor”)

Lord = in a religious context, and capitalized, a reference to God or Jesus

Old spelling in the original text:
thee (you)
thy (your)
thyself (yourself)

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