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LILITH’S CHILDREN

Die Kinder der Lilith

By

Isolde Kurz
[Translate This Page]

(December 21, 1853 – April 5, 1944)

translated and with an introduction

by

Becca Menon

From text in the 1935 Gesammelte Werke

Learn more at www.BeccaBooks.com

LILITH’S CHILDREN

www.BeccaBooks.com

Translation Copyright 2016 Becca Menon

From Die Kinder der Lilith By Isolde Kurz

Cover Design by John Bartelstone www.johnbartelstone.com

Excerpts first appeared on the much-lamented site, Fieralingue

Cover Art is https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lilith_Periodo_de_Isin_Larsa_y_Babilonia.JPG

Published by Becca Menon at Shakespir

THE ORIGINAL TEXT

The works of Isolde Kurz have entered the Public Domain. At Public Domain Archive and Reprints Service you can request Die Kinder der Lilith as an on-demand reprint, or search for other works.

They are becoming available online at:

http://gutenberg.spiegel.de/autor/isolde-kurz-1578

HYPERLINKS NOT IN ENGLISH

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CONTENTS

INTRODUCTION: THE GENESIS OF LILITH’S CHILDREN

Footnotes are hyperlinked so you can click to the reference then reverse to the text. If these linked roman numerals prove balky, you can try double clicking – or you can try patience.

Creative Commons Image July 8, 2008

LILITH’S CHILDREN: I II III IV V VI VII

THE GENESIS OF LILITH’S CHILDREN

Hagiography of a notorious demoness is a daring endeavor. And it is the gambit on which Isolde Kurz has staked her triumphant vision of humanity in Lilith’s Children.

Apologies for vilified women have become a commonplace of contemporary literature. A Gorgon, a Borgia or a Wicked Witch may be tamed by a humanizing, equalizing narrative that gives voice to the martyrdom of being misunderstood. Yet to treat, as Kurz has done, the egregious female in a manner which, while maintaining the elevation of the archetype, reverses, then refutes her reputation, is a more radical, more ambitious, and more consequential undertaking: it demonstrates that the faults lie not in our icons, but in ourselves.

That Lilith has, in our time, become a touchstone for many women writers, should not surprise us; what does astonish is that a Christian woman born in mid-nineteenth century Germany should have adopted the then-obscure figure from Jewish myth to reassess, reinterpret, even beatify.

Has Lilith not always been known as unredeemable? She devours infants, she threatens harm to women in childbirth, she bears the offspring of evil spirits; and she ravishes sleeping men, bringing them wasteful pleasure willy-nilly.

In Isolde Kurz’s depiction, the ecstasies Lilith incites are not insidious, but sublime. She is she who opens the way to the divine through the earthly, to the celestial through the senses. She drives the imagination, she challenges, she inspires. This is her eros, her danger ― and to Adam, her crime.

It is also basis of Lilith’s Children, Kurz’s poetic re-envisioning of * Creation*. Formally as well as conceptually audacious, it is the novella in verse of a master storyteller. With registers that range from the transcendent to the ridiculous, sway from the simple to the stylized, or stumble from the grandiloquent to the subtle, Kurz’s narrative poem, much of which is constructed from dialogue, offers an experience at once utterly earthly yet thoroughly mystical as it recounts the story of the first link between human and divine: the Blessed Mother, Lilith.

 

The offspring of an ambiguity, Lilith emerged as an ancient Jewish reconciliation of one verse in Genesis with others. The first announces “male and female created he them” (Genesis 1:27). Yet soon after this tandem birth, Adam is complaining of loneliness, and subsequent verses show the invention of Eve to have been an afterthought (Genesis 2:20-25).

How to make sense of the sequence? The People of the Book solved the mystery of the story with another story: a midrash^^1^^. The creation of male and female must, readers of Torah saw, be coeval. Male and female had plainly been created of the same substance and in the same image. What then would explain Adam’s complaint of loneliness? The original couple must have quarreled and separated so that the first woman had disappeared ― not only from Eden, but also from further mention in scripture. And this vanishing may have been how Lilith made apparent that the image in which she had been created included wings since, abandoning Adam in her rage, she had flown out of Paradise.

Her name, Lilith, comes from lila, the Hebrew for night, and is probably also related to the Babylonian spirit, Lilu. Some contend that while she, like Adam, may have been created from earth, hers was dirty dirt. Most Lilith legends agree that when Adam tried to assert himself over her, especially regarding who would be on top sexually, she got fed up and, using the ineffable Name of God in conjunction with her wings, flew out of Eden. Her destination became the Red Sea, where she had vengeful orgies with Asmodeus or Samael, subsequently bearing legions of demons. Some tales suggest she resumed conjugal relations with Adam after his expulsion from Paradise. Those who puzzle over the origins of the people in the Land of Nod to which Cain fled^^2^^, may view Lilith’s womb as a possible solution.

Amulets to protect infants and women in child-bed from depredations of the demoness were widespread during the early centuries of the Jewish Diaspora. They relied for their efficacy on an extension of the legend. When Lilith had forsaken him, Adam begged God to intercede, which He did by sending three angelic negotiators, Senoy, Sansenoy and Semangelof, to demand that she return. The three diplomats told her that if she did not go back to Adam, one hundred of her demonic children would die each day. The threat was perhaps injudiciously chosen because Lilith argued that she was expressly created to harm newborns and refused to go back. She did, however, agree that whenever she saw the name of one of these three angels on an amulet, she would turn back or relinquish her power. Even so, the Lord is sometimes said to have lost patience with his creation and cast her into the deep, where, with her legs bound, her wings intact, she falls into other traditions, other tales to become mermaid, siren, selkie….

On talismans, Lilith is depicted with wings, usually with a veil, frequently with legs that appear bound and with the feet of an owl. In this imagery ― and of course in the Creation myth itself^^3^^― she appears under the guise of the Sumerian goddess Inanna. Not a few of these attributes attest to relate her to another dangerous Mediterranean female whose powers of mind connect human and divine: Athena.

For men to guard themselves from Lilith, vagina dentata of their fears and dreams, there are prayers to say before going to sleep alone; and even in the marriage bed, a prayer can keep the succuba from claiming any seed that might fall outside of its intended vessel.

There is a moment in Isolde Kurz’s poem when Adam, choosing to betray Lilith and the sublime for Eve and spiritual complacence, looks at Lilith and is horrified by a vision of her transformed from her familiar perfect beauty into a terrifying monster – a Fury. He is seeing, of course, a reflection of his own condition. The change is in him, not her. Millennia of guilt and fear maintained the distortion. The approximately seventeen hundred supple lines of Lilith’s Children refresh the view and offer a new Creation.

This is a narrative, poetic, philosophical and even a feminist achievement for which Isolde’s impeccable literary lineage and remarkable education had groomed her.

 

Born in Stuttgart in December of 1853, the author Lilith’s Children was the only daughter among four sons of Hermann Kurz [translate this page] (1813-1873), an eminent writer with strong German nationalist convictions, and Marie von Brunnow Kurz [translate this page]^4^ ( (1826-1911), a woman who had, only five years before the birth of her first child, Edgar (also born in 1853), stood among those agitating for democratic socialist principles in the European Revolutions of 1848. Indeed, while she was visibly pregnant with Isolde, Marie was brought before the court for “lèse-majesté.

Political agitation may have yielded to domestic exigencies, but von Brunnow’s democratic convictions remained passionate. She even named her fourth son, born in 1869, Garibaldi^^5^^[_*._] Hermann had chosen Isolde’s name from the myth of “[*Tristan and Isolde]” the surviving fragment of which he had translated from Middle-High German and completed by appending an original verse ending^^6^^. He approved Garibaldi, Maria’s choice to name their son, because of its ancient bardic meaning of “lance-bold.”

While during the heady days of 1848, Isolde’s father had also held progressive democratic convictions, Hermann Kurz’s beliefs drifted ever rightwards so that, while they remained maritally devoted, politically Herr and Frau clashed. They were at odds, for example, over the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71), which the pacifist Marie thought inexcusable even while Hermann deemed it the necessary fulfillment of Germany’s destiny as the new Roman empire.

One thing the parents did agree upon was that no school at all was preferable to a girls’ school. So, offering much of the somewhat haphazard instruction herself, von Brunnow undertook to provide her daughter with a humanist education.

In her 1938 autobiography, _ Die Pilgerfahrt nach dem Unerreichlichen_ (The Pilgrimage to the Unattainable)^^7^^, the writer explained, “I did have as a mother a woman whose relation to the then-state of women stood in the strongest opposition. Since she came from the old nobility, which was externally progressive, she could see through bourgeois prejudices. While better educational possibilities were available to her, she also helped herself on her own, though she brought to her marriage no systematic knowledge, except a wide horizon and an endless enthusiasm for all that is great and beautiful, for poetry, languages, philosophy and history, especially ancient. What she herself had only partly achieved, she wanted to see completed in her daughter.”^^8^^

This pedagogy, including as it did dancing, riding, swimming and other sports, in addition to English, Italian, French, Russian, Latin and Greek, scandalized the local burghers of Tübingen, the Swabian university town where most of Isolde’s early years passed.

Isolde would in later years awaken to the disapproval that the broadminded nurturing she’d been given had stirred in their conservative community; yet during the experience, she herself had remained ignorant of anything outside the world her family created.

Marie’s daughter would live through almost half of the 20th century, and from that perspective remarked, “Almost never did women in Germany stand lower than during the last third of the previous century.”

The curriculum of Isolde’s home schooling did not include formal religion. In fact, she was purposely sheltered from it. Nonetheless, she developed a taste for smuggling the Luther Bible out of her father’s library in order to indulge her fascination for the New Testament. Despite his having once been a student of theology, Hermann never, according to his daughter, said a word on the subject; and since he left the children’s upbringing entirely to Marie, Isolde could not even say what her father’s opinions were. “But my mother, who was basically of a deeply religious nature, had, long before Nietzsche, the pastor’s son, arrived at the same impression as he of Christianity, and on the same basis: because of the oppression of the conscience.”

Hermann may have turned over the course and content of Isolde’s education to von Brunnow, but his influence on his daughter’s development would prove no less marked. Not only does his sway as a storyteller carry through the younger Kurz’s work, but he provided the model of an active literary household in which she grew up ― and participated.

Hermann maintained friendships and collaborations with several important German writers. In particular, the great poet Eduard Mörike (1804-1875) was an intimate whose correspondence with Hermann was first published in 1885; also the German-Jewish writer Paul Heyse, a prominent and influential novelist, story writer and translator who would go on to win the 1910 Nobel Prize, collaborated with the Kurz patriarch in editing collections of translated literature.

By the age of fourteen, Isolde herself had been tapped to contribute to this project with translations of Stendhal, and of the controversial French novelist, poet and essayist who first gave currency to the idea of an Aryan master race, the self-styled “Count” Arthur de Gobineau [translate this page]^^9^^.

It may have been thanks to von Brunnow’s instruction that Isolde was able do the work, but it was thanks to Hermann that she was given the opportunities. Her precocious translations, which came to include the English poets, were widely admired.

The literary bond between father and daughter became inextricably bound up with their emotional one. In his final exchange of letters with Heyse, Hermann referred to his only daughter as his “Antigone.” In 1904, Hermann’s “Antigone” gathered the bones of his poetry for publication in a new edition. In her 1906 biography, Hermann Kurz10, she wrote that she preferred to see him altogether forgotten than considered a talent of the second rank^^11^^.

If the age of fourteen marked a passage that would help define Kurz’s literary life, so the previous year had shaped the artist’s future emotional development. When she was thirteen, her family had virtually adopted an older schoolmate of her adored brother Edgar, Ernst von Mohl [translate this page]. Ernst, son of a pastor, immediately charmed the warm-hearted Frau Kurz; more exceptionally, he also gained the affectionate esteem of Herr Kurz, who would go walking with him, reportedly discussing ideas as with an equal. As Isolde described in a book of obituary tribute to von Mohl, Ein Genie der Liebe (A Genius of Love), “in my parents’ house for the first time he breathed a higher and freer cultural air with full lungs.” Ernst became Isolde’s Latin and Greek tutor.

Beginning in 1911, they were to spend seventeen years living together as adults following a separation of forty years during which Ernst had been teaching in Baltic and Russian courts. But it had been at first sight of the adolescent Isolde in a blue jacket that Ernst had fallen in love. During his last long illness, “there came a moment when he thought himself expiring, and as I again wore a blue jacket, he said as he looked at it, in a barely audible voice: ‘Between these two blues my entire life lies enclosed.’”

Von Mohl may have found the lovely Isolde adorable at all ages, but she herself cast a colder eye on her own adolescent attempts at poetry and drama, eventually destroying them. Yet stories she had written to amuse her ailing younger brother “Balde” (d. 1882) became a permanent part of her oeuvre, first being published as Phantasien und Märchen (Fantasies and Tales) in 1890 as her career began to blossom.

 

Kurz’s poetry owed much to her early years doing translations with her father, not only because of the discipline learned through endeavors, but also because Hermann’s work with European authors, especially the English Romantics, led her to seek and study them in the original. She took time to mature as a poet and showed no eagerness to publish her verse. In the shadow of the great masters, Kurz could have considered her own efforts modest. Her first book of poetry was released thanks solely to efforts on her behalf by friends who gathered and copied the poems and prepared them on her behalf for publication when she was almost 35.

Kurz may have turned her hand to original stories and poems in part out of frustration. Her career as a translator could not follow the course her father’s had. More than sixty years after the fact for instance, she was still riled when she wrote about what had happened to her translation of Emerson, which a Stuttgart publisher had commissioned shortly after her father’s death in 1873: “The publisher nevertheless thought that a young lady couldn’t possibly come right with Emerson on her own and gave my error-free, thoroughly polished text to a spiritually alien so-and-so to rework, which he did with totally unnecessary patches of the most disgusting shopkeeper’s German and other vilenesses glued on.” Convinced that her reputation would be jeopardized by being associated with this travesty, she took legal action to have her name removed from the title page.

In 1876 Kurz followed her brother Erwin to Munich, where he had gone to further his studies, first in sculpting, then architecture. She wrote of this departure as an attempt, not long after the 1873 death of her father, to develop as well as to loosen bonds to a mother she adoringly called the alpha and omega of their home. In Munich Isolde supported herself by giving Italian lessons, writing for the illustrated family magazine Die Gartenlaube [translate this page] (Garden Leaves) and by doing translations, in which work she was assisted by their old friend Heyse. She earned a thousand Austrian guldens for her translation of a posthumous two-volume novel, _ Le confessioni di un Ottuagenuario_ (Confessions of an Octogenarian)^^12^^ by the famous Garibaldean novelist Ippolito Nievo [translate this page]. This sum made possible the next phase of her life, during which she would dedicate herself to her own creative work.

The separation from Frau Kurz was brief. In 1877, Isolde, with von Brunnow in tow, followed her older brother Edgar to Florence. The move became necessary since Edgar, now head of the family, proved unable to establish a medical practice in Germany because of liberal politics passed to him from that same mother.

Isolde was to remain in Italy for more than thirty years. She wrote, nonetheless, in her mother-tongue. Her Italian stories and historical fiction about Renaissance Florence would establish her as a successful and respected German writer.

In Florence Isolde and Marie became the axis of a German artists’ community that included Arnold Böcklin (1827-1901), a Swiss Symbolist painter who specialized in mythological themes; Adolf Friedrich von Schack (1815-1894), the poet and historian of the Arabic influence in Spain and Sicily; the prominent essayist and historian Karl Hillebrand (1829-1884), who had briefly been Heinrich Heine’s secretary; and a trio of friends: Konrad Fiedler (1841-1895), an influential aesthetician who was striving to establish a kind of Kantian Categorical Imperative as a basis for art, (and whose wife Mary was the person to undertake the copying of Isolde’s poems for circulation to publishers), the painter Hans von Marées (1837-1887), who, also turning to mythological subjects, attempted to synthesize old and new styles, being influenced by both Francisco De Goya (1746-1828) and Édouard Manet (1832-1883) – and Adolf von Hildebrand (1847-1921), a renowned sculptor, author of the influential Das Problem der Form in der Bildenden Kunst (The Problem of Form in Painting and Sculpture), which he based on Fiedler’s ideas. Kurz referred to Hildebrand as the sole direct influence on her own work, and she devoted the 1931 Der Meister von San Francesco, Ein Buch der Freundschaft (The Master of San Francesco, A Book of Friendship) to him, so entitling it because of the cloister that he had converted into a residence and atelier.

Kurz also acknowledged herself indebted to the aesthetics of the art historian Jacob Burckhardt (1818-1897). While he was not a member of the circle, she wove elements of his work on Renaissance Italy into her historical fiction.

The entire expatriate colony’s fascination with the early Italian Renaissance, and their prevailing aesthetics are strikingly similar to those of the slightly earlier English Pre-Raphaelites. Not coincidentally, during these first Florentine years, Isolde also became friends with an Englishman, Charles Grant, who introduced her to the poetry of Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Algernon Charles Swinburne. Swinburne’s technical virtuosity seemed to her “to burn with something of the cold flow of fallen angels.”

Isolde Kurz’s first book, Gedichte (Poems), debuted in 1888. The Florentiner Novellen (Florentine Novellas), which quickly became public favorites, followed in 1890, and combined, they contributed to the standing she soon came to enjoy as an excellent stylist and a thoughtful and engaging, if by and large, conventional artist.

Yet, especially around the turn of the century, this seemingly staid and proper writer snuck in some startling adventures in psychology, mysticism, feminism and form. One excursion outside the thematically, formally and aesthetically temperate zones of traditional German literature Isolde took was into the esoteric realm of Jewish legend. She then presented some of the story’s surprises through occasional twists in standard verse, inventing nonce forms for a tale that lay hidden in Scripture’s Genesis. So we get Lilith’s Children.

Kurz’s first books had waited upon her maturity. After their publication, she became prolific in all genres. She wrote lyric, narrative, dramatic, and even patriotic poems. She produced essays, aphorisms, and voluminous memoirs. The public knew her best for her fiction, which she created in an impressive variety of shapes, types and lengths. Her adaptable prose proves graceful and pleasant, unmannered, fluid and musical. Oxford University Press indicated the wide esteem she earned when, in creating an edition of Kurz’s “Zwei Märchen” (“Two Tales”) (1914)^^13^^ as a choice vehicle with which American students might study German, it remarked on the “Classical beauty of the author’s diction.”

Isolde Kurz also became one of few writers to take up the form Johann Wolfgang von Goethe had made so formidable with his Faust: dramatic verse narrative. Lilith’s Children, published in a single volume in 1908, is the longest and ― as she seemed to have agreed ― the best among these efforts, but has siblings such as “Leuke, Ein Geisterspiel” (“Leuke, a Spirit Play”)^^14^^, in which Achilles, Helen of Troy and nereids figure; “Hymne an Phöbos” (“Hymn to Phoebus”), a lament by Cassandra; and “Am Rande der Liebe” (“At the Border of Love”), which has its roots in “The Song of Songs.”

 

With all its protean forms, Kurz’s oeuvre springs from preoccupations that demonstrate that she spans the 19th and 20th centuries. Her sincere Romantic Schwärmerei^^15^^ comes ― barely but mordantly ― barbed with modern irony. Not coincidentally, her most interesting work occurred precisely as the centuries were changing.

Kurz’s experimental “Es und Ich” (“It and I”), which she termed a “praeludium,” exemplifies the tension. It was a bold beginning to the collection Von dazumal. Erzählungen (Of Times Gone By: Stories)^^16^^. This assembly was published, nota bene, in 1900. The opening piece slips, or rather spreads, between essay, short story and memoir: a remarkable gambit for the opening of a young writer’s volume of short stories in a time and place before such slipping and spreading had grown commonplace.

“There is a divinity,” announces “Es und Ich,” “which is sought by all.” Only once, as the prelude discloses, did “Isolde” come close to discovering the transcendence she sought, and it was in a cooking spoon. As a child she took this object from the kitchen in order to play house with her brother under a bush. The spoon became the magic vessel that transformed the world. But one day the cook, discovering that she had taken the implement, irritably took it back, “and in the blink of an eye, the house and everything in it sank to the ground.” Kurz goes on to tell of seeking “It” in a box of figs from Smyrna, in the names of things, in the hush of Sundays, in the endlessness of the sea, in stones and palaces… always to find It, the inexpressible, to be unseizable. This longing could not be more typical of Kurz’s themes and of its period; nor could work’s ironic conclusion: “When I have died, It will surely come and sit on the urn of my ashes, and that will be a beautiful moment; only what a shame that just then no one will be there any more to enjoy it.”

This was a period during which Kurz had been probing the problem of the ego^^17^^, nowhere more explicitly than in the 1895 story “Ein Rätsel” (“A Riddle”)^^18^^, which, similarly Janus-faced, looks back towards Nietzsche, with whom she was familiar, and forward to Kafka, with whom she was not. In this unconventionally structured tale of an amnesiac, traditional tropes butt head-on against nonconformist concepts. When the amnesiac reads accounts of two similar cases in a newspaper, he comments, “So I am not the first; already others have become I-less. It’s a new illness, which is beginning to rage through Europe, and I am one of its first victims.” Regarding those not similarly afflicted ― or privileged ― he notes, “So they are already on my trail, they already look on me as their enemy, human beings, who sit sunken down so cozy and warm in the thick pelt of their I.” Loftily he scoffs, “and each one bears a ridiculous little fetish with him ― his own I.” He assesses his own new condition with _ Zarathustrian_ clarity. “I know that two times two is four; I can recite the sequence of Roman emperors by heart ― no, no, I am not ill, am not mad; it’s something else that has happened to me. I have broken through the ground of the I, through the law of individuation, through, beyond into pure being, to the essence of things. I am like him of whom the Vedas say^^19^^: ‘He goes around laughing, eating, playing, happy with women, wagons and horses, never heeding the natural-born body.’” And in a Romantic gesture seeming even to anticipate the glossolalia poems Antonin Artaud wrote while confined in a psychiatric asylum: “If I were a poet, I would write a chain of vowels to express the inexpressible. – – –”

Kurz herself recognized how prescient her late 19th century story had been: “When I wrote the story of the I-less man, ‘A Riddle,’ all the papers that were otherwise so friendly took exception, since to them the invention of a person who, after shocking experiences, had forgotten who he was, seemed completely implausible; the World War, which produced a quantity of such cases, later vindicated me.” Critics had seen the story as merely an improbable account of a man who belonged in a mad house. “To such misunderstanding I could only keep silent and withdraw my manuscript; if I had asserted that to me it was a matter not of psychology but of metaphysics, I would have made a poor figure because in those days metaphysics did not stand high in currency.”

No one emerged from the Great War unchanged, and Kurz was no exception. During the conflict she had published stories and poetry, much filled with nationalist sentiments. Bold leaps such as she had attempted while the vistas of the new century beckoned became rare. Henceforward her writing reveals greater portions of her patrimony. Yet however dominant became her father’s conservative Romanticism, Frau von Brunnow’s legacy can still be glimpsed.

 

Of course, what we want to know about Isolde is not just her relationship to Romanticism, but her romantic relationships. Of Ernst Mohl, who persuaded her to a Blavatskian Theosophical bent, she wrote that theirs was “a love that today’s humanity can hardly understand.[…] It was of a transcendental source, not to be explained by its occurrence on this side.” Whether or not it involved the bodies it came with on “this side” is difficult to assess. That Kurz could have been so public about their “shared life” (“gemeinsames Leben,”) in the tradition-bound Germany of that era becomes paradoxical reason to doubt their love affair was sexual. She was nearly 58 and he some six or so years older when they began their life together. It was the very moment of Marie von Brunnow’s death in Munich in 1911.

The sexually charged Lilith’s Children had preceded that tragic-joyous moment of the mother’s passing and the lovers’ reunion by a few years. Suggestive yet never prurient, the poem provokes curiosity as to how the personal and cultural experiences of a German spinster of the time could engender such a text. It is a piece which could not be the product of a prude nor likely one of a virgin.

 

The work of creating Lilith’s Children sustained Kurz during what she referred to as the most difficult period of her life. Edgar’s death after a fourteen-day struggle with double-pneumonia devastated both Isolde and her mother. The event led to an endless round of moves not only from one set of furnished rooms to another but also between Italy and Germany, where her other brother Erwin and his son, the prominent architect Otho Orlando Kurz [translate this page] had settled in Munich. There they were building according to Hildebrand’s ideas. Above all, the seven years following Edgar’s death, many of which the writer dedicated to researching and composing her mystical celebration of the eternal feminine here translated, were ― not coincidentally ― dominated for Isolde by the declining health of the mother she worshipped.

The subject of Lilith was one that Kurz had long had in mind. She devotes several pages of her autobiography to detailing the ambitious work’s genesis, plot, themes and it’s poor critical reception by intolerant and short-sighted reviewers. No other work receives the same degree of attention.

Kurz had always considered that the ancient Jewish legend of Adam’s first wife as a wicked demoness and vampire of men’s vitality was an absurdity (Ungereimtheit). “Why should God, the Omniscient, have picked such an evil life’s companion for his Adam? And what did it mean that Lilith possessed wings but Adam none? She had, it was told, three things in common with angels, three with human beings: with the first, wings, ease in floating from place to place, and knowledge intimating the future; with humans, however, [she shared the need for] sustenance, procreation, and death. Wouldn’t God have had a higher aim with such an unequal pairing? Didn’t a corrupt, partly tainted old Jewish tradition of despising women present itself here, obscuring an earlier, nobler figure?”

Kurz researched the myth, and, the literature being small, uncovered little. Ultimately she considered this a blessing, as she therefore “had that much more freedom to portray my own concept. Thus I wrote the poem Lilith’s Children, in which I tried to illumine the legend and an explanation of the world plan, and to explain its paradoxes.” The Pilgrimage then provides a synopsis of the plot and central themes. The poem itself articulates these with equal clarity and greater richness.

That Kurz dedicated so much of her memoir to Lilith testifies to the important place she continued to think it held in her oeuvre^^20^^. Besides, she clearly meant to use the prestige she had meanwhile acquired to show that the poem’s earlier critics had attacked the work out of prejudice and wounded male vanity, not on aesthetic grounds. “I had once again unwittingly stepped in a wasps’ nest. I had no idea that the wasps of backward manliness still had so much poison in the stingers. Male complacency, in which the Eve type fulfills their needs in the kitchen and in the chamber, snorted in fury […Some] showed themselves to be offended, since for them, once and forever the ‘He shall be your lord’ had ruled.”

Even her father’s celebrated friend Paul Heyse had joined the attack. He himself had been the author of a Lilith tale^^21^^, one which, while it had allowed Lilith a modicum of sympathy, was much more in line with the traditional legends. What the elder writer declared, however, was that there was more to complain of than the wrong-headedness of the concept. He called the versification incompetent.

Yet Kurz’s rhythms carry the reader with naturalness and energy that flow, dally or speed through dramatic terrains. Moreover, she uses prosody in ways that are not just subtle, but subtly subversive.

In the same way Kurz had transformed Scripture by developing the folkloric narratives of * Genesis* and midrash into something resembling a modern novel, so had she transformed traditional verse into a more contemporary prosody. She takes the stable beat of German poetry and, at moments the Edenic world she is describing begins to disintegrate, breaks it apart.

One man’s incompetence is another woman’s brilliance.

 

“I had no time to fret over the sorry fate of one of my favorite children^^22^^ [….] Whoever has experienced what it’s like to waken every morning and listen to the person in the next bed to know whether the beloved mouth still breathes […] will understand me.”

Kurz wrote virtually nothing between the completion of Lilith’s Children and her mother’s death three years later. Frau Kurz, on the other hand, had during those last years taken up the pen to become an avid letter writer. Among her most faithful correspondents was their old expatriate friend, Ernst von Mohl. By this time Mohl had risen from his situation as humble teacher to a lofty position as counselor to the court in St. Petersburg. He was only two years away from a significant pension, but had been widowed and now grew eager to see Marie and Isolde. He abandoned Russia to come directly to them in Munich. He arrived just in time to be waiting in an outer room, hoping to be called to von Brunnow’s bedside, when that remarkable woman expired.

Isolde says she was not as quick as Ernst to recognize that they were destined life-companions. Yet less than a year later, in 1912, it already went without saying that Mohl would accompany her when Isolde had determined that an archeological conference provided her first opportunity for traveling to Greece, whose Classical culture provided such large share of her poetic life.

The trip, memorialized in the 1913 Wandertage in Hellas, (Roaming through Greece), also provided, Kurz writes, an escape from her growing political anxieties. She describes herself as the Cassandra of the Great War, naïve, perhaps in depicting Germany as “unfortunate,” “misunderstood” and “unsuspecting” in a conflict no one will likely ever unsort.

Prophetess she may or may not have been, but she was not entirely without honor in her own country. In 1911 she had won the Ebner-Eschenbach Prize, and in 1913 her mother’s controversial pedagogy was vindicated when, on the occasion of her father’s hundredth birthday, Kurz became the first woman in Würtemberg to receive an honorary doctorate from the University of Tübingen.

Before the Assassination at Sarajevo fulfilled her fears by igniting world war, Mohl and Kurz spent much of 1914 exploring the fatherland. Until then, she says, she had known it more in a poetic than an actual sense.

During the war Kurz remained in Germany. She undertook the comforting of the wounded in hospitals, and contributed earnest poems to the conflict with sentimental pieces such as “Die deutsche Mütter” (“The German Mothers”) that do not display her greatest depth of thought. These were widely distributed in newspapers, postcards and primers. Nor did the hostilities keep Isolde from bringing out new books. In addition to the small 1916 collection Schwert aus der Scheide (Sword from the Sheath), she offered the nostalgic Aus meines Jugendland (From the Land of My Youth).

Kurz proved yet more prolific during the postwar period. Despite weakness brought on by insufficient food and warmth as Germany’s fortunes spiraled through the horrific inflation that followed the defeat of the nation, between 1919 and 1929 the writer produced eighteen volumes. These included virtually every form, from an expository book called Deutsche and Italiener (Germans and Italians) to more of the Florentine fiction so successful with the public, to poetry such as the Classical “Leuke,” to a biography bookending that of her father, the homage, Meine Mütter (My Mother)^^23^^.

Kurz would produce eight additional volumes between 1929 and 1939, the date of her last publication, which was to precede her death by five years. Among the works of this period we find the 700-page Pilgrimage of 1938. In 1931 she’d come forth with an equally expansive self-portrait with the novelistic Vanadis. Der Schiksal Weg einer Frau (Vanadis, A Woman’s Fated Path), long a best-seller. The author was a celebrity. Her work was admired, enjoyed, purchased. When, in 1933 the entire German Reich fêted her 80th birthday, Isolde was still writing productively. She even toured the nation giving readings.

Hermann’s daughter was to prove an enthusiastic supporter of National Socialism (The Nazi Party) and Adolf Hitler. These she saw as fulfilling the promise of Germany’s destiny as the new Holy Roman Empire. We cringe to observe the collapse of her good style along with good sense in a passage from her 1938 Pilgrimage (which, unlike her elegy to Hitler for the celebrations of the leader’s 50th birthday in 1939, Hermann’s child is unlikely to have been pressured to pen): “Who could have told me then that a day would arrive when Olympiad would come to Berlin, a day on which a new German Reich ― not one that was rich and triumphant, but one that was maimed and bled dry and could hardly raise itself up out of the most terrible of all crushing defeats ― would, through the mouth of its Führer, give its promise freely through its own sacrifices to lay bare the sacred Olympic relics, and that the promise would directly become deed!”

Isolde did not profess to have been a Cassandra of the second world conflict. The 1982 edition of Neue Deutsche Biographie (the dictionary of German biography) remarks, “Although she let herself be dazzled by fascism and National Socialism, she felt shocked by the outbreak of the war.” And yet, giddy approbation for much of Hitler’s vision for a Reich apart, Marie’s daughter would look on fascist realities with distress. She signed a French manifesto against antisemitism as well as excesses in nationalism and militarism. When she turned 80, her birthday was made an official celebration of the German nation. Yet Nazi policies instilled ambivalence, and Marie’s daughter declared herself by signing a French manifesto against antisemitism as well as excesses in nationalism and militarism. Nonetheless, in 1943 the nonagenarian received the Goethe Medal from the hands of the notorious Minister of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels. The honor recognized a reputation Isolde Kurz had long enjoyed and towards which she had diligently striven.

The eminent encyclopedia , for example, had devoted an entry to her in its 1931 edition, in which it commented on the stylist’s “great beauty of form.” Perhaps more remarkably, we find even earlier recognition that came from beyond the German-speaking world: the legendary Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition took note, “she takes a high place among contemporary lyric poets in Germany. […] Her short stories are distinguished by a fine sense of form and clear-cut style.”

On the writer’s death in early April, 1944, just months after she had been crowned with the poisoned laurels of the Goethe prize, Nazi luminaries including public persuader Goebbels hurried to claim the popular and revered writer, who had lived from the middle of the 19th century until nearly the middle of the 20th, as a flower of National Socialism by attending her to her grave, which they buried in flowers.

If Isolde’s political faltering must be accepted for what it is, then too, her work must be judged for its own merits. The German nationalism she inherited from her father may have shrouded her sight ― and perhaps her legacy; yet the works themselves prove everywhere imbued with the humanist principles the artist had absorbed from a noble mother.

 

Her fine style notwithstanding, Isolde Kurz’s language, surprises us but seldom. Her Lilith sometimes flies far in concept, but occasions are few when the language also soars. Kurz can be moving with diction and imagery of straightforward simplicity, as in a sonnet like “Auf der Totenliste” (“On the List of the Dead”): “One more name is on the list of war-dead.” Yet in an equally strict sonnet, “Schlummerflocken” (“Sleepflakes”)^^24^^, Isolde, capable indeed of breathing the poetic empyrean, can now and then unfold the heart with unexpectedly lyrical language: “All sails are in, the breezes drop and stall./Softly, softly now the sleepflakes fall.” The range of tones and voices in the vision that is Lilith’s Children displays a masterful control.

Isolde Kurz, exploring literary forms and ideas could be intrepid. Nonetheless, when she departs from the familiar, her language and her fundaments show proudly, with some notable exceptions, that her excursions have come from a solidly conventional base.

Magnificent in many ways, Lilith’s Children will not dazzle the reader with lines over which to linger. The storytelling works like a charm. The cadences have their music, the verbs are varied and occasionally colorful. Yet the imagery remains generally pedestrian, the descriptions predictable, the details banal. Here and there Kurz even succumbs to a predilection for sentimentality.

For all its originality and modernity, the style of Lilith’s Children remains so rooted in the late-nineteenth century’s vocabulary and mannerisms that a modern audience will not read the work as comfortably as her contemporaries would have. For the readers of her time, Kurz’s tone, far from interfering with their access to her ideas, would have seemed a familiar, virtually unnoticeable, vehicle that carried them smoothly across the more challenging terrain of her vision.

I have considered one of the translator’s tasks to include conveying a similar idiomatic experience for current readers. For that reason, while I have been scrupulous about following Kurz’s original rhymes and meters, I got looser about matching words literally.

The prosody of the poem, which Heyse so scorned, presents something of the same self-contradiction as the Genesis chapters that engendered it. Rhythmically, Kurz sets out on a traditional straight-and-narrow path, with its landscape of the most respectable regularity ― only to stray. Then modern asymmetries and syncopations portray a world that cast out from its first simplicity.

The poem’s primary meter establishes an orthodox German tetrameter in rhymed couplets. The “Heavenly hosts” who open the poem demonstrate the pattern unequivocally. The first 34 lines suggest no deviation. Then a subtle shift, like an undertow, flows subtly in as lines 35 through 38 diverge from the rhyme scheme. AABB becomes ABAB. Then once more, the couplets revert to their first arrangement, AABBCC.

As we move deeper into the work, the number, kinds and imbalances of the deviations increase; not only changes in the rhyme scheme, but, more dramatically, changes in the meter accumulate. By the climactic pages of this extended poem, the center seems unable to hold, disruptions have grown so frequent. Among these disturbances, Kurz even introduces edgy lines without any rhyme at all. The once pure symmetry, of regularity has become ― like Paradise ― barely more than an atavistic memory.

Rhymed tetrameters, found in abundance through centuries of both German and English poetry, can, for both linguistic and historical reasons, sound slightly folksy or even sing-songish in English. To diminish this effect, I have made somewhat greater use of enjambment than did Kurz . Also, I follow the author in using rhythm to suggest emphasis by means of syncopations.

In rhyme, I take Kurz’s patterns for absolute model. While English shies from feminine rhymes, (that is, rhymes that end in an unaccented syllable,) I have carried many from the original. Despite what can seem their slightly suspect, higgledy-piggledy feel in our language, the sprightly momentum offered by the unaccented line-ends can counteracts the squareness of a meter English can occasionally cause to sound boxy.

Then there is the matter in which it is possible only to err: punctuation. Kurz, like every human, is idiosyncratic in her choice of those marks invented to provide clarity and to define the relation between phrases. With truly Teutonic affection for length, Kurz tends to string together many syntactically independent sentences with commas. I have reinforced many of these by turning them into semicolons. Isolde did like semicolons; nor did she shun the colon. One might, however, call her use of periods sparing, not to say downright parsimonious. I have allowed myself to be just a little more generous.

 

Generosity is among Lilith’s nobler attributes. Kurz’s depraved Eve correctly condemns her predecessor for imperiousness and arrogance, but this reminds us Lilith was the first mortal, and must have a mortal flaw before she ascended.

So through story, the ur-woman, with wings and a veil, has become, like one of the Greek deities Kurz worshipped in her way, more than a cipher. Through the myth to the tales, the tales to the text, she has grown into a character as well as an archetype.

There are parts of Isolde’s autobiographical writings that make it apparent how her Lilith, whom she makes “The Blessed Mother,” can be read as a portrait of her own mother. Yet the female of this intricately crafted narrative poem must be understood as far more than a paean to Marie, and to dwell on the personal would diminishes and domesticate the respect it deserves for its whole magnificence of mythic scope.

That said, a nod to the genesis of an inspired work acknowledges how Isolde Kurz herself was, in respects literal and figurative, one of Lilith’s children.

 

[++]

Creative Commons Image:
By Photographie Schemboche (Literarische Spuren in Esslingen, S. 66) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Lilith’s Children

I

The ramparts of heaven are shaken with glory.

Eternity’s porphyry halls hear the story;

Out of chaos’ laboring groin

Lightning bolts flash so fast they conjoin.

Standing in pairs, the [_ Seraph_]’s choir

Whispers in wonder: “What can inspire

Our Lord that he churns with life-giving pains

And roars like a whirlwind of thunderous rains

So that all must be drenched as it tears a trail

Through the spirit-host like a comet’s tail?

He has toiled for six days already. He spins

A mass into being; and then He begins

Again: from the clouds, an ocean surges;

The waters recede, and the dry land emerges;

He clothes the earth in vernal green,

And lets light from above lend heaven’s sheen;

He builds the mountains, down which may plummet

The waterfalls He rolls out from each summit;

Next he makes plants, which can propagate,

And the creatures that stir, for whom time does not wait,

For wild or meek, in only the space

Of a day, their animal lives must take place.

You exalted, knowing Cherubim,

What is His will? What is heaving in Him?”

Bewildered, adoring, the heavenly choirs

Ask the archangels, but nothing inspires

An answer: the Cherubim stare as if dazed

At the awe of creation; though too amazed

To fathom His work, they see He must feel

Eternity’s gaps should be filled with the real.

Tired of the realm of unchanging things,

Of the static state that perfection brings,

He longs for the rhythm of transformation,

Becoming, growing, declining: narration.

He once made the heavenly hosts to share

Eternity; now, to low from sublime,

Birds, worms and apes are his care,

The quickly fading children of time.

The incomplete has become his aim.

Who dares to ask if it’s merely a game?

For Him, the inscrutable fulfillment;

For us, to praise in song’s distillment.

Just then, the assemblies are joined by a couple

Of angels, the youngest, most fresh and supple

Of all the hosts. They come swooping in

From the fresh-made Earth. Each sports a grin.

They’d secretly sat on the tallest tree

Of Eden’s highest mountain to see

The Master’s thriving work take root

While peaceably snacking on some of the fruit.

They would not have traded the Cherubim’s wide

Wisdom for what they had lately spied

As the clay was formed into human shape ―

“Tell us!” the multitudes beg, agape.

“We saw the Lord with a great big clump

Of mud in His hands, and out of this lump

He kneaded an image whose form resembled

Himself, it seemed, when we saw it assembled ―

Though it goes without saying, just roughly so,

But enough for the trace of God to show.

He was so absorbed in His crafting task,

That we heard Him talk to Himself and ask,

As, circling, He scanned His diving invention,

If it lacked any thing to fulfill His intention.

At last he moistened the clay till it shone,

As if it acquired a life of its own;

But life only troubled the matter’s repose

When He blew his breath through its mouth and nose.

Stepping back, the Lord, contented, at peace,

Called ‘Adam!’ ― so naming His masterpiece.

What a sight it was to contemplate him

Reaching here and there as he tried each limb,

Find the dazzling light through his eyelids’ breach,

Stand up, take a step, then stammer ― towards speech!

He stripped sleep like a garment, and naked, he found

A self-possession as firm as the ground.

Then the Lord, leading him by the hand,

Showed him through the flowering land,

The garden, where he felt compelled

To touch each thing and see how it smelled;

Whatever was pleasing, he tried to taste ―

Not even the roses’ thorns went to waste;

Without his Maker’s botanic instruction,

He’d surely have brought himself to destruction.

For a prominent bent among Adam’s features

Is greed exceeding all other creatures.

Smacking his lips with pleasure, he crammed

His belly to bursting; then this sense was undammed:

He was suddenly flooded with self-awareness,

He swarmed with a sense of his personal rareness;

He touched his own chest, and, wondering why,

Discovered his first little word, which was ‘I!’

As if there were nothing in heaven more fair,

The Lord, His face shining, took special care

Lest the toddling biped fall or get hurt

As he struggled to keep his head above dirt;

His Maker led him down along

The garden paths. The man sang no song

Of praise, but stretched on the tender clover,

Smelling the flowers; the sky, which was over

Him poured its blue, and he heard a call:

The murmuring tune of a waterfall.

The Lord withdrew for a little while;

His Adam’s head, adorned by a smile

Sank among violets, which bloomed on the banks:

His contented sleep, a psalm of thanks.

Then, with a wondrous figure in hand,

The Lord returned to the burgeoning land.

He must have made it while He was withdrawn;

It was radiant as a Paradise dawn.

Sun-gold flowed from its crown and curled;

It bore two wings, which weren’t yet unfurled,

Like leaves still in bud, though otherwise,

Its form resembled Adam’s guise ―

And yet, not quite, being subtler, improved,

Like the stalk of a flower that breathed and moved.

When Adam saw the figure, he sprang

From the ground with a cry of joy that rang

Through the garden: he grasped that this image of bliss

Was his given companion in genesis.

As if he were a partridge in heat,

Adam danced to his own heart’s beat:

His neck outstretched, with tiptoeing springs,

He waved his arms like a couple of wings;

He pirouetted with reverence

To show her his body’s magnificence;

And little by little, he inched himself near,

While she shyly clung to the Lord, not in fear,

But in bashfulness, which soon gave way:

With sparks in her eyes, she began to sashay

Towards him, then back, while he spun like a top,

Until suddenly, she came to a stop,

And fully hid from Adam’s look

Behind their Maker’s back. It took

His breath away to be thus deprived;

He froze in woe ― but quickly revived:

When she came again and let him see

Her, he whirled in delirious ecstasy.

He embraced her knees as he dropped to the ground,

Crying, “Lilith! Lilith!” Her name was found.

Just imagine: the human creature now bowed

In adoration ― yet God allowed

This, although we had feared that He would smite

The wrong-headed head, as might have been right,

Since angels He made for the highest station

Sing from their knees for His glorification.

But Adam, who was made from a clod,

Had eyes for Lilith ― not for God,

Yet stayed virginal to punishment.

God left them alone, and even sent

A cloud to provide them privacy,

As, enflamed by each glance, they discovered ‘We.’

Lilith perched on Adam’s feet

So their learning lips could more easily meet;

Mouth to nibbling mouth they hung,

As if they were joined by one hungry tongue,

Which seemed to savor of nectar stored

In those faces fastened by the Lord.

God saw it was good, and, pleased with His craft,

The Lord’s entire countenance laughed.

Thus the couple consumed the day,

Till Lilith, tired of Eden’s array

Of flowers, said, as the sunlight dispersed

Its remaining gold in a honeyed burst,

‘Adam, look how the sun’s growing red

Where the nightingale’s trilling; I’ll have my bed

Over there, in the grotto where violets pave

The landscape; there you must bear me, slave.’

She was cozily bedded down in her lair

While Adam kneeled as if tethered there;

By the sliver of light from a glow-worm he’d captured,

He pined and sighed and stared, enraptured.

Pleased with how her vassal languished,

The curl of her lips was far from anguished;

Though she seemed to sleep, she abandoned rest

And pulled him warmly to her breast.

Then gripped by the heat of a shivering bliss,

They embraced and clung in a tidal kiss.

More things took place that were sweetly absurd,

And the night-air was laden with sighs. We heard

‘Lilith!’ resounding from every twig;

‘Lilith!’ breathed fragrant blossoms quaintly;

‘Adam!’ as from a dream, sounded faintly.

Meanwhile, the blue of the arching sky

Reemerged from the loving Creator’s eye;

It was then we thought we’d discretely take flight

At the end of Eden’s primordial night.”

II

The Sabbath! God, in His infinite strength,

Rested the seventh day’s whole length.

He wandered over all the oceans

To see if the world were in tune with His notions,

An instrument of His harmony.

Samael alone, only he,

Whom angels call Lucifer, was allowed

To accompany the Lord. That proud

Son of Morning contained a strand

That made multitudes tremble at his command.

In him alone, the god-head’s spark

Had fallen, leaving its luminous mark.

Yet still, his straining thoughts must fail

To grasp what the Master’s plan could entail.

A veil that hid the Almighty’s plan

Kept him from knowing creation’s equation:

Why He had created man,

And if everything moved in mere endless rotation.

To let the angel understand,

The Lord drew a spiral in the sand.

Samael saw how it must correspond

To a path, “Does the way lead up and beyond?”

“Yes, up! Beyond the stars into regions

Not achieved by celestial legions,

Above even you, though your face is so radiant.

The human race will ascend the gradient

To reach my side and participate

In godly joy: the creative trait,

Of all with which I have filled the abyss,

They alone shall be my companions in this.

They shall not be held in perpetual stasis,

For angels it serves as your being’s basis.

Just as in music you’ve only your voice,

While to humans, I have given the choice:

Along with the spark of life that stirs,

They have all the organ’s registers:

Encompassing bestial and godly desires

Annealed in both earthly and heavenly fires,

Fear, longing, hope, hate,

To be wildly drunk or temperate,

Bravery or cowardice,

To blush or to blanch without artifice,

The bitter, the sweet, all that living illumines,

The highest, and lowest, all these shall be humans’.

Wisdom, but foolishness no less,

Solemnity, play, impulsiveness,

Arctic ice and volcanic flame

Dwell in a single mortal frame

Into which I breathed the creative breath

That he may find me again through death.

Not Adam, but his progeny

Will find the path that leads to me.

The progenitor puts forth the seed,

From Adam through Lilith the passion will lead

From the handful of dust that is man to a Guide

Who will open the gates of heaven wide.

It is for this I made his mate

Half human but half angelic; the state

Of her nature will wake him, the price

Of love’s thorn to spur him. He’s thick,

She, fine, and neither of them would thrive

Without the other or feel so alive.

Without earthly weapons, she claims her due;

She shall inspire, he shall do.

In him is the strength that harrows the soil,

And a masterful spirit to which she’s the foil;

In her, the perpetual flame of unrest

Ignites the striving, eternal quest.

The unseizable rainbow’s ceaseless shift

From air to eye is her wedding gift.

Floating, the aether will become her range,

Draped in a veil whose colors change.

She can play with him and share his pleasure,

Bubbles may even fill their leisure.

The eternal balls with their colorful tints

Will reflect her future in swirling hints:

In the changeable form of which she is made

Nothing can wither, age or fade.

Whether she dawdles among the flowers

Or soars among clouds in jubilant hours,

Wherever she goes, a blooming is seen;

Whatever she touches turns fresh and green.

And Lilith’s mouth can tell no lies.

Wherever on fabulous wings she flies,

The earthbound colossus dogs her wake.

Whenever some tool of his work might break,

He doesn’t give up, but struggles until

He fashions a thing that conforms to his will.

Against such spirit as this, the sway

Of the fatal Nay must yield, must give way.

The future, already contains a depiction

Of the holy Son of Contradiction

Whose yoke is easy, whose burden light,

He rules the Earth with His gentle might.

And He, in whom are the keys to all locks,

Stretches to heaven’s gates and knocks.

My arms will enfold Him then, the Son,

So closely joined to the Father, the One

Whose every vein shall gladly disperse

Its life, like mine, throughout the universe.

Guiding the globe, He’ll supervise

The way of the winds and the oceans’ rise.

The loving light of His searching gaze

Will accompany Mine through the astral maze.

As He is in Me, so I am in Him,

And joy will overflow Our brim

When He, who grew in My very breast,

Comes back with all achieved for the best.

So doing, knowing, moving, growing,

Sharing divinity, He’ll set flowing

Through Me a freshened energy.

The vastness of aeons and space’s extension

Will no longer be lonely; My every intention

Will find its object and come to be.

The Cherubim will sing His ascension,

And adore His superiority.

Meanwhile, let angels oversee

The garden of man in his infancy.

While his future Lord lets the elements rage,

Protect him until he comes of age;

You, who know good and evil, hover

Until he is strong enough to discover

The constant keep of the coming One,

The immanent majesty of my Son.”

He spoke. The Prince of Morning was mute,

His face to the ground, irresolute.

His prideful heart was shaken, he ached

In his soul, his thirst for glory unslaked;

How could he defer to this sod,

When he himself so longed to be God?

He lowered his darkening lids to disguise

The celestial flame that shows through the eyes

And reveals the minds of angels, speech

Being given to Gabriel only. The dance

Of the light conveys thoughts at a glance,

So Samael tried to keep his out of reach.

From then on, he shunned the Almighty, and closed

Himself in his morning star; he supposed

He could hide the dank worm that bored

Through his soul from the all-seeing sight of the Lord.

 

III

 

Dawn on the mountain was barely unfurled,

As the first of the birds began telling the world,

When Lilith, dew from the fields in her hair,

Came back to her mate; she had joy to share.

“Adam, get up! The sun is inviting;

That sprite of the meadow, the mist,

Has run off as if shy to be kissed;

Fields of grass waving are oceans igniting,

Pearly dew and the trill of the lark

Greet us, the light overcoming the dark.

Adam, wake up! Wake up!

The hare has the stream for its cup;

And if you will find me,

The Earth doesn’t bind me,

So hurry and run,

Wake up! Come have fun!”

The friend of her heart had heard,

And ran after her, giddily spurred,

But alas, what happened to love’s reward?

Mischievous Lilith had flown, perhaps bored.

Day after day, the same old song:

He sallies forth, but she’s moved along.

By the marsh among cattails, she may have withdrawn;

Hiding herself, she eggs him on.

In the mountain woods under spreading beeches,

Through thorns and thickets, in vain he reaches.

“Lilith!” he calls a hundred times,

And the valleys answer with echoing rhymes;

He spreads his arms to empty space,

“Koowitt!” some bird throws back in his face.

Adam, enraged, his features burning,

Picks up a stone. How much he is learning!

But the mocking bird, like Lilith, flies,

So he takes his revenge on its perch. He cries,

Gulping tears while uprooting the sapling, then throwing

Himself on the grass next to where it’s been growing.

But look, a slanting shadow falls

Over Adam’s plot of earth as he bawls.

He raises his eyes, hoping for her ―

Instead, he finds heaven’s messenger.

“The Lord above has sent me to see

How things with our human couple might be.”

Adam complained of desire unsated.

“I wish I had never been created.

I’m scorched inside, my life is a blight;

Lilith is always starting a fight.

It’s a torment, a baiting, a burning brand.

A pursuit over tangled terrain.

Ever since the command

That we master our garden domain

By giving things names, I strain

Over ‘lion,’ ‘buffalo,’ ‘bear,’

And the manifold flowers everywhere;

We must even try

To name stars in the sky.

It makes me laugh they’re entrusted to us,

Betelgeuse and Sirius,

Whatever we come across;

But our Maker didn’t endow

Me with glibness, though Lilith can toss

Things off ― God knows how.”

Gabriel said:

“As for me,

Though the Lord has counseled us celibacy,

Such a pert and spirited wife

Would make paradise of eternal life.”

And Adam:

“If after I have toiled,

I had rest and enjoyment, life wouldn’t be spoiled.

But whatever I do seems not to suffice;

She never gets thrilled by the same thing twice.

Do you see that blue and sparkling mirror,

The fathomless realm of aquatic creatures?

We broke its surface, plunging nearer

The fish. We were like them in all but our features.

With powerful arms, we sliced through the swell,

Which lifted and rocked and bore us well.

As proud as swans, we would swim and float,

Then I hollowed a pine to make her a boat

And announced to all creatures that we

Now claimed dominion over the sea.

What thanks did I get from this coveted wife?

I’ve just about had enough of strife.

I became a fish, hoping I’d pleased

Her, when next it’s her wish the clouds be seized.

Tomorrow I’ll have to be a bird;

Her dreams make her whimsical, absurd.

Even her sleep is made restless by dreams.

I hear her half the night, it seems.

All in an endless fabrication,

Spinning and weaving a vivid narration,

Until my eyelids start closing,

Hearing her, though she’s dozing,

Babbling of unseen things.

And so, I bind her wings

With a hair ― hers are strong and golden and long ―

So she can’t fly away to soar over

The sea and the clouds like a plover.

She has told me of flying in song.

I live in perpetual quaking,

I find myself trembling on waking

In case she’d escaped her thong.

When holding her close to me,

All I can think is, she’ll flee.

In endless bittersweet affliction,

I gain her and lose her in constant transfixion.

And it’s not just me she can stir,

Everything’s drawn to her:

The lion fawns among flowers,

In marshes or bowers,

On a bank or a bay,

All things obey.

The poisonous snake, who subtly skims

The grounds caressingly, clasps her limbs.

And when we come to the watery places,

The fishes gape with unblinking faces.

But still I cleave;

Though my spirit cracks,

I can’t hate or leave.

The flowers themselves seem to wilt and to grieve

When Lilith lacks.

Whether with or without her, my life is stained:

I’m forever pained.”

And as he complained, begrudging love,

Radiant Lilith alit from above.

A wreath of full-blown roses crowned

Her shining head, but her hair was unbound

And streamed like a golden cloud of flame.

Pliant flowers drifted

Around her limbs, and as she came,

Her joyous voice was lifted;

She touched the earth, and it seemed to proclaim

The verve with which she was gifted.

Butterflies fluttered wherever she tread

To catch the fragrance her movements spread.

Seeing God’s messenger, she tossed

The roses at his feet and crossed

Her arms as she made a reverence,

Greeting the guest with ethereal scents,

Since on angels, earthly food is lost.

But Adam glowered, enraged that her first

Salutation was not for him; and he burst

With anguish: the chains encircling each limb

With blossoms had not been plucked by him.

The angel spoke:

“You poor benighted,

What the Lord has done, you have blighted.

He joined you to this companion that she,

Who would gladly be true, though she might be free,

Might give you rest from your self, and, requited,

Lift your burden of selfishness

Through her quickening vessel, her flesh, its caress.

Didn’t he make you to bless one another?

Your wretched complaints are vain.

To question this state will mean you smother

The good without gain.

She does as the Lord has made her to be.

Heed Providence as willingly!”

Swift as a dart he was gone, though he’d dropped

A message which fell on ears that were stopped.

Sweet and coaxing, Lilith had barely

Approached the mortal, when he snarled and unfairly

Tore off the posies he jealously found

So offensive, and trampled them into the ground.

A bickering blaze had its furious start:

“I’d only be happy if we were apart.”

“I know, so I’m going far away.”

“All right, then there’s nothing more to say.”

And so, their breaking hearts bereft,

Each took a separate path and left.

He fled to the meadow, she to the brook,

And all the world had a desolate look.

The valley where almond blossoms were scattered,

Now looked wasted, blasted, tattered.

Adam couldn’t help looking behind,

And Lilith stood trying to make up her mind,

Till hungry eye met eye

And their feet, which somehow refused to be still,

Had brought them together without their will;

And an irresistible urge

Fastened them close with a surge

Of kisses that rained like sparks from the sky.

“Forgive me,” he asked in a tender tone,

“I’m the rawest brute of the earth, my own.

A creature of light like you can’t grasp

How the beast tears my heart like a sharp-toothed asp.

I’d gladly make up my misdeed: for each flower

I tore from you and stamped on, I’ll scour

The rocks to break open where precious gems are inlaid,

Since rubies are roses that never fade.

I’ll purify gold to the highest grade;

From each boiling crucible, I’ll fashion

The rubies’ settings as signs of my passion.

And something else I can do to atone:

I’d like to build you a house of stone,

With pillars for strength and support

And walls where you’ll safely cavort;

Around every column a blossoming vine

That never withers will fondly twine.”

Lilith said,

“These arms that hold

Me are dearer than ornaments or gold;

Your heart is house and shelter enough,

To sleep there makes smooth all things that were rough.

Still, go ahead and smelt and hew

A bauble or house, but whatever you do,

So long as your spirit strives towards action,

My love will never suffer retraction.”

So, bosom to bosom, knee to knee,

Exchanging breaths, they forgot their ennui.

From tears their eyes had shed, and the gleam

Of love with which they shone, a beam

Of pure and spectral colors spreads:

A rainbow arcs above their heads.

IV

Midsummer stillness on sultry plains,

A drowsy midday dreaminess reigns,

And no breezes ripple the wheaten drape

That covers the earth where Adam, your shape

Lies stretched in the grain with one leg crooked.

His head in the nook of an elbow, he looked

The image of peace and contentment so deep

That he even let out a snore in his sleep.

One weakness in his nature has stayed:

He’s too fond of the sod from which he was made.

He’d gladly recline the live-long day,

Letting all cares be God’s to pay;

Yet Lilith enlivens his spirit so much,

He calls creamily “Lila Lilu” and such.

Then a wafting disturbance roils the slumberous wheat,

And down from the aether with wings that fan the heat

Comes Samael:

“Ha, what a welcome occasion,

To find him thus reposing, the crown of creation!

Come, heavenly hosts, sing hosanna! See

How divinely he snoozes. What godly dignity.

How apt! Hear his drooling babble, this nonpareil,

Whom the Lord Almighty makes heir over Samael!

And yet, however beastly the beast’s behavior,

Lilith lifts him up like a personal savior;

She even forswears the airy regions of light

Until he should learn to become her companion in flight.

A pair of wings lie there in his forge, but they comically failed;

Sparrows and falcons mocked his fall as he flailed

Despite all his ratchets, his goose-based design and his care;

But he’ll keep on trying until he achieves the air.

And once he tastes the joys of the soaring release,

He’ll be pulled back down to earth, where he has this lease.

Now’s the time to play my little game

Before he triumphs, before he fulfills his aim!

Now, Samael, effect your masterpiece.

Although I may lack the true creative gift,

I saw how the Potter worked till His clay-piece sniffed.

I’ve practiced making dolls from the same dense stuff;

But their tempting features alone won’t be enough.

It’s all in vain: without life-giving inspiration,

I can’t make the marriage of matter to respiration.

So, Adam, allow me my prank, and I’ll try to avert

Any pain. I’m nimble-fingered and won’t let it hurt.

That rib your raised-arm posture exposes so nicely,

I think will fit my masterpiece precisely.

The flesh will grow back quickly, I’m fairly sure,

And I need the living bone for an armature.

It must be bent with craft and care so it serves

To form a body that’s taut, yet soft with curves.

A little more kneading, nothing too complex;

Lovely, there she is ― the second sex.

She has brought along the breath from Adam’s dwelling;

The sun will hatch it forth like a chick from its shelling.

Just one thing’s lacking, but it’s a lucky fault:

No brain upsets this rib-maiden’s vault.

Undoubtedly, she’ll prove that much more persuasive.

Good, she’s breathing! Through her, let my power be pervasive.

The field lay just as still as before,

Dreaming the world was still serene;

Only the whispering reeds spread the lore,

Rumor of troubles to come they had seen.

Now see, as if drawn by a distant ringing,

Lilith, wrapped in her vaporous, clinging

Veil, came over the mountains, springing.

Just now, a melody reached her ears,

Half-perceived from the heavenly spheres.

How did it go? Oh, sound once more!

Unseizably far, from some astral shore,

Peals a song of songs, then grows wan;

Is she deaf to the rarified antiphon?

Often, when nights are still, she listens,

While every star in the diadem glistens,

Hearing the moon ascend: to toll ―

Yes! ― for her, with its peels that dally,

As if they could pluck their harp-sweet sounds from the valley.

The resonance kisses and cradles and quiets her soul.

But then it sinks away from its fellow

Planets’ orbit, a large and mellow

Drop that melts in the western horizon’s stream.

Lilith sits motionless on the rim

Of their nest near her friend. Something wakens him,

And he calls her a fool for being transfixed by some dream;

To him no silence is so profound

As to let him hear the unearthly sound,

Which to Lilith has become an ecstatic theme.

But now, by day, her mind is made up:

From that heavenly stream she will fill her cup.

The sun at its blazing perigee

Adds its powerful voice to the jubilee.

Oh, to ascend to those higher regions,

To join the blessed celestial allegiance,

To hear them from near and to sing with those legions!

And why had she been given wings that yearned

To answer the powerful upwards call?

Why had he made her thus at all,

If not to be drawn to the light she discerned?

And yet, till earthbound Adam learned

To fly, she would resist the thrall.

Not without him, no, oh, no!

If only his dogged progress weren’t so slow!

What if the Word, like a seed in a pod,

Were encased in those realms, and though veiled, resounded,

Filling her soul with a bliss that abounded

Beyond all understanding, with God?

Often while dreaming, a flash possessed

Her: transcendence had made itself manifest;

But before she could seize it, the moment she woke,

It turned to mist and evanesced,

Billowing out of her reach like smoke,

Back to the aether from which it had briefly digressed.

The Word, in which the end reflects the beginning,

Would unseal the longing soul like the stars that go spinning

In jubilation; would make the spirit blessed.

Lilith, look out down here below!

If you look to the heavens now, you’re a fool.

See to your earthly abode: for lo!

An alien duck has invaded your pool.

Isn’t that a woman there,

Naked under the olives, braiding her hair?

In her dawning eyes, with their wide dilation,

The abyss of nonbeing still seems to gape.

Lilith comes close, half in trepidation.

“Who are you, unknown female shape?”

But she only gazed blankly straight ahead.

“Here is my hand, I’ll help you stand.”

The woman was dumb, inert as lead,

Bound to the ground as if fused to the land.

Lilith stooped to succor the form,

“Your limbs are so stiff, and why aren’t they warm?

I’m shivering as if from your coldness’ projection;

My heart is chilled with fear and excrescence,

As if I were in misfortune’s presence.

How pallid and lifeless your waxen complexion!

You’re freezing; here then, take my veil.

Did the lion’s roaring make you so pale,

Or the jackal that’s crouching behind the rock?

You poor thing, tell me, what gave you a shock?”

Useless effort! The mouth of the stranger

Gave news of neither joy nor danger.

And still her fathomless eyes were linked

To nothingness; she never blinked.

But once wrapped in the spectral veil, the creature

Began to grope and finger it, while

Her every formerly slack feature

Was lit by her first, uncanny smile.

Yet wherever her fingers touched the cloth,

The fabric dissolved like a flame-singed moth.

In terror, the daughter of light rushed straight

To waken her nearby sleeping mate.

“Dearest, look over there by that stone:

There’s something hewn from flesh and bone.

It seems alive, it can move and it’s whole,

But I shudder to think if it has a soul.”

“How deeply this being moves me,” he said,

Bending over the thing he was shown,

“As if it were bone of my bone and I’d bled

To give it the flesh of my flesh for its own.”

In the face of his gaze, at the sound of his voice,

The image quivered, yet seemed to rejoice.

Her eyes seemed to snatch at his own look’s ray,

Her lips formed shapes, though with nothing to say.

As her pulse and her members grew suddenly warm,

She detached herself from Lilith’s arm.

She kneeled before him, her hands were splayed

As, supplicating him, she prayed.

Astonished, finding this posture bizarre,

He asked, “Where do you come from? Tell who you are.”

Obediently, she found her tongue.

“This place is the place in which I’ve sprung.”

“But who ― but what ― but why ― but how ―?”

“No how, I just exist, am now.

But I’m incomplete; separated

From my better part; I’ll never be sated.”

“But what has the Lord commanded you do?”

“The only Lord I know is you;

You, for whom earth and sky were unfurled;

You are the master of all my world;

You for whom flowers make their show;

You for whom eager rivers flow.

The sun itself serves you, lighting your way,

So I, your handmaid, tremble and pray.”

His marrow purled, he turned all receptive:

“This female must be very perceptive;

Sweetness wells out of her moist pink lips

The way honey still touching the honeycomb drips.”

But Lilith lifted her up from kneeling:

“It isn’t God to whom you’re appealing,

You poor misguided thing, but man,

Who dwells in love, the Creator’s plan,

And my mate, who’ll treat you well and kindly;

So be comforted, and don’t cower blindly.

I’ll bring you the things that refresh:

Manna and drink for the flesh;

And until you can help yourself, we’ll give

You shelter and all you need to live.”

O Lilith, Lilith, haven’t you guessed?

Where is that wisdom the spheres had rendered?

The snake may nourish itself at your breast,

But not this thing Adam’s rib engendered.

Yet she blithely led the apathetic

Guest into their house; and how pathetic

To see the second woman look back,

Except for the gaze she fastens on Adam, slack.

 

V

Lilith’s shimmering mantle swirls

In the wind where the river’s torrents make whorls.

She asks the animals, “Where is my gladness?”

The flowers, “Is all that remains of it madness?”

It doesn’t dwell in their house anymore;

Their fractious joy has slipped out the door,

And bitterness slithered in its stead;

But who let it enter ― even their bed?

Nothing comes clear; yes, one thing does:

Her mate is never the way he was;

Once so game and persistent:

Now cranky, capricious, resistant.

He’d grown painfully stingy of pleasant speech,

And sat staring at something out of reach.

Once dissolved by the least of her looks, or restored:

Now he is stiff and proud as a lord;

And all their cheer is gone in the breach.

And all his promising labors seem misbegotten:

The wings for which he had suffered such spills,

That he’d started to cover with sturdy quills,

Lie in his workshop, half forgotten.

His tools, corroding with rust, lay scattered;

Nothing progressed, as if nothing mattered.

The zeal was lost, the exalting aim.

And who was to blame?

It’s Eve, that figure so foreign to Lilith, who saps

His force, so his striving spirit naps.

Even Lilith, with Eve’s oppressive nearness,

No longer knows herself with clearness.

That muffled voice, those eyes that looked leaden,

The crushing indifference that seemed to deaden

The world, a figure stony as doubt,

Or a lyre whose music the man alone could bring out.

Adam had merely to walk nearby

For the figure to start to look lively and spry.

How longingly she seeks every chance,

Hanging on his slightest glance,

And like a dog at his master’s voice,

Comes waggling each time with strides that rejoice.

Her sparkling eyes, casting love’s thrill,

Her voice as high as a cricket’s trill!

Lilith can’t bear it here below.

She abandons the plains where the wild grains grow,

And the drunken cicadas’ numbing hum,

All that disconsolate tedium.

The thorn that makes her agonize

Pushes her upward until she flies

So high that the woods and the creatures who dwell

There can’t reach her with the melancholy “Farewell!”

Always ascending, she even outstrips

The pine-tops, until the clouds eclipse

Eden, the place of her pain, higher

Than jagged peaks of savage mountains

That drink from the cold and rarified fountains

Of heavenly aether, that heady clarifier.

Shafts of the sun, no longer scorching, still rained,

An awful silence, majestic, unearthly, obtained.

She hardly remarks that her veil has caught and been torn

On rugged terrain; she leaves it, born

To the glimmering clouds whose dreamy stuff

Is soft and colorful garment enough.

Upwards still. But below, diminishing more,

The house and all that made her heart so sore.

Oh Adam, if you only soared by her side,

What ails you would be purified,

Your brooding, gloomy sense of oppression,

Your heavy self-loathing, your stifling depression

Would fade away as would worldly gravity.

Rivers, seas and valleys lie

Stretched out as if they were urging you to fly

Farther, eerily farther, free.

But those wings that took her aloft had grazed a peak,

And their injured movements are growing weak.

She reaches a cliff where there’s hardly place

Enough for her slender feet, and where space

Gapes dizzily down the face of the rock.

A bird calls out, “You’ll fall!” In her shock,

She slips ― and crying out, she loses her breath,

Closing her eyes before the abyss of death.

― Not shattered yet? Is it really so far to the ground?

Does emptiness hold her fast? And listen, a sound!

Not she, but the earth falls down like a setting moon;

She ascends, and oh, what a heavenly organ’s tune!

His figure, shining with sweat, reflects

The dance the forge’s flame projects.

He stokes and hammers, solders, perspires.

His powerful frame grows red as the fire’s.

He has broken rocks for their precious ores,

And labored to make them pure. He pours

The metal in molds. Soon he’ll complete

His task. The wings are almost so full

Of life, they seem to strain, to pull.

Yet restlessness swirls from his head to his feet;

A troubled tumults besieges him,

Despite his success. What does Lilith want? Each whim

Of hers becomes the thing his life

Depends on, but causes him such strife,

That his every hour is filled with chagrin

And makes him ill at ease in his skin.

His treasure from heaven is always new,

And yet, in her changeable nature, true;

It’s she who fills his very veins,

He knows this, and yet he fights these pleasing chains;

And meanwhile Eve, with her laughter, entices

His flesh like a bee to a flower’s spices.

Who gave her this power? What is the source

Of the urges her glances can raise with such force

That his body longs for a final crisis?

Cradling a lamb that she had tamed,

“God help you, Adam!” Eve exclaimed.

“Do you have to struggle and slave for her?

She never says thanks, so why should you stir?

Why shouldn’t you enjoy your time?

Even the senseless beast is more wise:

He takes a wife and builds a nest and dies,

While you, you good man, you alone

Are condemned to the grime, there to toil and to groan.

The Creator isn’t the one who’s so cruel:

It’s Lilith who’s made you into her fool.

Being her drudge, the way you acquiesce,

Only serves to increase her imperiousness.

Let her fly to the stars if she wants to be free.

You’d learn what happiness is with me.

Forget your striving, forget your enslaver.

A life of love can be yours to savor

As unfettered as any woodland beast

With a wife to share the perpetual feast.

You could cultivate your garden in peace

And ease: with me you’re find release!”

He let his arms go idle and lax.

Didn’t this song of pleasure and rest

Sound like it came from his own beating breast?

He sighed. His body seemed to relax

While his mouth alone contradicted her still.

“Happiness is not God’s will.

He prods us to a greater goal

In which our pleasure may have no role,

And to which we must offer the sweat of our brow.

He calls us to raise our sights on high,

To reach the light that comes down from the sky

And but vaguely illumines our here and now;

To follow Him must be our vow.

So don’t stir the fire inside me, don’t ask

Me to turn, but sing to cheer my task

With the beat of this hammer I’m made to swing.”

“Then listen, it’s for you I sing:

I’m the flower, you the light,

Oh, turn your face within my sight!

But when you withdraw your gaze’s shine,

My blossom closes, I wither, I pine.

Oh come!

I’m the field, parched with drought:

Be the rain that makes me sprout!

Oh, storm me with hail or anything,

I’ll take whatever you may bring!

Just come!

I’m the image your hand has spun,

Still, creator, your work isn’t done.

Let the final master-touch be

What makes me a woman. Finish me!

Oh come!

Ah, all I’ve said is false. I believe

Nothing on Earth resembles Eve:

Neither flower, nor field, nor whole, nor part

Of some painted image, some work of art.

Just emptiness that longs to be filled

By you, and in this would gladly be killed ―

So come!

Embrace me with your strength. I desire

To be seared by you, my refining fire!

Whether, withstanding, I learn to be,

Or succumb to the painful ecstasy ―

Just come!”

“You wretched woman, be quiet! Why

Do you sing of the battle from which I fly,

And waken things from the depths, which were best

Enclosed in the dark where they’d been at rest?

They draw me to you with a stealthy attraction,

Unhappy confused, I’m mad with distraction;

I stifle, my life seems heavy with error;

I suffer, wracked by a deathly terror.

It’s nothing like the feeling I had

When Lilith stood before me that day. I was glad,

And all my jubilant senses caroled their glee:

Now the world is complete, it’s she, it’s she!

What’s churning in me will end in some violent release,

It drives me to do something hurtful, some cruel caprice ―

I wish I could explode so my rage would consume

The three of us, and marry us all to our doom.”

She had thrown herself in a heap at his feet.

And with turbulent breaths began to entreat:

“Beat me, destroy

Me, I’ll bear it all with joy,

And consider myself blessed to feel your hand.

Here is my body to love or to hurt,

Just touch me, even to treat me like dirt.

Tell me what service you demand.

Shall I throw myself on the fire and be lost

As the smoke of a sacred holocaust?

I’ll gladly bear whatever you contrive,

So long as you don’t cast me away still alive.”

What could he do but ― for pity merely ―

Take her in his arms sincerely?

In an instant, she clung to him and nestled,

A woman ravished with joy, enraptured.

She fit so well, he no longer wrestled;

She felt like a part of himself he’d recaptured.

He held her closer, unaware

That embracing her, he embraced a snare.

A whirlwind seized his senses, he fell

On her wildly with kisses: the spell

Of the madness was fresh as sin;

He sunk his teeth in her flesh, her skin.

What shadow suddenly softens the glare,

What fragrance of flowers wafts through the air?

Magnificent with her wings extended,

Renewed, the original woman descended.

Returning from regions where everything glowed

Because she’d fondly yearned for her earthly abode,

Having lingered in regions where light besotted

Her vision, her eyes were too dazed to have spotted

How the couple hastily started,

As if her gaze were a slap that smarted.

As her feet touched the earth, her first salutation

Was given to share her jubilation.

“Oh Adam, be glad and celebrate,

Exult in fate!

A happy day has dawned.

I drifted so high on a current so strong,

That I seemed to swim in the perfect song

By which worlds are spawned.

Let me hear it again in your company,

Oh, follow me, Adam, the heavenly sea

Calls us beyond.”

He stared at the foundry’s flames, looking lost.

His blood still pounded, his pulse still tossed,

His eyes contained no response to her,

And all she’d said was just a blur.

“Dear one, do you spurn my soaring?

If you only knew the thrill and the bliss of exploring

The universe’s exquisite symphonic peeling,

You’d never seek anything else but that feeling.

All earthly pleasures are nothing, destroyed

When you’ve heard that choir filling the void.

There, tones attract or repel through space

Till they meet in a vibrating fury, embrace.

Savage desire, delirious pleasure,

The cry of the senses exalted past measure,

The wail of the soul in doubt, the clang

Of the thief who storms heaven’s gate with a bang

On the doors, which love will overrun

At the melting cadence of every sun.

Yet the tide will rise and reclaim its course

In a flood that swells from its resonant source,

The chorus surging towards perfect union

For the triumph of truth and in praise of the One.

Come follow me, dearest, the stars invite

Us to take our share of eternal light.”

But Eve hissed softly,

“What good will it get

You? You’ll still be her serf if you fall in this net.”

Then all the turmoil he’d amassed

Turned to rage in a heated blast:

“Go!” His narrowed eyes were hidden,

“You’ve done the very thing I’ve forbidden.”

“Can you speak to me like such a churl?

We are not lord and serving girl.

There’s only one to be thus revered:

He called my name and I appeared.”

“Do you hear her vainglorious boasting?” cried Eve,

Who was causing his troubled chest to heave,

“Today can be your victory

When you tread on her arrogant neck and step free.”

“The world was made as my kingdom and I

Am lord, as I make the sparks that fly.

In my power, I’m master of all I survey,

And all who know what’s good for them obey.”

“The Creator paired me with you, my fate,

And I don’t know how to answer such hate.

I’ve heard a music of truth so superb,

That no earthly dissonance can perturb

Me. But send that soulless figurine

Away ― that’s all I ask: she’s unclean!

All our troubles are fires she’s stoking;

When I see her near you, I feel as though I were choking.”

“Part with her? Never, no! She’s my own;

I love her like my flesh and bone.

At my feet she even seeks my permission

To breath, so perfect is her adoring submission.”

Eve crows. Lilith feels tired,

Mourning how happiness has expired,

And cannot grasp it and can’t believe

Her love, their life will get no reprieve.

She calls him back as her heart seems to burst.

“Oh, think how happy we were at first,

Oh Adam, think of our violet bed!”

But, twining herself around his head,

The other said, “Scorn her or you are lost.

If you listen to her, it will be to your cost.”

And he, in madness, with desperate slashes,

Overturns the hearth and violently smashes

Lilith’s hopes for joy: he destroyed

The golden wings he’d never deployed.

Eve’s triumphant shout attested:

He was hers and the Earth’s, no more to be wrested.

In horror, the moment he’d done the action,

He stared at Lilith in stupefaction.

It’s no longer she! She was wild and strange,

A superhuman shape. In the change

She loomed tall and warlike with terrible gnashing,

Her azure eyes became coals that were flashing,

Her golden hair rose up and ignited

In burning waves, cascades of flame,

A shower of sparks encrimsoned her frame

As her billowing wings made the fire more excited.

Transformed, she awed and terrified him,

Sister to blazing Seraphim.

Then the awful countenance goes as it came,

And Lilith is she he has known by that name,

Lovely and bright and clear as the air,

Only pale and weary with grief and care.

He had taken more joy than he could tell

From those lips that now gave a sad farewell:

“Adam, goodbye. I’m swept on high

By a wind in which God’s spirit is nigh.

Alas, what have you done this for?

Shall we never meet? Oh, nevermore!”

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

He stared long afterward. Was it Lilith’s presence

That painted the rose-flecked twilight, her veil that tinged

The crepuscule with sighing hues,

Lilith, she who colored the world?

Now it faded, all colors grew mute. She was gone.

Only now did the words, resounding grow clear to his ear:

“Alas, what have you done this for?

Shall we never meet? Oh, nevermore!”

The joy of his youth was gone! And here lay scattered

His hopes of rising from dust: the tattered

Wings of love were broken. Remorse

And shame awoke his rage with new force.

He reached in the hearth for a burning brand

And set fire to the house once built by that hand.

And all was razed.

“Vanity, vanity!

All striving be damned. Who needs this stuff?

The branch of a tree is shelter enough.”

Eve nimbly assisted the wasteful insanity.

The ornamentally painted lyre

That Lilith had fingered was thrown on the pyre;

It cracked and the strings gave a tortured wail

Like a murdered thing. Its shriek seemed to sail

Through the air, to rise and avenge: with moans

Of winds like a hurricane raging and rolling,

The flames were fanned beyond all controlling.

The crazy conflagration leapt

From the crackling roof to the ground where it swept

Sideways across to the olive arbor,

Where the oil-soaked banner of fire took more ardor.

They flee, they two, in guilt and disgrace,

But the ravenous blaze pursues. They race,

And in their wake, they leave a scene

Of gray and black, where all had been green.

A horrific burst from a certain tree

Added shock to the rampant catastrophe.

The forest exploded, pines crashed down,

And verdant meadows burned red, then turned brown.

At Eden’s gates, the guardians stood

And asked, “Won’t today yield to night as it should?”

At the farthest edge of the farthest field,

Alone in a juniper, who was concealed

But Samael, who emerged to greet

The refugees, who collapsed at his feet,

Shaken exhausted, dazed, scared,

And now, through this fire, inextricably paired.

He looked down and laughed at their choiceless alliance,

“Blessed be this hour of such sheep-like compliance!

You, Eve, my intention’s child, are fulfilling

That plan, which my hatred for man has been distilling:

That where Lilith, through her gracious presence gave

Him the peace from which flows creative invention’s bliss,

You, with ever more stifling desires, deprave

Him back to the clay, his nature, with a kiss.

Together you’ll fruitfully multiply,

But no god nor half-god will come through this tie.

And, empty sensual pleasure his choice,

Man will once more become dust without voice.

So delight while you may. I take heart in the pleasant belief

That your progeny will cause me no grief.”

All became calm. Far away the blaze

Burned out. With the moon in its hidden phase,

Only the fallen angel’s sight

Kept watch that decadent nuptial night.

VI

He wakes with a bitter taste on his tongue,

Wrung by anxious dreams that still hung

On his brow like a poisonous wreath. He sprawls,

His body searching for Lilith’s, his rest ―

And a mountain crashes, crushing his breast:

Now he recalls!

Ash, horror, destruction!

Smoke shows the traces of Adam’s loving construction:

Those charred remains were the hearth, and that bit

Of black, the place for the bench where they’d sit

Together; his workroom ― razed, but he thought

Their bed ― no, all had come to naught!

Beyond, in the field, the fire’s shroud

Smothered the promised harvest. A crowd

Of panicking beasts, a stampeding mixture

Of wild and tame in a hideous picture

Jammed together in mad confusion,

Then cast themselves into the burning effusion.

The field where their innocent carcasses smoldered

Infected the air, the good earth moldered;

There’d be no reaping. He gagged on the smell.

Too late for regret. His heart as well

Lay empty and wasted, its spirit had vanished;

A desert was left since Lilith was banished.

His youth, the freshness of life was gone.

And where was Eve? Had she also withdrawn?

Would he have to endure this world alone,

This choking, abhorrent sterile zone?

No, over there by the valley’s brook,

She comes with a gaily satisfied look.

She’d gone out early, looking for food,

Since the fire had ended the plentitude

Of maize and manna, and gone was the fruit

Of the Tree of Life, now destitute.

Yet here she tossed him something to eat

That was plump and golden, whose smell was sweet.

And the woman herself, how ripe she’d become

In a single night! She had once seemed no numb,

But now shone with the softening light of a smile,

Though diffuse, dull as the sun through haze,

Vague and filtered, welcome while

The truer light was hiding its blaze.

“Praise me,” she wheedled,” sidling near,

“For how gladly I trouble myself for you, dear,

To make sure you get your nourishment.”

“What’s this fruit? Where is it you went?”

“Master, must you know everything?

Accept it because it’s something I bring.”

“Who showed it to you?”

“The long and sleek

Creature whose tongue darts out of his cheek;

I’ve always thought he was really nice,

Sometimes he guides me through Paradise,

Because, you know, I’ve been around.

I’ve always gone down every path I’ve found,

So I know a lot more than you think I do.

There’s an overgrown thicket where fruit trees stand ―

I’ve known for ages that it had two ―

And today I went, as I’d always planned,

To see if the fruits were ripe. It was hard,

There are thorny hedges. I thought I’d be scarred,

But the snake showed a way. One tree’s kind of gray.

The snake says its fruit keeps off death and decay;

It’s fragrant but otherwise seems prosaic.

The other’s a green and gold mosaic ―”

“I know, and know that eternal damnation

Awaits those who make its fruit their collation.

This is the food of angels alone;

There’s no way for the mortal who tastes to atone.”

“Don’t worry about that prohibition.

It’s a fruit so delicious, it teaches what’s true:

It’s knowledge, the snake says, and knowing’s permission.

I was tempted, but saved it all for you.

So take it and eat ― for the sustenance.

You’ll like it. Enough of this reticence.

But knowledge, I think, is too good for me;

So these berries will give me satiety.”

The waters of his mouth were rising.

He took and ate. A demoralizing

Change took the scales from his blinking eyes.

Disgrace was the price of being wise.

He saw himself and his consort and rued,

“I’m naked! It’s obscene, I’m nude!

And so are you, with your hairless skin.

It’s shameless, appalling, a terrible sin!

Come, to the woods! Come, we must rush

To hide ourselves in the thickest brush

And conceal from the light how disgusting we’ve been.”

“What’s the matter with you? Poor me, shall I flee?

Have our bodies grown suddenly somehow unclean?

Are our pleasures abhorrent? What can this mean?

You look as though you could murder me!”

“Oh, just be quiet. I’ll protect

You, stuck with your mud-bright intellect;

As for me, I know; and the revelation

Shows nakedness an abomination;

The knowledge pierced me like an awl,

And I know now I’ll never be happy at all.

Hey you, my hairy, tree-swinging brother,

I itch for your hide, and one way or another

Your fur is going to be my drape.”

The ape attempts to make his escape.

The man sets off in hot pursuit,

Swinging through trees, though less spry than the brute,

Lusting for slaughter, obsessed as a lover

To make the bloody garment his cover.

His mouth overflowed with a foaming hoar,

Eyes rolling, he gave a terrible roar.

The beast appeared less beastly than he.

Eve wrung her hands in embarrassed distress

At her lord in his public craziness,

And wailing, ran behind him. Those three

Screamed: ape chased by Adam by Eve.

Looking down, the hosts found it hard to believe.

A single melancholy break

Opens the swarm of clouds. “Man’s mistake,”

The mournful observers weep, “has left

Him in a nightmare world, bereft

Of innocence because he ate

From the tree whose fruit transformed his state,

And tasting the flesh of experience,

He consumed the pith of sapience.

Devoid of good cheer, without resilience,

Caught in the web of his mind’s own brilliance,

Which keeps him from seeing the greater rays

Of celestial light, he sits in a haze,

Neither wishes nor hopes nor sense of duty

Divert his gaze, which is blank, without beauty.

Alas, what profit is knowledge to man,

If he hasn’t ‘looked down from on high at God’s plan?

― Man does not begin to suspect

His greedy consummation’s effect.

He devoured misfortune’s dowry in haste,

He’ll have leisure to rue that one small taste.

A single thought, a single fixation

Now haunts his condition of alienation:

Can any specks of joy, any flashes

Be salvaged from bygone pleasures’ ashes?

And as for Eden’s nemesis,

Have you heard what she says? Like her poisonous kiss,

Her words make him sick: she asks why he mopes

Over self-fulfillingly vanished hopes.

Why shouldn’t they go on having fun?

‘Quiet! Quiet!’ his orison.

― Look now, angels, a rainbow, although

The sky is dry as a bone. It’s Yahweh’s glow.

The Creator can also annihilate:

He comes to judge. Repent! Oh, too late!

Now fly, you hosts, behind heaven’s wall;

Oh, don’t be a witness to mankind’s fall.”

Surrounded by peace, the man, who has none,

Sits in the grove where knowledge was won;

The devastating fire had spared

The sacred place where God’s test was prepared.

It was here that he had come to rest

With the mate who didn’t know how they’d transgressed;

Though the Tree of Knowledge had put them past pardon,

He leans there after the chase through the garden.

And above, the serpent, like burnished bronze,

Is sunning himself as daylight wans.

The swirl of a breeze released a scent

From the fluttering leaves as the treetop bent.

Expectant suspense excited the air

As the Lord made His presence felt everywhere.

“Adam, where are you?”

The human froze,

Shocked with a start from a brooding doze.

Time was, when he had leapt with delight

On hearing the Master’s call, not fright.

He concealed himself in the shrubs, in despair,

Saying, “Here, but I can’t come out: I’m bare.

The ape wouldn’t give me his pelt, so I went

And hid with only a leaf from a fig

To cover my groin, and it’s not very big.”

“Who told you what being naked meant?”

“Lord, Lilith really did me wrong,

She left me and took the veil along;

It was ours and it smelled like sandalwood,

And I know that without it, I’ll never feel good.

So judge and give back the raiment’s every thread:

The gleam in each piece, each irreplaceable shred

Was where my happiness was bred.”

“It was. And that gleam, which gives all the beauty you see,

Was intended for you and your children perpetually.

The veil in which Lilith walked in grace and hovered

Is that by which Eve can never be covered.

That heavenly image, the angel’s relative,

I sent to Earth that she might help you to live;

I gave the veil to her as her sole resort,

With your faithfulness as her support ―

She gave and you took, both disregarding cost.

You staked the human inheritance, and lost.”

“Why did you let it happen, if you’re the Lord?”

“Creature, do my plans need your accord?

I created you free, nor do I hinder evil;

I judge, and this is justice’s retrieval.

All paths are open, but you selected

The worst at the moment your choices intersected.

I wanted love to give you wings,

But you trampled it down among earthly things.

He, who has cast his first love off

And at Lilith’s gifts appeared to scoff

In order to garner Eve’s good grace,

Deserves the demise of himself and his race.

But Lilith has prayed, and her intercession

Has stayed my hand from total suppression.

Your new motivation, I henceforth decree:

You must find your salvation in misery.

You’ve laid the garden of Eden to waste,

And now you will have to depart in haste.

A coarse, harsh world shall be your domain.

No more shall you wander the grassy demesne;

You must plough the rough to make bread, once free.

I add this curse to all your torment:

That thorn and thistle are your new land’s adornment!

Your hunger pangs will be sharpened by sweat,

And troubles will spoil what rest you do get.

Around you, inheritors of all your toil,

Will be children, hard and cold as the soil;

For Eve, her belly cursed, will emit

A fratricide her best-loved will commit:

Conceived this sacrilegious night,

Both killer and he who will die without fight.

The murderer will become patriarch

Of all mankind, leaving his mark

On the spreading, intertwining web

Of descendants, a tribe that will grow without ebb

From sons, grandchildren, generations,

Who’ll never have seen Lilith’s veil, who’ll have made

Meat their food, and like clods, will spade

The dead back to earth as with fertilizations.

Then, after all the sorrow and pain,

When the parting comes, grief still will pertain.

Here, dropping away from the Tree of Life

Would be soft as a dream, without anguish or strife,

And lest your dying days felt hollow,

You’d be granted sight of all that would follow;

Sired and reared in dignity,

You’d be circled by loving progeny,

Who’d take your work on themselves for completion:

Hence relief for your body, your spirit, repletion.

The bonds of life will not yield with such bliss

And sanctity in the wilderness.

You’ll struggle for life, your whole being will battle for breath,

No matter how tortured, you’ll fight the release brought by death!

But you, whom I have not willed, who infect my plot

Like a noxious weed, who has wreaked ruination, but not

Even known your own guilt, I let you thrive, so you’d go

With him, clinging, meekly letting him reign, and would know

The same long toil and trouble, patiently

Enduring even your share of his mental malady.

In the abyss of you, he is full, and cares resolve;

Be then the riddle, which woe to him, should he solve.

And now for you, who, so close to my heart,

Saw secretive ways to practice a treacherous art.

Can’t you hear the dirge of the brotherly choir,

Grieved the most beautiful star of all should expire?

You’ll judge yourself; your doom will be the hell,

Not of Gehenna, but one you already know well,

You smooth-tongued artificer: the one in your breast.

Destroying joy was what you loved best;

Evil did not suffice, so be accursed:

You are the fire in which you’ll be immersed.

You spirit of pride in serpent’s guise,

Slither still in that body, remain to apprise

The woman of all your skills of dissembling, remain

To teach her the double-tongue whose speech seems plain.

Teach her how to sever united hearts,

To call lying truth, beauty loathsome: your arts.

Where brother murders brother, where sisters defame

One another to gain a man in a shameless game,

Where envy thrives, where faith is disquiet,

Linked to the female, there you shall dwell and run riot.

Serving her, you shall be lord of the Earth

And of all who will come to trace to Eve their birth. ―”

Their ears still thundered, the voice still resounded,

They found themselves at the gate, confounded.

Male and female, the guilty couple,

Clothed in pelts that were crude but supple,

They mutely followed the smoldering wake

Of their hissing mascot, the trail-blazing snake.

The pilgrim pair were unlike in mien:

The freshness of love adorned Eve’s face,

But Adam looked downcast, his suffering keen

For his broken faith, his loss, his disgrace.

“Welcome, penance,” he said, “and good bye

To those days of repugnant leisure that proved a lie;

Welcome, wretched work in the value of tears,

Welcome, whatever is stronger than thoughts, than fears.

Come, my guilt’s companion, ghost of my will,

Justice’s curse condemns me to cherish you still,

For you are me,

A piece of myself, born of and falling to dust ―

The other’s gone free,

She, my youth, my faith, my purity, my trust.

The gate has closed behind us forever, and hollow

Is all the world through which I must go, you must follow.

VII

The sun through swollen, lid-like clouds

Seems a mourner’s eye, which, weeping, enshrouds;

With penurious rays, it peers at the world

Of ceaseless strain, where man has been hurled,

And sees huts of clay that dot the fields,

And sees rows of crops with their stingy yields,

And sees among men who burgeon with youth,

A man whose hair is white as truth.

He sits and watches over his flock,

For a primitive race has sprung from him;

They know no aim but to answer the clock

Of their bodies’ needs; and their spirits are dim.

Nearby a woman rocks to and fro,

Made lusterless by work and woe,

Bent like a slave, her hair grown gray;

Her limbs are withered, and sunk with decay

Are breasts once a fountain of pleasure; pale,

The mother of mankind, once plump, is now frail.

She does not imagine others’ feelings,

Her body dictates all her dealings.

But Adam is made from purer sod,

And was given dominion of Earth by God.

So even under this yoke of existence,

Preserves the signs of his source with persistence.

Year after year, he bears his sentence,

Which cannot be changed by his sad repentance,

And knowing this, he never searched

For the Paradise gates from which he once lurched.

From time to time, when lightning flashes,

He knows that flaming swords are clashing

Behind the Garden of Eden’s gate,

That today the powers of darkness battled

The angels of light, that the thunder rattled

For Paradise: his lost estate.

How lovely seem those days that are far!

He hardly knows a single star

That Lilith showed him then and had named;

They were drear in this dreary land he’d claimed.

He’d forgotten the names with which once they’d been blessed

By Lilith, and all that he’d once possessed.

His heart is sick as a blighted tree,

Too weary even for memory.

But sometimes, seeing the eglantine

That grows on the edges of fields he’s been clearing,

He thinks of how those flowers twine

Through Paradise woods, and knows those more cheering;

And he always averts his gaze when he sees

The rainbow from which, ashamed, he flees.

And yet, at night, the joy that was dead

Awakens in dreams unleashed in his bed.

It’s then he sees her, who has long been gone,

Comely and full of grace as dawn.

Lithe as a life-sweet sapling, she bends,

Touching his feet as she leans and blends

Such rapture in an ambrosial kiss,

He forgets he’d forgotten the taste of bliss.

Her countenance is clear and candid,

And from it, a radiance expanded;

Her thoughts, like an angel’s, appeared in her face,

And in it, he finds a resting place.

Also, her voice was a celebration,

Her “dear one” fills him with quiet elation,

Her words were larks in a chorus that dips

And soars, more precious for having come from her lips.

His body grows light with the youthful sense

Of freshness and vigor and innocence;

Her veil becomes a canopy,

Her exalting arc, under which in their glee,

They frolic and drink from their over-full cup;

They play at fighting, and then make up.

At rest, they watch a rainbow disclose

Seraphic faces. How sweet their repose!

He kisses her silvery feet and presses

His face in her fragrant golden tresses;

His joy is bound here. And so, the day,

Alas, taking one, carries both away.

After such dreams of when gladness was sleek,

Quotidian life seems doubly bleak;

The Earth is reeking, corrupt, compared

To the air of his homeland, where life was prepared.

And gradually, even the dream is lost,

The film is torn and, no longer glossed,

His vision exposes how everything ends:

The final hours are flames and gore,

The world explodes, the fire extends,

And Lilith’s final utterance rends

His ear: “Shall we never meet? Oh, never more!”

His hope and hope of hope revoked,

He starts his chores. When the oxen are yoked,

He carefully hoes around every sprout,

But lets the animals trample out

The flowers the fallow places grew,

Since they’ve never soaked up Eden’s dew!

Behind the plow, sullen and surly,

Eve’s oldest son, the strapping, burly

Pride of her heart. One of Adam’s shames,

Conceived on the night when the world was in flames,

His heart has remained estranged from Cain.

His forehead lodges a mark, a stain

As red as fire, as if blood had been spilt;

Didn’t this show he was born of guilt?

Or did it betoken some future wrong?

Cain scattered the seed on the ground. He was strong

In his casting, and diligent, but a flame

In his eyes showed he bridled at acting so tame.

He, with his cleverness, strength and cunning,

Had outgrown the domestic order, shunning

His father’s hopeless lack of ambition,

And his brother the herder’s sweet disposition.

The hut, whose sharing Cain begrudges,

The meatless meals, the way everyone trudges

To daily chores, drives the eldest to madness;

For Abel, they seem to bring nothing but gladness.

Cain can never be contented

Unless he is hunting, feasts, fermented

Drinks, orgies, and fancy clothes

Finely woven by women. He knows

How to make his sisters serve him and cower

In fear of his masterful manner and glower.

He doesn’t know the name of the Lord,

And duties to parents make him bored.

From the womb, his nature has been to torment

The beasts of the earth; he follows this bent

In savage chases through every terrain,

And with vicious traps; indifferent to pain,

He makes trophies and meals of whatever he’s caught.

His frequent companion, the serpent, taught

Him the crafts and art of archery,

Which only increased his depravity;

And to him no gain is ever sufficient,

Overabundance would still be deficient.

Adam uneasily contemplated

The fruit of his flesh: he incarnated

Adam’s most deplorable traits,

The things about himself he hates.

And Cain, Adam’s evil I, only stayed

Among all those his father purveyed

Because, though restive, he still was afraid

Of Adam’s strength. But his relatives’ closeness

Made him feel poisoned with angry moroseness.

Soon. Soon. The hand which now

Casts the seeds behind the plow ―

What will it cast tomorrow? What seeds

Of the future, when Adam’s strength recedes?

The others are docile and make no moan;

Dull, none seeks a path of his own,

The first man sees himself in them, too;

Passive, complacent, but somehow askew.

Yet should he try to raise their vision

To the heights where he’d slipped on a fatal decision,

They’d blindly follow their mother’s tracks,

Fixed on practical matters and lacks.

All he creates just feeds the abyss;

This world gives the emptiness emphasis.

And none of his sons hears the slightest ring

Of what draws him up to a higher being,

Of his flowering valley’s eternal Spring,

Which he’d lost for their race. As if agreeing,

Neither he nor Eve ever told of this thing.

And yet, a nameless homesick ache

Haunted all his descendants, persisted.

They knew, though their spirits were blunt and opaque,

That somewhere a better place existed;

And even the wretchedest sees the gleams

Of Lilith and Paradise in dreams.

Earth, lament! Despoil

The grass that was loved by the herder,

Heave your blood-soaked soil

That man’s first death should be murder.

Hear the progenitor grieve,

Tearing his clothes for his son.

“What Yahweh foretold He’d achieve

For my fault, alas, it is done.

Oh, that I should engender this race

To pollute the Earth, my mother,

With guilt’s indelible trace

Where brother slaughters brother!

Further, more grievous disaster

Must be the result of this all,

Justice’s terrible Master

Avenges the first, my Fall.

Greed and guilt spin the tissue,

Ever more stained where they’ve bled,

The coils entrap the issue

Born of the guilty bed.

I hear them across the ages,

Their sin cries for God, and despairs;

They curse me, for nothing assuages

Existence as Adam’s heirs.”

Oh come and look. This then is death!

The scream it inspires freezes for want of breath.

Then this is the riddle, not seen before:

Long intimated death! What tore

Their brother’s heart, that it could enter?

Does suffering come when the soul leaves its center?

He sleeps so deeply ― but clots of blood ―

Blood! Blood! The earth once tasting this liquor,

Craves the ichor in flood;

So sweet, so piquant! Intoxicated,

Earth cries it’s not sated.

Adam’s children stood ashy and pale.

This was their brother! And yet it was not,

This soulless figure stretched out on this plot,

So still yet still like himself when living and hale,

A stone is less heavy, less cold to feel.

This is only his image. Is he still real?

Here’s death; then life is done,

He’s gone. Is it true that he’ll never come back, never hear?

No one knows, but everyone asks.

What does this make of their lives, their tasks?

― “Sister, you cry?

One day our parents will also die,

And you and I and everyone.”

The patriarch prays from bended knees;

The mother whispers, but finds no ease,

Not for the loss of the son who’s dead:

If every one of her children bled,

She wouldn’t shed a single tear,

So long as her eldest, her only, stayed near.

Now he was wandering, lonely, attempting to hide,

With only the snake by his side.

Her pet since the cradle, in Cain she could see,

The living sign of her victory,

Of how her charms had made Adam break the ties

That God had bound, of how she’d captured the prize.

What Adam, when young, had been, her son had become,

Her idol, her light, for whom she’d have cut off a thumb.

What had Abel done to make Cain assault his brother?

Cain said it started with offerings, but his mother

Knew it to be a woman: she knew!

That lily-white sister, whose eyes were such heavenly blue

Had chosen namby-pamby Abel,

Whom Adam blessed as a couple, even sitting at table.

She hated her daughter for causing this pain,

For spoiling everything for Cain.

And Adam took the spade and turned the first

Clod. The young men followed. Now earth, burst

Your crust to receive your race; to your virgin clay

They entrust the first of their corpses today.

Gabriel:

Greetings, in your banishment and rue,

Father of mankind, peace unto you.

Do you know me still? You, I would hardly have known:

With the stamp of affliction,

You’ve changed since the creation’s morning of benediction,

When angels’ glory paled to your own.

Adam:

An angel’s traits are spared from pain,

They suffer no fate in the heavenly plain;

To him a thousand years is a second, no more.

You son of light, do you know what it means to age?

Gabriel:

I see it now ― I’d never seen it before.

Adam:

Nor had I death. It came today

And took our son, the meekest one, as prey.

Was that His will, you Seraph, my sage?

Gabriel:

So it is written. Your hour shall come as well.

Adam:

I accept what His vengeance may compel.

My head sinks to earth ― I’m so tired I can’t wait

For death, if it will annihilate.

His tangled dream of creation leaves

A bitter taste, which death reprieves.

Gabriel:

And shall you, reviled, and accused by your deeds,

Sit in judgment of heaven’s uses?

You’ve sowed the future, your actions, the seeds;

And shall you complain of fate’s abuses?

Your acts are things you cannot disclaim;

The pull of worldly things proved too strong,

And Eve still stronger, for all along,

She’s been what you know, a piece of your frame;

And now in the flesh of your sons it keeps breath

In a vicious circle of birth, desire and death.

But the spirit’s drives that God gave you for play,

You child of earth, where then are they?

The belly is lord, all is slobbering, greedy distortion

As brother furtively covets brother’s portion;

Monstrous selfishness will hungrily

Devour poor weak, defenseless decency.

And all your tribe will bow to the yoke of desire,

Miseries engendering miseries that never retire;

Toil that has neither goal nor rest;

Urgency with no end to be guessed.

Say, what is the end?

Adam:

Have you come to increase my share of woe?

Is today’s too small that tomorrow’s must show?

Gabriel:

And your daughters ― a wicked, malignant breed!

A fruit with betrayal its seed!

They blossomed out of the hours of your darkest lusts;

With honeyed vipers tongues, they betray all trusts.

Their fondling, enticing, dove-sweet cooing,

Flattery, teasing, brazen wooing

Appeal to the lowest nature in you;

With their serpentine coiling together ― confusion ensuing ―

No god could then winnow false from true.

Gifted disciples of Eden’s snake,

Given to you for chastisement’s sake,

In each of them, Eve is always new.

Adam:

You have come to crush my race to dust ―

Fulfill your office; God is just.

Gabriel:

Not so. I was not sent in rage,

But that comfort, born of His grace, should be your wage.

Do you see the arc of peace that bridges land

And sky with iridescent band?

Why don’t you ask where Lilith has gone?

Adam, you’re silent, face downcast, withdrawn.

And yet I see the question your lips won’t expel.

Where Lilith went, the Master alone can tell

Her sojourn in Eden lives on as myth, a thing

To wake the memory of the spirit’s Spring.

So when a rainbow is unifying

Heaven and earth, they’ll say, “Lilith is crying.”

Still, she left a parting gift,

Though undeserved, that your spirits might lift.

Know this: that Lilith’s womb was blessed,

That from it a boy, most perfect, egressed.

Adam, your first-born child is adored,

Whom angels freely acknowledge as Lord.

I bore Him to Eden myself. There, in peace,

His teachers are the Cherubim;

Wooly sheep with golden fleece

Play with Him.

Combing the shining hair of the Child,

A Seraph tells him of Mary so mild.

The Child’s eye is purest light;

Just once in a while, a dream of affliction,

Born of His sorrowing mother’s prediction,

Dampens the glow, like a veil, on His sight.

Adam:

To see Him, Oh, and through Him, the Mother!

Then to die, so to never see anything other!

Gabriel:

That’s not vouchsafed, so be content

That your heart should know Him with wonderment;

He must be kept hidden until He descends with the Mother,

God lengthens His childhood from loving kindness,

For when the time, fulfilled, is right,

An earthly cradle is where He’ll be laid

To bring His bastard siblings aid,

Blessing them, since He’s haloed by light,

By leading them out of their utter blindness.

He brings the thing that was lost by your race:

The veil that covered Lilith’s face.

No matter what object the veil surrounds,

Stands out from afar, and light abounds.

When at last, enlightenment gained,

As mankind approaches perfection, they’ll know

It’s because of this blessing He brought below,

Which, dampened with sweat, even blood will have stained.

Beset by conflict, a blazing fight,

His acts will bring Him no delight.

His tender footsteps will crush the head of the serpent,

But men shall pierce the feet of God’s servant,

Because He’s bowed low in the yoke by the offspring of Eve,

Who despise the One raised in light, whom she did not conceive.

They’ll lay Him in chains; they’ll bar His path;

They’ll lead Him to slaughter with scorn and wrath.

But all in vain! For when all that must be is done,

On Earth, the blood of Lilith will have won.

Don’t ask me how: He who is vast beyond vast,

The boundless, the first and the last,

Will secretly nurture her sacred breed

And avert all danger in their hour of need.

Whenever He wills that the course of the world

Be given a jolt, not just slowly unfurled,

He awakens one from the multitude

Who carries the blood of Lilith’s brood.

By a sign of her tribe He can always be known:

He’s untouched by the things that the serpent has shown.

Like a child, trusting, unaware

Of the wiles of His fellows, He will not see

How they plot against Him, spitefully;

They’ll conspire to bind His feet in a snare.

He sees the world as it was on the first, holy day;

When they were pure, His parents saw it that way.

And He’ll always return; He has no fears

Of martyrdom, persecution or might.

A searcher, He seeks in the infinite spheres

For unbearable truth’s unbearable light.

He steers the ship through a desert of waves,

And calls to the hearts of doubters: Land!

For the hurt, He comes as hero and saves;

For the wavering of faith, as prophet: to stand.

With golden metaphors, He overwhelms

The Earth with images of fragrant realms,

Suffusing the clamoring world and its millions

With harmonies from astral pavilions,

And instills in their primitive thoughts a desire

To be with their brother in air that is higher.

Unafraid of the dizzying height,

He climbs, though the ladder extends beyond sight,

While He hears with innocent fascination

The half-comprehended word of creation.

Eternal illumination grows near,

The hosts’ hosannas are His to hear,

Until he appears at the throne of the One:

Mankind’s fulfillment, your glorious Son!”

The messenger left, and though he wasn’t the angel of death,

With Gabriel, departed Adam’s final breath.

Yet, all of the respects the children paid

Were paid to Eve, who moaned she was betrayed.

“Hear our vow:

To prevail somehow,

Pursuing Him with poison daggers

And such treachery, He staggers,

And heaping such slanders that even His ashes blister.

Hear every sister

Swear to use

Her charms to perturb

His heart, to confuse

His sense with His senses,

To fawn and fondle, to vanquish His superb

Serenity, to unman His defenses;

The Fall thus always recommences.

Hear us all: we’ll rebel,

Although we burn in the flames of hell,

Each time the Son of Lilith will appear,

We’ll see He’s the enemy, but have no fear.

We’ll know how to smother

His influence in our sphere,

He’ll be turned from His goals and won’t achieve any.

Be comforted, mother,

He is one, we are many.”

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1 Midrash (plural midrashim) makes use of allegory, parable and above all narrative to explicate scripture. The sages say, “What is Torah? The interpretation of Torah.” (See [* oztorah*]; also quoted in, [* The Bible: A Biography (Books That Changed the World) by Karen Armstrong.*])

 

[]2 Genesis 4:14

3 See Inanna & the Huluppu Tree

 

4 Isolde’s mother, as the “von” in her name attests, had sprung from the nobility. (See [* Family Group Sheet for Kurz/von Brunnow*].)

 

5 It may serve to remind some readers that at the time of the birth of Garibaldi Kurz, there was not yet a unified German or Prussian state. That would arise with Bismark and the Unification of Germany in 1871. Until then Nationalism, which had been connected with various independence movements, had had a ― largely ― progressive appearance.

 

6 Richard Wagner used Kurz’s book, published in 1844, as the source for his opera.

 

7 [_ Die Pilgerfahrt nach dem Unerreichlichen:] [Lebensrückschau_] (The Pilgrimage to the Unattainable) Tübingen : Rainer Wunderlich, 1938. Now that the writer’s works have come into the public domain, they are becoming available online, as in this case: [+ Die Pilgerfahrt nach dem Unerreichlichen+].

 

8 Glancing back to a more eminent Mary, the mother of a writer more familiar to readers of English, Mary Shelley , Marie von Brunnow may appear a Mary Wollstonecraft redux. Though Wollstonecraft may not have stood at the barricades of the French Revolution in 1789 in the way von Brunnow did in the German actions of 1848, Shelley’s mother had crossed the channel ― alone ― in 1792 to live in France and observe the progress, then collapse of the democratic cause. Moreover, while Wollstonecraft did not survive to educate her own daughter, the pamphleteer’s principles regarding the education of women so closely reflect von Brunnow’s practice, that it’s likely Isolde’s mother was influenced by Wollstonecraft’s revolutionary work of 1792, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. (For a brief discussion of Isolde and her education by Marie, see Helen Chambers, Humor and Irony in Nineteenth-Century German Women’s Writing: Studies in Prose Fiction, 1840-1900 (Studies in German Literature Linguistics and Culture Camden House, 2007).

9

Gobineau’s “Essai sur l’inégalité des races humaines” tomes I and II had appeared in 1853. Isolde work on some of his literary efforts. The tracts, some would argue, were fiction, too. We must not be surprised to find the racist in a translation project that was overseen in part by the Jewish writer Paul Heyse since the French bigot selected the Jewish “race” for approbation.

 

10 [+ Hermann Kurz+], George Müller: München und Leipzig, 1906

11 Reissued as Das Leben meines Vaters in 1929.

 

12 The translation became available in 1877, a year in which her translation of Prosper-Olivier Lissagaray’s history of the 1871 Paris Communewould also appear. Kurz’s translation of the significant Verismo writer Giovanni Verga’s [translate this page]1882 novel, Ihr Gatte (Il Marito di Elena) was to be published in 1885.

13 []A book published in 1914 would of course have to have been prepared for publication before The Great War (World War I) had erupted.

14 []“Leuke” was put forth as a slim volume in 1926 by the Munich publisher G. Müller. The legend from which Kurz’s narrative descends finds clear outline in a note to his own versification, [* Helen of Troy: Her Life and Translation; Done Into Rhyme by Scottish writer by (Scottish writer and folklorist) Andrew Lang*].

15 The word Schwarmerei has entered most English dictionaries. (Some retain the initial capital letter of the German.) It has come to be associated with excessive sentimentality, but originally referred to a sense of musings of great exaltation and enthusiasm – if perhaps not of great depth.

 

16 This contemplative exploration of literary form and of the awakening of awareness appeared as “A Prelude” to the collection Von Dazumal. Erzählungen (Of Times Gone By: Stories) Berlin: Verlag von Gebrüder Paetel, 1900. (Marcel Proust’s A la Recherche du Temps Perdu, or In Search of Lost Time, would begin to come out in 1913). “Es und Ich,” as well as many other works by Kurz, can be read online: as part of Projekt Gutenberg – Klassische Literatur Online.

 

17 * Sigmund Freud*’s seminal The Interpretation of Dreams first appeared in German in 1899. Around the same time, Swedish writer August Strindberg (1849-d.1912) published a tale entitled “The Story of Jubal Who Had No ‘I’” in his (n.b.)1903 collection, [+ Sagor+].

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18 From Italienisches Erzählungen (Italian Tales). Stuttgart: Göschen, 1895

 

19 See Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, section 4; (online at http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/sbe15/sbe15075.htm). My thanks to Professor Michael Witzel for identifying it as the likely source.

20 Lilith’s Children, as shown, appeared in 1908; Kurz’s first Collected Works would be the 6 volume of 1925 (Gesammelte Werke. 6 Bde.); another, also of 6 volumes appeared in 1935; the publication of the memoir Die Pilgerfahrt nach dem Unerreichlichen. Lebensrückschau was to be 1938, as was a new 8 volume Collected Works (1938 Gesammelte Werke. 8 Bde).

 

21 Mythen und Mysterien, Stuttgart : J.G. Cotta Nachf., 1904

 

22 At the time of the essay, Kurz’s “favorite” survives in library and antiquarian editions of her collected works. (Vera Zingsen discusses it in [+ Lilith Adams Erste Frau+] {Lilith Adam’s First Wife}.)

 

23 Meine Mutter, Rainer Wunderlich Verlag: Tübingen, 1926

24 from the 1905 Neue Gedichte (New Poems)


Lilith's Preview

  • Author: Becca Menon
  • Published: 2016-09-11 23:35:19
  • Words: 22134
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