Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE LILY OF MALUD, by JOHN COLLINGS SQUIRE

Poetry Explorer

Classic and Contemporary Poetry

THE LILY OF MALUD, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: The lily of malud is born in secret mud
Last Line: But she knows not what it was.
Alternate Author Name(s): Eagle, Solomon; Squire, J. C.
Subject(s): Flowers; Gardens & Gardening; Lilies

The lily of Malud is born in secret mud.
It is breathed like a word in a little dark ravine
Where no bird was ever heard and no beast was ever seen,
And the leaves are never stirred by the panther's velvet sheen.

It blooms once a year in summer moonlight,
In a valley of dark fear full of pale moonlight:
It blooms once a year, and dies in a night,
And its petals disappear with the dawn's first light;
And when that night has come, black small-breasted maids,
With ecstatic terror dumb, steal fawn-like through the shades
To watch, hour by hour, the unfolding of the flower.

When the world is full of night, and the moon reigns alone
And drowns in silver light the known and the unknown,
When each hut is a mound, half blue-silver and half black,
And casts upon the ground the hard shadow of its back,
When the winds are out of hearing and the tree-tops never shake,
When the grass in the clearing is silent but awake
'Neath a moon-paven sky: all the village is asleep
And the babes that nightly cry dream deep:
From the doors the maidens creep,
Tiptoe over dreaming curs, soft, so soft, that not one stirs,
And stand curved and a-quiver, like bathers by a river,
Looking at the forest wall, groups of slender naked girls,
Whose black bodies shine like pearls where the moonbeams fall.

They have waked, they knew not why, at a summons from the night,
They have stolen fearfully from the dark to the light,
Stepping over sleeping men, who have moved and slept again:
And they know not why they go to the forest, but they know,
As their moth-feet pass to the shore of the grass
And the forest's dreadful brink, that their tender spirits shrink:
They would flee, but cannot turn, for their eyelids burn
With still frenzy, and each maid, ere she leaves the moonlit space,
If she sees another's face is thrilled and afraid.

Now like little phantom fawns they thread the outer lawns
Where the boles of giant trees stand about in twos and threes,
Till the forest grows more dense and the darkness more intense,
And they only sometimes see in a lone moon-ray
A dead and spongy trunk in the earth half-sunk,
Or the roots of a tree with fungus grey,
Or a drift of muddy leaves, or a banded snake that heaves.

And the towering unseen roof grows more intricate, and soon
It is featureless and proof to the lost forgotten moon.
But they could not look above as with blind-drawn feet they move
Onwards on the scarce-felt path, with quick and desperate breath,
For their circling fingers dread to caress some slimy head,
Or to touch the icy shape of a hunched and hairy ape,
And at every step they fear in their very midst to hear
A lion's rending roar or a tiger's snore. ...
And when things swish or fall, they shiver but dare not call.

O what is it leads the way that they do not stray?
What unimagined arm keeps their bodies from harm?
What presence concealed lifts their little feet that yield
Over dry ground and wet till their straining eyes are met
With a thinning of the darkness?
And the foremost faintly cries in awed surprise:
And they one by one emerge from the gloom to the verge
Of a small sunken vale full of moonlight pale.
And they hang along the bank, clinging to the branches dank,
A shadowy festoon out of sight of the moon;
And they see in front of them, rising from the mud,
A single straight stem and a single pallid bud
In that little lake of light from the moon's calm height.

A stem, a ghostly bud, on the moon-swept mud
That shimmers like a pond; and over there beyond
The guardian forest high, menacing and strange,
Invades the empty sky with its wild black range.

And they watch hour by hour that small lonely flower
In that deep forest place that hunter never found.

It shines without sound, as a star in space.

And the silence all around that solitary place
Is like silence in a dream; till a sudden Hashing gleam
Down their dark faces flies; and their lips fall apart
And their glimmering great eyes with excitement dart
And their fingers, clutching the branches they were touching,
Shake and arouse hissing leaves on the boughs.
And they whisper aswoon: Did it move in the moon?

O it moved as it grew!
It is moving, opening, with calm and gradual will
And their bodies where they cling are shadowed and still,
And with marvel they mark that the mud now is dark,
For the unfolding flower, like a goddess in her power,
Challenges the moon with a light of her own,
That lovelily grows as the petals unclose,
Wider, more wide with an awful inward pride
Till the heart of it breaks, and stilled is their breath,
For the radiance it makes is as wonderful as death.

The morning's crimson stain tinges their ashen brows
As they part the last boughs and slowly step again
On to the village grass, and chill and languid pass
Into the huts to sleep.
Brief slumber, yet so deep
That, when they wake to day, darkness and splendour seem
Broken and far-away, a faint miraculous dream;
And when those maidens rise they are as they ever were
Save only for a rare shade of trouble in their eyes.
And the surly thick-lipped men, as they sit about their huts
Making drums out of guts, grunting gruffly now and then,

Carving sticks of ivory, stretching shields of wrinkled skin,
Smoothing sinister and thin squatting gods of ebony,
Chip and grunt and do not see.
But each mother, silently,
Longer than her wont stays shut in the dimness of her hut,
For she feels a brooding cloud of memory in the air,
A lingering thing there that makes her sit bowed
With hollow shining eyes, as the night-fire dies,
And stare softly at the ember, and try to remember,
Something sorrowful and far, something sweet and vaguely seen
Like an early evening star when the sky is pale green:
A quiet silver tower that climbed in an hour,
Or a ghost like a flower, or a flower like a queen:
Something holy in the past that came and did not last. ...
But she knows not what it was.

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