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THE DANCE OF THE DAUGHTERS OF HERODIAS, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Is it the petals falling from the rose
Last Line: Of the last petals falling from the rose.
Subject(s): Dancing & Dancers

Is it the petals falling from the rose?
For in the silence I can hear a sound
Nearer than my own heart-beat, such a word
As roses murmur, blown by a great wind.
I see a pale and windy multitude
Beaten about the air, as if the smoke
Of incense kindled into visible life
Shadowy and invisible presences;
And, in the cloudy darkness, I can see
The thin white feet of many women dancing,
And in their hands . . . I see it is the dance
Of the daughters of Herodias; each of them
Carries a beautiful platter in her hand,
Smiling, because she holds against her heart
The secret lips and the unresting brow
Some John the Baptist's head makes lamentable;
Smiling as innocently as if she carried
A wet red quartered melon on a dish.
For they are stupid, and they do not know
That they are slaying the messenger of God.
Here is Salome. She is a young tree
Swaying in the wind; her arms are slender branches,
And the heavy summer leafage of her hair
Stirs as if rustling in a silent wind;
Her narrow feet are rooted in the ground,
But, when the dim wind passes over her,
Rustlingly she awakens, as if life
Thrilled in her body to its finger-tips.
Her little breasts arise as if a thought
Beckoned, her body quivers; and she leans
Forward, as if she followed, her wide eyes
Swim open, her lips seek; and now she leans
Backward, and her half-parted lips are moist,
And her eyelashes mingle. The gold coins
Tinkle like little bells about her waist,
Her golden anklets clash once, and are mute.
The eyes of the blue-lidded turquoises,
The astonished rubies, waked from dreams of fire,
The emeralds coloured like the under-sea,
Pale chrysoprase and flaming crysolite,
The topaz twofold, twofold sardonyx,
Open, from sleeping long between her breasts;
And those two carbuncles, which are the eyes
Of the gold serpent nesting in her hair,
Shoot starry fire; the bracelets of wrought gold
Mingle with bracelets of carved ivory
Upon her drooping wrists. Herodias smiles,
But the grey face of Herod withers up,
As if it dropped to ashes; the parched tongue
Labours to moisten his still-thirsting lips;
The rings upon his wrinkled fingers strike,
Ring against ring, between his knees. And she,
Salome, has forgotten everything,
But that the wind of dancing in her blood
Exults, crying a strange, awakening song;
And Herod has forgotten everything,
He has forgotten he is old and wise.
He does not hear the doubled-handed sword
Scrape on the pavement, as Herodias beckons
The headsman, from behind him, to come forth.
They dance, the daughters of Herodias,
With their eternal, white, unfaltering feet,
And always, when they dance, for their delight,
Always a man's head falls because of them.
Yet they desire not death, they would not slay
Body or soul, no, not to do them pleasure:
They desire love, and the desire of men;
And they are the eternal enemy.
They know that they are weak and beautiful,
And that their weakness makes them beautiful,
For pity, and because man's heart is weak.
To pity woman is an evil thing;
She will avenge upon you all your tears,
She would not that a man should pity her.
But to be loved by one of these beloved
Is poison sweeter than the cup of sleep
At midnight: death, or sorrow worse than death,
Or that forgetfulness, drowning the soul,
Shall heal you of it, but no other thing:
For they are the eternal enemy.
They do not understand that in the world
There grows between the sunlight and the grass
Anything save themselves desirable.
It seems to them that the swift eyes of men
Are made but to be mirrors, not to see
Far-off, disastrous, unattainable things.
"For are not we," they say, "the end of all?
Why should you look beyond us? If you look
Into the night, you will find nothing there:
We also have gazed often at the stars.
We, we alone among all beautiful things,
We only are real: for the rest are dreams.
Why will you follow after wandering dreams
When we await you? And you can but dream
Of us, and in our image fashion them!"
They do not know that they but speak in sleep,
Speaking vain words as sleepers do; that dreams
Are fairer and more real than they are;
That all this tossing of our freighted lives
Is but the restless shadow of a dream;
That the whole world, and we that walk in it,
Sun, moon, and stars, and the unageing sea,
And all the happy humble life of plants,
And the unthoughtful eager life of beasts,
And all our loves, and birth, and death, are all
Shadows, and a rejoicing spectacle
Dreamed out of utter darkness and the void
By that first, last, eternal soul of things,
The shadow of whose brightness fashions us,
That, for the day of our eternity,
It may behold itself as in a mirror.
Shapes on a mirror, perishable shapes,
Fleeting, and without substance, or abode
In a fixed place, or knowledge of ourselves,
Poor, fleeting, fretful, little arrogant shapes;
Let us dream on, forgetting that we dream!

They dance, the daughters of Herodias,
Everywhere in the world, and I behold
Their rosy-petalled feet upon the air
Falling and falling in a cadence soft
As thoughts of beauty sleeping. Where they pass,
The wisdom which is wiser than things known,
The beauty which is fairer than things seen,
Dreams which are nearer to eternity
Than that most mortal tumult of the blood
Which wars on itself in loving, droop and die.
But they smile innocently, and dance on,
Having no thought but this unslumbering thought:
"Am I not beautiful? Shall I not be loved?"
Be patient, for they will not understand,
Not till the end of time will they put by
The weaving of slow steps about men's hearts.
They shall be beautiful, they shall be loved.
And though a man's head falls because of them
Whenever they have danced his soul asleep,
It is not well that they should suffer wrong;
For beauty is still beauty, though it slay,
And love is love, although it love to death.
Pale, windy, and ecstatic multitude
Beaten about this mortal air with winds
Of an all but immortal passion, borne
Upon the flight of thoughts that drooped their wings
Into the cloud and twilight for your sake,
Yours is the beauty of your own desire,
And it shall wither only with that love
Which gave it being. Dance in the desolate air,
Dance always, daughters of Herodias,
With your eternal, white, unfaltering feet.
But dance, I pray you, so that I from far
May hear your dancing fainter than the drift
Of the last petals falling from the rose.

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