The Ghoul and the Seraph

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The Ghoul and the Seraph  (1922) 
by Clark Ashton Smith
1922.

Scene: a cemetery, by moonlight. The Ghoul emerges from the shade of a cypress, and sings.

The Song

The Pestilence is on the wing!
Behold! the sweet and crimson foam
Upon the lips of churl and king!
No worm but hath a feastful home:
The Pestilence is on the wing!

Even now his kiss incarnadines
The brows of maiden, queen and whore;
The nun to him her cheek resigns;
Wan lips were never kissed before,
His ancient kiss incarnadines.

Good cheer to thee, white worm of death !
The priest within the brothel dies,
The baud hath sickened from his breath !
In grave half-dug the digger lies:
Good cheer to thee, white worm of death!

The Seraph appears from among the trees, half walking, half flying, with wings whose iris the moonlight has rendered faint, and pauses at sight of the Ghoul.

The Seraph

What gardener in crudded fields of hell,
Or scullion of the Devil's house, art thou—
To whom the filth of Malebolge clings,
And reek of horrid refuse? Thou art gnurled
And black as any Kobold from the mines
Where demons delve for orichalch and steel
To forge the infernal racks! Upon thy face,
Detestable and evil as might haunt
The last delirium of a dying hag,
Or necromancer's madness, fall thy locks
Like sodden reeds that trail in Acheron
From shores of night and horror; and thy hands,
Like roots of cypresses uptorn in storm
That still retain their grisly provender,
Make the glad wine and manna of the skies
Turn to a qualmish sickness in my veins.

The Ghoul

And who art thou ?— some white-faced fool of God,
With wings that emulate the giddy bird,
And bloodless mouth for ever filled with psalms
In lieu of honest victuals ! . . . Askest thou
My name ? I am the ghoul NecromaIor:
In new-made graves I delve for sustenance,
As man within his turnip-fields; I take
For table the uprooted slab, that bears
The words, "In Pace;" black and curdled blood
Of cadávers is all my cupless wine —
Slow-drunken, as the dainty, vampire drinks
From pulses oped in never-ending sleep.

The Seraph

O, foulness Born as of the ninefold curse
Of dragon-mouthed Apollyon, plumed with darts
And armed with horns of incandescent bronze !
O, dark as Satan's nightmare, or the fruit
Of Belial's rape on hell's bIack hippogriff !
What knowest thou of Paradise, where grow
The gardens of the manna-laden myrrh,
And lotos never known to Ulysses,
Whose fruit provides our long and sateless banquet ?
Where boundless fields, unfurrowed and unsown,
Supply for God's own appanage their foison
Of amber-hearted grain, and sesame
Sweeter than nard the Persian air compounds
With frankincense from isles of India !
Where flame-leaved forests infinitely teem
With palms of tremulous opal, from whose tops
Ambrosial honies fall forevermore
In rains of nacred light ! Where rise and rise,
Terrace on hyacinthine terrace, hills
Hung with the grapes that drip cerulean wine,
One draught whereof dissolves eternity
In bliss oblivious and supernal dream !

The Ghoul

To all the meat their bellies most commend,
To all the according wine. For me, I wot,
The cates whereof thou braggest were as wind
In halls where men had feasted yesterday,
Or furbished bones the full hyena leaves.
Tiger and pig have their apportioned glutt,
Nor lacks the shark his provender; the bird
Is nourished with the worm of charnels; man,
Or the grey wolf, will slay and eat the bird,
Till wolf and man be carrion for the worm.
What wouldst thou ? As the elfin lily does,
Or as the Paphian myrtle, pale with love,
I draw me from the unreluctant dead
The rightful meat my belly's law demands.
Eaters of death are all: life shall not live,
Save that its food be death: no atomy
In any star, nor heaven's remotest moon
But hath a billion billion times been made
The food of insatiable life, and food
Of death insatiate: for all is change—
Change, that hath wrought the chancre and the rose,
And wrought the star, and wrought the sapphire-stone,
And lit great altars, and the eyes of lions—
Change, that hath made the very gods from slime
Drawn from the pits of Python, and willing
Gods and their builded heavens back again
To slime. The fruits of archangelic light
Thou braggest of, and grapes of azure wine,
Have been the dung of dragons and the blood
Of toads in Phlegethon: each particle
That is their splendor, clomb in separate ways
Through suns and worlds and cycles infinite—
Through burning brume of systems unbegun,
And manes of long-haired comets, that have lashed
The night of space to Fury and to fire;
And in the core of cold and lightless stars,
And in immalleable metats deep,
Each atomy hath slept, or known the slime
Of cyclopean oceans turned to air
Before the suns of Ophiuchus rose;
And they have known the interstellar night,
And they have lain at root of sightless flowers
In worlds without a sun, or at the heart
Of monstrous-eyed and panting flowers of flesh,
Or eon-blooming amaranths of stone;
And they have ministered within the brains
Of sages and magicians, and have served
To swell the pulse of kings and conquerors,
And have been privy to the hearts of queens.

The Ghoul turns his back on the Seraph, and moves away, singing.

The Song

O condor, keep thy mountain-ways
Above the long Andean lands;
Gier-eagle, guard the eastern sands
Where the Forsaken camel strays:
Beetle and worm and I will ward
The Iardered graves of lout and lord.

Oh, warm and bright the blood that Iies
Upon the wounded lion's trail !
Hyena, laugh, and jackal, wail,
And ring him round, who turns and dies !
Beetle and worm and I will ward
The lardered graves of lout and lord.

Arms of a wanton girl are good,
Or hands of harp-player and knight:
Breasts of the nun be sweet and white,
Sweet is the festive friar's blood.
Beetle and worm and I will ward
The lardered graves of lout and lord.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1923.

The author died in 1961, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 50 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.