Fifty-One Tales, by Lord Dunsany
"The Death of Pan"
"The Sphinx at Giza"
"Wind and Fog"
"Death and Odysseus"
"Death and the Orange"
"The Prayer of the Flower"
"Time and the Tradesman"
"The Little City"
"The Unpasturable Fields"
"The Worm and the Angel"
"The Songless Country"
"The Latest Thing"
"The Demagogue and the Demi-monde"
"The Giant Poppy"
"The Man With the Golden Ear-rings"
"The Dream of King Karna-Vootra"
"A Mistaken Identity"
"The True History of the Hare and the Tortoise"
"Alone the Immortals"
"A Moral Little Tale
"The Return of Song"
"Spring In Town"
"How the Enemy Came to Thlunrana"
"A Losing Game"
"Taking Up Picadilly"
"After the Fire"
"The Food of Death"
"The Lonely Idol"
"The Sphinx in Thebes (Massachusetts)"
"The Trouble in Leafy Green Street"
"The Return of the Exiles"
"Nature and Time"
"The Song of the Blackbird"
"The Three Tall Sons"
"What We Have Come To"
"The Tomb of Pan"
Fame singing in the highways, and trifling as she sang, with
sordid adventurers, passed the poet by.
And still the poet made for her little chaplets of song,
to deck her forehead in the courts of Time: and still she
wore instead the worthless garlands, that boisterous
citizens flung to her in the ways, made out of perishable
And after a while whenever these garlands died the poet
came to her with his chaplets of song; and still she laughed
at him and wore the worthless wreaths, though they always
died at evening.
And one day in his bitterness the poet rebuked her, and
said to her: "Lovely Fame, even in the highways and the
byways you have not foreborne to laugh and shout and jest
with worthless men, and I have toiled for you and dreamed of
you and you mock me and pass me by."
And Fame turned her back on him and walked away, but in
departing she looked over her shoulder and smiled at him as
she had not smiled before, and, almost speaking in a
"I will meet you in the graveyard at the back of the
Workhouse in a hundred years."
Charon leaned forward and rowed. All things were one with
It was not with him a matter of years or of centuries,
but of wide floods of time, and an old heaviness and a pain
in the arms that had become for him part of the scheme that
the gods had made and was of a piece with Eternity.
If the gods had even sent him a contrary wind it would
have divided all time in his memory into two equal slabs.
So grey were all things always where he was that if any
radiance lingered a moment among the dead, on the face of
such a queen perhaps as Cleopatra, his eyes could not have
It was strange that the dead nowadays were coming in such
numbers. They were coming in thousands where they used to
come in fifties. It was neither Charon's duty nor his wont
to ponder in his grey soul why these things might be.
Charon leaned forward and rowed.
Then no one came for a while. It was not usual for the
gods to send no one down from Earth for such a space. But
the gods knew best.
Then one man came alone. And the little shade sat
shivering on a lonely bench and the great boat pushed off.
Only one passenger; the gods knew best.
And great and weary Charon rowed on and on beside the
little, silent, shivering ghost.
And the sound of the river was like a mighty sigh that
Grief in the beginning had sighed among her sisters, and
that could not die like the echoes of human sorrow failing
on earthly hills, but was as old as time and the pain in
Then the boat from the slow, grey river loomed up to the
coast of Dis and the little, silent shade still shivering
stepped ashore, and Charon turned the boat to go wearily
back to the world. Then the little shadow spoke, that had
been a man.
"I am the last," he said.
No one had ever made Charon smile before, no one before
had ever made him weep.
The Death of Pan
When travellers from London entered Arcady they lamented one
to another the death of Pan.
And anon they saw him lying stiff and still.
Horned Pan was still and the dew was on his fur; he had
not the look of a live animal. And then they said, "It is
true that Pan is dead."
And, standing melancholy by that huge prone body, they
looked for long at memorable Pan.
And evening came and a small star appeared.
And presently from a hamlet of some Arcadian valley, with
a sound of idle song, Arcadian maidens came.
And, when they saw there, suddenly in the twilight, that
old recumbent god, they stopped in their running and
whispered among themselves. "How silly he looks," they
said, and thereat they laughed a little.
And at the sound of their laughter Pan leaped up and the
gravel flew from his hooves.
And, for as long as the travellers stood and listened,
the crags and the hill-tops of Arcady rang with the sounds
The Sphinx at Gizeh
I saw the other day the Sphinx's painted face.
She had painted her face in order to ogle Time.
And he has spared no other painted face in all the world
Delilah was younger than she, and Delilah is dust.
Time hath loved nothing but this worthless painted face.
I do not care that she is ugly, nor that she has painted
her face, so that she only lure his secret from Time.
Time dallies like a fool at her feet when he should be
Time never wearies of her silly smile.
There are temples all about her that he has forgotten to
I saw an old man go by, and Time never touched him.
Time that has carried away the seven gates of Thebes!
She has tried to bind him with ropes of eternal sand, she
had hoped to oppress him with the Pyramids.
He lies there in the sand with his foolish hair all
spread about her paws.
If she ever finds his secret we will put out his eyes, so
that he shall find no more our beautiful things -- there are
lovely gates in Florence that I fear he will carry away.
We have tried to bind him with song and with old customs,
but they only held him for a little while, and he has always
smitten us and mocked us.
When he is blind he shall dance to us and make sport.
Great clumsy time shall stumble and dance, who liked to
kill little children, and can hurt even the daisies no
Then shall our children laugh at him who slew Babylon's
winged bulls, and smote great numbers of the gods and
fairies -- when he is shorn of his hours and his years.
We will shut him up in the Pyramid of Cheops, in the
great chamber where the sarcophagus is. Thence we will lead
him out when we give our feasts. He shall ripen our corn
for us and do menial work.
We will kiss they painted face, O Sphinx, if thou wilt
betray to us Time.
And yet I fear that in his ultimate anguish he may take
hold blindly of the world and the moon, and slowly pull down
upon him the House of Man.
All along the farmyard gables the swallows sat a-row,
twittering uneasily to one another, telling of many things,
but thinking only of Summer and the South, for Autumn was
afoot and the North wind waiting.
And suddenly one day they were all quite gone. And
everyone spoke of the swallows and the South.
"I think I shall go South myself next year," said a hen.
And the year wore on and the swallows came again, and the
year wore on and they sat again on the gables, and all the
poultry discussed the departure of the hen.
And very early one morning, the wind being from the
North, the swallows all soared suddenly and felt the wind in
their wings; and a strength came upon them and a strange old
knowledge and a more than human faith, and flying high they
left the smoke of our cities and small remembered eaves, and
saw at last the huge and homeless sea, and steering by grey
sea-currents went southward with the wind. And going South
they went by glittering fog-banks and saw old islands
lifting their heads above them; they saw the slow quests of
the wandering ships, and divers seeking pearls, and lands at
war, till there came in view the mountains that they sought
and the sight of the peaks they knew; and they descended
into an austral valley, and saw Summer sometimes sleeping
and sometimes singing song.
"I think the wind is about right," said the hen; and she
spread her wings and ran out of the poultry-yard. And she
ran fluttering out on to the road and some way down it until
she came to a garden.
At evening she came back panting.
And in the poultry-yard she told the poultry how she had
gone South as far as the high road, and saw the great
world's traffic going by, and came to lands where the potato
grew, and saw the stubble upon which men live, and at the
end of the road had found a garden, and there were roses in
it -- beautiful roses! -- and the gardener himself was there
with his braces on.
"How extremely interesting," the poultry said, "and what
a really beautiful description!"
And the Winter wore away, and the bitter months went by,
and the Spring of the year appeared, and the swallows came
"We have been to the South," they said, "and the valleys
beyond the sea."
But the poultry would not agree that there was a sea in
the South: "You should hear our hen," they said.
Wind and Fog
"Way for us," said the North Wind as he came down the sea on
an errand of old Winter.
And he saw before him the grey silent fog that lay along
"Way for us," said the North Wind, "O ineffectual fog,
for I am Winter's leader in his age-old war with the ships.
I overwhelm them suddenly in my strength, or drive upon them
the huge seafaring bergs. I cross an ocean while you move a
mile. There is mourning in inland places when I have met
the ships. I drive them upon the rocks and feed the sea.
Wherever I appear they bow to our lord the Winter."
And to his arrogant boasting nothing said the fog. Only
he rose up slowly and trailed away from the sea and,
crawling up long valleys, took refuge among the hills; and
night came down and everything was still, and the fog began
to mumble in the stillness. And I heard him telling
infamously to himself the tale of his horrible spoils. "A
hundred and fifteen galleons of old Spain, a certain argosy
that went from Tyre, eight fisher-fleets and ninety ships of
the line, twelve warships under sail, with their carronades,
three hundred and eighty-seven river-craft, forty-two
merchantmen that carried spice, thirty yachts, twenty-one
battleships of the modern time, nine thousand admirals....."
he mumbled and chuckled on, till I suddenly rose and fled
from his fearful contamination.
All we who write put me in mind of sailors hastily making
rafts upon doomed ships.
When we break up under the heavy years and go down into
eternity with all that is ours our thoughts like small lost
rafts float on awhile upon Oblivion's sea. They will not
carry much over those tides, our names and a phrase or two
and little else.
They that write as a trade to please the whim of the day,
they are like sailors that work at the rafts only to warm
their hands and to distract their thoughts from their
certain doom; their rafts go all to pieces before the ship
See now Oblivion shimmering all around us, its very
tranquility deadlier than tempest. How little all our keels
have troubled it. Time in its deeps swims like a monstrous
whale; and, like a whale, feeds on the littlest things --
small tunes and little unskilled songs of the olden, golden
evenings -- and anon turneth whale-like to overthrow whole
See now the wreckage of Babylon floating idly, and
something there that once was Nineveh; already their kings
and queens are in the deeps among the weedy masses of old
centuries that hide the sodden bulk of sunken Tyre and make
a darkness round Persepolis.
For the rest I dimly see the forms of foundered ships on
the sea-floor strewn with crowns.
Our ships were all unseaworthy from the first.
There goes the raft that Homer made for Helen.
I saw a workman fall with his scaffolding right from the
summit of some vast hotel. And as he came down I saw him
holding a knife and trying to cut his name on the
scaffolding. He had time to try and do this for he must
have had nearly three hundred feet to fall. And I could
think of nothing but his folly in doing this futile thing,
for not only would the man be unrecognizably dead in three
seconds, but the very pole on which he tried to scratch
whatever of his name he had time for was certain to be burnt
in a few weeks for firewood.
Then I went home for I had work to do. And all that
evening I thought of the man's folly, till the thought
hindered me from serious work.
And late that night while I was still at work, the ghost
of the workman floated through my wall and stood before me
I heard no sound until after I spoke to it; but I could
see the grey diaphanous form standing before me shuddering
I spoke at last and asked what it was laughing at, and
then the ghost spoke. It said: "I'm a laughin' at you
sittin' and workin' there."
"And why," I asked, "do you laugh at serious work?"
"Why, yer bloomin' life 'ull go by like a wind," he said,
"and yer 'ole silly civilization 'ull be tidied up in a few
Then he fell to laughing again and this time audibly;
and, laughing still, faded back through the wall again and
into the eternity from which he had come.
A young man came into an ornate restaurant at eight o'clock
He was alone, but two places had been laid at the table
which was reserved for him. He had chosen the dinner very
carefully, by letter a week before.
A waiter asked him about the other guest.
"You probably won't see him till the coffee comes," the
young man told him; so he was served alone.
Those at adjacent tables might have noticed the young man
continually addressing the empty chair and carrying on a
monologue with it throughout his elaborate dinner.
"I think you knew my father," he said to it over the
"I sent for you this evening," he continued, "because I
want you to do me a good turn; in fact I must insist on it."
There was nothing eccentric about the man except for this
habit of addressing an empty chair, certainly he was eating
as good a dinner as any sane man could wish for.
After the Burgundy had been served he became more voluble
in his monologue, not that he spoiled his wine by drinking
"We have several acquaintances in common," he said. "I
met King Seti a year ago in Thebes. I think he has altered
very little since you knew him. I thought his forehead a
little low for a king's. Cheops has left the house that he
built for your reception, he must have prepared for you for
years and years. I suppose you have seldom been entertained
like that. I ordered this dinner over a week ago. I
thought then that a lady might have come with me, but as she
wouldn't I've asked you. She may not after all be as lovely
as Helen of Troy. Was Helen very lovely? Not when you knew
her, perhaps. You were lucky in Cleopatra, you must have
known her when she was in her prime.
"You never knew the mermaids nor the fairies nor the
lovely goddesses of long ago, that's where we have the best
He was silent when the waiters came to his table, but
rambled merrily on as soon as they left, still turned to the
"You know I saw you here in London only the other day.
You were on a motor bus going down Ludgate Hill. It was
going much too fast. London is a good place. But I shall
be glad enough to leave it. It was in London that I met the
lady I that was speaking about. If it hadn't been for
London I probably shouldn't have met her, and if it hadn't
been for London she probably wouldn't have had so much
besides me to amuse her. It cuts both ways."
He paused once to order coffee, gazing earnestly at the
waiter and putting a sovereign in his hand. "Don't let it
be chicory," said he.
The waiter brought the coffee, and the young man dropped
a tabloid of some sort into his cup.
"I don't suppose you come here very often," he went on.
"Well, you probably want to be going. I haven't taken you
much out of your way, there is plenty for you to do in
Then having drunk his coffee he fell on the floor by a
foot of the empty chair, and a doctor who was dining in the
room bent over him and announced to the anxious manager the
visible presence of the young man's guest.
Death and Odysseus
In the Olympian courts Love laughed at Death, because he was
unsightly, and because She couldn't help it, and because he
never did anything worth doing, and because She would.
And Death hated being laughed at, and used to brood apart
thinking only of his wrongs and of what he could do to end
this intolerable treatment.
But one day Death appeared in the courts with an air and
They all noticed it. "What are you up to now?" said Love.
And Death with some solemnity said to Her: "I am going to
frighten Odysseus"; and drawing about him his grey
traveller's cloak went out through the windy door with his
jowl turned earthwards.
And he came soon to Ithaca and the hall that Athene knew,
and opened the door and saw there famous Odysseus, with his
white locks bending close over the fire, trying to warm his
And the wind through the open door blew bitterly on
And death came up behind him, and suddenly shouted.
And Odysseus went on warming his pale hands.
Then Death came close and began to mouth at him. And
after a while Odysseus turned and spoke. And "Well, old
servant," he said, "have your masters been kind to you since
I made you work for me round Ilion?"
And Death for some while stood mute, for the thought of
the laughter of Love.
Then "Come now," said Odysseus, "lend me your shoulder,"
and he leaning heavily on that bony joint, they went
together through the open door.
Death and the Orange
Two dark young men in a foreign southern land sat at a
restaurant table with one woman.
And on the woman's plate was a small orange which had an
evil laughter in its heart.
And both of the men would be looking at the woman all the
time, and they ate little and they drank much.
And the woman was smiling equally at each.
Then the small orange that had the laughter in its heart
rolled slowly off the plate on to the floor. And the dark
young men both sought for it at once, and they met suddenly
beneath the table, and soon they were speaking swift words
to one another, and a horror and an impotence came over the
Reason of each as she sat helpless at the back of the mind,
and the heart of the orange laughed and the woman went on
smiling; and Death, who was sitting at another table,
tete-a-tete with an old man, rose and came over to listen to
The Prayer of the Flowers
It was the voice of the flowers on the West wind, the
lovable, the old, the lazy West wind, blowing ceaselessly,
blowing sleepily, going Greecewards.
"The woods have gone away, they have fallen and left us;
men love us no longer, we are lonely by moonlight. Great
engines rush over the beautiful fields, their ways lie hard
and terrible up and down the land.
"The cancrous cities spread over the grass, they clatter
in their lairs continually, they glitter about us blemishing
"The woods are gone, O Pan, the woods, the woods. And
thou art far, O Pan, and far away."
I was standing by night between two railway embankments
on the edge of a Midland city. On one of them I saw the
trains go by, once in every two minutes, and on the other,
the trains went by twice in every five.
Quite close were the glaring factories, and the sky above
them wore the fearful look that it wears in dreams of fever.
The flowers were right in the stride of that advancing
city, and thence I heard them sending up their cry. And
then I heard, beating musically up wind, the voice of Pan
reproving them from Arcady -- "Be patient a little, these
things are not for long."
Time and the Tradesman
Once Time as he prowled the world, his hair grey not with
weakness but with dust of the ruin of cities, came to a
furniture shop and entered the Antique department. And
there he saw a man darkening the wood of a chair with dye
and beating it with chains and making imitation worm-holes
And when Time saw another doing his work he stood by him
awhile and looked on critically.
And at last he said: "That is not how I work," and he
turned the man's hair white and bent his back and put some
furrows in his little cunning face; then turned and strode
away, for a mighty city that was weary and sick and too long
had troubled the fields was sore in need of him.
The Little City
I was in the pre-destined 11.8 from Goraghwood to Drogheda,
when I suddenly saw the city. It was a little city in a
valley, and only seemed to have a little smoke, and the sun
caught the smoke and turned it golden, so that it looked
like an old Italian picture where angels walk in the
foreground and the rest is a blaze of gold. And beyond, as
one could tell by the lie of land although one could not see
through the golden smoke, I knew that there lay the paths of
the roving ships.
All round there lay a patchwork of small fields all over
the slopes of the hills, and the snow had come upon them
tentatively, but already the birds of the waste had moved to
the sheltered places for every omen boded more to fall. Far
away some little hills blazed like an aureate bulwark broken
off by age and fallen from the earthward rampart of
Paradise. And aloof and dark the mountains stared
And when I saw those grey and watchful mountains sitting
where they sat while the cities of the civilization of Araby
and Asia arose like crocuses, and like crocuses fell, I
wondered for how long there would be smoke in the valley and
little fields on the hills.
The Unpasturable Fields
Thus spake the mountains: "Behold us, even us; the old ones,
the grey ones, that wear the feet of Time. Time on our
rocks shall break his staff and stumble: and still we shall
sit majestic, even as now, hearing the sound of the sea, our
old coeval sister, who nurses the bones of her children and
weeps for the things she has done.
"Far, far, we stand above all things; befriending the
little cities until they grow old and leave us to go among
"We are the most imperishable mountains."
And softly the clouds foregathered from far places, and
crag on crag and mountain upon mountain in the likeness of
Caucasus upon Himalaya came riding past the sunlight upon
the backs of storms and looked down idly from their golden
heights upon the crests of the mountains.
"Ye pass away," said the mountains.
And the clouds answered, as I dreamed or fancied,
"We pass away, indeed we pass away, but upon our
unpasturable fields Pegasus prances. Here Pegasus gallops
and browses upon song which the larks bring to him every
morning from far terrestrial fields. His hoof-beats ring
upon our slopes at sunrise as though our fields were of
silver. And breathing the dawn-wind in dilated nostrils,
with head tossed upwards and with quivering wings, he stands
and stares from our tremendous heights, and snorts and sees
far-future wonderful wars rage in the creases and the folds
of the togas that cover the knees of the gods."
The Worm and the Angel
As he crawled from the tombs of the fallen a worm met with
And together they looked upon the kings and kingdoms, and
youths and maidens and the cities of men. They saw the old
men heavy in their chairs and heard the children singing in
the fields. They saw far wars and warriors and walled
towns, wisdom and wickedness, and the pomp of kings, and the
people of all the lands that the sunlight knew.
And the worm spake to the angel saying: "Behold my food."
"Be d'akeon para thina polyphloisboio thalasses,"
murmured the angel, for they walked by the sea, "and can you
destroy that too?"
And the worm paled in his anger to a greyness ill to
behold, for for three thousand years he had tried to destroy
that line and still its melody was ringing in his head.
The Songless Country
The poet came unto a great country in which there were no
songs. And he lamented gently for the nation that had not
any little foolish songs to sing to itself at evening.
And at last he said: "I will make for them myself some
little foolish songs so that they may be merry in the lanes
and happy by the fireside." And for some days he made for
them aimless songs such as maidens sing on the hills in the
older happier countries.
Then he went to some of that nation as they sat weary
with the work of the day and said to them: "I have made you
some aimless songs out of the small unreasonable legends,
that are somewhat akin to the wind in the vales of my
childhood; and you may care to sing them in your
And they said to him:
"If you think we have time for that sort of nonsense
nowadays you cannot know much of the progress of modern
And the poet wept for he said: "Alas! They are damned."
The Latest Thing
I saw an unclean-feeder by the banks of the river of Time.
He crouched by orchards numerous with apples in a happy land
of flowers; colossal barns stood near which the ancients had
stored with grain, and the sun was golden on serene far
hills behind the level lands. But his back was to all these
things. He crouched and watched the river. And whatever
the river chanced to send him down the unclean-feeder
clutched at greedily with his arms, wading out into the
Now there were in those days, and indeed still are,
certain uncleanly cities upon the river of Time; and from
them fearfully nameless things came floating shapelessly
by. And whenever the odor of these came down the river
before them the unclean-feeder plunged into the dirty water
and stood far out, expectant. And if he opened his mouth
one saw these things on his lips.
Indeed from the upper reaches there came down sometimes
the fallen rhododendron's petal, sometimes a rose; but they
were useless to the unclean-feeder, and when he saw them he
A poet walked beside the river's bank; his head was
lifted and his look was afar; I think he saw the sea, and
the hills of Fate from which the river ran. I saw the
unclean-feeder standing voracious, up to his waist in that
"Look," I said to the poet.
"The current will sweep him away," the poet said.
"But those cities that poison the river," I said to him.
He answered: "Whenever the centuries melt on the hills of
Fate the river terribly floods."
and the Demi-monde
A demagogue and a demi-mondaine chanced to arrive together
at the gate of Paradise. And the Saint looked sorrowfully
at them both.
"Why were you a demagogue?" he said to the first.
"Because," said the demagogue, "I stood for those
principles that have made us what we are and have endeared
our Party to the great heart of the people. In a word I
stood unflinchingly on the plank of popular representation."
"And you?" said the Saint to her of the demi-monde.
"I wanted money," said the demi-mondaine.
And after some moments' thought the Saint said: "Well,
come in; though you don't deserve to."
But to the demagogue he said: "We genuinely regret that
the limited space at our disposal and our unfortunate lack
of interest in those Questions that you have gone so far to
inculate and have so ably upheld in the past, prevent us
from giving you the support for which you seek."
And he shut the golden door.
The Giant Poppy
I dreamt that I went back to the hills I knew, whence on a
clear day you can see the walls of Ilion and the plains of
Roncesvalles. There used to be woods along the tops of
those hills with clearings in them where the moonlight fell,
and there when no one watched the fairies danced.
But there were no woods when I went back, no fairies nor
distant glimpse of Ilion or plains of Roncesvalles, only one
giant poppy waved in the wind, and as it waved it hummed
"Remember not." And by its oak-like stem a poet sat,
dressed like a shepherd and playing an ancient tune softly
upon a pipe. I asked him if the fairies had passed that way
or anything olden.
He said: "The poppy has grown apace and is killing gods
and fairies. Its fumes are suffocating the world, and its
roots drain it of its beautiful strength." And I asked him
why he sat on the hills I knew, playing an olden tune.
And he answered: "Because the tune is bad for the poppy,
which would otherwise grow more swiftly; and because if the
brotherhood of which I am one were to cease to pipe on the
hills men would stray over the world and be lost or come to
terrible ends. We think we have saved Agamemnon."
Then he fell to piping again that olden tune, while the
wind among the poppy's sleepy petals murmured "Remember
not. Remember not."
I know a roadside where the wild rose blooms with a strange
abundance. There is a beauty in the blossoms too of an
almost exotic kind, a taint of deeper pink that shocks the
Puritan flowers. Two hundred generations ago (generations,
I mean, of roses) this was a village street; there was a
floral decadence when they left their simple life and the
roses came from the wilderness to clamber round houses of
Of all the memories of that little village, of all the
cottages that stood there, of all the men and women whose
homes they were, nothing remains but a more beautiful blush
on the faces of the roses.
I hope that when London is clean passed away and the
defeated fields come back again, like an exiled people
returning after a war, they may find some beautiful thing to
remind them of it all; because we have loved a little that
swart old city.
The Man With the
It may be that I dreamed this. So much at least is certain
-- that I turned one day from the traffic of a city, and
came to its docks and saw its slimy wharves going down green
and steep into the water, and saw the huge grey river
slipping by and the lost things that went with it turning
over and over, and I thought of the nations and unpitying
Time, and saw and marvelled at the queenly ships come newly
from the sea.
It was then, if I mistake not, that I saw leaning against
a wall, with his face to the ships, a man with golden
ear-rings. His skin had the dark tint of the southern men:
the deep black hairs of his moustache were whitened a little
with salt; he wore a dark blue jacket such as sailors wear,
and the long boots of seafarers, but the look in his eyes
was further afield than the ships, he seemed to be beholding
the farthest things.
Even when I spoke to him he did not call home that look,
but answered me dreamily with that same fixed stare as
though his thoughts were heaving on far and lonely seas. I
asked him what ship he had come by, for there were many
there. The sailing ships were there with their sails all
furled and their masts straight and still like a wintry
forest; the steamers were there, and great liners, puffing
up idle smoke into the twilight. He answered he had come by
none of them. I asked him what line he worked on, for he
was clearly a sailor; I mentioned well-known lines, but he
did not know them. Then I asked him where he worked and
what he was. And he said: "I work in the Sargasso Sea, and
I am the last of the pirates, the last left alive." And I
shook him by the hand I do not know how many times. I said:
"We feared you were dead. We feared you were dead." And he
answered sadly: "No. No. I have sinned too deeply on the
Spanish seas: I am not allowed to die."
The Dream of
King Karna-Vootra sitting on his throne commanding all
things said: "I very clearly saw last night the queenly
Vava-Nyria. Though partly she was hidden by great clouds
that swept continually by her, rolling over and over, yet
her face was unhidden and shone, being full of moonlight.
"I said to her: `Walk with me by the great pools in
many-gardened, beautiful Istrakhan where the lilies float
that give delectable dreams; or, drawing aside the curtain
of hanging orchids, pass with me thence from the pools by a
secret path through the else impassable jungle that fills
the only way between the mountains that shut in Istrakhan.
They shut it in and look on it with joy at morning and at
evening when the pools are strange with light, till in their
gladness sometimes there melts the deadly snow that kills
upon lonely heights the mountaineer. They have valleys
among them older than the wrinkles in the moon.
"`Come with me thence or linger with me there and either
we shall come to romantic lands which the men of the
caravans only speak of in song; or else we shall listlessly
walk in a land so lovely that even the butterflies that
float about it when they see their images flash in the
sacred pools are terrified by their beauty, and each night
we shall hear the myriad nightingales all in one chorus sing
the stars to death. Do this and I will send heralds far
from here with tidings of thy beauty; and they shall run and
come to Sendara and men shall know it there who herd brown
sheep; and from Sendara the rumour shall spread on, down
either bank of the holy river of Zoth, till the people that
make wattles in the plains shall hear of it and sing; but
the heralds shall go northward along the hills until they
come to Sooma. And in that golden city they shall tell the
kings, that sit in their lofty alabaster house, of thy
strange and sudden smiles. And often in distant markets
shall thy story be told by merchants out from Sooma as they
sit telling careless tales to lure men to their wares.
"`And the heralds passing thence shall come even to
Ingra, to Ingra where they dance. And there they shall tell
of thee, so that thy name long hence shall be sung in that
joyous city. And there they shall borrow camels and pass
over the sands and go by desert ways to distant Nirid to
tell of thee to the lonely men in the mountain monasteries.
"`Come with me even now for it is Spring.'"
"And as I said this she faintly yet perceptibly shook her
head. And it was only then I remembered my youth was gone,
and she dead forty years."
They saw a little ship that was far at sea and that went by
the name of the "Petite Esperance." And because of its
uncouth rig and its lonely air and the look that it had of
coming from strangers' lands they said: "It is neither a
ship to greet nor desire, nor yet to succor when in the
hands of the sea."
And the sea rose up as is the wont of the sea and the
little ship from afar was in his hands, and frailer than
ever seemed its feeble masts with their sails of fantastic
cut and their alien flags. And the sea made a great and
very triumphing voice, as the sea doth. And then there
arose a wave that was very strong, even the ninth-born son
of the hurricane and the tide, and hid the little ship and
hid the whole of the far parts of the sea. Thereat said
those who stood on the good dry land:
"'Twas but a little, worthless alien ship and it is sunk
at sea, and it is good and right that the storm have
spoil." And they turned and watched the course of the
merchantmen, laden with silver and appeasing spice; year
after year they cheered them into port and praised their
goods and their familiar sails. And many years went by.
And at last with decks and bulwarks covered with cloth of
gold; with age-old parrots that had known the troubadours,
singing illustrious songs and preening their feathers of
gold; with a hold full of emeralds and rubies; all silken
with Indian loot; furling as it came in its way-worn alien
sails, a galleon glided into port, shutting the sunlight
from the merchantmen: and lo! it loomed the equal of the
"Who are you?" they asked, "far-travelled wonderful
And they said: "The `Petite Esperance.'"
"O," said the people on shore. "We thought you were sunk
"Sunk at sea?" sang the sailors. "We could not be sunk
at sea -- we had the gods on board."
A Mistaken Identity
Fame as she walked at evening in a city saw the painted face
of Notoriety flaunting beneath a gas-lamp, and many kneeled
unto her in the dirt of the road.
"Who are you?" Fame said to her.
"I am Fame," said Notoriety.
Then Fame stole softly away so that no one knew she had
And Notoriety presently went forth and all her
worshippers rose and followed after, and she led them, as
was most meet, to her native Pit.
The True History of the
Hare and the Tortoise
For a long time there was doubt with acrimony among the
beasts as to whether the Hare or the Tortoise could run the
swifter. Some said the Hare was the swifter of the two
because he had such long ears, and others said the Tortoise
was the swifter because anyone whose shell was so hard as
that should be able to run hard too. And lo, the forces of
estrangement and disorder perpetually postponed a decisive
But when there was nearly war among the beasts, at last
an arrangement was come to and it was decided that the Hare
and the Tortoise should run a race of five hundred yards so
that all should see who was right.
"Ridiculous nonsense!" said the Hare, and it was all his
backers could do to get him to run.
"The contest is most welcome to me," said the Tortoise,
"I shall not shirk it."
O, how his backers cheered.
Feeling ran high on the day of the race; the goose rushed
at the fox and nearly pecked him. Both sides spoke loudly
of the approaching victory up to the very moment of the
"I am absolutely confident of success," said the
Tortoise. But the Hare said nothing, he looked bored and
cross. Some of his supporters deserted him then and went to
the other side, who were loudly cheering the Tortoise's
inspiriting words. But many remained with the Hare. "We
shall not be disappointed in him," they said. "A beast with
such long ears is bound to win."
"Run hard," said the supporters of the Tortoise.
And "run hard" became a kind of catch-phrase which
everybody repeated to one another. "Hard shell and hard
living. That's what the country wants. Run hard," they
said. And these words were never uttered but multitudes
cheered from their hearts.
Then they were off, and suddenly there was a hush.
The Hare dashed off for about a hundred yards, then he
looked round to see where his rival was.
"It is rather absurd," he said, "to race with a
Tortoise." And he sat down and scratched himself. "Run
hard! Run hard!" shouted some.
"Let him rest," shouted others. And "let him rest"
became a catch-phrase too.
And after a while his rival drew near to him.
"There comes that damned Tortoise," said the Hare, and he
got up and ran as hard as could be so that he should not let
the Tortoise beat him.
"Those ears will win," said his friends. "Those ears
will win; and establish upon an incontestable footing the
truth of what we have said." And some of them turned to the
backers of the Tortoise and said: "What about your beast
"Run hard," they replied. "Run hard."
The Hare ran on for nearly three hundred yards, nearly in
fact as far as the winning-post, when it suddenly struck him
what a fool he looked running races with a Tortoise who was
nowhere in sight, and he sat down again and scratched.
"Run hard. Run hard," said the crowd, and "Let him
"Whatever is the use of it?" said the Hare, and this time
he stopped for good. Some say he slept.
There was desperate excitement for an hour or two, and
then the Tortoise won.
"Run hard. Run hard," shouted his backers. "Hard shell
and hard living: that's what has done it." And then they
asked the Tortoise what his achievement signified, and he
went and asked the Turtle. And the Turtle said, "It is a
glorious victory for the forces of swiftness." And then the
Tortoise repeated it to his friends. And all the beasts
said nothing else for years. And even to this day, "a
glorious victory for the forces of swiftness" is a
catch-phrase in the house of the snail.
And the reason that this version of the race is not
widely known is that very few of those that witnessed it
survived the great forest-fire that happened shortly after.
It came up over the weald by night with a great wind. The
Hare and the Tortoise and a very few of the beasts saw it
far off from a high bare hill that was at the edge of the
trees, and they hurriedly called a meeting to decide what
messenger they should send to warn the beasts in the forest.
They sent the Tortoise.
Alone in Immortals
I heard it said that very far away from here, on the wrong
side of the deserts of Cathay and in a country dedicate to
winter, are all the years that are dead. And there a
certain valley shuts them in and hides them, as rumor has
it, from the world, but not from the sight of the moon nor
from those that dream in his rays.
And I said: I will go from here by ways of dream and I
will come to that valley and enter in and mourn there for
the good years that are dead. And I said: I will take a
wreath, a wreath of mourning, and lay it at their feet in
token of my sorrow for their dooms.
And when I sought about among the flowers, among the
flowers for my wreath of mourning, the lily looked too large
and the laurel looked too solemn and I found nothing frail
enough nor slender to serve as an offering to the years that
were dead. And at last I made a slender wreath of daisies
in the manner that I had seen them made in one of the years
that is dead.
"This," said I, "is scarce less fragile or less frail
than one of those delicate forgotten years." Then I took my
wreath in my hand and went from here. And when I had come
by paths of mystery to that romantic land, where the valley
that rumour told of lies close to the mountainous moon, I
searched among the grass for those poor slight years for
whom I bought my sorrow and my wreath. And when I found
there nothing in the grass I said: "Time has shattered them
and swept them away and left not even any faint remains."
But looking upwards in the blaze of the moon I suddenly
saw colossi sitting near, and towering up and blotting out
the stars and filling the night with blackness; and at those
idols' feet I saw praying and making obeisance kings and the
days that are and all times and all cities and all nations
and all their gods. Neither the smoke of incense nor of the
sacrifice burning reached those colossal heads, they sat
there not to be measured, not to be overthrown, not to be
I said: "Who are those?"
One answered: "Alone the Immortals."
And I said sadly: "I came not to see dread gods, but I
came to shed my tears and to offer flowers at the feet of
certain little years that are dead and may not come again."
He answered me: "These ARE the years that are dead, alone
the immortals; all years to be are Their children -- They
fashioned their smiles and their laughter; all earthly kings
They have crowned, all gods They have created; all the
events to be flow down from their feet like a river, the
worlds are flying pebbles that They have already thrown, and
Time and all his centuries behind him kneel there with
bended crests in token of vassalage at Their potent feet."
And when I heard this I turned away with my wreath, and
went back to my own land comforted.
A Moral Little Tale
There was once an earnest Puritan who held it wrong to
dance. And for his principles he labored hard, his was a
zealous life. And there loved him all of those who hated
the dance; and those that loved the dance respected him too;
they said "He is a pure, good man and acts according to his
He did much to discourage dancing and helped to close
several Sunday entertainments. Some kinds of poetry, he
said, he liked, but not the fanciful kind as that might
corrupt the thoughts of the very young. He always dressed
He was quite interested in morality and was quite sincere
and there grew to be much respect on Earth for his honest
face and his flowing pure-white beard.
One night the Devil appeared unto him in a dream and said
"Avaunt," said that earnest man.
"No, no, friend," said the Devil.
"Dare not to call me `friend,'" he answered bravely.
"Come, come, friend," said the Devil. "Have you not put
apart the couples that would dance? Have you not checked
their laughter and their accursed mirth? Have you not worn
my livery of black? O friend, friend, you do not know what
a detestable thing it is to sit in hell and hear people
being happy, and singing in theatres and singing in the
fields, and whispering after dances under the moon," and he
fell to cursing fearfully.
"It is you," said the Puritan, "that put into their
hearts the evil desire to dance; and black is God's own
livery, not yours."
And the Devil laughed contemptuously and spoke.
"He only made the silly colors," he said, "and useless
dawns on hill-slopes facing South, and butterflies flapping
along them as soon as the sun rose high, and foolish maidens
coming out to dance, and the warm mad West wind, and worst
of all that pernicious influence Love."
And when the Devil said that God made Love that earnest
man sat up in bed and shouted "Blasphemy! Blasphemy!"
"It's true," said the Devil. "It isn't I that send the
village fools muttering and whispering two by two in the
woods when the harvest moon is high, it's as much as I can
bear even to see them dancing."
"Then," said the man, "I have mistaken right for wrong;
but as soon as I wake I will fight you yet."
"O, no you don't," said the Devil. "You don't wake up
out of this sleep."
And somewhere far away Hell's black steel doors were
opened, and arm in arm those two were drawn within, and the
doors shut behind them and still they went arm in arm,
trudging further and further into the deeps of Hell, and it
was that Puritan's punishment to know that those that he
cared for on Earth would do evil as he had done.
The Return of Song
"The swans are singing again," said to one another the
gods. And looking downwards, for my dreams had taken me to
some fair and far Valhalla, I saw below me an iridescent
bubble not greatly larger than a star shine beautifully but
faintly, and up and up from it looking larger and larger
came a flock of white, innumerable swans, singing and
singing and singing, till it seemed as though even the gods
were wild ships swimming in music.
"What is it?" I said to one that was humble among the
"Only a world has ended," he said to me, "and the swans
are coming back to the gods returning the gift of song."
"A whole world dead!" I said.
"Dead," said he that was humble among the gods. "The
worlds are not for ever; only song is immortal."
"Look! Look!" he said. "There will be a new one soon."
And I looked and saw the larks, going down from the gods.
Spring in Town
At a street corner sat, and played with a wind, Winter
Still tingled the fingers of the passers-by and still
their breath was visible, and still they huddled their chins
into their coats when turning a corner they met with a new
wind, still windows lighted sent out into the street the
thought of romantic comfort by evening fires; these things
still were, yet the throne of Winter tottered, and every
breeze brought tidings of further fortresses lost on lakes
or boreal hill-slopes. And not any longer as a king did
Winter appear in those streets, as when the city was decked
with gleaming white to greet him as a conqueror and he rode
in with his glittering icicles and haughty retinue of
prancing winds, but he sat there with a little wind at the
corner of the street like some old blind beggar with his
hungry dog. And as to some old blind beggar Death
approaches, and the alert ears of the sightless man
prophetically hear his far-off footfall, so there came
suddenly to Winter's ears the sound, from some neighbouring
garden, of Spring approaching as she walked on daisies. And
Spring approaching looked at huddled inglorious Winter.
"Begone," said Spring.
"There is nothing for you to do here," said Winter to
her. Nevertheless he drew about him his grey and battered
cloak and rose and called to his little bitter wind and up a
side street that led northward strode away.
Pieces of paper and tall clouds of dust went with him as
far as the city's outer gate. He turned then and called to
Spring: "You can do nothing in this city," he said; then he
marched homeward over plains and sea and heard his old winds
howling as he marched. The ice broke up behind him and
foundered like navies. To left and to right of him flew the
flocks of the sea-birds, and far before him the geese's
triumphant cry went like a clarion. Greater and greater
grew his stature as he went northwards and ever more kingly
his mien. Now he took baronies at a stride and now counties
and came again to the snow-white frozen lands where the
wolves came out to meet him and, draping himself anew with
old grey clouds, strode through the gates of his invincible
home, two old ice barriers swinging on pillars of ice that
had never known the sun.
So the town was left to Spring. And she peered about to
see what she could do with it. Presently she saw a dejected
dog coming prowling down the road, so she sang to him and he
gambolled. I saw him next day strutting by with something
of an air. Where there were trees she went to them and
whispered, and they sang the arboreal song that only trees
can hear, and the green buds came peeping out as stars while
yet it is twilight, secretly one by one. She went to
gardens and awaked from dreaming the warm maternal earth.
In little patches bare and desolate she called up like a
flame the golden crocus, or its purple brother like an
emperor's ghost. She gladdened the graceless backs of
untidy houses, here with a weed, there with a little grass.
She said to the air, "Be joyous."
Children began to know that daisies blew in unfrequented
corners. Buttonholes began to appear in the coats of the
young men. The work of Spring was accomplished.
How the Enemy
Came to Thlunrana
It had been prophesied of old and foreseen from the ancient
days that its enemy would come upon Thlunrana. And the date
of its doom was known and the gate by which it would enter,
yet none had prophesied of the enemy who he was save that he
was of the gods though he dwelt with men. Meanwhile
Thlunrana, that secret lamaserai, that chief cathedral of
wizardry, was the terror of the valley in which it stood and
of all lands round about it. So narrow and high were the
windows and so strange when lighted at night that they
seemed to regard men with the demoniac leer of something
that had a secret in the dark. Who were the magicians and
the deputy-magicians and the great arch-wizard of that
furtive place nobody knew, for they went veiled and hooded
and cloaked completely in black.
Though her doom was close upon her and the enemy of
prophecy should come that very night through the open,
southward door that was named the Gate of the Doom, yet that
rocky edifice Thlunrana remained mysterious still,
venerable, terrible, dark, and dreadfully crowned with her
doom. It was not often that anyone dared wander near to
Thlunrana by night when the moan of the magicians invoking
we know not Whom rose faintly from inner chambers, scaring
the drifting bats: but on the last night of all the man from
the black-thatched cottage by the five pine-trees came,
because he would see Thlunrana once again before the enemy
that was divine, but that dwelt with men, should come
against it and it should be no more. Up the dark valley he
went like a bold man, but his fears were thick upon him; his
bravery bore their weight but stooped a little beneath
them. He went in at the southward gate that is named the
Gate of the Doom. He came into a dark hall, and up a marble
stairway passed to see the last of Thlunrana. At the top a
curtain of black velvet hung and he passed into a chamber
heavily hung with curtains, with a gloom in it that was
blacker than anything they could account for. In a sombre
chamber beyond, seen through a vacant archway, magicians
with lighted tapers plied their wizardry and whispered
incantations. All the rats in the place were passing away,
going whimpering down the stairway. The man from the
black-thatched cottage passed through that second chamber:
the magicians did not look at him and did not cease to
whisper. He passed from them through heavy curtains still
of black velvet and came into a chamber of black marble
where nothing stirred. Only one taper burned in the third
chamber; there were no windows. On the smooth floor and
under the smooth wall a silk pavilion stood with its
curtains drawn close together: this was the holy of holies
of that ominous place, its inner mystery. One on each side
of it dark figures crouched, either of men or women or
cloaked stone, or of beasts trained to be silent. When the
awful stillness of the mystery was more than he could bear
the man from the black-thatched cottage by the five
pine-trees went up to the silk pavilion, and with a bold and
nervous clutch of the hand drew one of the curtains aside,
and saw the inner mystery, and laughed. And the prophecy
was fulfilled, and Thlunrana was never more a terror to the
valley, but the magicians passed away from their terrific
halls and fled through the open fields wailing and beating
their breasts, for laughter was the enemy that was doomed to
come against Thlunrana through her southward gate (that was
named the Gate of the Doom), and it is of the gods but
dwells with man.
A Losing Game
Once in a tavern Man met face to skull with Death. Man
entered gaily but Death gave no greeting, he sat with his
jowl morosely over an ominous wine.
"Come, come," said Man, "we have been antagonists long,
and if I were losing yet I should not be surly."
But Death remained unfriendly watching his bowl of wine
and gave no word in answer.
Then Man solicitously moved nearer to him and, speaking
cheerily still, "Come, come," he said again, "you must not
And still Death was gloomy and cross and sipped at his
infamous wine and would not look up at Man and would not be
But Man hated gloom either in beast or god, and it made
him unhappy to see his adversary's discomfort, all the more
because he was the cause, and still he tried to cheer him.
"Have you not slain the Dinatherium?" he said. "Have you
not put out the Moon? Why! you will beat me yet."
And with a dry and barking sound Death wept and nothing
said; and presently Man arose and went wondering away; for
he knew not if Death wept out of pity for his opponent, or
because he knew that he should not have such sport again
when the old game was over and Man was gone, or whether
because perhaps, for some hidden reason, he could never
repeat on Earth his triumph over the Moon.
Taking Up Picadilly
Going down Picadilly one day and nearing Grosvenor Place I
saw, if my memory is not at fault, some workmen with their
coats off -- or so they seemed. They had pickaxes in their
hands and wore corduroy trousers and that little leather
band below the knee that goes by the astonishing name of
They seemed to be working with peculiar vehemence, so
that I stopped and asked one what they were doing.
"We are taking up Picadilly," he said to me.
"But at this time of year?" I said. "Is it usual in
"We are not what we seem," said he.
"Oh, I see," I said, "you are doing it for a joke."
"Well, not exactly that," he answered me.
"For a bet?" I said.
"Not precisely," said he.
And then I looked at the bit that they had already
picked, and though it was broad daylight over my head it was
darkness down there, all full of the southern stars.
"It was noisy and bad and we grew aweary of it," said he
that wore corduroy trousers. "We are not what we appear."
They were taking up Picadilly altogether.
After the Fire
When that happened which had been so long in happening and
the world hit a black, uncharted star, certain tremendous
creatures out of some other world came peering among the
cinders to see if there were anything there that it were
worth while to remember. They spoke of the great things
that the world was known to have had; they mentioned the
mammoth. And presently they saw man's temples, silent and
windowless, staring like empty skulls.
"Some great thing has been here," one said, "in these
huge places." "It was the mammoth," said one. "Something
greater than he," said another.
And then they found that the greatest thing in the world
had been the dreams of man.
In time as well as space my fancy roams far from here. It
led me once to the edge of certain cliffs that were low and
red and rose up out of a desert: a little way off in the
desert there was a city. It was evening, and I sat and
watched the city.
Presently I saw men by threes and fours come softly
stealing out of that city's gate to the number of about
twenty. I heard the hum of men's voices speaking at
"It is well they are gone," they said. "It is well they
are gone. We can do business now. It is well they are
gone." And the men that had left the city sped away over
the sand and so passed into the twilight.
"Who are these men?" I said to my glittering leader.
"The poets," my fancy answered. "The poets and artists."
"Why do they steal away?" I said to him. "And why are
the people glad that they have gone?"
He said: "It must be some doom that is going to fall on
the city, something has warned them and they have stolen
away. Nothing may warn the people."
I heard the wrangling voices, glad with commerce, rise up
from the city. And then I also departed, for there was an
ominous look on the face of the sky.
And only a thousand years later I passed that way, and
there was nothing, even among the weeds, of what had been
The Food of Death
Death was sick. But they brought him bread that the modern
bakers make, whitened with alum, and the tinned meats of
Chicago, with a pinch of our modern substitute for salt.
They carried him into the dining-room of a great hotel (in
that close atmosphere Death breathed more freely), and there
they gave him their cheap Indian tea. They brought him a
bottle of wine that they called champagne. Death drank it
up. They brought a newspaper and looked up the patent
medicines; they gave him the foods that it recommended for
invalids, and a little medicine as prescribed in the paper.
They gave him some milk and borax, such as children drink in
Death arose ravening, strong, and strode again through
The Lonely Idol
I had from a friend an old outlandish stone, a little
swine-faced idol to whom no one prayed.
And when I saw his melancholy case as he sat cross-legged
at receipt of prayer, holding a little scourge that the
years had broken (and no one heeded the scourge and no one
prayed and no one came with squealing sacrifice; and he had
been a god), then I took pity on the little forgotten thing
and prayed to it as perhaps they prayed long since, before
the coming of the strange dark ships, and humbled myself and
"O idol, idol of the hard pale stone, invincible to the
years, O scourge-holder, give ear for behold I pray.
"O little pale-green image whose wanderings are from far,
know thou that here in Europe and in other lands near by,
too soon there pass from us the sweets and song and the lion
strength of youth: too soon do their cheeks fade, their hair
grow grey and our beloved die; too brittle is beauty, too
far off is fame and the years are gathered too soon; there
are leaves, leaves falling, everywhere falling; there is
autumn among men, autumn and reaping; failure there is,
struggle, dying and weeping, and all that is beautiful hath
not remained but is even as the glory of morning upon the
"Even our memories are gathered too with the sound of the
ancient voices, the pleasant ancient voices that come to our
ears no more; the very gardens of our childhood fade, and
there dims with the speed of the years even the mind's own
"O be not any more the friend of Time, for the silent
hurry of his malevolent feet have trodden down what's
fairest; I almost hear the whimper of the years running
behind him hound-like, and it takes few to tear us.
"All that is beautiful he crushes down as a big man
tramples daises, all that is fairest. How very fair are the
little children of men. It is autumn with all the world,
and the stars weep to see it.
"Therefore no longer be the friend of Time, who will not
let us be, and be not good to him but pity us, and let
lovely things live on for the sake of our tears."
Thus prayed I out of compassion one windy day to the
snout-faced idol to whom no one kneeled.
The Sphinx in Thebes
There was a woman in a steel-built city who had all that
money could buy, she had gold and dividends and trains and
houses, and she had pets to play with, but she had no
So she besought them to bring her a live sphinx; and
therefore they went to the menageries, and then to the
forests and the desert places, and yet could find no sphinx.
And she would have been content with a little lion but
that one was already owned by a woman she knew; so they had
to search the world again for a sphinx.
And still there was none.
But they were not men that it is easy to baffle, and at
last they found a sphinx in a desert at evening watching a
ruined temple whose gods she had eaten hundreds of years ago
when her hunger was on her. And they cast chains on her,
who was still with an ominous stillness, and took her
westwards with them and brought her home.
And so the sphinx came to the steel-built city.
And the woman was very glad that she owned a sphinx: but
the sphinx stared long into her eyes one day, and softly
asked a riddle of the woman.
And the woman could not answer, and she died.
And the sphinx is silent again and none knows what she
One's spirit goes further in dreams than it does by day.
Wandering once by night from a factory city I came to the
edge of Hell.
The place was foul with cinders and cast-off things, and
jagged, half-buried things with shapeless edges, and there
was a huge angel with a hammer building in plaster and
steel. I wondered what he did in that dreadful place. I
hesitated, then asked him what he was building. "We are
adding to Hell," he said, "to keep pace with the times."
"Don't be too hard on them," I said, for I had just come out
of a compromising age and a weakening country. The angel
did not answer. "It won't be as bad as the old hell, will
it?" I said. "Worse," said the angel.
"How can you reconcile it with your conscience as a
Minister of Grace," I said, "to inflict such a punishment?"
(They talked like this in the city whence I had come and I
could not avoid the habit of it.)
"They have invented a new cheap yeast," said the angel.
I looked at the legend on the walls of the hell that the
angel was building, the words were written in flame, every
fifteen seconds they changed their color, "Yeasto, the great
new yeast, it builds up body and brain, and something more."
"They shall look at it for ever," the angel said.
"But they drove a perfectly legitimate trade," I said,
"the law allowed it."
The angel went on hammering into place the huge steel
"You are very revengeful," I said. "Do you never rest
from doing this terrible work?"
"I rested one Christmas Day," the angel said, "and looked
and saw little children dying of cancer. I shall go on now
until the fires are lit."
"It is very hard to prove," I said, "that the yeast is as
bad as you think."
"After all," I said, "they must live."
And the angel made no answer but went on building his
The Trouble in
Leafy Green Street
She went to the idol-shop in Moleshill Street, where the old
man mumbles, and said: "I want a god to worship when it is
The old man reminded her of the heavy penalties that
rightly attach to idolatry and, when he had enumerated all,
she answered him as was meet: "Give me a god to worship when
it is wet."
And he went to the back places of his shop and sought out
and brought her a god. The same was carved of grey stone
and wore a propitious look and was named, as the old man
mumbled, The God of Rainy Cheerfulness.
Now it may be that long confinement to the house affects
adversely the liver, or these things may be of the soul, but
certain it is that on a rainy day her spirits so far
descended that those cheerful creatures came within sight of
the Pit, and, having tried cigarettes to no good end, she
bethought her of Moleshill Street and the mumbling man.
He brought the grey idol forth and mumbled of guarantees,
although he put nothing on paper, and she paid him there and
then his preposterous price and took the idol away.
And on the next wet day that there ever was she prayed to
the grey-stone idol that she had bought, the God of Rainy
Cheerfulness (who knows with what ceremony or what lack of
it?), and so brought down on her in Leafy Green Street, in
the preposterous house at the corner, that doom of which all
The mist said unto the mist: "Let us go up into the Downs."
And the mist came up weeping.
And the mist went into the high places and the hollows.
And clumps of trees in the distance stood ghostly in the
But I went to a prophet, one who loved the Downs, and I
said to him: "Why does the mist come up weeping into the
Downs when it goes into the high places and the hollows?"
And he answered: "The mist is the company of a multitude
of souls who never saw the Downs, and now are dead.
Therefore they come up weeping into the Downs, who are dead
and never saw them."
He was all in black, but his friend was dressed in brown,
members of two old families.
"Is there any change in the way you build your houses?"
said he in black.
"No change," said the other. "And you?"
"We change not," he said.
A man went by in the distance riding a bicycle.
"He is always changing," said the one in black, "of late
almost every century. He is uneasy. Always changing."
"He changes the way he builds his house, does he not?"
said the brown one.
"So my family say," said the other. "They say he has
changed of late."
"They say he takes much to cities?" the brown one said.
"My cousin who lives in belfries tells me so," said the
black one. "He says he is much in cities."
"And there he grows lean?" said the brown one.
"Yes, he grows lean."
"Is it true what they say?" said the brown one.
"Caw," said the black one.
"Is it true that he cannot live many centuries?"
"No, no," said the black one. "Furrow-maker will not
die. We must not lose furrow-maker. He has been foolish of
late, he has played with smoke and is sick. His engines
have wearied him and his cities are evil. Yes, he is very
sick. But in a few centuries he will forget his folly and
we shall not lose furrow-maker. Time out of mind he has
delved and my family have got their food from the raw earth
behind him. He will not die."
"But they say, do they not?" said the brown one, "his
cities are noisome, and that he grows sick in them and can
run no longer, and that it is with him as it is with us when
we grow too many, and the grass has the bitter taste in the
rainy season, and our young grow bloated and die."
"Who says it?" replied the black one.
"Pigeon," the brown one answered. "He came back all
dirty. And Hare went down to the edge of the cities once.
He says it too. Man was too sick to chase him. He thinks
that Man will die, and his wicked friend Dog with him. Dog,
he will die. That nasty fellow Dog. He will die too, the
"Pigeon and Hare!" said the black one. "We shall not
"Who told you he will not die?" his brown friend said.
"Who told me!" the black one said. "My family and his
have understood each other times out of mind. We know what
follies will kill each other and what each may survive, and
I say that furrow-maker will not die."
"He will die," said the brown one.
"Caw," said the other.
And Man said in his heart: "Just one invention more.
There is something I want to do with petrol yet, and then I
will give it all up and go back to the woods."
I was climbing round the perilous outside of the Palace of
Colquonhombros. So far below me that in the tranquil
twilight and clear air of those lands I could only barely
see them lay the craggy tops of the mountains.
It was along no battlements or terrace edge I was
climbing, but on the sheer face of the wall itself, getting
what foothold I could where the boulders joined.
Had my feet been bare I was done, but though I was in my
night-shirt I had on stout leather boots, and their edges
somehow held in those narrow cracks. My fingers and wrists
Had it been possible to stop for a moment I might have
been lured to give a second look at the fearful peaks of the
mountains down there in the twilight, and this must have
That the thing was all a dream is beside the point. We
have fallen in dreams before, but it is well known that if
in one of those falls you ever hit the ground -- you die: I
had looked at those menacing mountaintops and knew well that
such a fall as the one I feared must have such a
termination. Then I went on.
It is strange what different sensations there can be in
different boulders -- every one gleaming with the same white
light and every one chosen to match the rest by minions of
ancient kings -- when your life depends on the edges of
every one you come to. Those edges seemed strangely
different. It was of no avail to overcome the terror of
one, for the next would give you a hold in quite a different
way or hand you over to death in a different manner. Some
were too sharp to hold and some too flush with the wall,
those whose hold was the best crumbled the soonest; each
rock had its different terror: and then there were those
things that followed behind me.
And at last I came to a breach made long ago by
earthquake, lightning or war: I should have had to go down a
thousand feet to get round it and they would come up with me
while I was doing that, for certain sable apes that I have
not mentioned as yet, things that had tigerish teeth and
were born and bred on that wall, had pursued me all the
evening. In any case I could have gone no farther, nor did
I know what the king would do along whose wall I was
climbing. It was time to drop and be done with it or stop
and await those apes.
And then it was that I remembered a pin, thrown
carelessly down out of an evening-tie in another world to
the one where grew that glittering wall, and lying now if no
evil chance had removed it on a chest of drawers by my bed.
The apes were very close, and hurrying, for they knew my
fingers were slipping, and the cruel peaks of those infernal
mountains seemed surer of me than the apes. I reached out
with a desperate effort of will towards where the pin lay on
the chest of drawers. I groped about. I found it! I ran
it into my arm. Saved!
The Return of the Exiles
The old man with a hammer and the one-eyed man with a spear
were seated by the roadside talking as I came up the hill.
"It isn't as though they hadn't asked us," the one with
the hammer said.
"There ain't no more than twenty as knows about it," said
"Twenty's twenty," said the first.
"After all these years," said the one-eyed man with the
spear. "After all these years. We might go back just
"O' course we might," said the other.
Their clothes were old even for laborers, the one with
the hammer had a leather apron full of holes and blackened,
and their hands looked like leather. But whatever they were
they were English, and this was pleasant to see after all
the motors that had passed me that day with their burden of
mixed and doubtful nationalities.
When they saw me the one with the hammer touched his
"Might we make so bold, sir," he said, "as the ask the
way to Stonehenge?"
"We never ought to go," mumbled the other plaintively.
"There's not more than twenty as knows, but..."
I was bicycling there myself to see the place so I
pointed out the way and rode on at once, for there was
something so utterly servile about them both that I did not
care for their company. They seemed by their wretched mien
to have been persecuted or utterly neglected for many years,
I thought that very likely they had done long terms of penal
When I came to Stonehenge I saw a group of about a score
of men standing among the stones. They asked me with some
solemnity if I was expecting anyone, and when I said No they
spoke to me no more. It was three miles back where I left
those strange old men, but I had not been in the stone
circle long when they appeared, coming with great strides
along the road. When they saw them all the people took off
their hats and acted very strangely, and I saw that they had
a goat which they led up then to the old altar stone. And
the two old men came up with their hammer and spear and
began apologizing plaintively for the liberty they had taken
in coming back to that place, and all the people knelt on
the grass before them. And then still kneeling they killed
the goat by the altar, and when the two old men saw this
they came up with many excuses and eagerly sniffed the
blood. And at first this made them happy. But soon the one
with the spear began to whimper. "It used to be men," he
lamented. "It used to be men."
And the twenty men began looking uneasily at each other,
and the plaint of the one-eyed man went on in that tearful
voice, and all of a sudden they all looked at me. I do not
know who the two old men were or what any of them were
doing, but there are moments when it is clearly time to go,
and I left them there and then. And just as I got up on to
my bicycle I heard the plaintive voice of the one with the
hammer apologizing for the liberty he had taken in coming
back to Stonehenge.
"But after all these years," I heard him crying, "After
all these years..."
And the one with the spear said: "Yes, after three
Nature and Time
Through the streets of Coventry one winter's night strode a
triumphant spirit. Behind him stooping, unkempt, utterly
ragged, wearing the clothes and look that outcasts have,
whining, weeping, reproaching, an ill-used spirit tried to
keep pace with him. Continually she plucked him by the
sleeve and cried out to him as she panted after and he
strode resolute on.
It was a bitter night, yet it did not seem to be the cold
that she feared, ill-clad though she was, but the trams and
the ugly shops and the glare of the factories, from which
she continually winced as she hobbled on, and the pavement
hurt her feet.
He that strode on in front seemed to care for nothing, it
might be hot or cold, silent or noisy, pavement or open
fields, he merely had the air of striding on.
And she caught up and clutched him by the elbow. I heard
her speak in her unhappy voice, you scarcely heard it for
the noise of the traffic.
"You have forgotten me," she complained to him. "You
have forsaken me here."
She pointed to Coventry with a wide wave of her arm and
seemed to indicate other cities beyond. And he gruffly told
her to keep pace with him and that he did not forsake her.
And she went on with her pitiful lamentation.
"My anemones are dead for miles," she said, "all my woods
are fallen and still the cities grow. My child Man is
unhappy and my other children are dying, and still the
cities grow and you have forgotten me!"
And then he turned angrily on her, almost stopping in
that stride of his that began when the stars were made.
"When have I ever forgotten you?" he said, "or when
forsaken you ever? Did I not throw down Babylon for you?
And is not Nineveh gone? Where is Persepolis that troubled
you? Where Tarshish and Tyre? And you have said I forget
And at this she seemed to take a little comfort. I heard
her speak once more, looking wistfully at her companion.
"When will the fields come back and the grass for my
"Soon, soon," he said: then they were silent. And he
strode away, she limping along behind him, and all the
clocks in the towers chimed as he passed.
The Song of the Blackbird
As the poet passed the thorn-tree the blackbird sang.
"How ever do you do it?" the poet said, for he knew bird
"It was like this," said the blackbird. "It really was
the most extraordinary thing. I made that song last Spring,
it came to me all of a sudden. There was the most beautiful
she-blackbird that the world has ever seen. Her eyes were
blacker than lakes are at night, her feathers were blacker
than the night itself, and nothing was as yellow as her
beak; she could fly much faster than the lightning. She was
not an ordinary she-blackbird, there has never been any
other like her at all. I did not dare go near her because
she was so wonderful. One day last Spring when it got warm
again -- it had been cold, we ate berries, things were quite
different then, but Spring came and it got warm -- one day I
was thinking how wonderful she was and it seemed so
extraordinary to think that I should ever have seen her, the
only really wonderful she-blackbird in the world, that I
opened my beak to give a shout, and then this song came, and
there had never been anything like it before, and luckily I
remembered it, the very song that I sang just now. But what
is so extraordinary, the most amazing occurence of that
marvellous day, was that no sooner had I sung the song than
that very bird, the most wonderful she-blackbird in the
world, flew right up to me and sat quite close to me on the
same tree. I never remember such wonderful times as those.
"Yes, the song came in a moment, and as I was saying..."
And an old wanderer walking with a stick came by and the
blackbird flew away, and the poet told the old man the
blackbird's wonderful story.
"That song new?" said the wanderer. "Not a bit of it.
God made it years ago. All the blackbirds used to sing it
when I was young. It was new then."
One wandering nigh Parnassus chasing hares heard the high
"Take us a message to the Golden Town."
Thus sang the Muses.
But the man said: "They do not call to me. Not to such
as me speak the Muses."
And the Muses called him by name.
"Take us a message," they said, "to the Golden Town."
And the man was downcast for he would have chased hares.
And the Muses called again.
And when whether in valleys or on high crags of the hills
he still heard the Muses he went at last to them and heard
their message, though he would fain have left it to other
men and chased the fleet hares still in happy valleys.
And they gave him a wreath of laurels carved out of
emeralds as only the Muses can carve. "By this," they said,
"they shall know that you come from the Muses."
And the man went from that place and dressed in scarlet
silks as befitted one that came from the high Muses. And
through the gateway of the Golden Town he ran and cried his
message, and his cloak floated behind him. All silent sat
the wise men and the aged, they of the Golden Town;
cross-legged they sat before their houses reading from
parchments a message of the Muses that they sent long
And the young man cried his message from the Muses.
And they rose up and said: "Thou art not from the Muses.
Otherwise spake they." And they stoned him and he died.
And afterwards they carved his message upon gold; and
read it in their temples on holy days.
When will the Muses rest? When are they weary? They
sent another messenger to the Golden Town. And they gave
him a wand of ivory to carry in his hand with all the
beautiful stories of the world wondrously carved thereon.
And only the Muses could have carved it. "By this," they
said, "they shall know that you come from the Muses."
And he came through the gateway of the Golden Town with
the message he had for its people. And they rose up at once
in the Golden street, they rose from reading the message
that they had carved upon gold. "The last who came," they
said, "came with a wreath of laurels carved out of emeralds,
as only the Muses can carve. You are not from the Muses."
And even as they had stoned the last so also they stoned
him. And afterwards they carved his message on gold and
laid it up in their temples.
When will the Muses rest? When are they weary? Even yet
once again they sent a messenger under the gateway into the
Golden Town. And for all that he wore a garland of gold
that the high Muses gave him, a garland of kingcups soft and
yellow on his head, yet fashioned of pure gold and by whom
but the Muses, yet did they stone him in the Golden Town.
But they had the message, and what care the Muses?
And yet they will not rest, for some while since I heard
them call to me.
"Go take our message," they said, "unto the Golden Town."
But I would not go. And they spake a second time. "Go
take our message," they said.
And still I would not go, and they cried out a third
time: "Go take our message."
And though they cried a third time I would not go. But
morning and night they cried and through long evenings.
When will the Muses rest? When are they weary? And when
they would not cease to call to me I went to them and I
said: "The Golden Town is the Golden Town no longer. They
have sold their pillars for brass and their temples for
money, they have made coins out of their golden doors. It
is become a dark town full of trouble, there is no ease in
its streets, beauty has left it and the old songs are gone."
"Go take our message," they cried.
And I said to the high Muses: "You do not understand.
You have no message for the Golden Town, the holy city no
"Go take our message," they cried.
"What is your message?" I said to the high Muses.
And when I heard their message I made excuses, dreading
to speak such things in the Golden Town; and again they bade
And I said: "I will not go. None will believe me."
And still the Muses cry to me all night long.
They do not understand. How should they know?
The Three Tall Sons
And at last Man raised on high the final glory of his
civilization, the towering edifice of the ultimate city.
Softly beneath him in the deeps of the earth purred his
machinery fulfilling all his needs, there was no more toil
for man. There he sat at ease discussing the Sex Problem.
And sometimes painfully out of forgotten fields, there
came to his outer door, came to the furthest rampart of the
final glory of Man, a poor old woman begging. And always
they turned her away. This glory of Man's achievement, this
city was not for her.
It was Nature that came thus begging in from the fields,
whom they always turned away.
And away she went again alone to her fields.
And one day she came again, and again they sent her
hence. But her three tall sons came too.
"These shall go in," she said. "Even these my sons to
And the three tall sons went in.
And these are Nature's sons, the forlorn one's terrible
children, War, Famine and Plague.
Yea and they went in there and found Man unawares in his
city still poring over his Problems, obsessed with his
civilization, and never hearing their tread as those three
came up behind.
They built their gorgeous home, their city of glory, above
the lair of the earthquake. They built it of marble and
gold in the shining youth of the world. There they feasted
and fought and called their city immortal, and danced and
sang songs to the gods. None heeded the earthquake in all
those joyous streets. And down in the deeps of the earth,
on the black feet of the abyss, they that would conquer Man
mumbled long in the darkness, mumbled and goaded the
earthquake to try his strength with that city, to go forth
blithely at night and to gnaw its pillars like bones. And
down in those grimy deeps the earthquake answered them, and
would not do their pleasure and would not stir from thence,
for who knew who they were who danced all day where he
rumbled, and what if the lords of that city that had no fear
of his anger were haply even the gods!
And the centuries plodded by, on and on round the world,
and one day they that had danced, they that had sung in that
city, remembered the lair of the earthquake in the deeps
down under their feet, and made plans one with another and
sought to avert the danger, sought to appease the earthquake
and turn his anger away.
They sent down singing girls, and priests with oats and
wine, they sent down garlands and propitious berries, down
by dark steps to the black depths of the earth, they sent
peacocks newly slain, and boys with burning spices, and
their thin white sacred cats with collars of pearls all
newly drawn from sea, they sent huge diamonds down in
coffers of teak, and ointment and strange oriental dyes,
arrows and armor and the rings of their queen.
"Oho," said the earthquake in the coolth of the earth,
"so they are not the gods."
What We Have Come To
When the advertiser saw the cathedral spires over the downs
in the distance, he looked at them and wept.
"If only," he said, "this were an advertisement of Beefo,
so nice, so nutritious, try it in your soup, ladies like
The Tomb of Pan
"Seeing," they said, "that old-time Pan is dead, let us now
make a tomb for him and a monument, that the dreadful
worship of long ago may be remembered and avoided by all."
So said the people of the enlightened lands. And they
built a white and mighty tomb of marble. Slowly it rose
under the hands of the builders and longer every evening
after sunset it gleamed with rays of the departed sun.
And many mourned for Pan while the builders built; many
reviled him. Some called the builders to cease and to weep
for Pan and others called them to leave no memorial at all
of so infamous a god. But the builders built on steadily.
And one day all was finished, and the tomb stood there
like a steep sea-cliff. And Pan was carved thereon with
humbled head and the feet of angels pressed upon his neck.
And when the tomb was finished the sun had already set, but
the afterglow was rosy on the huge bulk of Pan.
And presently all the enlightened people came, and saw
the tomb and remembered Pan who was dead, and all deplored
him and his wicked age. But a few wept apart because of the
death of Pan.
But at evening as he stole out of the forest, and slipped
like a shadow softly along the hills, Pan saw the tomb and
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