I worship the head crowned with a thousand serpents.
Upon her altar I wreathe her crowns of twisting vine;
I scatter white withering flowers to scent her air;
I mark her bruising step.
Not the female head crowded with glistening serpent-flesh
Nor the silence of horror and death that attends her
Nor the awful hosts of mute stone that bear witness in her temple
First enforced my service:
But I am the priest of that pale, beauteous throat
That, half-turning, beckons without speech,
For a service never-ending, a devotion without release,
The thrall of that voice that sends the corridors echoing
With a music that thrills the soul with a different, awful echo.
They damned me when they did not tell me she was beautiful
Or did they think my heart already turned to stone
When they sent me to put a knife into that proud breast?
I cannot help but burn when old memory revives
When that shadowed hall rang with my dropped shield and sword,
When I fell to my knees, stricken with a half-seen, unspeakable beauty,
And whispered, shaken, bowed:
“O, ward me from thy beauty and spare me thy transfixing eye—
For when thy gaze falls,
My flesh must lose itself beneath your light.”
My shield does not lie rusting;
It bears no mirror now, but an emblazoned portrait:
A woman’s head half-turned,
My death averted.