Totentanz: the Coquette


Past Midnight! Silent in her charming room,
Nobly proportioned, feminine, richly plain,
One elegant femur balanced across its twin,
Sits her lank guest in the deep armchair’s gloom,
The dandy’s pose, one hand upon his cane,
A bald skull and a melancholy grin.

Outside a car stops purring at the kerb,
Swift footsteps mount the stair; the door flies wide;
She sweeps in, brilliant as a breaking wave;
The shimmer and swirl of skirts, and the superb
Gesture with which she lays her cloak aside—
The Watcher, sitting silent as the grave,

Thinks of some youthful Antony, in all
The panoply of battle, at the hour
Of victory disarming in the camp.
So in her silks, still sparkling from the ball,
Still breathless in the ecstasy of power,
She balances unseeing, turns up her lamp,

Unpins her torrent of hair, unclasps a jewel,
Moving to music still. The marvellous dress
Slides down; the dazzling gestures gleam and glance
While her tall glass reflects them, as a pool
Mirrors some creature of the wilderness
Rapt in its solitary ritual dance;

Some nubile sorceress at the noon of night,
Flitting by savage tarn or sacred well,
Rapt in the magic invocation of love,
Herself enchanted by that animal rite,
Herself the source and vigour of the spell
That leads an unknown lover to her grove.

Now naked to her glass, alive, alone,
In scrutiny or question see her stand
Aware at last of her mysterious guest,
The hollow stare, the rigid mask of bone.
Under her arm the lattice of a hand
Clips cold on the ripe triumph of her breast.

Stiffly she stands, considering awhile
The challenge of the male, the frank embrace.
Then, on one shuddering, voluptuous breath,
Leans back to her gaunt lover with a smile,
Half turning, with her plenitude of grace,
In sensuous surrender to her death.

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