By: Madison Julius Cawein
A lily in a twilight place?
A moonflow’r in the lonely night?—
Strange beauty of a woman’s face
The rain that hangs a star’s green ray
Slim on a leaf-point’s restlessness,
Is not so glimmering green and gray
As was her dress.
I drew her dark hair from her eyes,
And in their deeps beheld a while
Such shadowy moonlight as the skies
Of Hell may smile.
She held her mouth up redly wan,
And burning cold,—I bent and kissed
Such rosy snow as some wild dawn
Makes of a mist.
God shall not take from me that hour,
When round my neck her white arms clung!
When ‘neath my lips, like some fierce flower,
Her white throat swung!
Or words she murmured while she leaned!
Witch-words, she holds me softly by,—
The spell that binds me to a fiend
Until I die.
This is perhaps not the most complex poem when it comes to understanding the subject manner, however it does have it's own subtlety and hidden meanings. As you can see it is a story of a man who becomes ensnared by a beautiful female vampire and is transformed by it and because of it. There is so much more to this poem than that story.
One of the first things I noticed about this poem was its amazing descriptions, it's imagery is so rich that you can just about paint her picture. She reminds me of a naughty Snow White; dark hair, pale skin, rosy lips. I find this particularly interesting because the usual beauty paradigm during that time and even today is the opposite, golden hair, fair (but not too fair) skin, etc. This has occurred in many other works, so it's not unique but it should be noted. When Mr. Cawein wrote this poem, he either by accident or on purpose, made the Vampire's description show her affinity with the night and thus subversive, whereas the golden beauty is representative of the Sun and the status quo.
When this poem was published in 1896, the Suffrage Movement was making waves and changing the way men viewed women and how women viewed themselves. His description of her doesn't just revere her beauty, it also acknowledges her sexuality and that she chooses to be the predator not the prey. In this poem she holds all the power which was highly unusual for that time, since the ideal woman was seen as well-behaved and subservient. That primal power and her awareness of her sexuality, turns this man into a victim who can do nothing but be in awe of her.
Mr. Cawein made her not only supernaturally beautiful but verbally alluring as well . Her beauty may have been what drew him in but it was her words that captured him. It's almost as if he makes sure to include that, so she is seen as the perfect package, beauty and brains.
It seems to me, Mr. Cawein essentially made a love poem to strong unique women and that's why I chose this poem. This poem is a great starter for this upcoming series of reviews not because of it's supernatural elements (though that is always fun) but rather due to the Vampire. She is the main character, and while not nearly as hilarious as our soon to be introduced heroines, they do share two things in common, they are beautiful and they are masters of their own destiny.