From the Green Book of the Bards

by Bliss Carman


 

THE MADNESS OF ISHTAR


 

Vermilion and ashen and azure,
Pigment of leaf and wing,
What will the sorceress Ishtar
Make out of colour and spring?

Of old was she not Aphrodite,

5
She who is April still,
Mistress of longing and beauty,
The sea, and the Hollow Hill?

Ashtoreth, Tanis, Astarte—
A thousand names she has borne,

10

Since the first new moon's white magic
Was laid on a world forlorn.

Odour of tulip and cherry,
Scent of the apple blow,
Tang of the wild arbutus—

15

These to her crucible go.

Honey of lilac and willow,
The spoil of the plundering bees,
Savour of sap from the maples—
What will she do with these?

20


Oboe and flute in the forest,
And pipe in the marshy ground,
And the upland call of the flicker—
What will she make of sound?

Start of the green in the meadow,

25

Push of the seed in the mould,
Burst of the bud into blossom—
What will her cunning unfold?

The waning belt of Orion,
The crescent zone of the moon—

30

What is the mystic transport
We shall see accomplished soon?

The sun and the rain and the South wind,
With all the treasure they bring—
What will the sorceress Ishtar

35

Make from the substance of spring?

She will gather the blue and the scarlet,
The yellow and crimson dye,
And weave them into a garment
Of magical texture and ply.

40

 
And whoso shall wear that habit
And favour of the earth,
He shall be lord of his spirit,
The creatures shall know his worth.

She will gather the broken music,

45

Fitting it chord by chord,
Till the hearer shall learn the meaning,
As a text that has been restored.

She will gather the fragrance of lilacs,
The scent of the cherry flower,

50

And he who perceives it shall wonder,
And know, and remember the hour.

She will gather the moonlight and starshine,
And breathe on them with desire,
And they shall be changed on the moment

55

To the marvel of earth's green fire,—

The ardour that kindles and blights not,
Consumes and does not destroy,
Renewing the world with wonder,
And the hearts of men with joy.

60

 
For this is the purpose of Ishtar,
In her great lone house of the sky,
Beholding the work of her hands
As it shall be by and by:

Out of the passion and splendour,

65

Faith, failure and daring, to bring
The illumined dream of the spirit
To perfection in some far spring.

Therefore, shall we not obey her,—
Awake and be glad and aspire,—

70

Wise with the ancient knowledge,
Touched with the earthly fire?

In the spell of the wild enchantment
The shy wood creatures know,
Must we not also with Ishtar

75

Unhindered arise and go?

Hearing the call and the summons,
Heeding the hint and the sign,
Rapt in the flush and the vision,
Shall we demur or repine?

80


Dare you deny one impulse,
Dare I one joy suppress?
Knowing the might and dominion,
The lure and the loveliness,

Delirium, glamour, bewitchment,

85

Bidding earth blossom and sing,
Shall we falter or fail to follow
The voice of our mother in spring?

For Love shall be clothed with beauty,
And walk through the world again,

90

Hearing the haunted cadence
Of an immortal strain;

Caring not whence he wandered,
Fearing not whither he goes,
Great with the fair new freedom

95

That every earth-child knows;

Impetuous as the wood-wind,
Ingenuous as a flower,
Glad with the fulness of being,
Born of the perfect hour;

100


Counting not cost nor issue,
Weighing not end and aim,
Sprung from the clay-built cabin
To powers that have no name.

And with all his soul and body

105
He shall only seek one thing;
For that is the madness of Ishtar,
Which comes upon earth in spring.