Beyond the Hills of Dream

by William Wilfred Campbell


 

The Vengeance of Saki


 

WHEN the moon is red in the heaven, and under the night
Is heard on the winds the thunder of shadowy horses,
Then out of the night I arise, and again am a woman;
And leap to the back of an ebon steed that knows me,
And hound him on in the wake of hoofs that thunder,
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Of smoking nostrils, and gleaming eyes, and foam-flecked
Flanks that glow and flash in the flow of the moonlight;
While under the mirk and the moon, out into the blackness,
Round the world’s edge with an eerie, mad, echoing laughter,
Leaps the long cry of the hate of the wild snake-woman.
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Ha! Ha! it is joy for the hearts that we crush as we thunder!
Ho! Ho! for the hate of the winds that laugh to my laughter!
Ha! Ha! it is well for the shriekings that pass into silence,
As under the night, out into the blackness forever,
Rides the wild hate of Saki, the mad snake-woman!
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I was a girl of the South, with eyes as tender
And dreamy and soft and true as the skies of my people;
But I was a slave and an alien captured in battle,
And brought to the North by a people ruder and stronger,
Who held me as naught but a toy, to be played with and broken,
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Then thrown aside like a bow that is snapped asunder.
Lithe and supple my limbs as the sinuous serpent,
And quick as the eye and the tongue of the serpent mine anger
That flashed out the fire of my hate on the scorn of my scorners.
But hate soon softened to love, as fire into sunlight,
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When my eyes met the eyes of the chieftain, my lord, and my master.
 
Sweet as the flowers that bloom on the blossoming prairie,
Gladder than voices of fountains that dance in the sunlight,
Were the new and tremulous fancies that dwelt in my bosom;
For he was my king and my sun, and the power of his glance
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To me as at springtime the returning sun to the landscape,
And his touch and the sound of his voice that set my heart throbbing.
 
Sweet were the days of summer I dwelt in his tent,
And glad and loving the nights that I lay on his bosom.
But woe, woe, woe, to the summer that fades into autumn,
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And woe upon woe is the love that dwindles and dies,
And ere my hot heart was abrim with its summer of loving
I knew that its autumn had come, that his love was another’s—
A blue-eyed haughty captive they brought from the East,
Her hair like moving sunlight that rippled and ran
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With the golden flow of a brook from her brow to her girdle.
He saw her, he looked on her face, and I was forgotten—
Yea, I and the love that fed on my soul in its anguish! 

Ha! Ha! it is joy for the hearts that we crush as we thunder!
Ho! Ho! for the hate of the winds that laugh to my laughter!

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Ha! Ha! it is well for the shriekings that pass into silence,
As under the night, out into the blackness forever,
Rides the wild hate of Saki, the mad snake-woman!
If hate could have slain they'd have shrivelled up there in the moonlight;
But theirs was a sin too deep for the kiss of a knife-blade.
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Long did I stand like a poisoned wind in a desert,
Gray and sad and despairing, and nursing my hate;
When out of the night, like one voice that calls to another,
Came the far-off neigh of a horse, and a mad joy leaped to my veins,
And a thought curled into my heart as a serpent coils into a flower;
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And I turned me, and left them there in their foolish love and their slumber
That my hot heart hissed was their last.
They hurrying out of the door that flapped in the night-wind I fled,
With a pent-up hunger of hate that maddened to burst from its sluices,
And came to a place on the plain far up and out from the village,
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Where tethered in rows of hurdles, champing and restless and neighing,
Half a thousand horses were herded under the night.

Ha! Ha! I live it anew, I dream it again in my madness.
I see that moving ocean of shimmering flanks in the moonlight:
I snatch a brand from a watchfire that smoulders and dwindles:

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I creep around to the side of the herd remote from the village:
I cry, a low call, that is answered by a neigh and a whinny:
Then I leap to the back of an ebon stallion that knows me.
’T is but the cut of a thong, a cry in the night,
A fiery waving brand like lightning to thunder,
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A terrified moaning and neighing, a heaving of necks and of haunches;
A bound, a rush, a crack of a thong, then a whirlwind of hoofs!
Like a sweep of a wave on a beach we are thundering onwards,
Neck and neck in the wake of my hate, that ever before us
Clamors from heaven to hell in its terrible vengeance!
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With neck outstretched and mad eyes agleam in the moonlight,
I see on ahead the sleeping huts in the moonlight.

Ha! Ha! they will rest well under the sleep that we bring them!
See, see, we are nearing them now; the first wild thundering hoof-beats
Have ridden them down, ’mid the shriekings and groanings of anguish,

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Blotting them out with their loves and their hates into blackness.
Ha! Ha! ride, ride, my beauties, my terrible tramplers!
Pound, pound into dust the mother, the child, and the husband!
Pound, pound to the pulse of my hate that exults in your thunders!
Ha! Over the little ones nestled to suckle the bosom,
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Over the man that I loved, we thunder, we thunder!
Over the woman I hate with the flame of her hair on his bosom;
Trampling, treading them down out into silence and blackness,
Like the swirl of a merciless storm we sweep on to darkness forever!
And now, when the moon is in heaven, and under the night
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Is heard on the winds the thunder of shadowy horses,
Then out of the dark I arise, and again am a woman;
And leap to the back of an ebon steed that knows me,
And hound him on in the wake of hoofs that thunder;
While under the mirk and the moon, out into the blackness,
95
Round the world’s edge with an eerie, mad, echoing laughter,
Leaps the long cry of the hate of the wild snake-woman.
 
Ha! Ha! it is joy for the hearts that we crush as we thunder!
Ho! Ho! for the hate of the winds that laugh to my laughter!
Ha! Ha! it is well for the shriekings that pass into silence,
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As under the night, out into the blackness forever,
Rides the wild hate of Saki, the mad snake-woman!