The Grotesques

David Park Barnitz


I saw a dead corpse lying in a tomb,
Long buried and rotten to the core;
Behold this corpse shall know not evermore
Aught that may be outside its wormy room;

It lies uncover'd in the pesty gloom,
Eyeless and earless, on the charnel-floor,
While in its nameless corpse the wormlets hoar
Make in its suppurated brain their room.

And in that charnel that no lights illume,
It shriek'd of things that lay outside its door;
And while the still worms through its soft heart bore,

It lay and reason'd of the ways of doom,
And in its head thoughts mov'd as in a womb;
And in its heart the worms lie evermore.


I saw a dead corpse in a haughty car,
Whom in a high tomb phantom horses bore,
Aye to and fro upon the scatter'd floor;
His dead eyes star'd as though they look'd afar,

His gold wheels myriad perish'd souls did mar,
While through his flesh the ravenous wormlets tore;
He in whose eyes the worm was conqueror,
Held his high head unmoved like a star.

And as with loud sound and reverberant jar,
And as with splash of crusht flesh and dull roar,
The death-car thunder'd past the tomb-walls hoar,

Within those dead dominions the dead tsar
Receiv'd his plaudits where dead bodies are;
And in his heart the worms lie evermore.


I saw a dead corpse making a strange cry,
With dead feet planted on a high tomb's floor;
The dead stand round, with faces that implore;
His dead hands bless them, stretched forth on high.

—And art them God? and art them majesty?—
And art thou he whom all the dead adore?—
And art thou he that hath the skies in store?—
Nay, nay, dead dust, dead dust, and vanity.

And wouldst thou rise up to the lighted sky?—
Nay, nay, thy limbs are rotten on the floor;
Thou shalt not out from thy polluted sty;

Thou wouldst become divinity once more,
Thou dreamest of splendour that shall never die;
And in thy heart the worms lie evermore.


I saw a dead corpse lying on the floor
Of a tomb; worms were in its woman's head,
Its black flesh lay about it shred on shred,
And the dead things slept in its bosom hoar.

And evermore inside that loathed door,
It turn'd itself as one upon a bed,
It turn'd itself as one whom sleep hath fled,
As one that the sweet pangs of passion bore.

And from its passionate mouth's corrupted sore,
And from its lips that are no longer red,
Came forth love's accents; and it spake, and said.

—The Pleiades and night's noon-hours are o'er,
And I am left alone in wearyhead.
And in its heart the worms lie evermore.

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