Oscar wilde – the sphinx

The Sphinx

By Oscar Wilde

In a dim corner of my room for longer than my fancy thinks

A beautiful and silent Sphinx has watched me through the shifting gloom.

Inviolate and immobile she does not rise she does not stir

For silver moons are naught to her and naught to her the suns that reel.

Red follows grey across the air the waves of moonlight ebb and flow

But with the dawn she does not go and in the night-time she is there.

Dawn follows dawn and nights grow old and all the while this curious cat

Lies couching on the Chinese mat with eyes of satin rimmed with gold.

Upon the mat she lies and leers and on the tawny throat of her

Flutters the soft and silky fur or ripples to her pointed ears.

Come forth my lovely seneschal! so somnolent, so statuesque!

Come forth you exquisite grotesque! half woman and half animal!

Come forth my lovely languorous Sphinx! and put your head upon my knee!


let me stroke your throat and see your body spotted like the lynx!

And let me touch those curving claws of yellow ivory and grasp

The tail that like a monstrous asp coils round your heavy velvet paws!

A thousand weary centuries are thine while I have hardly seen

Some twenty summers cast their green for Autumn’s gaudy liveries.

But you can read the hieroglyphs on the great sandstone obelisks,

And you have talked with basilisks, and you have looked on hippogriffs.

O tell me, were you standing by when Isis to Osiris knelt?

And did you watch the Egyptian melt her union for Antony

And drink the jewel-drunken wine and bend her head in mimic awe

To see the huge proconsul draw the salted tunny from the brine?

And did you mark the Cyprian kiss white Adon on his catafalque?

And did you follow Amenalk, the god of Heliopolis?

And did you talk with Thoth, and did you hear the moon-horned Io weep?

And know the painted kings who sleep beneath the wedge-shaped pyramid?

Lift up your large black satin eyes which are like cushions where one sinks!

Fawn at my feet fantastic Sphinx! And sing me all your memories!

Sing to me of the Jewish maid who wandered with the Holy Child,

And how you led them through the wild, and how they slept beneath your shade.

Sing to me of that odorous green eve when couching by the marge

You heard from Adrian’s gilded barge the laughter of Antinous

And lapped the stream and fed your drouth and watched with hot and hungry stare

The ivory body of that rare young slave with his pomegranate mouth!

Sing to me of the labyrinth in which the twy-formed bull was stalled!

Sing to me of the night you crawled across the temple’s granite plinth

When through the purple corridors the screaming scarlet ibis flew

In terror, and a horrid dew dripped from the moaning mandragores,

And the great torpid crocodile within the tank shed slimy tears,

And tare the jewels from his ears and staggered back into the Nile,

And the priests cursed you with shrill psalms as in your claws you seized their snake

And crept away with it to slake your passion by the shuddering palms[.]

Who were your lovers? Who were they who wrestled for you in the dust?

Which was the vessel of your lust? What leman had you, every day?

Did giant lizards come and crouch before you on the reedy banks?

Did gryphons with great metal flanks leap on you in your trampled couch?

Oscar wilde – the sphinx