restricted access Chapter 9: The Shadow of Bacchus, the Shadow of Thanatos, and the Shadow of Shame
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IX. THE SHADOW OF BACCHUS, THE SHADOW OF THANATOS, AND THE SHADOW OF SHAME1 Once more at the table I was seized by the hand of the hasheesh genie. Dinner was nearly over, and I escaped into the street without being suspected. Street did I say? Ah no! That conventional synonym of all dust, heat, and garbage is unheard upon the sunny slopes of Mount Bermius, where I wandered Bacchus-smitten among the Mænades. Through the viny shades that embowered our dance of rapture, Haliacmon threw the gleam of his sky-bright waters, and the noon rays, sifted through leaves and clusters, fell on us softened like gold into the lap of Danae.2 Grapes above us, grapes around us, grapes every where, made the air fragrant as a censer. They dropped with the burden of their own sweetness; they shed volatile dews of ecstasy on every sense. Constellations of empurpled orbs, they dissolved the outer light of heaven by their own translucency; and from their hemispheres of silver down, which looked toward the sun, to those hemispheres which turned in upon our dance a gaze half of jet, half of sapphire, they transmitted the gentle radiance, until it bathed our cheeks and foreheads in the hue of autumn sunsets. Together with troops of Bacchantes I leaped madly among the clusters; I twirled my thyrsus, and cried Evoë Bacche with the loudest.3 On a delicious wind of fragrance the fawn-skin floated backward from my shoulders , and the viny leaves and tendrils of my garland caressed my temples lovingly. I drank the blood of grapes like nectar; I sang 020 c5-c11 (48-116) 4/26/06 10:28 AM Page 94 hymns to the son of Semele;4 I reeled under the possession of the divine afflatus. Around me in endless mazes circled beauteous shapes of men and women; with hands enclasped we danced and sang, and the Mænad houris overshadowed me with their luxuriant disheveled hair. Now, wandering from their throng in a rapture which, too high to be imparted, sought some solitude where it could shed itself forth unheard, I passed through the college gateway, and began traveling up the long walk which finally led into the woods toward the east— finally, I say, for I remember even now the measureless stretch of the journey. At length, reaching the borders of the stream which had before become to me the Nile, and which, through my whole hasheesh life, witnessed many a delirium of joy and torture, I sat down upon a high, precipitous bank which overhung the water, and gave myself up to my fantasia. The stream broadened and grew glorified: it was the Amazon, and on a towering bluff I was gazing down the liquid sweep toward the sea. Now a great ship came gliding past, lifting its top-gallant far above my post of observation, and men ran up the shrouds to peer curiously at me. With her long pennant flying and every inch of her courses shaken out, she passed me majestically, and I climbed down to the brink of the river to catch the last look at her, and see it returned from another inquisitive gazer at the taffrail. I wandered completely through the woods, and came out into a broad field upon the farther side. Before me rose the buildings of a grand square, in some city whose name, whose nation I could not even imagine, so utterly foreign did it appear to any thing in the world of modern days. In the centre of the square a mighty host had assembled to inaugurate the equestrian statue of a hero, which, exquisitely carved in a rose-tinted marble, rose on its colossal pedestal far above their heads. I was drawn toward them by an irresistible impulse, for sculpture and architecture had reached, in that city, the highest ideal of art. I thought of the hero, and seemed to share the glory of his triumph. Then out of the borders of the dense wood from which I had just emerged came a hot and hissing whisper, “Kill thyself! kill thyself!” THE SHADOW OF BACCHUS, THANATOS, AND SHAME 95 020 c5-c11 (48-116) 4/26/06 10:28 AM Page 95 Shuddering, I turned to see who spoke. No one was visible. Again, with still intenser earnestness, the whisper was repeated; and now unseen tongues syllabled it on all sides and in the air above me. To these words soon...