All that is composed will decay...

Salome

Aug 15, 2011

An extract from Salome,
a tragedy in one act
translated from the French of Oscar Wilde
with sixteen drawings by Aubrey Beardsley

SALOME [she leans over the cistern and listens] There is no sound. I hear nothing. Why does he not cry out, this man? Ah! if any man sought to kill me, I would cry out, I would struggle, I would not suffer.... Strike, strike, Naaman, strike, I tell you.... No, I hear nothing. There is a silence, a terrible silence. Ah! something has fallen upon the ground. I heard something fall. It is the sword of the headsman. He is afraid, this slave! He has let his sword fall. He dare not kill him. He is a coward, this slave! Let soldiers be sent. [She sees the Page ofHerodias and addresses him.] Come hither! Thou wert the friend of him who is dead, is it not so? Well, I tell thee, there are not dead men enough. Go to the soldiers and bid them go down and bring me the thing I ask, the thing the Tetrarch has promised me, the thing that is mine. [The Page recoils. She turns tothe soldiers.] Hither, ye soldiers. Get ye down into the cistern and bring me the head of this man. [The soldiers recoil.] Tetrarch, Tetrarch, command your soldiers that they bring me the head of Jokanaan.

[A  huge black arm, the arm of the Executioner, comes forth from the cistern t bearing on a silver shield the head of Jokanaan. Salome seizes it. Herod hides his face with his cloak. Herodias smiles and fans herself. The Nazarenes fall on their knees and begin to pray]

Ah! thou wouldst not suffer me to kiss thy mouth, Jokanaan. Well! I will kiss it now. I will bite it with my teeth as one bites a ripe fruit. Yes, I will kiss thy mouth, Jokanaan. I said it; did I not say it? I said it. Ah! I will kiss it now.... But, wherefore dost thou not look at me, Jokanaan? Thine eyes that were so ter- rible, so full of rage and scorn, are shut now. Wherefore are they shut? Open thine eyes! Lift up thine eyelids, Jokanaan! Wherefore dost thou not look at me? Art thou afraid of me, Jokanaan, that thou wilt not look at me?… And thy tongue, that was like a red snake darting poison, it moves no more, it says nothing now, Jokanaan, that scarlet viper that spat its venom upon me.

MaudeAllanSalomeHead.jpg
It is strange, is it not? How is it that the red viper stirs no longer?... Thou wouldst have none of me, Jokanaan. Thou didst reject me. Thou didst speak evil words against me. Thou didst treat me as a harlot, as a wanton, me, Salome, daughter of Herodias, Princess of Judaea! Well, Jokanaan, I still live, but thou, thou art dead, and thy head belongs to me. I can do with it what I will. I can throw it to the dogs and to the birds of the air. That which the dogs leave, the birds of the air shall devour…

Ah, Jokanaan, Jokanaan, thou wert the only man that I have loved. All other men are hateful to me. But thou, thou wert beautiful! Thy body was a column of ivory set on a silver socle. It was a garden full of doves and of silver lilies. It was a tower of silver decked with shields of ivory. There was nothing in the world so white as thy body. There was nothing in the world so black as thy hair. In the whole world there was nothing so red as thy mouth. Thy voice was a censer that scattered strange per- fumes, and when I looked on thee I heard a strange music. Ah! wherefore didst thou not look at me, Jokanaan? Behind thine hands and thy curses thou didst hide thy face. Thou didst put upon thine eyes the covering of him who would see his God. Well, thou hast seen thy God, Jokanaan, but me, me, thou didst never see. If thou hadst seen me thou wouldst have loved me. I, I saw thee, Jokanaan, and I loved thee. Oh, how I loved thee! I love thee yet, Jokanaan. I love thee only.… I am athirst for thy beauty; I am hungry for thy body; and neither wine nor fruits can appease my desire. What shall I do now, Jokanaan? Neither the floods nor the great waters can quench my passion. I was a princess, and thou didst scorn me. I was a virgin, and thou didst take my virginity from me. I was chaste, and thou didst fill my veins with fire.... Ah! ah! wherefore didst thou not )ook at me, Jokanaan? If thou hadst looked at me thou hadst loved me. Well I know that thou wouldst have loved me, and the mystery of love is greater than the mystery of death. Love only should one consider.

0494538f96.jpgHEROD She is monstrous, your daughter, she is alto- gether monstrous. In truth, what she has done is a great crime. I am sure that it is a crime against an unknown God.

HERODIAS I approve of what my daughter has done. And I will stay here now.

HEROD [rising] Ah! There speaks the incestuous wife! Come! I will not stay here. Come, I tell you. Surely some terrible thing will befall. Manasseh, Issa- char, Ozias, put out the torches. I will not look at things. I will not suffer things to look at me. Put out the torches! Hide the moon! Hide the stars! Let us hide ourselves in our palace, Herodias. I begin to be afraid.

[The slaves put out the torches. The stars dm- appear. A great black cloud crosses the moon and conceals it completely. The stage becomes very dark. The Tetrarch begins to climb the staircase.]

063bad9018.jpgTHE VOICE OF SALOME Ah! I have kissed thy mouth, Jokanaan, I have kissed thy mouth. There was a bitter taste on thy lips. Was it the taste of blood?... But perchance it is the taste of love. They say that love hath a bitter taste.... But what of that? what of that? I have kissed thy mouth, Jokanaan, I have kissed thy mouth. [A moonbeam falls on Salome, covering her tvith light] EROD [turning round and seeing Salome] Kill that woman!

[The soldiers rush forward and crush beneath their shields Salome, daughter of Herodias, Princess of Judcea.]