The Plumed Serpent, by D. H. Lawrence

Chapter 11

Lords of the Day and Night

When lunch was over, Ramón went to his room, to sleep for an hour. It was a hot, still afternoon. Clouds were standing erect and splendid, at the west end of the lake, like messengers. Ramón went into his room and closed the window-doors and the shutters, till it was quite dark, save for yellow pencils of light that stood like substance on the darkness, from the cracks of the shutters.

He took off his clothes, and in the darkness thrust his clenched fists upwards above his head, in a terrible tension of stretched, upright prayer. In his eyes was only darkness, and slowly the darkness revolved in his brain, too, till he was mindless. Only a powerful will stretched itself and quivered from his spine in an immense tension of prayer. Stretched the invisible bow of the body in the darkness with inhuman tension, erect, till the arrows of the soul, mindless, shot to the mark, and the prayer reached its goal.

Then, suddenly, the clenched and quivering arms dropped, the body relaxed into softness. The man had reached his strength again. He had broken the cords of the world, and was free in the other strength.

Softly, delicately, taking great care not to think, not to remember, not to disturb the poisonous snakes of mental consciousness, he picked up a thin, fine blanket, wrapped it round him, and lay down on the pile of mats on the floor. In an instant he was asleep.

He slept in complete oblivion for about an hour. Then suddenly he opened his eyes wide. He saw the velvety darkness, and the pencils of light gone frail. The sun had moved. Listening, there seemed not a sound in the world: there was no world.

Then he began to hear. He heard the faint rumble of an ox-wagon: then leaves in a wind: then a faint tapping noise: then the creak of some bird calling.

He rose and quickly dressed in the dark, and threw open the doors. It was mid-afternoon, with a hot wind blowing, and clouds reared up dark and bronze in the west, the sun hidden. But the rain would not fall yet. He took a big straw hat and balanced it on his head. It had a round crest of black and white and blue feathers, like an eye, or a sun, in front. He heard the low sound of women talking. Ah, the strange woman! He had forgotten her. And Carlota! Carlota was here! He thought of her for a moment, and of her curious opposition. Then, before he could be angry, he lifted his breast again in the black, mindless prayer, his eyes went dark, and the sense of opposition left him.

He went quickly, driftingly along the terrace to the stone stairs that led down to the inner entrance-way. Going through to the courtyard, he saw two men packing bales of bananas upon donkeys, under a shed. The soldiers were sleeping in the zaguán. Through the open doors, up the avenue of trees, he could see an ox-wagon slowly retreating. Within the courtyard there was the sharp ringing of metal hammered on an anvil. It came from a corner where was a smithy, where a man and a boy were working. In another shed a carpenter was planing wood.

Don Ramón stood a moment to look around. This was his own world. His own spirit was spread over it like a soft, nourishing shadow, and the silence of his own power gave it peace.

The men working were almost instantly aware of his presence. One after the other the dark, hot faces glanced up at him, and glanced away again. They were men, and his presence was wonderful to them; but they were afraid to approach him, even by staring at him. They worked the quicker for having seen him, as if it gave them new life.

He went across to the smithy, where the boy was blowing the old-fashioned bellows, and the man was hammering a piece of metal, with quick, light blows. The man worked on without lifting his head, as the patrón drew near.

‘It is the bird?’ said Ramón, standing watching the piece of metal, now cold upon the anvil.

‘Yes, Patrón! It is the bird. Is it right?’ And the man looked up with black, bright, waiting eyes.

The smith lifted with the tongs the black, flat, tongue-shaped piece of metal, and Ramón looked at it a long time.

‘I put the wings on after,’ said the smith.

Ramón traced with his dark, sensitive hand an imaginary line, outside the edge of the iron. Three times he did it. And the movement fascinated the smith.

‘A little more slender — so!’ said Ramón.

‘Yes, Patrón! Yes! Yes! I understand,’ said the man eagerly.

‘And the rest?’

‘Here it is!’ The man pointed to two hoops of iron, one smaller than the other, and to some flat discs of iron, triangular in shape.

‘Lay them on the ground.’

The man put the hoops on the ground, one within the other. Then, taking the triangular discs, he placed them with quick, sensitive hands, so that their bases were upon the outer circle, and their apices touched the inner. There were seven. And thus they made a seven-pointed sun of the space inside.

‘Now the bird,’ said Ramón.

The man quickly took the long piece of iron: it was the rudimentary form of a bird, with two feet, but, as yet without wings. He placed it in the centre of the inner circle, so that the feet touched the circle and the crest of the head touched opposite.

‘So! It fits,’ said the man.

Ramón stood looking at the big iron symbol on the ground. He heard the doors of the inner entrance: Kate and Carlota walking across the courtyard.

‘I take it away?’ asked the workman quickly.

‘Never mind,’ Ramón answered quietly.

Kate stood and stared at the great wreath of iron on the ground.

‘What is it?’ she asked brightly.

‘The bird within the sun.’

‘Is that a bird?’

‘When it has wings.’

‘Ah, yes! When it has wings. And what is it for?’

‘For a symbol to the people.’

‘It is pretty.’


‘Ramón!’ said Doña Carlota, ‘will you give me the key for the boat? Martin will row us out.’

He produced the key from under his sash.

‘Where did you get that beautiful sash?’ asked Kate.

It was the white sash with blue and brown-black bars, and with a heavy red fringe.

‘This?’ he said. ‘We wove it here.’

‘And did you make the sandals too?’

‘Yes! They were made by Manuel. Later I will show you.’

‘Oh, I should like to see! — They are beautiful, don’t you think, Doña Carlota?’

‘Yes! Yes! It is true. But whether beautiful things are wise things, I don’t know. So much I don’t know, Señora. Ay, so much! — And you, do you know what is wise?’

‘I?’ said Kate. ‘I don’t care very much.’

‘Ah! You don’t care! — You think Ramón is wise, to wear the peasants’ clothes, and the huaraches?’ For once Doña Carlota was speaking in slow English.

‘Oh, yes!’ cried Kate. ‘He looks so handsome! — Men’s clothes are so hideous, and Don Ramón looks so handsome in those!’ With the big hat poised on his head, he had a certain air of nobility and authority.

‘Ah!’ cried Doña Carlota, looking at the other woman with intelligent, half-scared eyes, and swinging the key of the boat. ‘Shall we go to the lake?’

The two women departed. Ramón, laughing to himself, went out of the gate and across the outer yard, to where a big, barn-like building stood near the trees. He entered the barn, and gave a low whistle. It was answered from the loft above, and a trap-door opened. Don Ramón went up the steps, and found himself in a sort of studio and carpenter’s shop. A fattish young man with curly hair, wearing an artist’s blouse, and with mallet and chisels in his hand, greeted him.

‘How is it going?’ asked Ramón.

‘Yes — well — ’

The artist was working on a head, in wood. It was larger than life, conventionalized. Yet under the conventional lines the likeness to Ramón revealed itself.

‘Sit for me for half an hour,’ said the sculptor.

Ramón sat in silence, while the other man bent over his model, working in silent concentration. And all the time, Ramón sat erect, almost motionless, with a great stillness of repose and concentration, thinking about nothing, but throwing out the dark aura of power, in the spell of which the artist worked.

‘That is enough,’ he said at last, quietly rising.

‘But give me the pose before you go,’ said the artist.

Ramón slowly took off his blouse-skirt, and stood with naked torso, the sash with its blue and black bars tight round his naked waist. For some moments he stood gathering himself together. Then suddenly, in a concentration of intense, proud prayer, he flung his right arm up above his head, and stood transfixed, his left arm hanging softly by his side, the fingers touching his thigh. And on his face that fixed, intense look of pride which was at once a prayer.

The artist gazed with wonder, and with an appreciation touched with fear. The other man, large and intense, with big dark eyes staring with intense pride, yet prayerful, beyond the natural horizons, sent a thrill of dread and of joy through the artist. He bowed his head as he looked.

Don Ramón turned to him.

‘Now you!’ he said.

The artist was afraid. He seemed to quail. But he met Ramón’s eyes. And instantly, that stillness of concentration came over him, like a trance. And then suddenly, out of the trance, he shot his arm aloft, and his fat, pale face took on an expression of peace, a noble, motionless transfiguration, the blue-grey eyes calm, proud, reaching into the beyond, with prayer. And though he stood in his blouse, with a rather pudgy figure and curly hair, he had the perfect stillness of nobility.

‘It is good!’ said Ramón, bowing his head.

The artist suddenly changed; Ramón held out his two hands; the artist took them in his two hands. Then he lifted Ramón’s right hand and placed the back of it on his brow.

‘Adiós!’ said Ramón, taking his blouse again.

‘Adiós, Señor!’ said the artist.

And with a proud, white look of joy in his face, he turned again to his work.

Ramón visited the adobe house, its yard fenced with cane and overshadowed by a great mango-tree, where Manuel and his wife and children, and two assistants, were spinning and weaving. Two little girls were assiduously carding white wool and brown wool under a cluster of banana-trees: the wife and a young maiden were spinning fine, fine thread. On the line hung dyed wool, red, and blue, and green. And under the shed stood Manuel and a youth, weaving at two heavy hand-looms.

‘How is it going?’ called Don Ramón.

‘Muy bien! Muy bien!’ answered Manuel, with that curious look of transfiguration glistening in his black eyes and in the smile of his face. ‘It is going well, very well, Señor!’

Ramón paused to look at the fine white serape on the loom. It had a zig-zag border of natural black wool and blue, in little diamonds, and the ends a complication of blackish and blue diamond-pattern. The man was just beginning to do the centre — called the boca, the mouth: and he looked anxiously at the design that was tacked to the loom. But it was simple: the same as the iron symbol the smith was making: a snake with his tail in his mouth, the black triangles on his back being the outside of the circle: and in the middle, a blue eagle standing erect, with slim wings touching the belly of the snake with their tips, and slim feet upon the snake, within the hoop.

Ramón went back to the house, to the upper terrace, and round to the short wing where his room was. He put a folded serape over his shoulder, and went along the terrace. At the end of this wing, projecting to the lake, was a square terrace with a low, thick wall and a tiled roof, and a coral-scarlet bignonia dangling from the massive pillars. The terrace, or loggia, was strewn with the native palm-leaf mats, petates, and there was a drum in one corner, with the drum-stick upon it. At the far inner corner went down an enclosed stone staircase, with an iron door at the bottom.

Ramón stood a while looking out at the lake. The clouds were dissolving again, the sheet of water gave off a whitish light. In the distance he could see the dancing speck of a boat, probably Martin with the two women.

He took off his hat and his blouse, and stood motionless, naked to the waist. Then he lifted the drum-stick, and after waiting a moment or two, to become still in soul, he sounded the rhythmic summons, rather slow, yet with a curious urge in its strong-weak, one-two rhythm. He had got the old barbaric power into the drum.

For some time he stood alone, the drum, or tom-tom, lifted by its thong against his legs, his right hand drumming, his face expressionless. A man entered, bareheaded, running from the inner terrace. He was in the white cotton clothes, snow white, but with a dark serape folded on his shoulder, and he held a key in his hand. He saluted Ramón by putting the back of his right hand in front of his eyes for a moment, then he went down the stone stairway and opened the iron door.

Immediately men were coming up, all dressed alike, in the white cotton clothes and the huaraches, each with a folded serape over his shoulder. But their sashes were all blue, and their sandals blue and white. The sculptor came too, and Mirabal was there, also dressed in the cotton clothes.

There were seven men, besides Ramón. At the top of the stairs, one after another, they saluted. Then they took their serapes, dark brown, with blue eyes filled with white, along the edges, and threw them down along the wall, their hats beside them. Then they took off their blouses, and flung them on their hats.

Ramón left the drum, and sat down on his own serape, that was white with the blue and black bars, and the scarlet fringe. The drummer sat down and took the drum. The circle of men sat cross-legged, naked to the waist, silent. Some were of a dark, ruddy coffee-brown, two were white, Ramón was of a soft creamy brown. They sat in silence for a time, only the monotonous, hypnotic sound of the drum pulsing, touching the inner air. Then the drummer began to sing, in the curious, small, inner voice, that hardly emerges from the circle, singing in the ancient falsetto of the Indians:

‘Who sleeps — shall wake! Who sleeps — shall wake! Who treads down the path of the snake shall arrive at the place; in the path of the dust shall arrive at the place and be dressed in the skin of the snake — ’

One by one the voices of the men joined in, till they were all singing in the strange, blind infallible rhythm of the ancient barbaric world. And all in the small, inward voices, as if they were singing from the oldest, darkest recess of the soul, not outwards, but inwards, the soul singing back to herself.

They sang for a time in the peculiar unison like a flock of birds that fly in one consciousness. And when the drum shuddered for an end, they all let their voices fade out, with the same broad, clapping sound in the throat.

There was silence. The men turned, speaking to one another, laughing in a quiet way. But their daytime voices, and their daytime eyes had gone.

Then Ramón’s voice was heard, and the men were suddenly silent, listening with bent heads. Ramón sat with his face lifted, looking far away, in the pride of prayer.

‘There is no Before and After, there is only Now,’ he said, speaking in a proud, but inward voice.

‘The great Snake coils and uncoils the plasm of his folds, and stars appear, and worlds fade out. It is no more than the changing and easing of the plasm.

‘I always am, says his sleep.

‘As a man in a deep sleep knows not, but is, so is the Snake of the coiled cosmos, wearing its plasm.

‘As a man in a deep sleep has no to-morrow, no yesterday, nor to-day, but only IS, so is the limpid, far-reaching Snake of the eternal Cosmos, Now, and forever Now.

‘Now, and only Now, and forever Now.

‘But dreams arise and fade in the sleep of the Snake.

‘And worlds arise as dreams, and are gone as dreams.

‘And man is a dream in the sleep of the Snake.

‘And only the sleep that is dreamless breathes I Am!

‘In the dreamless Now, I Am.

‘Dreams arise as they must arise, and man is a dream arisen.

‘But the dreamless plasm of the Snake is the plasm of a man, of his body, his soul, and his spirit at one.

‘And the perfect sleep of the Snake I Am is the plasm of a man, who is whole.

‘When the plasm of the body, and the plasm of the soul, and the plasm of the spirit are at one, in the Snake I Am.

‘I am Now.

‘Was-not is a dream, and shall-be is a dream, like two separate, heavy feet.

‘But Now, I Am.

‘The trees put forth their leaves in their sleep, and flowering emerge out of dreams, into pure I Am.

‘The birds forget the stress of their dreams, and sing aloud in the Now, I Am! I Am!

‘For dreams have wings and feet, and journeys to take, and efforts to make.

‘But the glimmering Snake of the Now is wingless and footless, and undivided, and perfectly coiled.

‘It is thus the cat lies down, in the coil of Now, and the cow curves round her nose to her belly, lying down.

‘In the feet of a dream the hare runs uphill. But when he pauses, the dream has passed, he has entered the timeless Now, and his eyes are the wide I Am.

‘Only man dreams, dreams, and dreams, and changes from dream to dream, like a man who tosses on his bed.

‘With his eyes and his mouth he dreams, with his hands and his feet, with phallos and heart and belly, with body and spirit and soul, in a tempest of dreams.

‘And rushes from dream to dream, in the hope of the perfect dream.

‘But I, I say to you, there is no dream that is perfect, for every dream has an ache and an urge, an urge and an ache.

‘And nothing is perfect, save the dream pass out into the sleep, I Am.

‘When the dream of the eyes is darkened, and encompassed with Now.

‘And the dream of the mouth resounds in the last I Am.

‘And the dream of the hands is a sleep like a bird on the sea, that sleeps and is lifted and shifted, and knows not.

‘And the dreams of the feet and the toes touch the core of the world, where the Serpent sleeps.

‘And the dream of the phallos reaches the great I Know Not.

‘And the dream of the body is the stillness of a flower in the dark.

‘And the dream of the soul is gone in the perfume of Now.

‘And the dream of the spirit lapses, and lays down its head, and is still with the Morning Star.

‘For each dream starts out of Now, and is accomplished in Now.

‘In the core of the flower, the glimmering, wakeless Snake.

‘And what falls away is a dream, and what accrues is a dream. There is always and only Now, Now and I Am.’

There was silence in the circle of men. Outside, the sound of the bullock-wagon could be heard, and from the lake, the faint knocking of oars. But the seven men sat with their heads bent, in the semi-trance, listening inwardly.

Then the drum began softly to beat, as if of itself. And a man began to sing, in a small voice:

The Lord of the Morning Star
Stood between the day and the night:
As a bird that lifts its wings, and stands
With the bright wing on the right
And the wing of the dark on the left,
The Dawn Star stood into sight.

Lo! I am always here!
Far in the hollow of space
I brush the wing of the day
And put light on your face.
The other wing brushes the dark.
But I, I am always in place.

Yea, I am always here. I am Lord
In every way. And the lords among men
See me through the flashing of wings.
They see me and lose me again.
But lo! I am always here
Within ken.

The multitudes see me not.
They see only the waving of wings,
The coming and going of things.
The cold and the hot.

But ye that perceive me between
The tremors of night and the day,
I make you the Lords of the
Way Unseen.

The path between gulfs of the dark and the steeps of the light;
The path like a snake that is gone, like the length of a fuse
to ignite
The substance of shadow, that bursts and explodes into sight.

I am here undeparting. I sit tight
Between wings of the endless flight,
At the depths of the peace and the fight.

Deep in the moistures of peace,
And far down the muzzle of the fight
You shall find me, who am neither increase
Nor destruction, different quite.

I am far beyond
The horizons of love and strife.
Like a star, like a pond
That washes the lords of life.

‘Listen!’ said Ramón, in the stillness. ‘We will be masters among men, and lords among men. But lords of men and masters of men we will not be. Listen! We are lords of the night. Lords of the day and night. Sons of the Morning Star, sons of the Evening Star. Men of the Morning and the Evening Star.

‘We are not lords of men: how can men make us lords? Nor are we masters of men, for men are not worth it.

‘But I am the Morning and the Evening Star, and lord of the day and the night. By the power that is put in my left hand, and the power that I grasp in my right, I am lord of the two ways.

‘And my flower on earth is the jasmine flower, and in heaven the flower Hesperus.

‘I will not command you, nor serve you, for the snake goes crooked to his own house.

‘Yet I will be with you, so you depart not from yourselves.

‘There is no giving, and no taking. When the fingers that give touch the fingers that receive, the Morning Star shines at once, from the contact, and the jasmine gleams between the hands. And thus there is neither giving nor taking, nor hand that proffers nor hand that receives, but the star between them is all, and the dark hand and the light hand are invisible on each side. The jasmine takes the giving and the receiving in her cup, and the scent of the oneness is fragrant on the air.

‘Think neither to give nor to receive, only let the jasmine flower.

‘Let nothing spill from you in excess, let nothing be reived from you.

‘And reive nothing away. Not even the scent from the rose, nor the juice from the pomegranate, nor the warmth from the fire.

‘But say to the rose: Lo! I take you away from your tree, and your breath is in my nostrils, and my breath is warm in your depths. Let it be a sacrament between us.

‘And beware when you break the pomegranate; it is sunset you take in your hands. Say: I am coming, come thou. Let the Evening Star stand between us.

‘And when the fire burns up and the wind is cold and you spread your hands to the blaze, listen to the flame saying: Ah! Is it thou? Comest thou to me? Lo, I was going the longest journey, down the path of the greatest snake. But since thou comest to me, I come to thee. And where thou fallest into my hands, fall I into thine, and jasmine flowers on the burning bush between us. Our meeting is the burning bush, whence the jasmine flowers.

‘Reive nothing away, and let nothing be reived from you. For reiver and bereaved alike break the root of the jasmine flower, and spit upon the Evening Star.

‘Take nothing, to say: I have it! For you can possess nothing, not even peace.

‘Nought is possessible, neither gold, nor land, nor love, nor life, nor peace, nor even sorrow nor death, nor yet salvation.

‘Say of nothing: It is mine.

‘Say only: It is with me.

‘For the gold that is with thee lingers as a departing moon, looking across space thy way, saying: Lo! We are beholden of each other. Lo! for this little while, to each other thou and I are beholden.

‘And thy land says to thee: Ah, my child of a far-off father! Come, lift me, lift me a little while, that poppies and wheat may blow on the level wind that moves between my breast and thine! Then sink with me, and we will make one mound.

‘And listen to thy love saying: Beloved! I am mown by thy sword like mown grass, and darkness is upon me, and the tremble of the Evening Star. And to me thou art darkness and nowhere. Oh thou, when thou risest up and goest thy way, speak to me, only say: The star rose between us.

‘And say to thy life: Am I thine? Art thou mine? Am I the blue curve of day around thine uncurved night? Are my eyes twilight of neither of us, where the star hangs? Is my upper lip the sunset and my lower lip the dawn, does the star tremble inside my mouth?

‘And say to thy peace: Ah! risen, deathless star! Already the waters of dawn sweep over thee, and wash me away on the flood!

‘And say to thy sorrow: Axe, thou art cutting me down!

‘Yet did a spark fly from out of thy edge and my wound!

‘Cut then, while I cover my face, father of the Star.

‘And say to thy strength: Lo, the night is foaming up my feet and my loins, day is foaming down from my eyes and my mouth to the sea of my breast. Lo, they meet! My belly is a flood of power, that races in down the sluice of bone at my back, and a star hangs low on the flood, over a troubled dawn.

‘And say to thy death: Be it so! I, and my soul, we come to thee, Evening Star. Flesh, go thou into the night. Spirit, farewell, ’tis thy day. Leave me now. I go in last nakedness now to the nakedest Star.’

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:57