A Dance of Death

How strange this ice, so motionless and still,
Yet calling as with music to our feet,
So that they chafe and dare
Their swiftest motion to repeat
These harmonies of challenge, sounds that fill
The floor of ice, as the crystalline sphere
Around the heavens is filled with such a song
That, when they hear,
The stars, each in their heaven, are drawn along!

Oh, see, a dancer! One whose feet
Move on unshod with steel!
She is not skating fleet
On toe and heel,
But only tip-toe dances in a whirl,
A lovely dancing-girl,
Upon the frozen surface of the stream,
Without a wonder, it would seem,
She could not keep her sway,
The balance of her limbs
Sure on the musical, iced river-way
That sparkling, dims
Her trinkets as they swing, so high its sparks
Tingle the sun and scatter song like larks.

She dances 'mid the sumptuous whiteness set
Of winter's sunniest noon;
She dances as the sun-rays that forget
In winter sunset falleth soon
To sheer sunset:
She dances with a languor through the frost
As she never had lost,
In lands where there is snow,
The Orient's immeasurable glow.

Who is this dancer white?
A creature slight,
Weaving the East upon a stream of ice,
That in a trice
Might trip the dance and fling the dancer down?
Does she not know deeps under ice can drown?

This is Salome, in a western land,
An exile with Herodias, her mother,
With Herod and Herodias:
And she has sought the river's icy mass,
Companioned by no other,
To dance upon the ice—each hand
Held, as a snow-bird's wings,
In heavy poise.
Ecstatic, with no noise,
Athwart the ice her dream, her spell she flings;
And Winter in a rapture of delight
Flings up and down the spangles of her light.

Oh, hearken, hearken! . . . Ice and frost,
From these cajoling motions freed,
Have straight given heed
To Will more firm: In their obedience
Their masses dense
Are riven as by a sword. . . .
Where is the Vision by the snow adored?
The Vision is no more
Seen from the noontide shore.

Oh, fearful crash of thunder from the stream,
As there were thunder-clouds upon its wave!
Could nothing save
The dancer in the noontide beam?
She is engulphed and all the dance is done.
Bright leaps the noontide sun—
But stay, what leaps beneath it? A gold head,
That twinkles with its jewels bright
As water-drops. . . .
O murdered Baptist of the severed head,
Her head was caught and girded tight,
And severed by the ice-brook sword, and sped
In dance that never stops.
It skims and hops
Across the ice that rasped it. Smooth and gay,
And void of care,
It takes its sunny way:
But underneath the golden hair,
And underneath those jewel-sparks,
Keen noontide marks
A little face as gray as evening ice;
Lips, open in a scream no soul may hear,
Eyes fixed as they beheld the silver plate
That they at Macherontis once beheld;
While the hair trails, although so fleet and nice
The motion of the head is subjugate
To its own law: yet in the face what fear,
To what excess compelled!

Salome's head is dancing on the bright
And silver ice. O holy John, how still
Was laid thy head upon the salver white,
When thou hadst done God's will!
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