The Sphinx

Author: Oscar Wilde  | Date: 1894


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 nought to her,

And nought 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 crouching 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 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

And 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 Anthony,

And drink the jewel-drunken wine,

And bend her head in mimic awe

To see the huge pro-consul draw

The salted tunny from the brine?

And did you mark the Cyprian kiss

With Adon on his catafalque,

And did you follow Amanalk

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 crouching 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 two-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 great shed slimy tears,

And tore 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,

Did monstrous hippopotami

Come sidling to you in the mist

Did gilt-scaled dragons write and twist

With passion as you passed them by?

And from that brick-built Lycian tomb

What horrible Chimaera came

With fearful heads and fearful flame

To breed new wonders from your womb?

Or had you shameful secret guests

And did you harry to your home

Some Nereid coiled in amber foam

With curious rock-crystal breasts;

Or did you, treading through the froth,

Call to the brown Sidonian

For tidings of Leviathan,

Leviathan of Behemoth?

Or did you when the sun was set,

Climb up the cactus-covered slope

To meet your swarthy Ethiop

Whose body was of polished jet?

Or did you while the earthen skiffs

Dropt down the gray Nilotic flats

At twilight, and the flickering bats

Flew round the temple’s triple glyphs

Steal to the border of the bar

And swim across the silent lake

And slink into the vault and make

The Pyramid your lupanar,

Till from each black sarcophagus

Rose up the painted, swathed dead,

Or did you lure unto your bed

The ivory-horned Trageophos?

Or did you love the God of flies

Who plagued the Hebrews and was splashed

With wine unto the waist, or Pasht

Who had green beryls for her eyes?

Or that young God, the Tyrian,

Who was more amorous than the dove

Of Ashtaroth, or did you love

The God of the Assyrian,

Whose wings that like transparent talc

Rose high above his hawk-faced head

Painted with silver and with red

And ribbed with rods of Oreichalch?

Or did huge Apis from his car

Leap down and lay before your feet

Big blossoms of the honey-sweet,

And honey-coloured nenuphar?

How subtle secret is your smile;

Did you love none then? Nay I know

Great Ammon was your bedfellow,

He lay with you beside the Nile.

The river-horses in the slime

Trumpeted when they saw him come

Odorous with Syrian galbanum

And smeared with spikenard and with thyme.

He came along the river bank

Like some tall galley argent-sailed

He strode across the waters, mailed

In beauty and the waters sank.

He strode across the desert sand,

He reached the valley where you lay,

He waited till the dawn of day,

Then touched your black breasts with his hand.

You kissed his mouth with mouth of flame,

You made the horned-god your own,

You stood behind him on his throne;

You called him by his secret name,

You whispered monstrous oracles

Into the caverns of his ears,

With blood of goats and blood of steers

You taught him monstrous miracles,

While Ammon was your bedfellow

Your chamber was the steaming Nile

And with your curved Archaic smile

You watched his passion come and go.

With Syrian oils his brows were bright

And wide-spread as a tent at noon

His marble limbs made pale the moon

And lent the day a larger light,

His long hair was nine cubits span

And coloured like that yellow gem

Which hidden in their garments’ hem,

The merchants bring from Kurdistan.

His face was as the must that lies

Upon a vat of new-made wine,

The seas could not insapphirine

The perfect azure of his eyes.

His thick, soft throat was white as milk

And threaded with thin veins of blue

And curious pearls like frozen dew

Were broidered on his flowing silk.

On pearl and porphyry pedestalled

He was too bright to look upon

For on his ivory breast there shone

The wondrous ocean-emerald,-

That mystic, moonlight jewel which

Some diver of the Colchian caves

Had found beneath the blackening waves

And carried to the Colchian witch.

Before his gilded galiot

Ran naked vine-wreathed corybants

And lines of swaying elephants

Knelt down to draw his chariot,

And lines of swarthy Nubians

Bore up his litter as he rode

Down the great granite-paven road,

Between the nodding peacock fans.

The merchants brought him steatite

From Sidon in their painted ships;

The meanest cup that touched his lips

Was fashioned from a chrysolite.

The merchants brought him cedar chests

Of rich apparel, bound with cords;

His train was borne by Memphian lords;

Young kings were glad to be his guests.

Ten hundred shaven priests did bow

To Ammon’s altar day and night,

Ten hundred lamps did wave their light

Through Ammon’s carven house,- and now

Foul snake and speckled adder with

Their young ones crawl from stone to stone

For ruined is the house, and prone

The great rose-marble monolith;

Wild ass or strolling jackal comes

And crouches in the mouldering gates,

Wild satyrs call unto their mates

Across the fallen fluted drums.

And on the summit of the pile,

The blue-faced ape of Horus sits

And gibbers while the fig-tree splits

The pillars of the peristyle.

The God is scattered here and there;

Deep hidden in the windy sand

I saw his giant granite hand

Still clenched in impotent despair.

And many a wandering caravan

Of stately negroes, silken-shawled,

Crossing the desert, halts appalled

Before the neck that none can span.

And many a bearded Bedouin

Draws back his yellow-striped burnous

To gaze upon the Titan thews

Of him who was thy paladin.

Go seek his fragments on the moor,

And wash them in the evening dew,

And from their pieces make anew

Thy mutilated paramour.

Go seek them where they lie alone

And from their broken pieces make

Thy bruised bedfellow! And wake

Mad passions in the senseless stone!

Charm his dull ear with Syrian hymns;

He loved your body; oh be kind!

Pour spikenard on his hair and wind

Soft rolls of linen round his limbs;

Wind round his head the figured coins,

Stain with red fruits the pallid lips;

Weave purple for his shrunken hips

And purple for his barren loins!

Away to Egypt! Have no fear;

Only one God has ever died,

Only one God has let His side

Be wounded by a soldier’s spear.

But these, thy lovers, are not dead;

Still by the hundred-cubit gate

Dog-faced Anubis sits in state

With lotus lilies for thy head.

Still from his chair of porphyry

Giant Memnon strains his lidless eyes

Across the empty land and cries

Each yellow morning unto thee.

And Nilus with his broken horn

Lies in his black and oozy bed

And till thy coming will not spread

His waters on the withering corn.

Your lovers are not dead, I know,

And will rise up and hear thy voice

And clash their symbols and rejoice

And run to kiss your mouth,- and so

Set wings upon your argosies!

Set horses to your ebon car!

Back to your Nile! Or if you are

Grown sick of dead divinities;

Follow some roving lion’s spoor

Across the copper-coloured plain,

Reach out and hale him by the mane

And bid him to be your paramour!

Crouch by his side upon the grass

And set your white teeth in his throat,

And when you hear his dying note,

Lash your long flanks of polished brass

And take a tiger for your mate,

Whose amber sides are flecked with black,

And ride upon his gilded back

In triumph through the Theban gate,

And toy with him in amorous jests,

And when he turns and snarls and gnaws,

Oh smite him with your jasper claws

And bruise him with your agate breasts!

Why are you tarrying? Get hence!

I weary of your sullen ways.

I weary of your steadfast gaze,

Your somnolent magnificence.

Your horrible and heavy breath

Makes the light flicker in the lamp,

And on my brow I feel the damp

And dreadful dews of night and death,

Your eyes are like fantastic moons

That shiver in some stagnant lake,

Your tongue is like a scarlet snake

That dances to fantastic tunes.

Your pulse makes poisonous melodies,

And your black throat is like the hole

Left by some torch or burning coal

On Saracenic tapestries.

Away! the sulphur-coloured stars

Are hurrying through the Western gate!

Away! Or it may be too late

To climb their silent silver cars!

See, the dawn shivers round the gray,

Gilt-dialled towers, and the rain

Streams down each diamonded pane

And blurs with tears the wannish day.

What snake-tressed fury, fresh from Hell,

With uncouth gestures and unclean,

Stole from the poppy-drowsy queen

And led you to a student’s cell?

What songless, tongueless ghost of sin

Crept through the curtains of the night

And saw my taper burning bright,

And knocked and bade you enter in?

Are there not others more accursed,

Whiter with leprosies than I?

Are Abana and Pharphar dry,

That you come here to slake your thirst?

False Sphinx! False Sphinx! By reedy Styx,

Old Charon, leaning on his oar,

Waits for my coin. Go thou before

And leave me to my crucifix,

Whose pallid burden, sick with pain,

Watches the world with wearied eyes.

And weeps for every soul that dies,

And weep for every soul in vain!!.

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Chicago: Oscar Wilde, The Sphinx Original Sources, accessed February 1, 2023,

MLA: Wilde, Oscar. The Sphinx, Original Sources. 1 Feb. 2023.

Harvard: Wilde, O, The Sphinx. Original Sources, retrieved 1 February 2023, from