Mr. Aleister Crowley is a poet who is apparently under
the obsession of an esoteric view of life and human destiny. He
endeavours to grapple with the dark problems which exercised the
imagination of John Ford. He views the sexual problem from the
standpoint of an unconventional student of human nature. His
creed is a singular mixture of belief in Osiris and in Christ.
The principal poem in his new volume is a powerful dramatic
sketch ending in something like a tragic farce. The love of a
man for his own mother, not according to a moral but a sexual
standard, is not quite a novel idea, but Mr. Crowley handles the
subject in a revolting fashion, which the Greek poets avoided,
owing to their keen artistic sensibility. Some passages in this
drama are really very fine; and “The Fatal Force” is also a
dramatic poem of singular power, though the subject is equally
horrible. There is scarcely a poem in the entire volume free
from morbidity; and yet it is impossible to deny that Mr.
Crowley has a claim to recognition as a true poet. Most men who
have thought deeply on life’s problems recognise that the
current religion of nearly all their fellow men is an idle
mockery. The relations of men and women, as well as the
constitution of states and families, are based largely on
organised lies. We cannot shrink from looking behind the veil,
and asking ourselves—What is life at best? Is it materialism
and obscenity? or is it a sickening comedy in which nobody cares
whether the consequences of his actions are injurious to others
or not? Mr. Crowley seems to hold that the world is reeking
with rottenness—and he is, to a great extent, right. His poems,
“Mors Janua Amoris” and “The Whore in Heaven,” will horrify the
votaries of Mrs. Grundy. At the same time, these daring verses
contain a large share of elementary truth. But we live in a
hypocritical age, and apparently the author of these
extraordinary poems realises the fact, for his volume is
“privately printed.” The epilogue, “A Death in Sicily,” is
really a magnificent poem—pagan in its intensity and vividness
of colouring; but the prudes who think nakedness impurity and
who abjectly fear death will denounce this really gifted poet as
Review, October 1901
He endeavours to grapple with the dark problems which exercised
the imagination of John Ford.
He views the sexual problem from the standpoint
of the unconventional student
of human nature. . . . The principal poem in his new
volume is a powerful dramatic sketch . . . passages in this drama are really
very fine; and “The Fatal Force” is also a dramatic poem of
singular power. Mr. Crowley has a claim to recognition as a
true poet. Most men who have thought deeply on life’s problems
recognize that the current religion of nearly all their fellow
men is an idle mockery. . . .
We cannot shrink from looking behind the veil,
and asking ourselves—What
is life at best? . . .
Crowley seems to hold that the world is reeking with
rottenness—and he is, to a great extent, right. . . . These
daring verses contain a large share
of elemental truth. But we
live in a hypocritical age, and apparently the author of
these extraordinary poems realizes the fact, for his volume is
privately printed. . . .
their intensity and vividness of colouring.
The author of these verses is apparently consumed with the
desire to produce the sensation of nausea in his readers:
but fortunately the luckless reviewer, if he have the least
sense of humour, will be saved by the portentous absurdity of
the stuff presented to him. Perhaps the following sample
Thrice, in the Vault of Hell, my Word was born,
Abortive, in the empty wilderness.
False echoes, made malicious, turn to scorn
The awful accents, the Supreme address.
The Fourth, the final Word!
All Chaos shrank and heard
The terror that vibrated in the breath.
Hell, Death, and Sin must hear,
Tremble and visibly fear,
Shake the intangible chain that hungereth.
That Mother of Mankind
Sprang in the thunder-wind!
The strong words bind
For evermore, Amen! the keys of Hell and Death.
this, men and angels!" we might cry with Mr. Yellowplush, if we
had the least curiosity with regard to it. The least
unfavourable thing that we can say of this volume is that it is
privately printed: we should gladly have omitted even this
4 December 1901.
Invidious as it may seem to deal hardly with a
privately printed book, courteously sent for review, this volume
demands an emphatic protest from all lovers of literature and
decency. Dedicated by as much as is comprehensible of the
prologue to the suggestive exposition of the obscene, it never
deviates for one moment from its appointed task. If, however,
to the clean-minded man the book is revolting, to the artist it
is a monstrosity. Such thoughts as may lurk between its covers
are, fortunately, concealed in such a maze of intricate
verbiage, that it is only here and there that we catch a glimpse
of the horrors that lie behind.
—The Cambridge Review, date unknown.
Mr. Crowley is a kind of middle-class Swinburne at
second hand, without the scholarship, without the splendid
phrase, without the ardour of beauty. He has a certain
rhythmical fluency, and in that statement all his literary
merits are summed up. If the reader can form a conception of a
wind-bag foaming at the mouth, he will get some notion of “The
Mother’s Tragedy,” and other Poems (privately printed). Even
this mixed metaphor will not convey to him the morbid
unpleasantness of Mr. Crowley’s taste in subjects. “The
Mother’s Tragedy” is a drama of incest, crudely and violently
treated. Some of the shorter poems are worse.
—The Athenaeum, 31 August 1901.
It is not long since we reviewed a book by Mr.
Aleister Crowley, and mingled blame with praise, like “Crusty
Christopher.” So we must still do; for The Mother’s Tragedy
treads too hard on the heels of his previous volume for any
modification of the qualities we then noted. There is the old
vigour and boldness, the sinewy phrase that takes you by the
throat (as it were) and throttles the praise out of you; but
also is it incompt, wild, shattering of form, unskilful in
coherent expression, profuse in awkward and misleading
constructions as of old. For many of these poems there is no
word but powerful; yet it is (we might almost say) the power of
insanity, so little is it under the author’s own control, co
contorted and spasmodic is it, proceeding by vehement leaps and
rushes of speech, abruptly checked by thick and struggling
utterance. Often admirable in forceful felicity, it is equally
often exasperating by its choked and imperfect expression.
Withal there is thought; it is turbid with meaning, only too
turbid at many times. Yet this is a fault on the right side.
We would rather wrestle with Mr. Crowley’s obscurity (and he is
often densely, faultily obscure, through trying to say more in a
line than he has the gift to say) than wade through the tepid
vacuity of most minor verse. The worst of all obscurity is the
obscurity of utter nothingness and voluble, brainless
platitude. All Mr. Crowley’s qualities, for good and evil, are
quintessentialised in the opening ode, called “Sin.” It deals
with the spirit of the heathen and mythological hell—the place
of intense cold and negation of life, the source of lust and
death. The poem only too manifestly reveals its own effort; it
is often turgid with effort, clumsy with unshapely compression;
it is obscure in substance, and frequently still more obscure
from broken and disconnected utterance, want of logical
grammar—all the faults of those who seek pregnancy without
adequate artistic gift. Yet its sheer power constantly makes
way through the dead weight of its defects; while it is
throughout grave and dignified. The poet always knows what he
is saying, though the reader may often desperately wish that
he did. It is too to quote entire; but, at the risk of
utter unintelligibility, we venture to cite some stanzas from
Ye rivers, and ye elemental caves,
Above the fountains of the broken ice,
Know ye what dragon lurks within your waves?
Know ye the secret of the cockatrice?
The basilisk whose shapeless brood
Take blood and muck for food?
The sexless passion, the foul scorpion spawn?
The witches and the evil-chanting ones
Who strangle stars and suns,
Eclipse the moon, and curse against the dawn?
Know ye the haunts of death?
The hole that harboreth
The sickening breath,
Whence all disease is bred and all corruption
. . . . . . . . .
Central, supreme, most formidable Night,
Gathered its garments, drew itself apart,
Gaunt limbs appear against the coprolite
Veil of deep agony, display the heart;
Even as a gloomy sea
Wherein dead fishes be,
Poisonous things, nameless, the eightfold Fear,
Misshapen crab and worm,
The intolerable sperm,
Lewd dragons slime-built, stagnant; the foul mere
Crawled, moved, gave tongue,
The essential soul of dung
That lived and stun,
That spoke—no word that living head may hear.
. . . . . . . . .
Yet, in the terror of that Beast, abides
So sweet and deadly a device, a lure
Deep in the blood and poison of her sides,
Swart, lean, and leprous, that her stings endure.
Even the soul of grace
Abideth not her face
Without vague longing, infinite desire,
Stronger because suppressed,
Unto the wide black breast,
The lips incarnate of blood, flesh, and fire
Mr. Crowley, we may add, frequently expresses things
with all his uncompromising completeness, which poetry (to our
mind) had better leave unexpressed.
—The Academy, 26 October 1901
“Aleister Crowley’s” gloomy but indubitable talent we shall
speak more fully on another occasion. A second volume,
privately printed, by the author of ‘Osiris,’ shows the same
qualities of excessive morbidness and of precise expression of
mood that were shown in the earlier volume. No English writer
has so nearly reproduced the mood of Baudelaire, and whether
this is a commendable achievement or not, it is too uncommon and
distinguished a quality to pass unnoticed. Some idea of Mr.
Crowley’s exceptional lyrical gift may be had from the opening
chorus of “The Mother’s Tragedy.”
THE SPIRIT OF TRAGEDY
Here, in the home of a friend,
Here, in the mists of a lie,
The pageant moves on to the desolate end
Under a sultry sky
Noon is upon us, and Night,
Spreading her wings unto flight,
Visits the lands that lie far in the West,
Where the bright East is at peace on her breast:
Opposite quarters unite.
Soon is the nightfall of Destiny here ;
Nature’s must pass as her hour is gone by.
Only another than she is too near,
Gloom in the sky.
One who can never pass over shall sever
Links that were forged of Love’s hand;
Love that was strong die away as a song,
Melt as a cable of sand.
Evening Post, 23 August 1901.
The Noted Chevalier O'Rourke
the Chevalier O'Rourke was in Mexico we thought him Awfully
Simple; now he has written a Poem which shows he is Simple
Awful. So is the Poem. It is so Morally Unhealthy that it had
to be quarantined on the Way to the land of the Aztecs: and of
so Burning a Nature that the Covers are of Asbestos, and it
Carries a Fire Insurance Policy. It is a Book which no Self
Respecting Girl would permit her Mother to read: and One which
few real Respectable men would permit themselves to Overlook.
Chevalier O'Rourke is the Stage Name of the English Importation
who answered to the Cognomen of Aleister Crowley in the Home of
Shamrock II, and who first Stampeded the public of San Francisco
Lane by his Inimitable Combination of Knickerbockers, Long Hair,
and Inseparable Pipe, and a general Bug-House Make-up. His
After-Celebrity came when, with an Alpenstock and his man Friday
Eckenstein, he trampled the snowy Breast of Ixtaccihuatl, and
chewed bits of the Alabaster Neck of the White Lady, to Quench
his Burning Thirst.
Previous to That he had Prolonged the Horrors of the
Spanish-American Pleasantness by a Book of Greeting to the New
Republic, which has since Been equaled in its effect only by the
long Drought in the Corn Belt and the Steel Strike. But his
latest Riot of Rhyme has the War Production Beat a Mile, and
Then Some, with the Decameron of Bocaccio Away Back in the Ruck,
and Ella Wheeler Wilcox on ice among the Also Rans. It is so
bad that the Author is afraid to Read it Again, lest he be
corrupted. In short, it is Destined to be Among the Most
Popular Books of the Season.
Effervescence is Called "The Mother's Tragedy and Other Poems."
The "and Other Poems" belong just a block beyond where the
trolley stops for "Mother's Tragedy" in Spotted Town. The
Chevalier Evidently becomes Intoxicated with the Exuberance of
his own Verbosity and seeks to Give Artistic Versimilitude to an
otherwise Bald and Unconvincing Narrative. He gets There on All
Fours with the Verisimilitude, even if the Art is lacking. "And
Other Poems" made the Book so Bad that the Chevalier had to
Print it Privately, and the Name of the Printer is as completely
Lost as Teddy Roosevelt.
A. W. Parsons is among those in the city who believed in the
literary ability of the Chevalier, and to him the author has
sent a copy of his book. The doctor compares the general work
of the Chevalier to that of the poet Swinburne, for in his
better moods he has brought out some of the sweetest songs of
love and nature, but his last production seems in a class of
badness by itself.
Mother's Tragedy" is the story of an illegitimate son who has
been reared in ignorance of the identity of his parents. In
time he falls in love with his own mother, whose fondness for
her son restrains her from telling him the degrading story of
his birth, and he forces the conclusion by a proposal of
marriage to his mother. He raves in scenes of beautiful depths
of love when she in agony refuses his suit. She is finally
compelled to reveal the awful truth to her son to prevent his
self-destruction. The denouement is heart-rending.
Mexican Herald, 18 August 1901.