This is really a tremendous poem. Not only is it printed upon
paper twice the size of that which meaner poets use, but also
its scheme, which embraces the pursuit of man, in the person of
Tannhaüser, after Supreme Knowledge, appears to be commensurate
with the whole. Mr. Crowley, as he is good enough to inform us,
speaks “both in Hebrew and Egypto-Christian Symbology” and his
work is less a drama than a monodrama, and “really a series of
introspective studies; not necessarily a series in time, but in
psychology, and that rather the morbid psychology of the Adept
than the gross mentality of the ordinary man.” Not being
experts in the psychology of the Adept, we must content ourself
with saying that to our gross mentality the adventures of
Tannhaüser with the true and the false Aphrodite-Hathoor are
exceedingly tedious, and that Me. Crowley’s chief poetic merit
appears to be a certain facility in reproducing the emptier
melodies of Mr. Swinburne. A short example will perhaps
Come, love, thy bosom to my heart recalls
Strange festivals and subtle funerals.
Soft passion rises in the amber walls,
None but the dead can breathe the life of love!
Come, love, thy lips, curved hollow as the moon’s!
Bring me thy kisses, for the seawind tunes
The song that soars and reads the starry runes,
None but the dead can tune the lyre of love!
Come, love! My body in thy passion weeps
Tears keen as dewfall’s, salter than the deep’s.
My bosom! How its fortress wakes, and leaps,
None but the dead can sleep the sleep of love!
Come, love, caress me with endearing eyes!
Light the long rapture that nor fades nor flies!
Love laughs and lingers, frenzies, stabs, and sighs!
None but the dead can know the worth of love!
It is fair to add that, although “Tannhaüser” is not wholly free
from morbidity, it does not reach the extreme of unpleasantness
to be found in some of Mr. Crowley’s earlier works.
—The Academy and Literature, 9 August 1902.
Mr. Aleister Crowley is an ambitious poet. In Tannhäuser: a
Story of All Time (Kegan Paul) he essays no less a theme
than the life-history of a soul in the pursuit of the eternal
and the real. This is shadowed forth with a good deal of what
he chooses to call “Hebrew and Egypto-Christian symbology”—if
the term is used at all, it should surely be symbolology—and in
the somewhat longwinded and inflated style with which his
readers are probably by this time familiar. We do not think Mr.
Crowley rises to the height of his great argument, but he avoids
some of the worst eccentricities of the last volume of his verse
which came before us.
—The Athenaeum, 6 September 1902.
On consideration we are not disposed to adopt all the strictures
on “Tannhäuser: a Story of All Time,” by Aleister Crowley, which
the author suggests in his foreword to the reviewers. But for
all his shouts of “Fore!” we cannot quite get out of his way.
His metrical version of the legend is excellent—in parts, of
course. But for ourselves we prefer the greater simplicity of
Wagner, and we cannot refrain from availing ourselves of the
permission which he expressly gives us “to conclude the review
of this book by quoting from Act III.: “Forget this nightmare.”
But it is, to use paradox, an agreeable nightmare. (Kegan Paul,
Trench, Trübner, and Co.)
—The St. James's Gazette, 23 June 1902.
Mr. Allister [sic]
Crowley appends to his Tannhäuser, a Story of All Time (Kegan
Paul and Co., pp. 112, 5s.) a collection of abbreviated press
notices in which he is variously described as a “true poet” or
as “a windbag foaming at the mouth.” In his preface he speaks of
this work as nearly identical in scheme with the “Pilgrim’s
Progress,” though “literary and spiritual experts” may detect
minor differences in treatment. “Tannhäuser” may perhaps be
described, in brief, as an epitome of Mr. Crowley’s own
spiritual adventures, and if he may be accused of egoism it is
fair to admit the plea that a man’s study of typical mankind
must be founded on himself. Certainly Mr. Crowley is not
hampered by the prevalent indolence disguised as modesty that
will not permit a man to take himself seriously. His drama is
intensely serious, and is idealized out of all semblance to
humanity. We read of a love that is
No petty passion like
No fertile glory (as the
Love of God),
But vast and barren as
the winter sea,
and the whole poem seems to be
another expression of the struggle between an ascetic ideal and
the senses, rejecting the social compromise as unworthy of the
passionate alternations. Mr. Crowley in his preface warns the
judicious reviewer that, in spite of certain passages of a
frenzied sensuality, he must not be ranked as a sensualist. It
may be granted that this poem is essentially a product of the
mind, a search for the absolute pursued by means of symbols and
images when a more direct expression becomes inadequate. Such a
curious conjunction of fancy and speculation requires, we think,
verse of more elasticity than Mr. Crowley has at his command. He
writes with considerable power and without reserves and too
strenuously for beauty. Nevertheless he is at his best in
grandiose or extravagant passages such as Tannhäuser’s story of
the Creation, and perhaps at his worst in the more moderate and
logical dialogue with Elizabeth, which becomes very bald and
prosaic. His verse is wanting in seduction, in charm, and in
commanding rhythms. Beside Mr. Swinburne’s, with which it has
been compared, much of it is little more that metricised prose.
Mr. Crowley claims to be one who “strangely and desperately
dares to force a passage into the penetadia of nature; not with
the calm philosophy of the scientist, but with the burning
conviction that his immortal destiny is at stake. The outcome
seems to be obscure, but in these slack days the effort may be
—The Manchester Guardian, 21 August 1902.
A remarkable “Pilgrim’s Progress” in dramatic form. This work
may be regarded as the culmination of the Author’s powers in
lyrical and dramatic work: he has apparently said the last word possible on the
subject of Regeneration.
The Cambridge Review
prefers “the vigour of Mr. Crowley’s “Tannhäuser” to the
Attic monotone of the Master (Swinburne).
—The Cambridge Review, date unknown.
Such magnificence of paper, print, and margin, that we trust we
are right in assuming that he is possessed of material wealth
even greater than the wealth of languages, which he displays so
profusely throughout the volume. With all these attractions, he
nevertheless fails to stir at all deeply.
—The Pall Mall Gazette, date unknown.
are not sure that Mr. Aleister Crowley treats life as a
sacrament, because we do not understand him.
—The Daily Chronicle, date unknown.