The Book of Samothrace
by Sara L. Russell
inspired by the painting by Barry Windsor-Smith
"My dearest, sweetest love" the Baron said,
"Now that we two affianced souls are one,
What's mine is thine, for joy that we are wed
And through this house I bid thee freely run.
Enjoy the drawing room, the stately hall,
The bedchamber where thee and I shall play;
The blue room for each annual summer ball,
All draped in swags of blue and silver grey;
Enjoy the music room, my fine spinet,
The gilded harpsichord that sweetly sings,
With music to dispel all past regret -
Thou hast free rein of all my treasured things.
But go with caution to the library,
And only ever in my company."
With that, the Baron shewed her all around
His mighty chambers, all the corridors;
The quarters where the servants could be found,
The painted ceilings and mosaic floors.
The library he shewed her last of all;
The key hung on his chest, on a gold chain.
The secrecy thereof held her in thrall;
It seemed the library was his domain.
"Love, touch ye not the Book of Samothrace,
Don't venture to the pages held inside!
For when the sun hath turned about its face,
Malevolence finds shadow lands to hide!
The pages of our lives are clean and bright,
The Book of Samothrace is endless night!"
"My handsome sweetheart" Said the Baroness,
I'm humbled by thy generosity,
And when my maid has helped me from this dress,
Thou shalt discern how grateful I can be.
Thou gavest jewels for my neck and hair
That shine as well by day or candlelight;
And I shall kiss thee all and everywhere -
Prepare for not a wink of sleep tonight!"
With that, she led him to their master bed,
Undressed and pressed him down on sheepskin furs;
There proving true to everything she said
Till he declared his soul forever hers.
Anon, with trembling lips and blissful sighs,
Yielding to sleep, the Baron closed his eyes.
How eloquent is beauty in repose
The Baroness reflected, as he lay
With lips half-open, like a dewy rose,
His night-black hair in tousled disarray;
And in the central furrow of his chest
One hand lay, as if half-protectively,
Next to the key more treasured than the rest -
The one that could unlock the library.
"Love touch ye not The Book of Samothrace"
She heard her love's words echo in her head.
Remembering, her heart began to race,
That such forbidden pages might be read.
Thus, yielding unto curiosity,
She let her fingers tiptoe to the key...
The golden catch was easy to undo,
Seconds before the Baron turned away
In blissful dreams of love. He never knew
How vicious time was leading fate astray.
The key was gone, while in the corridor,
His wife was creeping, ever-stealthily,
Drawn to the library's beguiling door,
Enchanted by base curiosity.
Only one lamp revealed the tall bookshelves
Which bore the most illustrious of tomes;
Huge hide-bound celebrations of themselves
Where God and science found unequal homes.
Herein her questing fingers came to trace
The cover of The Book of Samothrace.
An ancient script met her enchanted gaze,
Whose Foreword mentioned a young sorcerer:
The fabled author of this book of days
And book of spells, unfolding now for her.
The spells were fashioned with one grand design,
To be recited in a secret place,
To call upon a spirit most malign -
A terrible demon, named Samothrace.
"...And mighty magick shall infuse the one
Who looks the longest in the daemon's eyes;
Undreamed-of power, burning like the sun,
With insights into Hell and Paradise.
Go to the garden seat and draw the ring,
Be seated and begin the summoning!"
If hindsight were the author of our fate
We might find ways to live with less regret.
The Baron woke to realise, too late,
The secrets of his book were safer kept.
'Twere better had he mentioned not at all
The Book of Samothrace, so markedly,
For now she did not answer to his call
- He guessed she must be in the library.
He raced downstairs to find the door ajar,
The Book of Samothrace had gone astray,
Into the garden, yet it seemed too far -
He tried to walk, his legs would not obey.
Beyond the French door glass, a dreadful sight
Had rendered him immobile, mute with fright.
His wife sat rigid on the garden seat,
Her hair splayed like a sea anemone,
With a wine chalice lying at her feet,
Her mouth was open, screaming silently.
A doppelganger, like in every way,
Unto his mistress, with red splayed-out hair
Was screaming, still he could not turn away
To flee the image of her wild-eyed stare.
As time stood still, the Book of Samothrace
Floating on air, was burning by her side,
Eerie green smoke began to veil her face
The earth within the circle opened wide.
Out sprang the demon, withered, smoky-grey,
With cruel teeth and eyes as bright as day.
Hereby the demon Samothrace was freed,
A great evil unleashed upon mankind,
That all life must remember how to bleed
Within a world grown dark and mercy-blind.
The terrible futility of war
Decay and all the tyranny of flies
Futility and struggle, all the poor,
A hidden curse on every new sunrise.
"Love, touch ye not The Book of Samothrace,
Don't venture to the pages held inside"
The Baron, frozen still in giving chase,
Watched and remembered, grieving for his bride.
The book, having now caused the demon's birth
Fell deep into the chasm in the earth.
Notes: this has been published in the January issue of Poetry Life & Times, in Resident Poets section.
Old-fashioned spellings: "shewn" for "shown", "magick" for "magic" and "daemon" for "demon", in the quote from the book.