Crowley the Poet:
A Different Look at Aleister Crowley on this, the Occasion of his 136th Birthday
“I have been accused of being a ‘black magician.’ No more foolish statement was ever made about me . . .”
I do not care too much for what other people say, and I do not care too much for what other people think of what some people say. Which is, I suppose, a rather roundabout manner of explaining why I have great admiration for Aleister Crowley as a poet despite what is said and what is thought about him, about his works, about his legacy, and about his life.
I know full well that he is mainly known as an occultist, that he called himself The Beast, that he was a dark magician and so forth and so on. We all know. The system is very, very keen on painting Mr. Crowley with a big, broad, and heavily loaded brush.
Ah, that brush!
If it’s the only thing of value I learn during this lifetime, it is still worth having gone through everything to have learned this: the brush that paints the pictures for mass consumption is not a fine brush. It is a caricature maker’s tool, a fool’s crayon, a dauber and a mud slinger much more than it is a brush. But, it serves as the main (often times the one and only) illumination device for the majority of people, about a majority of topics. Crowley is but one of many who have been reduced to a few two-dimension aspects by this brush with the system.
Beast. Occultist. Sex-magickian. Anti-semite. Evil. 666.
Half a dozen terms and I think that pretty much sums Aleister Crowley up for most people. Throw in a pentagram and some references to the Golden Dawn or the OTO and he’s wrapped up for those who have half a brain more than most.
Which is a pity.
Thankfully there are those of us who realize that the system is an abstract painter, not a realist, when it comes to that broad brush it likes to throw around, and that the things that it calls portraits are mostly smears, nothing more and nothing less, that do not add up to a whole.
With that in mind, I would like to bring forth a facet of Crowley that has always fascinated me, and has always made me realize that the prevailing image of him is not the most complete or the most discriminating one to be had. Crowley had it in him to be a gifted and sensitive poet, with depths of insight and a talent for remarkable lines that resonate well beyond the edges of the poems themselves. It is a shame that some of the sonnets he wrote are not popularly anthologized, for they are as beautiful as any others written by masterful poets, but . . . the system has painted Crowley in one single-sided manner, and those who purchase popular anthologies wouldn’t like the selected works of an anti-christ mingling with their ee cummings or Maya Angelou (of course, those who like Maya Angelou wouldn’t understand masterful poetry anyway).
So, while Crowley the poet hardly ever emerges from the veils of time, today, on his birthday, let us lift the curtain and catch a glimpse of remarkable light from one who is known, for better and for worse, as master of the dark.
My soul is like the savage upland plains
Of utmost wretchedness in Tartary.
No strength of sun, no fertilizing rains!
Only a bitter wind, intense and dry,
Cuts over them. Hardly the memory stands
Of one who travels there; his pain forgets
The golden bliss of all those other lands
Where he was happy. So the blizzard frets
Its sterile death across my soul, and chills
All hope of life even from the rare sad seeds
It blows from sunnier vales and happier hills,
Though at the best they be but worthless weeds.
I stand— I scan the infinite horizon
Of hopeless hope— yet I must travel on.
From: The Hermit’s Hymn to Solitude
All things which are complete are solitary;
The circling moon, the inconscient drift of stars,
The central systems. Burn they, change they, vary?
Theirs is no motion beyond the eternal bars.
Seasons and scars
Stain not the planets, the unfathomed home,
The spaceless, unformed faces in the dome
Brighter and blacker than all things,
Borne under the eternal wings
No whither: solitary are the winter woods
And caves not habited,
And that supreme grey head
Watching the groves: single the foaming amber floods,
And O! most lone
The melancholy mountain shrine and throne,
While far above all things God sits, the ultimate alone!
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