The influenza pandemic of 1917-19 killed more people than had died in the conflict of the First World War. The time span of this poem approximately covers the last three decades of the nineteenth century and the first twenty years of the twentieth century.
When I was young and lustfully inclined
I set my sails to cross the wine-dark seas
In search of lands where lotus eaters lived,
Seduced by tales of hedonistic joys;
A world of myriad fleshly delights
And unrestrained sensual indulgence,
Where I could gorge on luscious nubile fruits
In endless days of sweet debauchery.
With never a moment’s pause for regret
Or backward glance to my days of childhood,
Those happy days of guileless innocence,
I pressed on towards my decadent goal,
Driven by unbridled wantonness,
And dazzled by salacious promises
Of monstrously exquisite ecstasies
In rites of Dionysian excess.
Inflamed by onanistic fantasies
Of the legions of succulent maidens
Who would willingly yield their innocence
To conquer and possess for my pleasure,
Plundering the sweet pulsating treasure
Of whoever would succumb to my charms,
Taking equal delight in despoiling
The nubile flesh of innocent virgins
Or compliant voluptuous matrons.
I have plunged headlong into drug-enhanced
Orgiastic revels in sacred groves
On many jewelled Aegean islands,
Floating on waves of naked dancing girls;
And danced with wild abandon to the throb
Of jungle drums in Haitian taverns,
Drowning in the heady fervid darkness
On the profane altar of writhing limbs.
With the passing years my jaded senses
Grew bored with simple pleasures of the flesh,
Needing ever more arcane amusements
To excite my libidinous palate
And rouse me to the pinnacle of lust,
Tumescence and release only achieved
By resorting to the stimulation
Of a tincture of coca leaf in rum.
Somehow I washed up in London’s East End
Living alone in a seedy doss house,
Just one more wreck among the detritus
Without hope, a shadow of that bold youth
Who had set out in search of higher truth
In a life of lascivious excess.
I was near to death when she redeemed me,
An angel of mercy sent by heaven.
She was one of that new breed of women,
Well-educated and with a mission
To seek out those who were lost and broken,
And restore them to full humanity.
I cannot comprehend why she chose me,
Or what she could see amidst the wreckage,
But slowly she nursed me back to full health,
Without trace of sentiment or judgement.
Over the months that followed my rescue
She revealed to me a more profound truth,
That life is more than sensuality,
And real fulfilment, an elusive goal
When carnal pleasure is divorced from love.
Mutual love developed between us
Until we reached a point of convergence
When marriage became the logical choice.
We refrained from sexual union
Before the knot was immutably sealed,
But conjugal vows made, to my delight,
In the privacy of our marriage bed
She revealed a nature as passionate
And gloriously unrestrained as mine,
And in our thirty-five years together
We mounted unimagined peaks of joy.
Somehow it seemed, as I awoke that dawn,
The first morning following our nuptials
That in less than the blinking of an eye,
From the small death of sleep, I had entered
Into a rich vision of paradise,
More full of lushly sensual delights
Than anything that I had ever known
In the passing years of my former life.
Even before the shrouds of slumber cleared
Blissful memories of a night of love
Diffused their warm radiance through my mind,
Another night of mutual rapture
As my lover led me on a journey
To the high summits of deepest pleasure
The harmonious fusion of our flesh
The beginning of years of perfect joy.
Since that day she has been the only one
With whom I have shared the many delights
Of sexual pleasure, but more than that,
My goddess has been for me all women,
A courtesan one day, skilled in the arts
Of lighting a bonfire of ecstasy
In my burning loins, a bright flame so fierce
It consumed my flesh in torrents of bliss.
At other times she was like a mother
Tenderly caring for my wounded soul.
Sometimes she would subordinate her will
To my urgent desires, a sacrifice
On the altar of lust, while at others
She would become the leader and master
Of my soul, my body the instrument
To carry her aloft on waves of joy.
My happiness was cruelly punctured
On a baleful autumn day late last year
When fate stole her life to leave me bereft,
Another victim of the Spanish flu.
But when I woke on this my natal day,
The seventieth since the light first dawned
On the mewling babe who became the man,
I was blessed by a miracle of love.
I was roused from the arms of Morpheus
By a thousand exquisite sensations
Running like bright tendrils of liquid flame
Through the flesh of my recumbent torso.
The source of this wondrous awakening
Soon revealed itself as the delicate
Meanderings of sensitive fingers
Electric with promise of ecstasy.
Then a husky voice whispered in my ear
Thick with desire and the promise of bliss,
The seductive voice of the courtesan
Filling my mind with visions of rapture,
Whose goal was pleasure incomparable,
Where transported beyond mortal feeling
We would unite in ethereal joy
Her special present from beyond the grave.
With innumerable tiny kisses
She ushered me further on my journey
Towards a realm of exquisite delight,
Each step carrying me ever closer
To the threshold of transcendent rapture
Where, at last released from all mortal bonds
I would enter the sublime paradise
Of lovingly consummated desire.
Time had ceased to have meaning or substance
As I hovered on the crest of release,
Tenderly held in the loving embrace
Of my ethereal companion
Within which I waited to be reborn
Into a blissful region beyond thought,
Redeemed from the pain of expectation
In an eruption of ultimate joy.
My succubus thrust me over the brink
And a fountain of glistening silver
Surged heavenwards from my pulsating core
In torrents of inexpressible bliss
To shatter in crystal shards of rapture
On the clouds of eternal ecstasy,
As I entered the realm of redemption
And endless peace in the sweetness of death.
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