shall be said of The Equinox? It is alarming indeed
suddenly to chance upon it in the full bloom of its eighth year,
a biannual published in March and September of some 800 pages
the two issues, “The Official Organ of the A\A\”,
“The Review of scientific illuminism”—so alarming that I hardly
dare pronounce myself. And The Equinox would not concern
were it not for the open secret that The Equinox is the
poet, Aleister Crowley. Poet I
call him, particularly because I cannot consider him here in his
capacity of (retiring) editor, or of Chancellor of the A\A\
The specific interest of his periodical must be that nine of
its chief literary items are his, and that The High History
of Good Sir Palamedes, besides many of his other works,
first appeared in its pages.
purposes of review it may be hazarded roundly that the whole of
The Equinox is a creation of the amazing Mr.
Crowley. His antics are as wild as
the devil’s, he dances through its pages like a mad magician.
It is a sort of enchanted variety entertainment. I cannot
discover when it is not serious. But there are moments when Mr.
Crowley is serious, the moments of
such passages as these (in the drama “Adonis”):
never wake! unless to catch my neck
And break me up with kisses—never sleep,
Unless to dream new pains impossible
Girls! with more than dream’s address
Wake him with perfume till he smile, with
Softer than moonbeams till he turn, and sigh,
With five slow drops of wine between his lips
Until his heart heave, with young thrills of
Until his eyelids open, and the first
And fairest of ye greet him like a flower,
So that awakened he may break from you
And turn to me. . . .
too often he is fooling—fooling us, fooling himself, fooling
life, fooling death, and what he cannot fool he fools for not
being foolable. Unfortunately, only four of his contributions
to the present issue are in verse; I must not fail, however, to
draw attention to one of the two fine plays that happen to be
written in prose. “The Ghouls” is possibly the most ghastly
death-dance in English literature. If Oscar Wilde had written
it (but he could not have) every one would know it. It is the
very pith and marrow of terror. Cynical it may be, indecent it
may be, but I defy the lord of dreams to send any more plutonian
nightmare to haunt our mortal sleep.
Crowley plies the knack of writing
as if he would have us believe he can make poetry, but, for some
reason, does not wish to make it. It is hard to tell whether he
thinks all his readers inevitably such fools that it cannot be
worth while to give them true sense; or whether he is but
praising the old ruse of covering an inability to be serious by
the pretence of preferring to be flippant. Superficially
speaking, The High History of Good Sir Palamedes is
something between The Hunting of the Snark and Don
Quixote without the particular individual qualities of
either; but, seriously speaking, it is a religious poem, and a
great work of art. Again superficially speaking, it is the
master-limerick of a buffoon; again, seriously speaking, it is
the epic of the eternal seeker.
Palamedes, found the worthy and chosen knight for the adventure
of the Questing Beast, searches the world for it; a hundred
times thinks he has the clue, but a hundred times is baffled and
“Yea!” quoth the knight, “I rede the spell.
Beast is the Unknowable.
seek in Heaven, I seek in Hell. . .
know him? Still he answers: No!
know him not? Maybe—and lo!
the one sole thing I know!
is plenty of fun and twaddle, entertaining or not, according to
the disposition of the reader:
Insensitive to human smell,
Such is its nature. . . .
are few passages of sustained poetry. Mr.
Crowley has a fine power of swiftly combining the
description of a situation with that of the emotions it
the heart’s beat! Across the moor
Some dreadful god rides fast, be sure!
listening Palamedes bites through
His thin white lips—what hoofs are those?
they the Quest? How still and blue
The sky is! Hush—God knows—God knows!
Exhausted and frenzied with the quest, the knight at last
attains the vision of Pan in a green valley. He regains
strength and youth:
Palamedes the Saracen
Hath seen the All; his mind is set
pass beyond that great Amen.
then, in a final effort upon the loftiest mountain top, he sees
Nought, and even that
is not the
“Faugh!” cried the knight. “ Thought, word, and act
Confirm me. I have proved the quest
Impossible. I break the pact.”
to Camelot to announce his failure, he finds himself involved in
a kind of miracle,
. . . . with vigour rude,
The blast tore down the tapestry
hid the door. All ashen-hued
knights laid hand to sword. But he
(Sir Palamedes) in the gap
Weeping. . . .
there, in the Hall, the Beast comes nestling and fawning to him,
and the assembled knights through him and with him attain the
Palamedes is a “Fool of God”: a great, shy, strong, bungling
creature, all instinct and impulse. His brain suffers terribly;
the quest drives him temporarily mad:
last bar breaks; the steel will snaps;
The black hordes riot in his brain;
thousand threatening thunder-claps
muscles roar with senseless rage;
The pale kn ight staggers, deathly sick;
to the light that sorry sage,
Sir Palamedes the Lunatick.
a fanatic; he performs outlandish rites, but:
thou most desperate dupe that Hell’s
Malice can make of mortal men!
Meddle no more with magick spells,
Sir Palamedes the Saracen!
and over again he turns philosopher; but his reasoning is always
tinged with a delicious innocence. He is a poor, puzzled fellow;
he must return to the conclusion:
since the thinker must be dumb,
least the knight may knightly act:
wisest monk in Christendom
May have his skull broke by a fact.
have not quoted the best verses in the poem. They are difficult
to extract from their context; I have tried rather to give the
gist and scheme of the whole. Mr. Crowley
is extraordinarily entertaining, and, of course, he is also much
more than entertaining. Sir Palamedes, though probably
not his best work, should on no account be missed. It is a work
that superficial criticism might as easily compare to some of
the productions of Byron, as overlook with a sneer. I doubt, in
fact, whether the question of its place in literature is one to
be decided by contemporary criticism at all. I, at any rate,
will not commit myself to attempting a decision.
Poetry Review, Harold Monro, September 1912.
“The High History of Good Sir Palamedes, the Saracen Knight and
of his following of the Questing Beast,” by Aleister Crowley.
“Rightly set forth in Rime.” The popular myths and legends which
had gathered round King Arthur and his famous knights, have ever
been to poets and dramatists a favourite theme. The latest who
has been allured by the old-world subject is the author of this
“high history.” Mr. Crowley possessed many qualifications for
the task of relating the fabulous deeds of “Sir Palamedes,” for
the subtle beauty of his former poetic efforts, with its glowing
passion and rich diction, had been freely admitted. The poet’s
impassioned imagination and fancy move untrammeled throughout
this metrical romance; and the volume merits recognition,
especially from the lovers of English ballad poetry. The
publishers have issued it in an appropriate form.
20 July 1912.
. . . Noble and beautiful poem.
It is impossible to read . . . without being impressed by the
essential truth and beauty of the author’s spirit . . . written
not as tasks are written, but from the fullness of the heart,
passionately. In “Sir Palamedes” we have the history of a holy
quest so treated that the theme becomes reconciled to universal
experience. Sir Palamedes’ following of the Questing Beast is
Everyman’s following; his failures and defeats are Everyman’s
catastrophes; his victory, incomplete and without triumph yet
fulfilled unto him for this faith’s sake, is the world-old
victory of all those who, being heavy-laden, yet labour.
—The Literary World, date unknown.
Mr. Aleister Crowley has set
his metrical skill to the congenial business of a rhyming
symbolic legend. He has succeeded uncommonly well. The line
runs easily; there is loads of colour and poetic force about
it, and the atmosphere of a remote, almost religious purpose;
while Mr. Crowley has kept a tight hold on the archaic diction,
he has used it happily, and successfully avoided the tricks and
conceits that one might have expected in such a venture.
—The Manchester Guardian, date unknown.
Much vigorous imagination.
—The Times, date unknown.
Mr. Crowley is an elvish and wayward mortal—if mortal he be. But
is he? For our part, we refuse to be dragged into a public
discussion of delicate family matters; suffice to say that his
genius, be its origin celestial or infernal, is considerably to
our liking; he can write angelic poetry and devilish good prose,
a cloud of exotic scholarship trailing over the whole, and
suffused, every now and then, by lightning-like gleams of mirth
a phenomenon, too, in the way of common sense, when the fit is
Mortadello was spoilt, for all that. No wonder. The brandies as
the Café Riche are responsible for more than one disaster. And
then—why, why those Truffles? That was tempting papa Beelzebub.
the good Sir Palamede, it makes the heart bleed to reflect that
he might have learnt more in three minutes’ conversation with
Mr. Crowley than in all those wonderings.
buss the wenches, pass the pot,
now the enviable lot
Palamede the Saracen!”
you are! The intellectual life in a nutshell. And only think of
all the pairs of sandals the old enthusiast wore out ere
attaining that blissful state. So do many of us, more’s the
English Review, August 1912.