“To a Cabaret Dancer”

Djuna Barnes (born on 12 June 1892 –1982) was an American modernist novelist, poet, illustrator, and playwright.

The poem” To A Cabaret Dancer” belongs to her illustrated volume of poetry, “The Book of Repulsive Women”, published in 1915.

To A Cabaret Dancer

A thousand lights had smitten her
Into this thing;
Life had taken her and given her
One place to sing.

She came with laughter wide and calm;
And splendid grace;
And looked between the lights and wine
For one fine face.

And found life only passion wide
’Twixt mouth and wine.
She ceased to search, and growing wise
Became less fine.

Yet some wondrous thing within the mess
Was held in check:—
Was missing as she groped and clung
About his neck.

One master chord we couldn’t sound
For lost the keys,
Yet she hinted of it as she sang
Between our knees.

We watched her come with subtle fire
And learned feet,
Stumbling among the lustful drunk
Yet somehow sweet.

We saw the crimson leave her cheeks
Flame in her eyes;
For when a woman lives in awful haste
A woman dies.

The jests that lit our hours by night
And made them gay,
Soiled a sweet and ignorant soul
And fouled its play.

Barriers and heart both broken—dust
Beneath her feet.
You’ve passed her forty times and sneered
Out in the street.

A thousand jibes had driven her
To this at last;
Till the ruined crimson of her lips
Grew vague and vast.

Until her songless soul admits
Time comes to kill;
You pay her price and wonder why
You need her still.

Sorgente: “To a Cabaret Dancer” – words and music and stories