In the beginning God made thee

A woman well to look upon,

Thy tender body as a tree

Whereon cool wind hath always blown

Till the clean branches be well grown.

There was none like thee in the land;

The girls that were thy bondwomen

Did bind thee with a purple band

Upon thy forehead, that all men


Should know thee for God’s handmaiden.

Strange raiment clad thee like a bride,

With silk to wear on hands and feet

And plates of gold on either side:

Wine made thee glad, and thou didst eat

Honey, and choice of pleasant meat.

And fishers in the middle sea

Did get thee sea-fish and sea-weeds

In colour like the robes on thee;

And curious work of plaited reeds,


And wools wherein live purple bleeds.

And round the edges of thy cup

Men wrought thee marvels out of gold,

Strong snakes with lean throats lifted up,

Large eyes whereon the brows had hold,

And scaly things their slime kept cold.

For thee they blew soft wind in flutes

And ground sweet roots for cunning scent;

Made slow because of many lutes,

The wind among thy chambers went


Wherein no light was violent.

God called thy name Aholibah,

His tabernacle being in thee,

A witness through waste Asia;

Thou wert a tent sewn cunningly

With gold and colours of the sea.

God gave thee gracious ministers

And all their work who plait and weave:

The cunning of embroiderers

That sew the pillow to the sleeve,


And likeness of all things that live.

Thy garments upon thee were fair

With scarlet and with yellow thread;

Also the weaving of thine hair

Was as fine gold upon thy head,

And thy silk shoes were sewn with red.

All sweet things he bade sift, and ground

As a man grindeth wheat in mills

With strong wheels alway going round;

He gave thee corn, and grass that fills


The cattle on a thousand hills.

The wine of many seasons fed

Thy mouth, and made it fair and clean;

Sweet oil was poured out on thy head

And ran down like cool rain between

The strait close locks it melted in.

The strong men and the captains knew

Thy chambers wrought and fashioned

With gold and covering of blue,

And the blue raiment of thine head


Who satest on a stately bed.

All these had on their garments wrought

The shape of beasts and creeping things,

The body that availeth not,

Flat backs of worms and veinèd wings,

And the lewd bulk that sleeps and stings.

Also the chosen of the years,

The multitude being at ease,

With sackbuts and with dulcimers

And noise of shawms and psalteries


Made mirth within the ears of these.

But as a common woman doth,

Thou didst think evil and devise;

The sweet smell of thy breast and mouth

Thou madest as the harlot’s wise,

And there was painting on thine eyes.

Yea, in the woven guest-chamber

And by the painted passages

Where the strange gracious paintings were,

State upon state of companies,


There came on thee the lust of these.

Because of shapes on either wall

Sea-coloured from some rare blue shell

At many a Tyrian interval,

Horsemen on horses, girdled well,

Delicate and desirable,

Thou saidest: I am sick of love:

Stay me with flagons, comfort me

With apples for my pain thereof

Till my hands gather in his tree


That fruit wherein my lips would be.

Yea, saidest thou, I will go up

When there is no more shade than one

May cover with a hollow cup,

And make my bed against the sun

Till my blood’s violence be done.

Thy mouth was leant upon the wall

Against the painted mouth, thy chin

Touched the hair’s painted curve and fall;

Thy deep throat, fallen lax and thin,


Worked as the blood’s beat worked therein.

Therefore, O thou Aholibah,

God is not glad because of thee;

And thy fine gold shall pass away

Like those fair coins of ore that be

Washed over by the middle sea.

Then will one make thy body bare

To strip it of all gracious things,

And pluck the cover from thine hair,

And break the gift of many kings,


Thy wrist-rings and thine ankle-rings.

Likewise the man whose body joins

To thy smooth body, as was said,

Who hath a girdle on his loins

And dyed attire upon his head –

The same who, seeing, worshipped,

Because thy face was like the face

Of a clean maiden that smells sweet,

Because thy gait was as the pace

Of one that opens not her feet


And is not heard within the street –

Even he, O thou Aholibah,

Made separate from thy desire,

Shall cut thy nose and ears away

And bruise thee for thy body’s hire

And burn the residue with fire.

Then shall the heathen people say,

The multitude being at ease;

Lo, this is that Aholibah

Whose name was blown among strange seas,


Grown old with soft adulteries.

Also her bed was made of green,

Her windows beautiful for glass

That she had made her bed between:

Yea, for pure lust her body was

Made like white summer-coloured grass.

Her raiment was a strong man’s spoil;

Upon a table by a bed

She set mine incense and mine oil

To be the beauty of her head


In chambers walled about with red.

Also between the walls she had

Fair faces of strong men portrayed;

All girded round the loins, and clad

With several cloths of woven braid

And garments marvellously made.

Therefore the wrath of God shall be

Set as a watch upon her way;

And whoso findeth by the sea

Blown dust of bones will hardly say


If this were that Aholibah.