Thinking of Jadis

I have a defense date. No, I’m not going to tell you what it is. I’ll just tell you afterward what sort of snake I had, and all that. And I’m very tired tonight, so instead of an actual blog post, you’re going to get two poems. But I do have some observations about them.

As far as I know, they were both written before The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Why is that important? Because they’re both called “The White Witch.”

The White Witch
by Olive Custance

Her body is a dancing joy, a delicate delight,
Her hair a silver glamour in a net of golden light.

Her face is like the faces that a dreamer sometimes meets,
A face that Leonardo would have followed through the streets.

Her eyelids are like clouds that spread white wings across blue skies,
Like shadows in still water are the sorrows in her eyes.

How flower-like are the smiling lips so many have desired,
Curled lips that love’s long kisses have left a little tired.

The White Witch
by James Weldon Johnson

O brothers mine, take care! Take care!
The great white witch rides out to-night.
Trust not your prowess nor your strength,
Your only safety lies in flight;
For in her glance there is a snare,
And in her smile there is a blight.

The great white witch you have not seen?
Then, younger brothers mine, forsooth,
Like nursery children you have looked
For ancient hag and snaggle-tooth;
But no, not so; the witch appears
In all the glowing charms of youth.

Her lips are like carnations, red,
Her face like new-born lilies, fair,
Her eyes like ocean waters, blue,
She moves with subtle grace and air,
And all about her head there floats
The golden glory of her hair.

But though she always thus appears
In form of youth and mood of mirth,
Unnumbered centuries are hers,
The infant planets saw her birth;
The child of throbbing Life is she,
Twin sister to the greedy earth.

And back behind those smiling lips,
And down within those laughing eyes,
And underneath the soft caress
Of hand and voice and purring sighs,
The shadow of the panther lurks,
The spirit of the vampire lies.

For I have seen the great white witch,
And she has led me to her lair,
And I have kissed her red, red lips
And cruel face so white and fair;
Around me she has twined her arms,
And bound me with her yellow hair.

I felt those red lips burn and sear
My body like a living coal;
Obeyed the power of those eyes
As the needle trembles to the pole;
And did not care although I felt
The strength go ebbing from my soul.

Oh! she has seen your strong young limbs,
And heard your laughter loud and gay,
And in your voices she has caught
The echo of a far-off day,
When man was closer to the earth;
And she has marked you for her prey.

She feels the old Antaean strength
In you, the great dynamic beat
Of primal passions, and she sees
In you the last besieged retreat
Of love relentless, lusty, fierce,
Love pain-ecstatic, cruel-sweet.

O, brothers mine, take care! Take care!
The great white witch rides out to-night.
O, younger brothers mine, beware!
Look not upon her beauty bright;
For in her glance there is a snare,
And in her smile there is a blight.

I wonder if these are the only two poems about a White Witch? I have a feeling there may be others. And if so – who is this White Witch poets keep writing about in such similar ways? She is very much like Jadis, isn’t she? It’s almost as though she’s a mythological figure we don’t know about. Belonging to a mythology we may have forgotten or never discovered. I wonder if I should write her story? I think I would like to.

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5 Responses to Thinking of Jadis

  1. Best of luck with the defense, Dora! I had to go through it with my MA, and that was harrowing enough; I can’t imagine doing so for a PhD.

    (And you’re bound to get a very small, very tame snake to fight.)

  2. This is interesting. I love the line And cruel face so white and fair; because it does sound so very Jadis. I devoured the Narnia chronicles as a child and The Magician’s Nephew is my absolute favorite. I like seeing Narnia born and I like Jadis, who was both beautiful and terrible. It’s been years since I’ve read them, so I probably need to refresh my memory, but Jadis in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe seems different. Perhaps she’s a bit subdued compared to the wild strength she seems to have in The Magician’s Nephew. There seemed to be something more calm and calculated about her.

  3. anita says:

    Perhaps she is Robert Graves’ White Goddess, both beautiful and terrible.

  4. Jeff P. says:

    “For I have seen the great white witch,
    And she has led me to her lair,
    And I have kissed her red, red lips
    And cruel face so white and fair;
    Around me she has twined her arms,
    And bound me with her yellow hair.”

    Wow!

    Thanks for sharing these!

    I know little about dissertations and why they need to be ‘defended’, but best of luck to you!

  5. Sovay says:

    I wonder if I should write her story? I think I would like to.

    I like this idea.

    Both of these remind me a little of Rossetti’s Lilith, painting and poem—from whom Jadis was originally supposed to be descended, even if Charn sort of took that hypothesis out. I always thought Lewis got most of her from “The Snow Queen.”

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