The Earthly Paradise

Text of The Earthly Pradise I, Winter:

FEBRUARY

611

   Bellerophon in Lycia

619

  The Hill of Venus

721

 

FEBRUARY.

[611] NOON—and the north-west sweeps the empty road,
The rain-washed fields from hedge to hedge are bare;
Beneath the leafless elms some hind's abode
Looks small and void, and no smoke meets the air
From its poor hearth: one lonely rook doth dare
5

The gale, and beats above the unseen corn,
Then turns, and whirling down the wind is borne.

   Shall it not hap that on some dawn of May
Thou shalt awake, and, thinking of days dead,
See nothing clear but this same dreary day,
10

Of all the days that have passed o’er thine head?
Shalt thou not wonder, looking from thy bed,
Through green leaves on the windless east a-fire,
That this day too thine heart doth still desire?

   Shalt thou not wonder that it liveth yet,
15

The useless hope, the useless craving pain,
That made thy face, that lonely noontide, wet
With more than beating of the chilly rain?
Shalt thou not hope for joy new born again,
Since no grief ever born can ever die
20

Through changeless change of seasons passing by?

 

[612] THE change has come at last, and from the west
Drives on the wind, and gives the clouds no rest,
And ruffles up the water thin that lies
Over the surface of the thawing ice;
Sunrise and sunset with no glorious show
5

Are seen, as late they were across the snow;
The wet-lipped west wind chilleth to the bone
More than the light and flickering east hath done.
Full soberly the earth's fresh hope begins,
Nor stays to think of what each new day wins:
10

And still it seems to bid us turn away
From this chill thaw to dream of blossomed May:
E’en as some hapless lover's dull shame sinks
Away sometimes in day-dreams, and he thinks
No more of yesterday's disgrace and foil,
15

No more he thinks of all the sickening toil
Of piling straw on straw to reach the sky;
But rather now a pitying face draws nigh,
Mid tears and prayers for pardon; and a tale
To make love tenderer now is all the bale
20

Love brought him erst. But on this chill dank tide
Still are the old men by the fireside,
And all things cheerful round the day just done
Shut out the memory of the cloud-drowned sun,
And dripping bough and blotched and snow-soaked earth;
25

And little as the tide seemed made for mirth,
Scarcely they lacked it less than months agone,
When on their wrinkles bright the great sun shone;
Rather, perchance, less pensive now they were,
And meeter for that cause old tales to hear
30

Of stirring deeds long dead: So, as it fell,
Preluding nought, an elder ’gan to tell
The story promised in mid-winter days
Of all that latter end of bliss and praise
That erst befell Bellerophon the bright,
35

Ere all except his name sank into night.


 

BELLEROPHON IN LYCIA.

ARGUMENT.

[619] BELLEROPHON bore unawares to Jobates King of Lycia the deadly message of King Prœtus: wherefore the Lycian King threw him often in the way of death, but the Fates willed him not to perish so, but gave him rather great honour and a happy life.

LO ye have erst heard how Bellerophon
Left Argos with his fortune all undone,
Well deeming why, and with a certain scorn,
Rather than anger, in his heart new-born,
To mingle with old courage, and the hope
5

That yet with life's wild tangle he might cope,
Nor be so wholly beaten in the end:
Whatever pain he gat from failing friend,
And earth made lonely for his feet again,
The brightness of his youth might nowise wane
10

Before it, or his hardihood grow dim.

   So now the evening sun shines fair on him
In Lycia, as he goes up from the quays,
Well pleased beneath the new folk's curious gaze
With all the fair things that his eyes behold:
15

As goodly as the tale was that men told
Of King Jobates’ city, goodlier
Than all they told it seemeth to him here,
And mid things new and strange and fairly wrought
Small care he hath for any anxious thought.
20

[620] And so amid the shipmen's company
He came unto the King's hall, builded high
Above the market-place, and no delay
In getting speech of the great King had they,
For ever King Jobates' wont it was
25

To learn of new-corners things brought to pass
In outlands, and he served in noble wise
Such guests as might seem trusty to his eyes.
So in the midmost of his company
He passed in through the hall, and seemed to be
30

A very god chance-come among them there,
Though little splendid soothly was his gear;
A bright steel helm upon his brows he had,
And in a dark blue kirtle was he clad,
And a grey cloak thereover; bright enow
35

With gold and gems his great sword's hilt did glow,
But no such thing was in aught else he wore;
A spear great-shafted his strong right hand bore,
And in his left King Prœtus' casket shone:
Grave was his face now, though there played thereon
40

A flickering smile, that erst you might have seen
In such wise play, when small space was between
The spears he led and fierce eyes of the foe.

   Thus through the Lycian court-folk did they go
Till to the King they came: e’en such a man
45

As sixty summers made not pinched or wan,
Though beard and hair alike were white as snow.
Down on the sea-farers did he gaze now
With curious peering eyes, and now and then
He smiled and nodded, as he saw such men
50

Amidst them as he knew in other days;
But when he met Bellerophon's frank gaze,
There his eyes rested, and he said: "O guest,
Though among these thy gear is not the best,
Yet know I no man more if thou art not
55

E’en that Bellerophon, who late hast got
Such praise mid men of Argos, that thy name
Two months agone to this our country came,
[621] Adorned with many tales of deeds of thine;
And certainly as of a man divine
60

Thy mien is and thy face: how sayest thou?"

   "So am I called," he said, "mid all men now,
Since that unhappy day that drave me forth,
Lacking that half that was of greatest worth,
And made me worthy—for my deeds, O King,
65

What I have done is but a little thing;
I wrought that I might live from day to day,
That something I might give for hire and pay
Unto my lord; from whom I bring to thee
A message written by him privily,
70

Hid in this casket; take it from my hand,
And do thou worthily to this my band,
And let us soon depart, for I am fain
The good report of other men to gain,
Wide through the world;—nor do thou keep me here
75

As one unto King Prœtus’ heart right dear,
Because I deem that I have done amiss
Unto him, though I wot not how it is
That I have sinned: certes he bade me flee,
And ere he went my face he would not see;
80

Therefore I bid thee, King, to have a care
Lest on a troublous voyage thou shouldst fare."

   "Sweet is thy voice," the King said; "many a maid
Among our fairest would be well a-paid
In listening to thy words a summer day.
85

Nor will our honour let thee go away
Whatso thy deed is, though I deem full well
But little ill there is of thee to tell.
Give forth the casket; in good time will we
This message of the King of Argos see,
90

And do withal what seemeth good therein.
Sit ye, O guests, for supper doth begin!—
Ho! marshals, give them room; but thou sit here,
And gather heart the deeds of Kings to bear
While yet thou mayst, and here with me rejoice,
95

Forgetting much; for certes in thy voice
Was wrath e’en now, and unmeet anger is
To mingle with our short-lived spell of bliss."

   [622] Then sat Bellerophon adown and thought
How fate his wandering footsteps erst had brought
100

To such another place, and of the end,
Whate’er it was, that fate to him did send.
Yet since the time was fair, and day by day
Ever some rag of fear he cast away,
And ever less doubt of himself he had,
105

In that bright concourse was he blithe and glad,
And the King blessed the fair and merry tide
That set so blithe a fellow by his side.

 

BUT the next day, in honour of the guest,
The King bade deck all chambers with his best,
110

And bid all folk to joyous festival,
And let the heralds all the fair youth call
To play within the lists at many a game;
"Since here last eve the great Corinthian came
That ye have heard of: and though ye indeed
115

Of more than manly strength may well have need
To match him, do your best, lest word he bear
Too soft that now the Lycian folk live here,
Forgetting whence their fathers came of yore
And whom their granddames to their grandsires bore."
120

   So came the young men thronging, and withal
Before the altars did the oxen fall
To many a god, the well-washed fleeces fair
In their own bearers' blood were dyed, and there
The Persian merchants stood and snuffed the scent
125

Of frankincense, for which of old they went
Through plain and desert waterless, and faced
The lion-haunted woods that edged the waste.
Then in the lists were couched the pointless spears,
The oiled sleek wrestler struggled with his peers,
130

The panting runner scarce could see the crown
Held by white hands before his visage brown;
The horses, with no hope of gold or gain,
With fluttering hearts remembered not the rein
Nor thought of earth. And still all things fared so,
135

That all who with the hero had to do
Deemed him too strong for mankind; or if one
[623] Gained seeming victory on Bellerophon,
He knew it for a courteous mockery
Granted to him. So did the day go by,
140

And others like it, and the talk still was
How even now such things could come to pass
That such a man upon the earth was left.

   But when the ninth sun from the earth had reft
Silence, and rest from care, then the King sent
145

To see Bellerophon, who straightly went,
And found Jobates with a troubled face,
Pacing a chamber of the royal place
From end to end, who turned as he drew near,
And said in a low voice, "What dost thou here?
150

This is a land with many dangers rife;
Hast thou no heed to save thy joyous life?
The wide sea is before thee, get thee gone,
All lands are good for thee but this alone!"

   And as the hero strove to catch his eye
155

And ’gan to speak, he passed him hurriedly,
And gat him from the chamber: with a smile
Bellerophon turned too within a while,
When he could gather breath from such a speech,
And said, "Far then King Prœtus' arm can reach:
160

So was it as I doubted; yet withal
Not everything to every king will fall
As he desires it, and the Gods are good;
Nor shall the Lycian herbage drink my blood:—
The Gods are good, though far they drive me forth;
165

But the four quarters, south, west, east, and north,
All are alike to me, who therein have
None left me now to weep above my grave
Whereso I fall: and fair things shall I see,
Nor may great deeds be lacking unto me:—
170

Would I were gone then!" But with that last word
Light footsteps drawing swiftly nigh he heard,
And made a shift therewith his eyes to raise,
Then staggering back, bewildered with amaze,
Caught at the wall and wondered if he dreamed,
175

For there before his very eyes he seemed
To see the Lycian Sthenobœa draw nigh;
[624] But as he strove with his perplexity
A soft voice reached his ears, and then he knew
That in one mould the Gods had fashioned two,
180

But given them hearts unlike; yea, and her eyes
Looked on his troubled face in no such wise
As had the other's; wistful these and shy,
And seemed to pray, Use me not cruelly,
I have not harmed thee.—Thus her soft speech ran:
185

   "Far have I sought thee, O Corinthian man,
And now that I have found thee my words fail,
Though erst my heart had taught me well my tale."

   She paused, her half-closed lips were e’en as sweet
As the sweet sounds that thence the air did meet,
190

And such a sense swept o’er Bellerophon
As whiles in spring had come, and lightly gone
Ere he could name it; like a wish it was,
A wish for something that full swift did pass,
To be forgotten. Some three paces were
195

Betwixt them when she first had spoken there,
But now, as though it were unwittingly,
He slowly moved a little more anigh;
But she flushed red now ere she spake once more,
And faltered and looked down upon the floor.
200

   "O Prince Bellerophon," at last she said,
"I dreamed last night that I beheld thee dead;
I knew thee thus, for twice had I seen thee,
Unseen myself, in this festivity;
And since I know how loved a man thou art,
205

Here have I come, to bid thee to depart,
Since that thou mayst do yet." Nigher he came
And said, "O fair one, I am but a name
To thee, as men are to the Gods above;
And what thing, then, thy heart to this did move?"
210

   So spake he, knowing scarce what words he said,
Strange his own voice seemed to him; and the maid
Spake not at first, but grew pale, and there passed
A quivering o’er her lips; but at the last,
With eyes fixed full upon him, thus she spake:
215

   "Why should I lie? this did I for thy sake,
Because thou art the worthiest of all men,
[625] The loveliest to look on. Hear me, then;
But ere my tale is finished, speak thou not,
Because this moment has my heart waxed hot,
220

And I can speak before I go my way—
Before thou leav’st me.—On my bed I lay,
And dreamed I fared within the Lycian land,
And still about me there on either hand
Were nought but poisonous serpents, yet no dread
225

I had of them, for soothly in my head
The thought was, that my kith and kin they were;
But as I went methought I saw thee there
Coming on toward me, and thou mad’st as though
No whit about those fell worms thou didst know;
230

And then in vain I strove to speak to thee,
And bid thee get thee down unto the sea,
Where bode thy men ready at bench and mast;
But in my dream thou cam’st unto me fast,
And unto speech we fell of e’en such things
235

As please the sons and daughters of great kings;
And I must smile and talk, and talk and smile,
Though I beheld a serpent all the while
Draw nigh to strike thee: then—then thy lips came
Close unto mine; and while with joy and shame
240

I trembled, in my ears a dreadful cry
Rang, and thou fellest from me suddenly
And layst dead at my feet: and then I spake
Unto myself, 'Would God that I could wake,'
But woke not, though my dream changed utterly,
245

Except that thou wert laid stark dead anigh.
Then in this palace were we, and the noise
Of many folk I heard, and a great voice
Rang o’er it ever and again, and said,
Bellerophon who would not love is dead.
250

But I—I moved not from thee, but I saw
Through the fair windows many people draw
Unto the lists, until withal it seemed
As though I never yet had slept or dreamed,
That all the games went on, where yesterday
255

Thou like a god amidst of men didst play:
But yet through all, the great voice cried and said,
[626] Bellerophon who would not love is dead.
This is the dream—ah, hast thou heard me, then?
Abide no more, I say, among these men:
260

Think’st thou the world without thy life can thrive,
More than my heart without thy heart can live?"

   Almost before her lips the words could say,
She turned her eager glittering eyes away,
And hurried past, and as her feet did bear
265

Her loveliness away, he seemed to hear
A sob come from her; but for him, he felt
As in some fair heaven all his own he dwelt,
As though he ne’er of any woe had known,
So happy and triumphant had he grown.
270

But when he thus a little while had stood
With this new pleasure stirring all his blood,
He ’gan to think how that she was not there,
And ’thwart the glory of delight came care,
As uttermost desire so wrought in him,
275

That now in strange new tears his eyes did swim,
He scarce knew if for pleasure or for pain.
Of other things he strove to think in vain—
Nought seemed they;—the strange threatening of the King,
Nay the maid's dream—it seemed a little thing
280

That he should read their meaning more than this:
'Here in the land of Lycia dwells thy bliss;
So much she loved thee that she wished thee gone,
That thou mightst live, though she were left alone;
Or else she had not left thee; failing not
285

To see how all the heart in thee waxed hot
To cast thine arms about her and to press
Her heart to thine and heal its loneliness.'
Pity grew in him as he thought thereof,
And with its sweet content fed burning love,
290

Till all his life was swallowed by its flame,
And dead and past away were fear and shame,
Nor might he think that he could ever die.

   But now at last he with a passionate sigh
Turned from the place where he had seen her feet,
295

And murmured as he went, "O sweet, O sweet,
O sweet the fair morn that thou breathest in,
[627] When thou, awakening lone, dost first begin
For one more day the dull blind world to bless
With sight of thine unmeasured loveliness."
300

   So speaking, through a low door did he gain
A little garden; the fair morn did wane,
The day grew to its hottest, the warm air
Was little stirred, the o’er-sweet lily there
With unbowed stem let fall upon the ground
305

Its fainting leaves; full was the air of sound
Of restless bees; from high elms far away
Came the doves' moan about the lost spring day,
And Venus’ sparrows twittered in the eaves
Above his head. There ’twixt the languid leaves
310

And o’er-blown blossoms he awhile did go,
Nursing his love till faint he ’gan to grow
For very longing, and love, bloomed an hour,
Began to show the thorn about the flower,
Yet sweet and sweet it was, until the thought
315

Of that departing to his mind was brought,
And though he laughed aloud with scorn of it,
Yet images of pain and death would flit
Across his love, until at last anew
He ’gan to think that deeds there were to do
320

In his old way, if there he still would bide.
Deeds must have birth from hope; grief must he hide,
And into hard resolve his longing chill,
If he would be god-loved and conquering still:
So back he turned into the house, in mind,
325

Whatso might hap, the King once more to find,
And crave for leave to serve him; for he deemed,
Whate’er the King had warned or his love dreamed,
That he and youth ’gainst death were fellows twain
For years yet, whoso in the end should gain.
330

   Deep buried in his thoughts he went, but when
He drew anigh the hall a crowd of men
Were round about it; armed they were, indeed,
But rent and battered was their warlike weed,
And some lacked wounding weapons; some men leant
335

Weakly ’gainst pillars; some were so much spent
They wept for weariness and pain; no few
[628] Bore bandages the red blood struggled through;
E’en such they seemed, the hero thought, as folk
That erst before his Argive spears had broke,
340

And at his feet their vain arms down had cast:
So, wondering thereat, through these folk he passed
Into the hall, where on the ivory throne
Jobates sat, with flushed face, gazing down
Upon the shrinking captains; therewithal
345

E’en as he entered did the King's eyes fall
Upon him, and the King somewhat did start
At first, but then, as minding not the part
That he had played that morn, a gracious smile
Came o’er his face; then spake he in a while:
350

"Look upon these, O wise Bellerophon,
And ask of them what glory they have won—
Or ask them not, but listen unto me:
Over the mountain-passes that men see
Herefrom, a town there is, and therein dwell
355

Folk baser and more vile than men can tell;
A godless folk, without a law or priest;
A thankless folk, who at high-tide and feast
Remember not the Gods; no image there
Makes glad men's eyes, no painted story fair
360

Tells of past days; alone, unhelped they live,
And nought but curses unto any give:
A rude folk, nothing worth, without a head
To lead them forth,—and this morn had I said
A feeble folk and bondsmen of mine own.
365

But now behold from this same borel town
Are these men empty-handed now come back,
And midst these Solymi is little lack
This morn of well-wrought swords and silk attire
And gold that seven times o’er has felt the fire.
370

"Lo now, thou spak’st of wandering forth again—
Rather be thou my man, and ’gainst these men
Lead thou mine army; nay, nor think to win
[629] But little praise if thou dost well herein,
For these by yesterday are grown so great
375

That if thou winnest them, midst this red heat
Of victory, a great deed shalt thou do,
And great will thy reward be; wilt thou go?
Methought thou hadst a mind to serve me here."

   So, as Bellerophon drew more anear,
380

He thought within his heart, "Ah, then, I know
From all these things why he would have me go;
Yet since indeed I may not quite depart
From Lycia now, because my new-smitten heart
Is bound with bonds of love unto the land,
385

Safer am I in armour, sword in hand,
Than midst these silken hangings and fair things,
That well I wot hide many poison-stings:
The Gods are great, nor midst of men am I
Of such as, once being threatened, quickly die."
390

   Then he spake out: "O King, wilt thou then pray
To all the Gods to give me a good day?
For when I was a youth and dwelt at home
Men deemed I knew somewhat of things to come,
And now methinks more dangers I foresee
395

Than any that have yet been forged for me."

   The King frowned at that word, and flushed blood-red,
As if against his will; but quickly said,
In a mild voice: "Be of good cheer, O son;
For if the Gods help not Bellerophon
400

They will not have to say, that in this land
I prayed their good-will for thee with close hand.
No god there is that hath an altar here
That shall not smoke with something he holds dear
While thou art absent from us—but these men,
405

Worn as they are, are fain to try again,
As swiftly as may be, what from the Fates
In bloody fields the Lycian name awaits;
Mine armoury is not empty, yet there are
Unwounded men to furnish forth the war
410

Yea, and mine household-folk shall go with thee,
And none but women in mine house shall be,
Until the Lycian shield once more is clean
[630] Through thee, as though no stain had ever been.
Canst thou be ready by the second day
415

Unto the Solymi to take thy way?"

   "So be it," said the wise Corinthian;
"And here, O King, I make myself thy man—
May the Gods make us faithful; but if worse
Must happen, on his head fall all the curse
420

Who does the wrong!—Now for thy part see thou
That we who go have everything enow;
Nor think to hear too soon of victory,
For though a spliced staff e’en as strong may be
As one ne’er broken, lean thou not thereon
425

Till o’er the narrow way thy feet have won
And thou may’st try it on the level grass.
Now give me leave,. for I am fain to pass
Thy men in order by me, and to find
How best thy wounded honour I may bind."
430

   When first the hero's hand the King's hand took,
But ill belike Jobates that did brook,
And well-nigh drew it back; yet still it lay
And moved not, and the King made haste to say:

   "May the Gods bless us both, as I bless thee,
435

Who at this tide givest good help to me!
Depart, brave man; and, doing but thy best,
Howe’er fate goes, by me shalt thou be blest."

   Then went Bellerophon, and laboured sore
To give the Lycian folk good heart once more,
440

Till day passed into night, and in fair dream
And hopeful waking, happy love did gleam,
E’en like the young sun, on the hero's head.
But when the next bright day was well-nigh dead,
Within the brazen porch Bellerophon
445

Stood thinking o’er all things that had been done.
Alone he was, and yearning for his love,
And longing for some deed the truth to prove
Of what seemed dreamlike now, midst all the stir
Of men and clash of arms; and wearier
450

He felt than need was, as the evening breeze
Raised up his hair. But while sweet images
His heart made now of what he once had seen,
[631] There in the dusk, across the garden green,
A white thing fluttered; nor was steadier
455

His heart within him, as he thought of her,
And that perchance she came; and soon anigh
A woman drew, but stopping presently
Over against him, he could see her now
To be a handmaid, and, with knitted brow,
460

Was going thence, but through the dusk she cried:
"O fair my lord Bellerophon, abide
And hearken—here my lady sendeth me,
And saith these words withal: Philonoë,
Born of the Lycian King, Both give thee this
465

Fair blade, and prayeth for thee health and bliss;
Saying, moreover; as for this same sword,
Draw it not forth before base man or lord,
But be alone when first it leaves the sheath .
Yet since upon it lieth life and death,
470

Surely thou wilt not long delay to see
The face of that bright friend I give to thee
."

   He felt the cold hilt meet his outstretched hand,
And she was gone, nor longer did he stand
Than but to look if any stood thereby,
475

Then gat him gone therefrom, and presently
Was lone within his chamber; there awhile
He stood regarding with a lovesome smile
The well-wrought sword, and fairly was it dight
With gold and gems; then by the taper's light
480

He drew it from the sheath, and, sooth to tell,
E’en that he hoped for therewithal befel,
Because a letter lay ’twixt blade and sheath,
Which straight he opened, and nigh held his breath
For very eagerness, the while he read:
485

   Short is the time, and yet enow, it said,
Nightfall it will be when thou readest this.
If thou wouldst live yet, for the weal and bliss
Of many, gird this sword to thee, and go
Down to the quay, and there walk to and fro,
490

Until a seafarer thou meetest there,
With two behind him who shall torches bear;
He shall behold the sword, and say to thee,
[632] 'Is it drawn forth?' and say 'Yea, verily,
And the wound healed.' Then shall he bring thee straight
495

Unto his keel, which with loose sails doth wait
Thy coming, and shall give thee gold good store,
Nor bide the morn to leave the Lycian shore.—
Farewell; I would have seen thee, but I feared—
—I feared two things; first, that we might be heard
500

By green trees and by walls, and thus should I
Have brought the death on thee I bid thee fly;
The first—but for the second, since I speak
Now for the last time—Love has made me weak;
I feared my heart made base by sudden bliss
505

I feared—wilt thou be wroth who readest this?—
Mine eyes I saw in thine that other tide;
I thought perchance that here thou mightst abide,
Constrained by Love. Now if I have said ill,
Shall not my soul of sorrow have its fill?
510

I sin, but bitter death shall pay therefor
.

   He read the piteous letter o’er and o’er,
Till fell the tears thereon like sudden rain,
For he was young, and might not love again
With so much pleasure, such sweet bitterness,
515

Such hope amid that new-born sharp distress
Of longing; half-content to love and yearn,
Until perchance the fickle wheel might turn.

   The well-kissed sword within his belt he set,
But ye may well deem was more minded yet
520

To bide his fortune in the Lycian land,
What fear soe’er before his path might stand;
And great his soul grew, thinking of the tide
When every hindrance should be thrust aside,
And love should greet him; calm, as though the death,
525

He knew so nigh him, on some distant heath
Were sitting, flame-bound, waiting for the word
Himself should give; with hand upon his sword,
Unto the hall he took his way: therein
Was growing great and greater joyful din,
530

For there they drank unto the coming day;
And as through all that crowd he made his way,
The shouts rose higher round him, and his name
[633] Beat hard about the stony ears of Fame.

   So then beside the Lycian King he sat
535

A little while, and spake of this and that,
E’en as a man grown mighty; and at last
Some few words o’er that feasting folk he cast,
Proud, mingling sharp rebuke with confidence.
And bade them feast no more, but going thence
540

Make ready straight to live or die like men.
And therewithal did he depart again
Amidst them, and for half the night he went
Hither and thither, on such things intent
As fit the snatcher-forth of victory;
545

And then, much wondering how such things could be,
That aught but love could move a man at all,
Into a dreamless slumber did he fall,
Wherefrom the trumpet roused him in the morn,
Almost before the summer sun was born;
550

And midst the new-born longings of his heart,
From that fair place now must he needs depart
Unguarded and unholpen to his fate.

   Nought happed to him ’twixt palace-court and gate
Of the fair city; thronged it was e’en then
555

With anxious, weeping women and pale men,
But unto him all faces empty were
But one, that nowise might he now see there:
Or ere he passed the great gate back he gazed'
To where the palace its huge pile upraised
560

Unto the fresh and windy morning sky,
As seeking if he might e’en now espy
That which he durst not raise his eyes unto
When ’neath its walls he went a while ago.

   So through the gate the last man strode, and they
565

Who in the city seemed so great a stay
Unto that people, as the country-side
About their moving ranks spread bleak and wide,
Showed like a handful, and the town no less
Seemed given up to utter helplessness.
570

 

[634] SEVEN days of fear wore by; Philonoë
Must vex her heart with all that yet might be,
And oft would curse herself that she it was
Through whom such death as his should come to pass,
And weep to think of all her life made lone.
575

But on the eighth day, at the stroke of noon,
A little band of stained and battered men
Passed through the gate into the town again,
And left glad hearts as well as anxious ones
Behind them, as they clattered o’er the stones
580

Unto the palace: there the King they found
Set on his throne, with ancient lords around,
And cried to him, "O King, rejoice! at last
Raised is thy banner, that ill men had cast
Unto the ground; as safely mayst thou lie
585

Within the city of the Solymi
As in this house thou buildedst for thy bliss,
For all things there are thine now, e’en as this."

   Then the King rose, and filled a cup with wine,
And said, "All praise be unto things divine!
590

Yet ere I pour, how goes it with our folk?
Did many die before they laid the yoke
On these proud necks? when will they come again?"

   "O King," they said, "though they fell not in vain,
Yet many fell; but now upon the way
595

Our fellows are: I think on the third day
They will be here, and needs must they be slow,
Because they have with them a goodly show;
Wains full of spoil, arms, and most fair attire,
Wrought gold that seven times o’er has felt the fire;
600

And men and women of thy stubborn foes
E’en as thou wilt their lives to keep or lose."

   "What sayst thou next about Bellerophon,"
The King said, "that this day for me hath won?
Is he alive yet?" Then the man waxed pale,
605

And said, "He liveth, and of small avail
Man's weapons are against him; on the wall
He stood alone, for backward did we fall
Before the fury of the Solymi,
[635] Because we deemed ourselves brought there to die,
610

And might not bear it: then it was as though
A clear bright light about his head did glow
Amidst the darts and clamour, and he turned
A face to us that with such glory burned
That those behind us drave us back again,
615

And cried aloud to die there in the pain
Rather than leave him, and with such a wave
Of desperate war swept up, they scarce could save
Their inmost citadel from us that tide,
Who at the first with mocks had bidden us bide
620

A little longer in a freeman's land,
Until their slaves had got their whips in hand
To drive us thence." Now as he spake, at first
The King like one, who heareth of the worst,
And must not heed it, hearkened, but when he
625

Had heard his servant's tale out, suddenly
The wine he poured, and cried, "Jove, take thou this
In token of the greatness of our bliss,
In earnest of the gifts that thou shalt have,
Who thus our name, our noble friends didst save."
630

So spake he, looking downward, and his heart
In what his lips said, had perchance, some part,
However, driven on by long-sworn oath,
He dealt in things that sore he needs must loathe:
And he who erst had told him of the thing
635

Seemed fain to linger, as if yet the King
Had something more to say; but no fresh word
He had for him, but with great man and lord
Made merry, praising wind and wave
That brought Bellerophon their fame to save.
640

   But joyous was the town to hear of this,
For in that place, midst all that men call bliss,
Cold fear was mingled; such a little band
They seemed, but clinging to a barbarous land,
With strange things round about them; if the earth
645

Should open not to swallow up their mirth
And them together, they must deem it good;
Or if the kennels ran not with their blood,
While a poor remnant, driven forth with whips,
[636] Must sit beneath the hatchways of strange ships,
650

Of such account as beasts. So there dwelt they,
Trembling amidst their wealth from day to day,
Afraid of god and man, and earth and sky.
Judge, therefore, if they thought not joyously
Of this one fallen amongst them, who could make
655

The rich man risk his life for honour's sake,
The trembling slave remember what he was,
The poor man hope for what might come to pass.

   So when the day carne when the gates were flung
Back on their hinges, and the people hung
660

About the pageant of their folk returned,
And many an eager face about him burned
With new and high desires they scarce could name,
He wondered how such glory on him came,
And why folk gazed upon him as a god,
665

And would have kissed the ground whereon he trod.
A little thing it seemed to him to fight
Against hard things, that he might see the light
A little longer and rejoice therein,
A little thing that he should strive to win
670

More time for love; and even therewithal
Into a dreamy musing did he fall
Amidst the shouts and glitter, and scarce knew
What things they were that he that day did do,
Only the time seemed long and long and long,
675

The noise and many men still seemed to wrong
The daintiness of his heart-piercing love,—
As through a world of shadows did he move.

   Think then how fared his love Philonoë
Amid the din of that festivity!
680

For if while joy hung betwixt hope and fear
Life seemed a hateful thing to her and drear,
And all men hateful; if herself she cursed,
The hatefullest of all things and the worst;
If rest had grown a name for something gone
685

And not remembered; if herself alone
Seemed no more one, but made of many things
All wretched and at strife; if sudden stings
Of fresh pain made her start up from her place,
[637] And set to some strange unknown goal her face,
690

And she must stifle wails with bitterest pain—
If all this was, ought she not now to gain
A little rest? now, when she heard the voice
Of triumph and the people's maddening noise
Round her returning love; still did she bear
695

Her grinding dread if with a wearier,
Yet with a calmer face, than now she bore
Desire so quickened by that fear past o’er.
She in her garden wandered through the day,
And heavy seemed the hours to pass away.
700

Her colour came and went, she trembled when
She heard some louder shout of joyous men;
She could not hear the things her maidens spake,
Nor aught could she seem gracious for their sake;
The sweetest snatch of some familiar song
705

She might not hearken; she abode not long
Within the shadow; weary of the sun
She grew full soon; the glassy brook did run
In vain across her feet; the ice-cold well
Quenched not her thirst; the half-blown roses’ smell
710

Was not yet sweet enough: the sun sank low,
And then she murmured that the day must go
That should have been so happy: wearily
She laid her down that night, but nought slept she;
Yet in the morn the new sun seemed to bring
715

A joy to her, and some unnamed dear thing
Better than rest or peace; for in her heart
She knew that he in all her thoughts had part;
Yea, and she thought how dreamlike he would ride
Amidst his glory, and how ill abide
720

The clamour of the feast; yea, and would not
That night to him belike be dull and hot,
And that dawn hopeful? ’Neath the wall there was
A place where dewy was the daisied grass
E’en nigh the noon; a high tower great and round
725

Cast a long shadow o’er that spot of ground,
And blind it was of window or of door,
For, wrought by long-dead men of ancient lore,
No part it was of that stone panoply
[638] That girt the town; so lilies grew thereby,
730

And woodbine, and the odorous virgin's-bower
Hung in great heaps about that undyked tower,
And lone and silent was the pleasance there.
Thither Love led Philonoë the fair,
And well she knew of him, and still her heart
735

At every little sound and sight would start,
And still her palms were tingling for the touch
Of other hands, and ever over-much
Her feet seemed light. But when the bushes gleamed
With something more than the low sun that streamed
740

Athwart their blossoms, and a clear voice rung
Above the ousel's; then with terror stung,
She leaned her slim and perfect daintiness
‘Gainst the grey tower, and even like distress
Her great joy seemed. Green clad he was that morn,
745

And to his side there hung a glittering horn,
A mighty unbent bow was in his hand,
And o’er his shoulders did the feathers stand
Of his long arrows; in his gleaming eyes
Such joy there was as he beheld the prize,
750

That in that shadow now he seemed to be
A piece of sunlight fallen down suddenly.

   So face to yearning face they stood awhile,
And every word at first seemed poor and vile,
None better than another; nor durst they
755

Lips upon lips or palm to fingers lay,
More than if many people stood around,
With such strange fear and shame doth love abound.

   At last she spake: "Thou comest, then, to say
How thou wilt now be wise and go away,
760

E’en as I bade; the prey has ’scaped the net;
Be wise, the fowler other wiles hath yet!"

   "Yea," said he, "then thy word it was indeed
That needs must think about me in my need:
Strange, then, that now thou biddest me begone!
765

[639] Belike thou know’st not of folk left alone,
And what life grows to them: yet art thou kind—
Thou deemest other friends I yet may find.
Alas, life goeth fast; not every day
Do we behold folk standing in the way
770

With outstretched hands to meet us." "Ah," she said,
"How sweet thou art! Wand yet the dead are dead,
The absent are but dead a little while.
Then get thee gone from midst of wrong and guile,
And we shall meet once more in happier days,
775

When death lurks not amidst of rosy ways—
—Ah, wilt thou slay me, then?—I knew not erst
How poor a life I had, and how accurst,
Before I felt thy lips—what thing is this
That makes me faint amidst of new-born bliss?"
780

   "Rest in mine arms, O well-beloved," said he;
"I faint not, neither shall death come on me
While thus thou art: nay, nay, I think if I,
Hacked with an hundred swords, should come to lie,
Yet without thee I should not then depart."
785

   "O love, alas! the sorer is my heart
The more I love," she said, "we are alone;
Our loving life is not for any one
But for our own selves—ah, deem all I said
Before those lips of thine on mine were laid
790

As said again and yet again! Some hate
Is round thee here, some undeserved strange fate
Awaits thee here in Lycia—yea, full sure
The hungry swords here may we twain endure;
But what then?—Of the dead what hast thou heard
795

That maketh thee so rash and unafeared?
Can the dead love, or is there any space
In their long sleep when they lay face to face
Soft as we do now? can their pale lips plead
The pleas of love? or can their fixed eyes lead
800

Heart unto heart? or hast thou heard that they
Can wait from weary day to weary day,
And hope, as I will, while thou gatherest fame?
Can they have pleasure there e’en in a name,
A memory? is their pain a pleasure there,
805

[640] Are tears sweet, and the longing sobs that wear
The hours away, where life and hope are gone?
"How can I any longer be alone?
Can I forget thee now? the while I live?
O my beloved, must I strive and strive,
810

And move thee not? How sweet thou art to me!
How dull the coming day that knows not thee!"

   "Fear not," he said; "not yet my days are done!
When on the deadly wall I stood alone,
And back the traitors fell from me, I felt
815

As though within me such a life there dwelt
As scarce could end—Lo now, if I depart
I lack the safeguard of thy faithful heart,
And meet new dangers that thou know’st not of.
Yea, listen, nor rebuke me—This our love;
820

Hast thou not heard how love may grow a-cold
Before the lips that called thereon wax old?
Ah, listen! seas betwixt us, and great pain,
And death of days that shall not be again;
And yearning life within us, and desire
825

That changes hearts as fire will quench the fire.
These are the engines of the Gods, lest we,
Through constant love, Gods too should come to be.
A little pain, a little fond regret,
A little shame, and we are living yet,
830

While love that should out-live us lieth dead—

   "Ah, my beloved, lift that glorious head
And look upon me! put away the thought
Of time and death, and let all things be nought
But this love of to-day! and think of me
835

As if for ever I should seem to thee
As I am now—I will not go away,
Nor sow my love, to reap some coming day
I know not what: be merry, we shall live
To see our love high o’er all danger thrive."
840

   For now she wept, but, starting midst her tears,
She stopped and listened like a bird that hears
A danger on the wind: the round tower's shade
A lesser patch upon the daisies made,
And all about the place ’gan folk to stir:
845

[641] She turned and girt her loosened gown to her,
And with one sob, and a long faithful look,
The gathering tears from out her eyes she shook,
Nor bade farewell, but swiftly gat her gone.

   But he beneath the tower so left alone
850

Stooped down and kissed her foot-prints in the grass,
And then with swift steps through the place did pass,
Thinking high things; nor knew he till that hour
How sweet life was, or love its fruit and flower.

   So passed the days, nor often might it be
855

That such sweet hours as this the twain might see;
And they must watch that folk might not surprise
Their hearts' love through the windows of their eyes
When midst of folk they met: but glorious days
Were for Bellerophon, and love and praise
860

From all folk, though the great end lingered yet
When he sweet life, or glorious death, should get.

   NOW on a day was held of most and least
Unto Diana sacrifice and feast,
And on that tide the market empty was,
865

And through the haven might no dromund pass;
And then the wont was they should bear about
The goddess wrought in gold, with song and shout
And winding of great horns, amidst a band
Of bare-kneed maidens, bended bow in hand
870

And quiver at the back; and these should take,
As if by force, and for the city's sake,
Three damsels chosen by lot for that same end,
And bind their hands, and with them straightly wend
Unto the temple of Diana; there
875

The priest should lead them to the altar fair
[642] And midst old songs should raise aloft the knife
As if to take from each her well-loved life;
Therewith the King, with a great company,
Through the great door would come and respite cry,
880

And offer ransom: a great golden horn,
A silver image of a flowering thorn,
Three white harts with their antlers gilt with gold,
A silk gown for a huntress, every fold
Thick wrought with gold and gems; then to and fro
885

An ancient song was sung, to bid men know
That of such things the goddess had no need;
Yet in the end the maidens all were freed,
The harts slain in their place, the dainty things
Hung o’er the altar from fair silver rings,
890

And then, midst semblance of festivity
And joyful songs, the solemn day went by.

   All this they told Bellerophon, and said
Moreover, that the white-foot well-girt Maid
These gifts must have, because a merry rout
895

Of feasters, knowing neither fear nor doubt,
With love and riot did her grove defile
In the old days; and therefore nought more vile
Than three fair maids’ lives would she have at first,
And with that burden was the city cursed
900

For many years; "But in these latter days,
She to whom we to-morrow give great praise,
Will take these signs of our humility,
And let the folk in other wise go free."

   So on the morn joyful the city was,
905

Nor did men look for aught to come to pass
More than in other years; but lo, a change!
For there betid great portents dire and strange.
For first, when in the car of cedar-wood,
Decked with green boughs, the golden goddess stood,
910

And the white oxen strained at yoke and trace,
In no wise might they move her from the place,
Though they had drawn well twenty times that weight.
So when the priests had come in all their state
To pray her, and no lighter she would grow,
915

They said she did it for that folk might know
[643] She fain would have a shrine built o’er the way,
And that all rites should there be wrought that day.
So was it done, and now all things seemed well
A little space, and nought there was to tell
920

Until the King had brought the ransom due,
And the loosed bonds men from the maidens drew;
Then fell the third maid down before the King,
And cried from foaming mouth a shameful thing
Unmeet for maids; then from the frightened folk
925

That filled the street a clamour there outbroke,
And some cried out to slay the woman there,
And some to burn her wanton body fair,
And some to cast her forth into the sea
And purge the town of that iniquity.
930

But when the King had bidden lead her forth,
And try if she indeed were one of worth,
Or if her maidenhood were nought and vain,
The tossing street grew somewhat stilled again,
And o’er the sinking tumult called a priest:
935

"Abide, let see if she will take the beast
E’en as her wont is! but if so it be
That of our old crime she has memory
And threatens us with something strange and new,
Yet mid your fear do all in order due,
940

Nor make two faults of one, that ye may bear
A double punishment from year to year."

   Then were the harts brought forth; the first one stood
Fearless as he were lonely in the wood,
While to his throat drew nigh the sharp-edged knife,
945

Nor did the second strive to keep his life;
But when the third and biggest drew anigh,
He tossed his gilded antlers angrily
And smote his foot against the marble floor,
While from his throat came forth a low hoarse roar;
950

And as the girl whose office was to smite
His drawn-back throat came forth confused and white,
And raised a wavering hand aloft, then he
His branching horns from the priests’ hands shook free,
And as the affrighted girl fell back, turned round,
955

And gathered up his limbs for one last bound;
[644] But even therewith a soldier from the band
That stood about the King raised up his hand,
And in the beast's heart thrust his well-steeled spear,
And as he smote, like one who knew no fear,
960

He cried aloud: "O foolish Artemis,
Men's ways thou knowest not, putting from thee this,
The gift once offered! think no more of us
That we will pray with eyes all piteous
Before thee, or give gifts from trembling hands;
965

But get thee gone straightway to other lands,
Where folk will yet abide thee—for we know
How long a way it is for thee to go
From heaven to earth, how far thine arms will reach,
And no more now thy good-will do beseech!"
970

   He stooped, and from the beast his weapon drew,
Then turned and passed his fear-struck fellows through,
Or ere the swords from out the scabbards came;
And so folk say, that no man knew his name
Or whence he was. But from the concourse broke
975

In pale and murmuring knots the frightened folk;
And if the priests had heart yet for a word
Of comfort, neither so had they been heard;
But they slunk off too, more perchance afraid
Because they were the nigher to the Maid.
980

   Now had the morn begun with cloud and sun;
But, little heeded there of any one
Mid that beginning of fear's agony,
Slowly the clouds were swallowing up the sky;
So ere the sun had wholly sunk in them,
985

Great drops fell slowly from a black cloud's hem
Amid that troubled folk, who felt as though
They from that place of terror needs must go,
Yet, going, scarce could feel their unnerved feet;
Then gleamed a lightning-flash adown the street,
990

The clattering thunder, made ten times more loud,
Because of dread, hushed all the murmuring crowd,
And brought a many trembling to their knees,
And some set off a-running toward the quays,
[645] That they might go they knew not where or why;
995

But therewithal such rain fell from the sky,
As though some river of the upper world
Had burst his banks, the furious south-wind hurled
The folk's wet raiment upward as it tore
Along the ground, and the white rain-spray bore
1000

Seaward along: yet so it came to pass
That no more terror from the sky there was;
The wind grew steady, but from roof of grey
Fast fell the rain upon the ruined day,
Till trembling still, and shivering with the cold,
1005

Home went all folk, and soon the Maid of gold
Stood lonely in the rain-beat way and drear,
Amid drenched cloths and garlands, once made fair
To make the day more joyous.—You had thought
That now already had the Maiden brought
1010

Upon the city all the dreaded ill,
So lifeless was it grown and lone and still.

   But now to tell of Prince Bellerophon;
Upon that day so chanced it he had gone
Unto the hills, in chase the hours to spend
1015

Until the tide of feasting should have end;
For since he was an alien in that place,
Beside the King he might not show his face
Unto the goddess; so that morn he stood
Upon a hill's top that from out a wood
1020

Rose bare; thence looking east, he saw the sky
Grow black and blacker as the rain drew nigh,
And deemed it good to go, but, as he turned,
Afar a jagged streak of lightning burned,
Paling the sunshine that the dark woods lit,
1025

And rocks about him; through his mind did flit
Something like fear thereat; and still he gazed
Out to the east, but not again there blazed
That fire from out the sky. Now was he come
To such a place, that thence fair field, and home
1030

Of toiling men, and wood, and broad bright stream
Lay down below, and many a thing did gleam
Beneath the zenith's brightness, brighter yet
For horror of the far clouds’ stormful threat,
[646] And clear the air was with the coming rain—
1035

So then as he would turn his head again,
Out in the far horizon like a spark
Some flame broke out against the storm-clouds dark,
And seemed to grow beneath his eyes; he stood,
And, gazing, saw across the day's dark mood
1040

Another and another, nigh the first;
Then, as the distant thunder's threatening cursed
The country-side, and trembling beast and man,
The spark-like three flames into one thread ran,
That shot aloft amidst, yet further spread
1045

At either end; and to himself he said:
"Ah, is it so? what tidings then draw near?
In warlike lands soon should I look to hear
Of armies marching on through war and wrack;
Good will it be in haste to get me back
1050

Unto the foolish folk that trust in me."

   Then did he mount and ride off hastily
Adown the slopes; but not so fast withal
But that upon him did the full storm fall
In no long time; and so through pelting rain
1055

And howling wind he reached the gate again;
And so unto the palace went, to hear
From pale lips tales of all that day of fear;
And when about those bale-fires seen afar
He spake, and bade make ready for some war,
1060

Folk listened coldly; for they thought to see
Some strange, portentous sign of misery
Set in the heavens upon the morrow morn,
And the old tale of war seemed well outworn.

   Yet ere the night beyond its midst was worn,
1065

Another tale unto their ears was borne
That cast into their hearts the ancient fear,
And the Gods’ threatening easier seemed to bear
Than this that fell on them. At dead of night
The grey clouds drew apart, the moon shone bright
1070

Over a dripping world; and some folk slept
[647] Wearied by fear, if some their tired limbs kept
Ready for flight; then clattering horse-hooves came
To the east gate, and one called out the name
Of him who had the guard; so said the man
1075

That forth he went into the moonlight wan,
And saw nought but the tall black-shadowed trees
Waving their dripping boughs in the light breeze,
So went back scared. But in a while again
The galloping of horse did he hear plain,
1080

But he and his sat fast and spake no word,
And scarce fhr fear might they hold spear or sword.
Nigher the sound came, till it reached the gate;
Then as the warders did abide their fate,
Thinking to see the gates burst open wide,
1085

And death in some strange shape betwixt them ride,
The gates were smitten on with hasty blows,
And breathless cries of wild entreaty rose
Up through the night: "Open, O open, ye
Who sit in peace, and let in misery!
1090

Do ye not see the red sky at our backs?
And how the earth all quiet places lacks,
And shakes beneath the myriad hooves of steel?
Open, ah open, as ye hope for weal!
For ships lie at your quays with sails all bent
1095

And oars made ready—Open, we are spent!
Do ye not hear them? Open, Lycian men!"

   With staring eyes still sat the warders when
That cry they heard, and knew not what should be;
And the great gates of oak, clenched mightily
1100

With iron end-long and athwart, seemed fair
Unto their eyes; but as they cowered there
A clash of steel again their dull ears heard
That came from out the town, and more afeard
They grew, if it might be; then torches came
1105

Into the place of guard, and mid their flame
A shining one in arms, with wrathful eyes
’Neath his bright helm, who cried: "Why in this guise
Sit ye, O Lycians? Get each to his home!
For know that yesterday three keels did come
1110

[648] Laden with spindles and all women's gear,
And none need lack e’en such a garment here
As well befits him—lutes the Gods have sent,
And combs and golden pins, to that intent
That ye may all be merry—what say I?
1115

Ye may be turned to women verily,
Because the Gods are wise, and thriftless deed
Mislikes them, and forsooth is little need
That thews and muscles go with suchlike hearts
As ye have, while all wise and manly parts
1120

Are played by girls, weak-handed, soft, and white.

   "Get to the tower-top, look ye through the night,
And ye shall see the cleared sky made all red
And murky ’neath the moon with signs of dread;
Come forth and meet them! What! the Gods ye fear,
1125

And what they threaten? Life to you is dear?
Ah, fools, that think not how to all on earth
The very death is born along with birth;
That some men are but dying twenty years,
That some men on this sick-bed of all tears
1130

Must lie for forty years, for eighty some,
Or ever they may reach their peaceful home!
Ah, give to birth the name of death, and wait
With brave hearts rather for the stroke of fate,
And hope, since ye gained death when ye were born,
1135

That ye from death by dying may be torn—
—Unless ye deem that if this day ye live,
The next a deathless life to you will give.

   "Come, then! these few behind me may ye see
Who think it worse to live on wretchedly
1140

Than cast the die amidst of noble strife
For honoured death or fearless glorious life—
—Yea, yea! and is the foe upon us then?"

   For even as he spake they heard again
The smiting on the door, and as the sword
1145

Leapt from the exile's sheath with his last word,
[649] Again the cry, made dim by the thick door,
Smote on their ears: "Lycians, are ye no more
Within your guarded town? A voice we heard
As if of one who bade us not be feared—
1150

He was a god belike, and no more men
Dwell in your town: ah, will ye open then?
Do ye not hear that noise upon the wind,
And do ye think that ye fair days shall find
If our red blood shall stain your ancient gate?"
1155

   Then, as if these were maddened by some fate,
Down rained the blows upon the unyielding oak,
And the scared guards shrank back behind the folk
Bellerophon brought with him; therewith he
Sheathed his bright blade, and shot back mightily
1160

The weight of iron bolt, and therewithal
Stepped aside swiftly; back the gates did fall
Upon their hinges, and a wretched throng
Stood, horse and foot, the glimmering spears among,
Cowering and breathless, and with eyes that turned
1165

Over their shoulders, as though still they yearned
To see no more the quiet moonlit way
Beyond the open gates. But now, when they
Were ordered somewhat, and the gates again
Shut fast, Bellerophon cried out: "O men,
1170

Full fast ye fled, meseems! and who were these,
That made you tremble at the wet-leaved trees
And quivering acres of the bearded rye?"

   Then spake an old man: "Fair sir, manfully
Thou speakest, and thy words are full of hope;
1175

And yet with these no power thou hast to cope,
Who for each rye-head raise a spear aloft
Who know as much of fear, or pity soft,
As do the elm-trees; whom the Gods drive on
Until the world once happy they have won
1180

And made it desert, peopled by the ghosts
Of those who happy died before their hosts;
Or else lived on in fear and misery
A little while before God let them die—
Devils are these; but what scorn shall we get
1185

When thou hast heard that these are women!—yet
[650] Keep thou thy scorn till thou art face to face
With these a minute ere the fearful chase."

   Loud laughed Bellerophon, and said, "See ye,
O tremblers, what foreknowledge was in me,
1190

When I said e’en now ye should change your parts
With women! Throw the gates wide, fearful hearts,
And let us out, that with a word or two
All that is needed herein we may do!"

   The old man said, "Laugh, then, while yet your eyes
1195

Are still unblasted with the miseries
These days have brought on us!—Lo, if I tell
Half of the dreadful things that there befell,
Ye will not listen,—if I tell the shape
Of these fell monsters, for whom hell doth gape,
1200

Still will ye say that but my fear it is,
That speaketh in me,—yea, but hearken this;
For certainly such foes are on you now
As, bound together by a dreadful vow,
Will slay yourselves, and wives, and little ones,
1205

And build them temples with the blanched bones,
Unto the nameless One who gives them force."

   Then cried Bellerophon, in wrath: "To horse!
To horse, O Lycians! Ere the moon is down
The dawn shall come to light us; in the town
1210

Bide thou, O captain, and guard gate and wall;
And leave us to what hap from Fate may fall!
We are enow—and for these cowards-here,
Let them have yet another death to fear
Unless they rule their tongues. Tell thou the King
1215

That, when I come again, full many a thing
These lips will have to tell him; and meanwhile,
Since often will the Gods make strong the vile,
And bring adown the great, let him have care
That this his city is left nowise bare
1220

Of men, and food, and arms. More might I say,
But now methinks the night's face looks towards day.
The moon sinks fast; so get we speedily
[651] Unto that redness in the eastern sky,
That at the dawn with smoke shall dim the sun.'
1225

   A shout rose when his last clear word was done,
And at his back went rolling down the way
Mingled with clash of arms, for, sooth to say,
Hard had he laboured ere the dark night fell,
And thus had gathered men who loved him well,
1230

Stout hearts to whom more fair it seemed to be
The face of death in stricken field to see
Than in that place to bide, till Artemis
Had utterly consumed all hope of bliss
With some unknown, unheard-of shape of fear.
1235

   So now his well-shod steed they brought him there;
Once more from out its sheath he drew his sword,
The gates swung backward at his shouted word,
And forth with eager eyes into the waves
Of darkness did he ride; the spears and glaives
1240

Moved like a tossing winter grove behind
As on he led them, fame or death to find;
And grey night made the world seem over wide,
And over empty, in the darkling tide,
Betwixt the moonset and the dawn of day.
1245

   Then rose the sun; the fear that last night lay
Upon that people changed to certain fear
Well understood, of death that drew anear;
And now no more the timorous kept their eyes
Turned unto earth, lest in the sky should rise
1250

The dreadful tokens of a changing world;
No more they thought to see strange things down-hurled
By Gods as unlike their vain images
As unto men are hell's flame-branched trees.
Last night for any war or pestilence,
1255

Glad had they been to change that crushing sense
Of helplessness and lies; but now this morn,
Tormented by the rumour newly born,
The vague fear seemed the lightest; the Gods’ hands
Less cruel than the deeds of those fell bands.—
1260

Uprooted vines, fields trampled into mire,
[652] The ring of spears around the stead afire,
Steel or the flame for choice; the torture hour
When time is gone, and the flesh hath no power
But to give agony on agony
1265

Unto the soul that will not let it die,
So strong it is—the lone despair; the shame
Of a lost country and dishonoured name;
These last but little things to bear indeed,
When e’en the greatest helps not in our need,
1270

And o’er the earth is risen furious hell.

   Now, when this terror on the city fell,
At first went thronging to the clamorous quays
Rich men, with whatso things their palaces
Could give, that strong-backed slaves of theirs might bear.
1275

And to and fro the great lords wandered there,
Making hard bargains ’neath the shipmen's grin,
Who had good will a life of ease to win
With one last voyage; here and there indeed,
Among the heaps of silver and rich weed
1280

Piled on the deck, the hard-hand mariners
Thrust rudely ’gainst the wondering infant heirs,
And delicate white slaves, and proud-eyed wives,
And grumbled as they wrought to save their lives.
And here and there a ship was moving out
1285

With white sails spreading amid oath and shout,
While her sweeps smote the water heavily,
And on the prow stood, yearning for the sea
And other lands beyond, some trembling lord.
But presently thereof the King had word;
1290

And when he knew that thus the matter went,
A trusty captain to the quays he sent,
And stout men armed, who lined the water-side.
So there perforce must every man abide,
For shut and guarded now was every gate.
1295

   But if, amid the fear of coming fate,
You ask how fared the sweet Philonoë,
With mind a shrinking tortured thing to see,
How shall you wonder! Tales of dread she heard
[653] With scornful eyes, and chid with eager word
1300

Her timorous women; and with bright flushed face
And glittering eyes, she went from place to place,
As though foreknowledge of the joy to come
Pierced through all grief. Of those that saw her, some
Would say, "Alas! this ill day makes her mad."
1305

And some, "A message certes hath she had
From the other world, and is foredoomed to die."
But some would gaze upon her wrathfully,
While sitting with bent head on woe intent,
They watched her fluttering raiment as she went
1310

Her daily ways as in fair time of peace.

   So did the longest of all days decrease
Through hours of straining fear; full were the ways
With homeless country folk, with ’wildered gaze
Fixed on the eager townsmen questioning;
1315

And carts with this or that poor homely thing,
And cumbered women worn and desolate,
Blocked up the road anigh the eastern gate.
Thronged with pale faces were the walls that day
Of folk so scared they could not go away,
1320

But still must watch until the horror came,
Or watch at least that smoke above the flame
Till sundown lit the sky with dreadful light;
And still the tales of horror and affright
Grew greater, and the cumbered city still
1325

Weighed down with wealth could summon up no will
To fight or flee, or with closed lips to wait
Amidst her gold the evil day of fate.
Night came at last, a night of all unrest:
Upon the armed men now the people pressed
1330

At gate and quay, until they needs must yield,
And many a bark o’erladen slowly reeled
Beneath the moonlight o’er the harbour green;
While as the breathing of the night wind keen
Sang down the creek, great sounds of fear it bore,
1335

And redder was the sky than heretofore.

   A fearful night, when some at last must think
That they of no more horror now might drink
Than they had drank; wherefore, with stress of fear
[654] Made brave, some men must catch up shield and spear,
1340

And leaderless go forth unto the flame
All eyes were turned to; but when daylight came,
With its grey light came naked death again,
And honourless did all things seem and vain
That man might do; the gates were left ajar,
1345

And through the streets helpless in weed of war
The warders went: nought worth the King was made,
When by each man the truth of all was weighed,
And all seemed wanting: help there was in none.

   Yet when ’mid these things nigh the day was done,
1350

And the foe came not, once more hope was born
Within men's hearts too wearied and outworn
To gather fresh fear; then the walls seemed good,
The great gates more than iron and oaken wood,
And with returning hope there came back shame;
1355

And they, bethinking them of their old name,
’Gan deem that spear to spear was no ill play,
What wrath of goddesses soever lay
Upon the city; and withal indeed,
There came fresh rumours to their honour's need,
1360

And they bethought them of the godlike one
Who in their midst so great a deed had done,
And who erewhile rode forth so carelessly
Their very terror with his eyes to see.
So at the sunset into ordered bands
1365

Once more the men were gathered; women's hands
Bore stones up to the ramparts that no more
That crowd of pale and anxious faces bore,
But helms and spear-heads; and the King came forth
Amidst his lords, and now of greater worth
1370

Than common folk he seemed once more to be.
And in some order, if still timorously
The Lycians waited through the night; the sky
Showed lesser tokens of the foe anigh,
So still hope grew. At dawn of day the King
1375

Bade folk unto Diana's image bring
Things precious and burnt-offerings; and the smoke
Curled o’er the bowed heads of the praying folk
There in the streets, and though nought came to pass
[655] To tell that well appeased the goddess was,
1380

And though they durst not strive to move her thence,
Yet did there fall on men a growing sense
That now the worst was over: and at noon,
Just as the King amid the trumpets’ tune
Went to his house, a messenger pierced through
1385

The wondering crowd, and toward Jobates drew,
Nor did him reverence, nor spake aught before
He gave unto the King the scroll he bore.
Then from his saddle heavily down-leapt,
Stiffened, as one who not for long has slept,
1390

While the King read the scroll; then those anigh
Amid the expectant silence heard him cry,
"Praise to the Gods, who are not angry long!
Hearken, all ye, how they have quenched our wrong.

   Good health and good-hap to the Lycian King
1395

And all his folk, and every wished-for thing
Wisheth hereby Bellerophon, and saith:
From out the valley of the shade of death
Late am I come again to make you glad,
Because no evil journey have we had.
1400

And now the land is cleansed of such a pest
As has not been before; be glad and rest,
And look to see us back in seven days’ space,
For yet awhile must we abide to chase
The remnant of the women that ye feared
.
1405

   Silence a moment followed that last word,
Then such a joyous shout, as good it is
That those can know not who still dwell in bliss;
Then turning here and there, with varied noise
The people through all places did rejoice,
1410

Till pleasure failed for weariness; but still
Did old and young, and men and women fill
The temples with their praises; till, when earth
Had fallen into twilight mid their mirth,
With prayers and hymns they brought the great-eyed, white,
1415

Slow-going oxen through the gathering night,
[656] And yoked them to Diana's car again;
Nor this time were they yoked thereto in vain,
Down went the horned heads, beam and axle-tree
Creaked as they drew, and folk cried out to see
1420

The wheels go round; heart opened unto heart
With unhoped joy, and hate was set apart,
Envy and malice waited for some day
More common, as the goddess took her way
Amid the torch-lit, flower-strewn, joyous street,
1425

Unto the house made ready for her feet.

   But mid the noise of great festivity
That filled the night, slept on Philonoë,
Amid that sea of love past hope and fear,
And woke at sunrise no more sound to hear
1430

Than singing of the birds in thick-leaved trees
Ere yet the sun might silence them; like these
Did she rejoice, nor strange to her it was
That all these things her love should bring to pass.
Rising, she said, "To-day thou workest this,
1435

And unto many givest life and bliss;
To-morrow comes: therewith perchance for me
A time when thou my faithful heart mayst see."
Then she alone her fair attire did on,
And mid the sleepers went her way alone
1440

Into the garden, and from flower to flower
Passed, making sweeter even that sweet hour;
And as by soft folds of her fluttering gown
Her body's fairness was both hid and shown,
E’en so in simpleness her soul indeed
1445

Lay, not drawn back, but veiled beneath the weed
Of earthly beauty that the Gods had lent
Till they through years should work out their intent.

   O’er the freed city passed the time away,
Until it drew unto the promised day
1450

Of their return who all that peace had won.
And now the loved name of Bellerophon
Rang ever in the maiden's ears; and she,
As in the middle of a dream, did see
The city made all ready for that hour,
1455

When in a fair-hung townward-looking bower,
[657] Pale now, amid her maidens she was set,
New pain of longing for her heart to get.

   Some dream there was of hurrying messengers
Bright with a glory that was nowise theirs,
1460

And strains of music bearing back again
The heart to vague years long since lived in vain;
Then still a moving dream—of robes of gold,
Armour unsullied by the bloody mold
That bought this peace; a dream of noble maid
1465

And longing youth in snowy robes arrayed;
Of tinkling harps and twinkling jewelled hands,
And gold-shod feet to meet the war-worn bands,
That few and weary, flower-crowned, made the dream
Less real amid the dainty people seem—
1470

A wild dream of strange weapons heaped on wains,
And rude wrought raiment vile with rents and stains,
And dream-like figures by the axle-trees—
—Women or beasts? and in the hands of these
Trumpets of wood, and conch-shells, and withal
1475

Clamour of blast and horrid rallying call,
And such a storm of strange discordant cries,
As stilled the townsfolk mid their braveries,
For therewith came the prisoners of the fight.

   A dreadful dream!—with blood-stained hair and white,
1480

Clad in most strange habiliment of war,
Sat an old woman on a brazen car;
White stared her eyes from a brown puckered face
Upon the longed-for dainties of that place,
But wrath and fear no more in them were left,
1485

For death seemed creeping on her; an axe-heft
Her chained hands held yet; and a monstrous crown,
Of heavy gold, ’twixt her thin feet and brown
Was laid as she had cast it off in fight,
When she was fain amidst her hurried flight
1490

To hide all signs of her fell royalty.
An unreal dream—about her seemed to be,
Figures of women, clad in warlike guise,
[658] In scales of brass, beasts’ skins, and cloths of dyes,
Uncouth and coarse, made vile with earth and blood.
1495

A dream of horror! nought that men deem good
Was seen in them, were they or young or old:
Great-limbed were some and mighty to behold,
With long black hair and beast-like brows, and low;
Bald-headed, old, and wizened did some go,
1500

Yet all adorned with gold; this, in rich gown
Of some slain woman, went with eyes cast down;
That yelling walked, with armour scantly clad,
And at her belt a Lycian's head yet had
Hung by the flaxen hair; this old and bent
1505

From bushy eyebrows grey, strange glances sent,
Grinning as from their limbs the people shrank;
But most the cup of pain and terror drank,
That they had given to drink so oft ere now
If any sign thereof their eyes might show,
1510

And whatso mercy they of men might have,
No hope for them their gross hearts now did save.

   A dreadful dream! Philonoë's slim hands
Shut from her eyes the sight of those strange bands;
Yet dreamlike must her heart behold them still,
1515

Amid new thoughts of God, and good and ill,
And her eyes filled with tears. But what was this
That smote her yearning heart with sudden bliss,
Yet left it yearning? her fair head she raised,
And with wide eyes down on the street she gazed,
1520

Yet cried not out; though all cry had been drowned
Amid those joyous shouts, as, laurel-crowned,
And sword in hand, and in his battered gear
On his black horse he came, and raised to her
Eyes that her heart knew. Nay, she moved not aught,
1525

Nor reached her arms abroad, as he was brought
Beneath her place, too soon to go away;
And open still her hands before her lay
As down the street passed on the joyous cries,
Nor were there any tears in her soft eyes;
1530

Only her lips moved softly, as she cast
One look upon the people going past,
Struggling and slow behind the last bright spears,
[659] Whose steady points had so thrust back their fears.

   But amid silence ’neath the eyes of men,
1535

Another time that day they met again;
And that was at the feast in the great hall,
For thither must the King's folk, one and all,
Women as men, give welcome unto him
Through whom they throve. Belike all things grew dim
1540

Before the hero's eyes but her alone,
Belike a strange light in the maid's eyes shone,
Made bright with pain; but yet hand met not hand,
Though each to each so close the twain must stand,
And though the hall was hushed to hear her say
1545

Words that she heeded not of that fair day.
But when her clear and tender speech had end,
And mouths of men a mighty shout did send
Betwixt the pillars, still her lips did move,
As though they two were lone, with words of love
1550

Unheard, but felt by him. So passed the day,
And other days and nights fell fast away;
But now when this great trouble had gone by,
And things again seemed no more now to lie
Within his mighty hands, she ’gan to fear
1555

Her father's wiles again; the days grew drear,
The nights too long, nor might she see his face,
Nor might they speak in any lonely place;
And hope at whiles waxed dim, and whiles she saw
The fate her heart so dreaded on them draw,
1560

While she must sit aside with folded hands,
While for her sake he shunned the peaceful lands.

   And all the while there must at last be borne
That darkest hour that brings about the morn.

 

 

NOW as the days passed, to his treasury
1565

Would the King go, King Prœtus’ gift to see,
And stand with knitted brows to gaze on it,
While many thoughts about his heart would flit.
And on a day he said, "Time yet there is
To slay the man who saved our life and bliss.
1570

Once did I cast him unto death, and he
Must win nought thence but utter victory;
And when the Gods helped me with ruin and fear
[660] Another time, yet that brought nowise near
The end this binds me to; yet once again
1575

Shall it be tried before I call it vain,
And strive no more, but bear the punishment
That on oath-breakers and weak fools is sent."

   Then gat he to the doom-hall of the town,
And midst his lords and wise men sat him down
1580

And judged the people; if at whiles to him
The clamour of the jarring folk waxed dim
Amid the thoughts of his own life that rose
Within him and about his heart did close,
Yet none the less a great King there he seemed;
1585

As of a god's his heart the people deemed.

   Now in good peace and joy the summer wore,
Nor did folk mind how it was told of yore
That in the days to come great dangers three,
Within the bounds of Lycia should there be;
1590

For fear of ill was grown an empty name.
Into fair autumn slipped the summer's flame
More fruitful than its wont, and barn and garth
Ran over with the good things of the earth.
Crowded the quays were, but no merchandise,
1595

No bale of fair-wrought cloth or odorous spice,
Bore pestilence within it at that tide;
In peace and health the folk dwelt far and wide.

   But when the way's dust easier now was seen
Upon the bordering grape-bunches, whose green
1600

Was passing slow through red to heavy black,
And the ploughed land all standing crop did lack,
Though yet the share the fallow troubled not;
Now, when the nights were cool, and noons still hot,
And in the windless woods the acorn fell,
1605

More tidings were there of that land to tell.

   For on a day as in the doom-hall sat
Jobates, and gave word on this and that,
A clamour by the outer door he heard
Of new-come folk, mixed with the answering word
1610

Of those his guards, who at the door did stand;
[661] So when his say was said, he gave command
To bring in one of those about the door;
Then was a country carle brought forth before
The ivory seat, and scared he seemed to be;
1615

And sodden was his face for misery,
As on the King he stared with open eyes.

   "What wilt thou?" said Jobates. "What thing lies
Upon thee that my power can take away?
For in mine house the Gods are good to-day."
1620

   Twice did the man's lips open as to speak,
But no sound came; the third time did outbreak
A husky, trembling sound from them, but nought
To tell the wondering folk what thing he sought.
Then said the King, "The man is mazed with fear;
1625

Go ye and bring him wine; we needs must hear
What new thing now has happed beneath the sun.
Take heart! for thou art safe!" So was it done:
The man raised up the bowl with trembling hand,
And drank, and then a while he yet did stand
1630

Silent amid the silence; then began
In a weak voice: "A poor and toiling man
I am indeed; therefore a little thing,
My woe may seem to thee; yet note, O King,
That the world changes; unimagined ill
1635

Is born therein, and shall grow greater still.
"In early summer I was well enow
Among such men as still have need to sow
Before they reap, to reap before they eat,
Nor did I think too much of any threat
1640

Time had for me; but therewith came the tide
When those fell women harried far and wide;
I saved myself, my wife, and little ones,
And with nought else lay on this city's stones
Until peace came; then went I to the west
1645

Where dwelt my brother in good peace and rest,
And there the four of us must eat our bread
From hands that grudged not mayhap, with small dread
And plenteous toil. A vineyard hath he there,
Whose blossoming in March was full and fair,
1650

And May's frost touched it not, and July's hail
[662] Against its bunches green might not prevail;
Up a fair hill it stretched; exceeding good
Its sunny south-turned slopes are; a thin wood
Of oak-trees crowns the hill indeed, wherein
1655

Do harbour beasts most fain a feast to win
At hands of us and Bacchus; but a wall
Well built of stones guardeth the garth from all
On three sides, and at bottom of the hill
A full stream runs, that dealeth with a mill,
1660

My brother's too, whose floury duskiness
Our hungry souls with many a hope did bless;
Within the mill-head there the perch feed fat,
And on the other side are meadows flat,
And fruitful; shorn now, and the rooting swine
1665

Beneath the hedge-row oak-trees grunt and whine,
And close within the long grass lies the quail,
While circling overhead the kite doth sail,
And long the partridge hath forgot the mowers.
A close of pot-herbs and of garland flowers
1670

Goes up the hill-side from the green-banked stream,
And a house built of clay and oaken beam
Stands at its upper end, whose hillward side
Is midst the vines, that half its beams do hide.—
—Nay, King, I wander not, I mind me well
1675

The tale from end to end I have to tell,
Have patience! "Fair that house was yesterday,
When lusty youth and slim light-handed may
Were gathered from the hamlets thereabout;
From the stream-side came laughing scream and shout,
1680

As up the bank the nets our maidens drew,
And o’er their bare feet washed with morning dew
Floundered the cold fish; for grape-gathering tide
It was that morn, and folk from far and wide
Came to our help, and we must feast them there,
1685

And give them all we had of good and fair.
"King, do I babble? thou for all thy crown
[663] And robes of gold hadst gladly sat thee down
At the long table ’neath the apple-trees-
And now—go find the bones of one of these,
1690

And be called wise henceforth! "The last guest came,
The last shout died away that hailed his name,
The ring of men about the homestead door
Began to move; the damsels hung no more
Over the fish-tubs, but their arms shook dry
1695

And shod their feet, and came up daintily
To mingle with the girls new-come thereto,
And take their baskets and the edge-tools due;
The good wife from the white well-scalded press
Brushed off the last wasp; while her mate did bless
1700

The Gods, and Bacchus chiefly, as he poured
Upon the threshold ancient wine long stored
Under the earth; and then broke forth the song
As to the vineyard gate we moved along.
"Hearken, O King! call me not mad, or say
1705

Some evil god-sent dream upon me lay;
Else could I tell thee thus how all things fell?—
Nay, speak not, or the end I may not tell.
"Yea, am I safe here? will he hear of it
And come to fetch me, even if I sit
1710

Deep underground, deep underneath the sea,
In places thou hast built for misery
Of those that hate thee; yet for safeguard now
Of me perchance? O King, abide not thou
Until my tale is done, but bid them go
1715

Strengthen thy strong gates—deem thy high walls low
While yet the sun they hide not!" At that word
He turned and listened as a man who heard
A doubtful noise afar, but still the King
Sat quiet midst his fear of some great thing,
1720

And spake not, lest he yet should lose the tale.

   Then said the man: "How much may now avail
Thy power and walls I know not, for I thought
Upon the wind a certain noise was brought—
But now I hear it not, and I will speak
1725

What said I?—From all mouths there did outbreak
A plaintive song made in the olden time,
[664] Long sung by men of the wine-bearing clime;
Not long it was, and ere the end was o’er
In midst the laden vine-rows did we pour,
1730

And fell to work as glad as if we played;
And merrier grew the laugh of man and maid
As the thin baskets filled upon that morn;
And how should fear or thought of death be born
In such a concourse! Now mid all this, I
1735

Unto the upper end had drawn anigh,
And somewhat lonely was I, when I heard
A noise that seemed the cry of such a bird
As is a corncrake; well, I listened not,
But worked away whereas was set my lot,
1740

Midst many thoughts; yet louder ’gan to grow
That noise, and not so like a bird seemed now
As a great spring of steel loosed suddenly.
I put my basket down, and turned to see
The other folk, nor did they heed the noise,
1745

And still amid their labour did rejoice;
But louder still it seemed, as there I stood
Trembling a while, then turned, and saw the wood
Like and unlike what I had known it erst;
And as I gazed the whole sky grew accurst
1750

As with a greenish vapour, and I turned
Wild eyes adown the hill to see what burned;
There did my fellows ’twixt the vine-rows pass
Still singing; smitten then I thought I was
By sudden sickness or strange coming death;
1755

But even therewith in drawing of a breath
A dreadful shriek rose from them, find mine eyes
Saw such a shape above the wall arise
As drove all manhood from me, and I fell
Grovelling adown; nor have I words to tell
1760

What thing it was I saw; only I know
That from my feet the firm earth seemed to go,
And like a dream showed that fair country-side,
And, grown a mockery, needs must still abide,
An unchanged picture ’gainst the life of fear
1765

[665] So fallen upon me. The sweet autumn air
With a faint sickening vapour now was filled,
And all sounds else but that sound were clean stilled,
Yea, even the voice of folk by death afeard,
That in the void that horror might be heard,
1770

And nought be heeded else. "Hearken, O King,
The while I try to tell thee of the thing
What like it was—well, lionlike, say I?
Yea, as to one who sees the teeth draw nigh
His own neck—like a horror of the wood,
1775

Goatlike, as unto him who in drear mood
Sees monsters of the night bemock his love,
And cannot hide his eyes or turn to move—
Or serpent-like, e’en as to such an one
A serpent is, who floating all alone
1780

In some untroubled sea all void and dim
Beholds the hoary-headed sea-worm swim,
Circling about him, ere he rise to strike—
Nay, rather, say the world hath not its like—
A changer of man's life, a swallowing dread,
1785

A curse made manifest in devil-head.

   "Long lay I there, meseems; no thought I had
Either of death, or yet of being made glad
In time to come, for all had turned to pain,
Nor might I think of aught to call a gain—
1790

Right wondrous is the life of man, O King!
So strong to bear so many a fearful thing,
So weak of will—See now, I live, who lay
How long I know not, on that wretched day,
As helpless as a dead man, but for this,
1795

That pain still grew with memory of what bliss
Passed life had been to me; until, God wot,
So was I helped, that memory now was not,
And all was blank. "Well, once more did I wake,
Empty at first, till stirred the sickening ache
1800

Of that great fear; then softly did I rise,
And gazed about the garth with half-dead eyes,
A heart whence everything but fear was gone."

   He stopped a while and hung his head adown,
As if remembering somewhat; then he drew
1805

[666] Nigher the King, and said: "This thing is true,
Though thou believe it not—that I was glad
Within the hour that yet my life I had,
Though this I saw—the garth made waste and bare,
Burnt as with fire, and for the homestead fair
1810

The last flames dying o’er an ash-heap grey—
Gone was the mill, the freed stream took its way
In unchecked shallows o’er a sandy bed.
"I knew not if my kin were slain or fled,
Yet was I glad awhile that nought was there
1815

But me alone, till sense and dread ’gan stir
Within my heart; then slowly I began
To move about, and saw no child of man—
Unless maybe those ash-heaps here and there
I durst not go anigh, my fellows were.
1820

Could I but flee away now! down I gat
Unto the stream, yet on the bank I sat
A long while yet, bewildered; till at last
I gathered heart, and through the stream ran fast,
And on and on, and cried, 'Are all men gone?
1825

Is there none left on earth but I alone,
And have I nought to tell my tale unto?
'

   "So did I run, until at last I knew
That among men I was, who, full of fear,
Were striving somewhat of the words to hear
1830

My heart spake, but my lips would utter not;
And food and drink from them perchance I got,
Perchance at last I told the story there;
I know not, but I know I felt the air
And seemed to move—they must have brought me then
1835

To thee, O King—but these are not the men,
These round about—there is no more to say.
Meseems I cannot sleep or go away,
Yet am I weary." Slowly came from him
The last words, and his eyes, all glazed and dim,
1840

Began to close; he tottered, and at last
Sank on the ground, and into deep sleep passed,
Nor might men rouse him; so they bore him thence,
Till death should reach him or returning sense.

   So next of those who brought him thereunto
1845

[667] Was question made what of those things they knew;
Who answered e’en as for their fear they might;
For some had seen a fire the late-past night,
And some the morn before a yellow smoke;
And one had heard the cries of burning folk;
1850

And one had seen a man stark naked fly
Adown the stream-side, and as he went by
Saw that he bled, and thought that on his flesh
Were dreadful marks, that were as done afresh
By branding irons. One, too, said he saw
1855

A dreadful serpent by the moonlight draw
His dry folds o’er the summer-parched way
Unto a pool that ’neath the hill-side lay.
And men there were who said that they had heard
The sound of lions roaring, and, afeard,
1860

Had watched all-armed, with barred doors, through the night.
Then as men's faces paled with sore affright,
Unto the doom-hall came more folk, and more,
And tales of such-like things they still told o’er,
Of fresh deaths and of burnings, and still nought
1865

They had to tell of what this fear had wrought.

   Now ye shall know that Prince Bellerophon
In a swift ship had sailed a while agone
’Gainst a Tyrrhenian water-thief, who then
Wrought great scathe on the peaceful merchantmen
1870

That sought those waters; so the King sent forth
Another captain that he held of worth,
And eighty men with him in company,
Well armed, the truth of all these things to see.

   At sunset from the town did they depart,
1875

And none among them seemed to lack good heart,
And wise they were in war; but ere the sun
Through all the hours of the next day had run,
One ancient brave man only of the band
Came back again, no weapon in his hand,
1880

No shield upon his neck—but carrying now
[668] His son's dead body on his saddle-bow,
A lad of eighteen winters, fair and strong;
But when men asked what thing had wrought that wrong,
Nought might he answer, but with bowed-down head
1885

Still sat beside the armed body dead,
As one who had no memory; but when folk
Searched the youth's body for the deadly stroke,
No wound at all might they find anywhere;
So still the old man sat with hopeless stare,
1890

And though he seemed right hale and sound of limb,
And ate and drank what things were brought to him,
Yet speechless did he live for three more days,
Then to the silent land he went his ways.

   Now a great terror on the city fell,
1895

Even as that whereof we had to tell
In the past summer; day by day there came
Folk fleeing to the gates, who thought no shame
To tell how dreams had scared them, or some sign
In earth, or sky, or milk, or bread, or wine,
1900

Or in some beast late given unto a god;
And on the beaten ways once more there trod
The feet of homeless folk; the country-side
Grew waste and bare of men-folk far and wide;
And whatso armèd men the King did send,
1905

But little space upon their way did wend
Ere they turned back in terror; nigher drew
The belt of desolation, yet none knew
What thing of ill it was that wrought this woe,
More than the man who first the tale did show.
1910

   Meanwhile men's eyes unto the sea were turned
Watching, until the Sea-hawk's image burned
Upon the prow Bellerophon that bore,
And his folk cast the hawser to the shore,
And long it seemed to them did he delay.
1915

Yet since all things have end, upon a day
The Sea-hawk's great sweeps beat the water green,
And her long pennon down the wind was seen,
As nigh the noontide toward the quays she passed,
With sound of horns and singing; on the mast
1920

[669] Hung the sea-robbers' fair shields, lip to lip,
And high above the clamour of the ship,
Out from the topmast, a great pennoned spear
The terror of the seas aloft did bear,
The head of him who made the chapmen quake.
1925

   New hope did that triumphant music wake
Within men's hearts, as now with joyous shout
The bay-crowned shipmen shot the gangway out
Unto the shore, and once more as a god
The wise Bellerophon among them trod,
1930

As to the Father's house he took his way,
The tenth of all the spoil therein to lay.
But when he came into the greatest square
Where was the temple, a great throng was there,
And on the high steps of the doom-hall's door,
1935

A clear-voiced, gold-clad herald stood, before
A row of spears; and now he cried aloud,
Over the raised heads of the listening crowd:

   "Hearken, O Lycians! King Jobates saith;
Upon us lies the shadow of a death
1940

I may not deal with; old now am I grown,
And at the best am but one man alone;
But since such men there are, as yet may hope
With this vague unseen death of man to cope,
He whereby such a happy end is wrought
1945

Shall nowise labour utterly for nought
As at my hands; lest to the gods we seem
To hold too fast to wealth, lest all men deem
We are base-born and vile: so know hereby
,
That to the man who ends this woe will I
1950

Give my fair daughter named Philonoë,
And this land's rule and wealth to share with me.
And if it be so that he may not take
The maiden, let him give her for my sake
To whom he will; or if that may not be,
1955

A noble ransom shall he have of me
And be content.—May the gods save us yet,
And in fair peace these fears may we forget!
"

   He ended, and the folk about the place,
Seeing the shipmen come, on these did gaze,
1960

[670] And in their eyes were mingled hope and doubt;
But at the last the shadow of a shout
They raised for Prince Bellerophon; and he
Stood at the door one moment silently,
And wondered; for he knew nought of the things
1965

That there had fallen while the robber-kings
He chased o’er ridge and furrow of the sea;
Because folk deemed ill-omened it would be
To tell thereof ere all things due were paid
Unto the Father, and the fair tenth laid
1970

Before his altar. Yet he could not fail
To see that in some wise the folk must ail;
Such haggard eyes, such feverish faces were
About him; yea, the clamour and the cheer
That greeted him were eager with the pain
1975

Of men who needs must hope yet once again
Before they fall into the jaws of death.

   So as the herald spake, he held his breath,
His heart beat fast, and in his eyes there burned
The light of coming triumph, as he turned
1980

Unto a street that led from out the place,
And up the steep way saw the changeless grace
Of the King's palace, and the sun thereon,
That calmly o’er its walls of marble shone,
For all the feverish fears of men who die:
1985

One moment thus he stood, and smiled, then high
Lifted his sword, and led the spear-wood through
The temple-door and toward the altar drew.

 

BUT when all rites to Jove were duly done,
Unto the King went up Bellerophon,
1990

To tell him of his fare upon the sea;
So in the chamber named of porphyry
He found Jobates pacing to and fro,
As on the day when first he bade him go
And win the Solymi. "O King," he said,
1995

"All hail to thee! the water-thief is dead,
His keel makes sport for children of the sea."

   "And I, Bellerophon, have news for thee,
[671] And see thou to it! The gods love so well
The fair wide world, that fear and death and hell
2000

In this small land will they shut up for aye.
And thou—when thou hadst luck to get away,
Why must thou needs come back here, to abide
In very hell? I say the world is wide,
And thou art young; far better had it been,
2005

When o’er the sea-thief's bulwarks first were seen
Men's wrathful eyes, the war-shout to have stayed;
Then might ye twain, strong in each other's aid,
Have won some fair town and good peace therein:
For here with us stout heart but death shall win."
2010

   Now on a table nigh the King's right hand
Bellerophon beheld a casket stand
That well he knew; thereby a letter lay,
Whose face he had not seen before that day,
And as he noted it a half-smile came
2015

Across his face, for a look like to shame
Was in the King's eyes as they met his own.

   Cheerly he spake: "O King, I have been thrown
Into thine hands, and with this city fair
Both weal and woe have I good will to share.
2020

Young am I certes, yet have ever heard
That whether men live careless or afeard
Death reaches them; of endless heaven and hell
Strange stories oft have I heard people tell;
Yet knew I no man yet that knows the road
2025

Which leadeth either to the blest abode
Or to the land of pain. Not overmuch
I fear or hope the gates of these to touch—
Unless we twain be such men verily
As on the earth make heaven and hell to be;
2030

And if these countries are upon the earth,
Then death shall end the land of heaven and mirth,
And death shall end the land of hell and pain.
Yea, and say all these tales be not in vain,
Within mine hand do I hold hope—within
2035

This gold-wrought scabbard—such a life to win
As will not let hope fall off utterly,
Until such time is come that I must die
[672] And no more need it. But the time goes fast;
Into mine ears a tale the townsmen cast
2040

With eager words, almost before my feet
The common earth without Jove's fane could meet;
I heard thy herald too say mighty things—
How sayest thou about the oaths of kings?"

   The King's eyes glistened: "O Corinthian,"
2045

He said, "if there be such a twice-cursed man
As rules the foolish folk and punisheth,
And yet must breathe out lies with every breath,
Let him be thrice cursed, let the Gods make nought
Of all his prayers when he in need is caught!"
2050

"What sayest thou," then said Bellerophon,
"If a man sweareth first to such an one,
And then to such another, and the twain
Cannot be kept, but one still maketh vain
The other?" Then the King cast down his eyes:
2055

"What sayest thou, my son? What mysteries
Lie in these words of thine? Go forth and break
This chain of ours, and then return to take
Thy due reward—oft meseems so it is
That these our woes are forged to make thy bliss."
2060

   Then laughed Bellerophon aloud, and said,
"The Gods are kind to mortals, by my head!
But so much do they love me certainly
That more than once I shall not have to die;
And I myself do love myself so well
2065

That each night still a pleasant tale shall tell
Of the bright morn to come to me. But thou,
Think of thy first vow and thy second vow!
For so it is that I may come again
Despite of all: and what wilt thou do then?
2070

Ponder meanwhile if from ill deeds can come
Good hap to bless thee and thy kingly home!"

   And even with that last word was he gone,
And the King, left bewildered and alone,
Sat down, and strove to think, and said at last:
2075

"Good were it if the next three months were passed;
[673] I should be merrier, nigher though I were
Unto that end of all that all men fear."

   Then sent he for his captain of the guard,
And said to him, "Now must thou e’en keep ward
2080

Closer than heretofore upon the gates,
Because we know not now what thing awaits
The city, and Bellerophon will go
The truth of all these wondrous things to know:
So let none pass unquestioned; nay, bring here
2085

Whatever man bears tales of woe or fear
Into the city; fain would I know all—
Nay, speak, what thinkest thou is like to fall?"

   "Belike," the man said, "he will come again,
And with my ancient master o’er us reign;
2090

E’en as I came in did he pass me by,
And nowise seemed he one about to die."

   "Nay," said the King, "thou speak’st but of a man;
Shall he prevail o’er what made corpses wan
Of many a stout war-hardened company?"
2095

   "Methinks, O King, that such might even be,"
The captain said; "he is not of our blood;
He goes to meet the beast in other mood
Than has been seen among us, nor know I
Whether to name him mere man that shall die,
2100

Or half a god; for death he feareth not,
Yet in his heart desire of life is hot;
Life he scorns not, yet will his laughter rise
At hearkening to our timorous miseries,
And all the self-wrought woes of restless men."
2105

   "Ah," said the King, "belike thou lov’st him then?"

   "Nay, for I fear him, King," the captain said,
"And easier should I live if he were dead;
Besides, it seems to me our woes began
When down our streets first passed this godlike man,
2110

And all our fears are puppets unto him;
That he may brighter show by our being dim,
The Gods have wrought them as it seems to me."

   "What wouldst thou do then that the man might be
A glorious memory to the Lycian folk,
2115

A god who from their shoulders raised a yoke
[674] Dreadful to bear; then, as he came, so went,
When he had fully wrought out his intent?"

   "Nay, King, what say’st thou? Hast thou then forgot
Whereto he goes this eve? Nay, hear’st thou not
2120

His horse-hooves’ ring e’en now upon the street?
Look out! look out! thine eyes his eyes shall meet,
And see the sun upon his armour bright!
Yet the gold sunset brings about the night,
And the red dawn is quenched in dull grey rain."
2125

   Then swiftly did the King a window gain,
And down below beheld Bellerophon,
And certes round about his head there shone
A glory from the west. Then the King cried:
"O great Corinthian, happy mayst thou ride,
2130

And bring us back our peace!" The hero turned,
And through his gold hair still the sunset burned,
But half his shaded face was grey. He stayed
His eager horse, and round his mouth there played
A strange smile as he gazed up at the King,
2135

And his bright hauberk tinkled ring by ring.
But as the King shrank back before his gaze,
With his left hand his great sword did he raise
A little way, then back into the sheath
He dropped it clattering, and cried: "Life or death,
2140

But never death in life for me, O King!"
Therewith he turned once more; with sooty wing
The shrill swifts down the street before him swept,
And from a doorway a tired wanderer leapt
Up to his feet, with wondering look to gaze
2145

Upon that golden hope of better days.

   Then back the King turned; silent for awhile
He sat beneath his captain's curious smile,
Thinking o’er all the years gone by in vain.
At last he said: "Yea, certes, I were fain
2150

If I my life and honour so might save
That he not half alone, but all should have."

   "Yea," said the captain, "good the game were then,
For thou shouldst be the least of outcast men;
So talk no more of honour; what say I,—
2155

Thou shouldst be slain in short time certainly,
[675] Who hast been nigh a god before to-day!
Be merry, for much lieth in the way
’Twixt him and life: and, to unsay the word
I said before, be not too much afeard
2160

That he will come again. The Gods belike
Have no great will such things as us to strike,
But will grow weary of afflicting us;
Because with bowed heads, and eyes piteous,
We take their strokes. When thou sitt’st down to hear
2165

A minstrel's tale, with nothing great or dear
Wouldst thou reward him, if he thought it well
Of wretched folk and mean a tale to tell;
But when the godlike man is midst the swords
He cannot ’scape; or when the bitter words,
2170

That chide the Gods who made the world and life,
Fall from the wise man worsted in the strife;
Or when some fairest one whose fervent love
Seems strong the world from out its curse to move,
Sits with cold breast and empty hands before
2175

The hollow dreams that play about death's door—
When these things pierce thine ears, how art thou moved!
Though in such wise thou lov’st not nor art loved,
Though with weak heart thou lettest day wear day
As bough rubs bough; though on thy feeble way
2180

Thou hast no eye to see what things are great,
What things are small, that by the hand of fate
Are laid before thee. Shall we marvel then,
If the Gods, like in other things to men,
(For so we deem them) think no scorn to sit
2185

To see the play, and weep and laugh at it,
And will not have poor hearts and bodies vile
With unmelodious sorrow to beguile
The long long days of heaven—but these, in peace,
Trouble or joy, or waxing, or decrease,
2190

Shall have no heed from them—ah, well am I
To be amongst them! never will I cry
Unto the Gods to set me high aloft;
For earth beneath my feet is sweet and soft,
And, falling, scarce I fall. "Behold, O King,
2195

Beasts weep not ever, and a short-lived thing
[676] Their fear is, and their generations go
Untold-of past; and I who dwell alow,
Somewhat with them I feel, and deem nought ill
That my few days with more of joy may fill;
2200

Therefore swift rede I take with all things here,
And short, if sharp, is all my woe and fear.
"Now happier were I if Bellerophon,
This god on earth, from out our land were gone,
And well I hope he will not soon return
2205

Who knows? but if for some cause thou dost yearn
For quiet life without him, such am I
As, risking great things for great things, would try
To deal with him, if back again he comes
To make a new world of our peaceful homes.
2210

Yet, King, it might well be that I should ask
Some earthly joy to pay me for the task;
And if Bellerophon returns again
And lives, with thee he presently will reign,
And soon alone in thy place will he sit;
2215

Yea, even, and if he hath no will for it.
His share I ask then, yet am not so bold
As yet to hope within mine arms to fold
Philonoë thy daughter, any more
Than her, who on the green Sicilian shore
2220

Plucked flowers, and dreamed no whit of such a mate
As holds the keys of life, and death, and fate—
—Though that indeed I may ask, as in time,
The royal bed's air seem no outland clime
To me, whose sire, a rugged mountaineer,
2225

Knew what the winter meant, and pinching cheer."

   Into the twinkling crafty eyes of him
The King looked long, until his own waxed dim
For thinking, and unto himself he said:
"To such as fear is trouble ever dead,
2230

How oft soe’er the troublous man we slay?"

   At last he spake aloud: "Quick fails the day;
These things are ill to speak of in the night;
[677] Now let me rest, but with to-morrow's light
Come thou to me, and take my word for all."
2235

   The mask of reverence he had erst let fall
The Captain brought again across his face,
And smiling left the lone King in his place.
Who when all day had gone, sat hearkening how
Without, his gathering serving-men spake low,
2240

And through the door-chinks saw the tapers gleam.

   But now while thus they talked, and yet the stream
Of golden sunsetting lit up the world,
Ere yet the swift her long dusk wings had furled
In the grey cranny, fair Philonoë went
2245

Amid her maids with face to earth down-bent
Across the palace-yard, oppressed with thought
Of what those latter days to her had brought;
Daring, unlike a maid's sweet tranquil mind,
And hushed surprise, so strange a world to find
2250

Within her and around her: life once dear,
Despised yet clung to; fear and scorn of fear;
A pain she might not strive to cast away,
Lest in the heart of it all life's joy lay;
Joy now and ever. Toward the door she came
2255

Of the great hall; the sunset burned like flame
Behind her back, and going ponderingly
She noted her grey shadow slim to see
Rise up and darken the bright marble wall;
Then slower on the grass her feet did fall
2260

Till scarce she moved; then from within she heard
A voice well loved cry out some hurried word.
She raised her face, and in the door she seemed
To see a star new fallen, therefrom there gleamed
Such splendour, but although her dazzled eyes
2265

Saw nought, her heart, fulfilled of glad surprise,
Knew that his face was nigh ere she beheld
The noble brow as wise as grief-taught eld,
As fair as a god's early unstained youth.

   A little while they stood thus, with new ruth
2270

Gathering in either's heart for the other's pain,
And fear of days yet to be passed in vain,
And wonder at the death they knew so nigh
[678] And disbelief in parting, should they die,
And joy that still they stood together thus.
2275

Then, in a voice that love made piteous
Through common words and few, she spake and said:

   "What dost thou, Prince, with helmet on thine head
And sword girt to thee, this fair autumn eve?
Is it not yet a day too soon to leave
2280

The place thou tamest to this very noon?"
He said, "No Lycian man can have too soon
His armour on his back in this our need,
Yea, steel perchance shall come to be meet weed
For such as thou art, lady. Who knows whence
2285

We next may hear tales of this pestilence?
Fair is this house: yet maybe, or today
The autumn evening wind has borne away
From its smooth chambers sound of woe and tears,
And shall do yet again. Death slayeth fears,
2290

Now I go seek if Death too slayeth love."

   A little toward him did one slim hand move,
Then fell again mid folds of her fair gown;
She spake: "Farewell, a great man art thou grown;
Thou know’st not fear or lies; so fare thou forth:
2295

If the Gods keep not what is most of worth
Here in the world, its memory bides behind;
And we perchance in other days may find
The end of hollow dreams we once have dreamed,
Waking from which such hopeless anguish seemed."
2300

   Pale was her face when these words were begun,
But she flushed red or ere the end was done
With more than sunset. But he spake and said:
"Farewell, farewell, God grant thee hardihead,
And growing pleasure on from day to day!"
2305

   Then toward the open gate he took his way,
Nor looked aback, nor yet long did she turn
Her eyes on him, though sore her heart did yearn
To have some little earthly bliss of love
[679] Before the end. But right and left did move
2310

Her damsels as he passed them, e’en as trees
Move one by one when the light fickle breeze
Touches their tops in going toward the sea;
And their eyes turned upon him wonderingly
That such a man could live, such deeds be done;
2315

But now his steed's hooves smote upon the stone,
He swung into his saddle, and once more
Cast round a swift glance at the great hall door
And saw her not; alone she stood within,
Striving to think what hope of things to win
2320

Had left her life; her maidens' prattling speech
Within the porch her wildered ears did reach,
But not the hard hooves' clatter as he rode
Along the white wall of that fair abode,
Nor yet the shout that he cast back again
2325

Unto the King; dark grew each window-pane,
She seemed to think her maids were talking there,
She doubted that some answer came from her;
She knew she moved thence, that a glare of light
Smote on her eyes, that old things came in sight
2330

She knew full well; that on her bed she lay,
And through long hours was waiting for the day;
But knew not what she thought of; life seemed gone,
And she had fought with Gods, and they had won.

 

NEXT morn, the captain, as it was to be,
2335

Held speech with King Jobates privily.
And when he came from out the royal place
A smile of triumph was there on his face,
As though the game were won; but as he went
Unto the great gate on his luck intent,
2340

A woeful sound there smote upon his ear,
And crossed his happy mood with sudden fear;
For now five women went adown the street,
That e’en the curious townsmen durst not meet,
Though they turned round to look with wild scared eyes,
2345

And listened trembling to those doleful cries;
Because for Pallas’ sacred maids they knew
[680] Those wild-eyed wailing ones that closer drew
Scant rags about them, as with feet that bled
And failing limbs they tottered blind with dread,
2350

Past house and hall. Now such-like had been these,
And guarded as the precious images
That hold a city's safety in their hands,
And dainty things from many distant lands
Were gathered round them in the house that stood,
2355

Fair above all, within the hallowed wood,
Ten leagues from out the city; wondrous lore,
Folk deemed, within that house they pondered o’er,
And had been goddesses, but that they too
The hope of death if not its terror knew.
2360

   White grew the captain's face these folk to see,
Yet midst his fear he muttered: "Well be ye,
O Gods, who have no care to guard your own!
Perchance ye too weary of good are grown;
Look then on me, I shall not weary you—
2365

I who once longed great things and high to do
If ye would have it so;—come, bless me then,
Since ye are grown aweary of good men!"
So to his folk he turned, and bade them take
The holy women for the goddess’ sake,
2370

And give them into some kind matron's care.
So did they, and when bathed and clad they were,
He strove in vain to know their tale; for they
Had clean forgot all things before that day,
And only knew that they by some great curse
2375

Had late been smitten, and mid fear of worse
Were leaving life behind. So when he knew
That with these woful women he might do
Nought else, because their hearts were dead before
Their bodies, midst the fear and tumult sore
2380

He went unto the gate, and waited there
If he perchance some other news might hear;
But nought befell that day to tell about,
And tidingless night came, and dark died out.

   But just before the rising of the sun
2385

The gate was smitten on, and there sat one
On a grey horse, and in bright armour clad.
[681] Young was he, and strong built; his face seemed glad
Amidst of weariness, and though he seemed
Even as one who of past marvels dreamed.
2390

Now turned the captain to him hastily,
And said: "Fair fellow, needs thou must with me,
Nor speak thou good or bad before the King
Has heard thee;" therewith, scarcely wondering,
He rode beside the captain, and the twain
2395

In no long time the palace gate did gain,
Which opened at a word the captain spake,
And past the warders standing half awake
They came unto the King: sleeping he lay,
While o’er his gold bed crept the daylight grey;
2400

But softly thereunto the captain went,
And to his sleeping head his own down bent
And whispered; then as one who has just heard
Right in his ears the whisper of death's word,
He started up with eyes that, open wide,
2405

Still saw not what the strange new light might hide;
Upright he sat, and panting for a while,
Till heeding at the last the captain's smile,
And low and humble words, he smiled and said:
"Well be ye! for I dreamed that I was dead
2410

Before ye came, and waking thought that I
Was dead indeed, and that such things were nigh
As willingly men name not. What wouldst thou?
What new thing must the Lycians suffer now?"

   "King," said the captain, "here I have with me
2415

A man-at-arms who joyful seems to be;
Therefore I deem somewhat has come to pass,
Since for these many days no face here has
Made e’en a show of gladness, or of more
Than thinking good it were if all were o’er,—
2420

The slow tormenting hope—the heavy fear.
Speak thou, good friend! the King is fain to hear
The tale thou hast to tell." Then spake the man:
"Good hap to me, indeed, that thus I can
Make glad the Lycian folk, and thee, O King!
2425

But nowise have I wrought the happy thing,
But some immortal as meseems. "Now I
[682] With other two made up my mind to try
The chance of death or glorious life herein,
In good hope either rest from fear to win
2430

Or many days of pleasure; so I armed
In this my father's gear, that had been charmed
Years long agone by spells, well worn I doubt
To nothing now, if one might clean tell out
The truth of all; then in Diana's fane
2435

Anigh our house I met the other twain,
And forth we went at dawn, two days ago.
Not hard it was our rightful road to know,
For hour by hour of dreadful deaths we heard,
And still met fleeing folk, so sore afeard
2440

That they must scowl upon us questioning.
And so at last we deemed the dreadful thing,
What death soever he dealt otherwhere
From time to time, must have his chiefest lair
Within Minerva's consecrated lands,
2445

That stretch from where her mighty temple stands
Midst its wild olive-groves, until they meet
The rugged mountain's bare unwooded feet.
Thither we turned, and at the end of day
We reached the temple, and with no delay
2450

Sought out the priests and told them of our rede.
"They answered us that heavy was their need,
That day by day they dreaded death would come
And take them from the midst of that fair home,
And shortly, that when midnight was passed o’er,
2455

Their lives in that house they would risk no more,
But get them gone. 'All things are done,' said they,
'The sacred maids, who have not seen the day,
But in these precincts, count the minutes now
Until the midnight moon the way shall show;
2460

Ten horse-loads of the precious things we have,
That somewhat of our past lives we may save
To bring us o’er the sea. So sorry cheer,
Fair sons, of meat or lodging get ye here,
For all is bare and blank as some hill-side;
2465

Nor, if ye love your lives, will ye abide
Another minute here: for us, indeed,
[683] One answer more from Pallas do we need;
And, that being got at, nothing stays us then.'

   "Worn were the faces of these holy men,
2470

And their eyes wandered even as they spake,
And scarcely did they move as men awake
About that place, whose mighty walls of stone
Seemed waiting for the time when all was gone,
Except the presence of the Dreadful Maid,
2475

Careless of who was glad and who afraid.

   "Shortly we answered; we would bide and see
What thing within the precinct there might be
Until the morn, and if we lived till then,
Further afield would seek this death of men.
2480

They heard us wondering, or with scorn, but gave
Such cheer to us as yet they chanced to have;
And we, being weary, fell asleep withal
Within a chamber nigh the northern wall
Of the great temple. Such a dream I had,
2485

As that I thought fair folk, in order glad,
Sang songs throughout a place I knew to be
A town whereof had tales been told to me
When I was but a youngling: years agone
Had I forgot it all, and now alone
2490

The nameless place had come to me.—O King,
I dreamed, I say, I heard much people sing
In happy wise; but even therewithal
Amidst my dream a great voice did there call,
But in a tongue I knew not; and each face
2495

Was changed to utter horror in that place;
And yet the song rose higher, until all tune
Was strangled in it, and to shrill shrieks soon
It changed, and I sat upright in my bed,
Waked in an instant, open-mouthed with dread.
2500

I know not why—though all about I heard
Shrill screams indeed, as though of folk afeard,
Mixed with a roar like white flame that doth break
From out a furnace-mouth: the earth did shake
Beneath my bed, and when my eyes I turned
2505

Without the window, such a light there burned
As would have made the noon-tide sunshine grey.
[684] There on the floor one of my fellows lay,
Half-armed and groaning like a wounded man;
And circling round about the other ran,
2510

With foaming lips as one driven mad with fear.
"Then I, who knew not what thing drew anear,
And scarce could think amid my dread, sat still
Trembling a little space of time, until
To me from out the jaws of death was born,
2515

Without a hope it seemed, a sudden scorn
Of death and fear; for all the worst I knew,
And many a thing seemed false that had been true,
And many a thing now seemed of little worth
That once had made the mean and sordid earth
2520

All glorious. "So with fixed and steady face
I armed myself; and turned to leave the place,
And passed from out it into the great hall
Of the very temple, where from wall to wall
There rolled a cloud of white and sulphurous smoke;
2525

And there the remnant of the temple folk,
That had not heart enow to flee away,
Like dying folk upon the pavement lay,
And some seemed dead indeed. High o’er that gear
Stood golden Pallas, with her burnished spear
2530

Glittering from out the smoke-cloud in that light,
That made strange day and ghastly of the night;
And her unmoved calm face that knew no smile
Cast no look down, as though she deemed too vile
The writhing tortured limbs, the sickening sound
2535

Of dying groans of those that lay around,
Or to the pillars clung in agonies
Past telling of; but now I turned mine eyes,
Grown used to death within a little space,
Unto the other end of that fair place,
2540

Where black the wood of polished pillars showed
Against the dreadful light, that throbbed and glowed,
Changing, and changing back to what it was.
So, through their rows did I begin to pass,
And heavier grew the smoke-cloud as I went;
2545

But I, upon the face of death intent,
And what should come thereafter, made no stay
[685] Until two fathom of white pavement lay
Betwixt me and the grass: the lit-up trees
Sparkled like quick-fire in the light night breeze,
2550

And turned the sky black, and their stems between
The black depths of the inner wood were seen;
Like liquid flame a brook leapt out from them,
And, turning, ran along the forest hem:
’Twixt that and me —How shall I tell thereof,
2555

And hope to ’scape hard word and bitter scoff?

   "Let me say first that, changing horribly
That noise went on and seemed a part of me,
E’en as the light; unless by death I won
Quiet again; earth's peace seemed long years gone,
2560

And all its hopes poor toys of little worth.
Therefore I turned not, nor fell down to earth,
And still within my hand I held my sword,
And saw it all as I see thee, fair lord.

   "And this I saw: a mass, from whence there came
2565

That fearful light, as from a heart of flame;
But black amid its radiance was that mass,
And black and claw-like things therefrom did pass,
Lengthening and shortening, and grey flocks of hair
Seemed moving on it with some inward air
2570

The light bore with it; but in front of me
An upreared changing dark bulk did I see,
That my heart told me was the monster's head,
The seat of all the will that wrought our dread;
And midst thereof two orbs of red flame shone
2575

When first I came, and then again were gone,
Then came again, like lights on a dark sea
As the thing turned. And now it seemed to me,
Moreover, that, despite the dreadful sound
That filled my very heart and shook the ground,
2580

Mute was the horror's head, as the great shade
That sometimes, as in deep sleep we are laid
Seems ready to roll over us, and crush
Our souls to nought amidst its shadowy hush:
Nor might I know how that dread noise was wrought.
2585

   "But, when unto the place I first was brought
Where now I stayed, and stared, I knew not well
[686] If the thing moved; but deemed that I might tell
Ten fathoms o’er betwixt us, and midway
’Twixt me and it a temple-priest there lay,
2590

Face foremost, armed, and in his hand a spear;
And as with fixed eyes I stood moveless there,
Striving to think how I should meet the thing,
Amidst that noise I heard his armour ring
As smitten by some stroke; and then I saw
2595

Unto that hideous bulk the body draw,
And yet saw not what drew it; till at last
Into the huge dark mass it slowly passed.
Nor did the monster change; unless, methought
A little nigher thereto I was brought
2600

And still my eyes were fixed on it; with hand
Upon my drawn-back sword I still did stand,
Mid thoughts of folk who meet dread things alone
In dreadful lands, and slowly turn to stone.
So stood I: quicker grew my fevered breath,
2605

Long, long, the time seemed betwixt life and death,
And I began to waver therewithal,
And at the last I opened lips to call
Aloud, and made no sound; then fell my brand
Clanging adown from out my feeble hand,
2610

And rest seemed sweet again; one step I made
Aback, to gain a huge pier's deep black shade,
Then at my fallen sword in vain I stared,
And could not stoop to it— "And then there blared
A new sound forth, I deemed a trumpet-blast,
2615

And o’er mine eyes a dull thick veil seemed cast,
And my knees bent beneath me, and I fell
A dead heap to the earth, with death and hell
Once more a pain, and terrible once more,
Teaching me dreadful things of hidden lore,
2620

Showing strange pictures to my soul forlorn
That cursed the wretched day when I was born.

   "There lay I, as it seemed, a weary tide,
Nor knew I if I lived yet, or had died,
E’en as the other folk, of utter fear,
2625

[687] When in mine ears a new voice did I hear,
Nor knew at first what words it said to me;
Till my eyes opened, and I seemed to see,
Grown grey and soft, the marble pillars there,
And ’twixt their shafts afar the woodland fair,
2630

As if through clear green water; then I heard
Close by my very head a kindly word:
'Be of good cheer! the earth is earth again,
And thou hadst heart enow to face the bane
Of Lycia, though the Gods would not that thou
2635

Shouldst slay him utterly: but rise up now
If so thou mayst, and help me, for I bleed,
And of some leech-craft have I speedy need,
Though no life-blood it is that flows from me.'

   "Then clearer grew mine eyes, and I could see
2640

An armed man standing over me, and I
Rose up therewith and stood unsteadily,
And gazed around, and saw that the fell light
Had vanished utterly; fast waned the night
And a cold wind blew, as the young dawn strove
2645

With the low moon and the faint stars above,
And all was quiet. But that new-come man,
Standing beside me in the twilight wan,
Seemed like a god, come down to make again
Another earth all free from death and pain.
2650

Tall was he, fair he seemed unto me then
Beyond the beauty of the sons of men:
But as our eyes met, and mine, shamed and weak,
Dropped before his, once more he ’gan to speak:

   "'Be not ashamed,' he said, 'but look around,
2655

And thou shalt see thy fear lie on the ground,
No more divine or dreadful.' "Then I saw
A tangled mass of hair, and scale, and claw,
Lie wallowing on the grey down-trodden grass;
Huge was it certes, but nought like the mass
2660

Of horror mid the light my fear still told
My shuddering heart of, nor could I behold
Clearly the monster's shape in that dim light;
Yet gladly did I turn me from the sight
Unto my fellow, and I said: "'Hast thou
2665

[688] Some other shape unto mine eyes to show?
And is this part of the grim mockery
Whereto the Gods have driven me forth to die?
Or art thou such a dream as meets the dead
When first they die?' "I am a man,' he said,
2670

'E’en as thou art; thou livest, if I live;
And some god unto me such strength did give,
That this my father's father's sword hath wrought
Deliverance for the Lycians, and made nought
This divine dread—but let us come again
2675

When day is grown; and I have eased the pain
Of burning thirst that chokes me, and thine hands
Have swathed my hurts here with fair linen bands,
For somewhat faint I grow.' "So then we passed
Betwixt the pillars till we reached at last
2680

The chamber where I erst had slept, and there
We drank, and then his hurts with water fair
I bathed, and swathed them; and by then the day
Showed how my fellows on the pavement lay
Dead, yet without a wound it seemed; and when
2685

Into the pillared hall we came again,
From one unto the other did we go
That lay about the place, and even so
It was with them; then the new-corner sighed
And said: 'Belike it was of fear they died,
2690

Yet wish them not alive again, for they
Had found death fearful on another day;
But gladly had I never seen this sight,
For I shall think thereof at whiles by night,
And wonder if all life is worth such woe—
2695

But now unto the quarry let us go.'

   "So forth we went, but when we came whereas
The beast lay, slantwise o’er the wind-swept grass
Shone the low sun on what was left of him,
For all about the trodden earth did swim
2700

In horrible corruption of black blood,
And in the midst thereof his carcase stood,
E’en like a keel beat down and castaway
At dead ebb high up in a sandy bay.
But when I gathered heart close up to go
2705

[689] And touch that master of all horror, lo,
How had he changed! for nothing now was there
But skin, beset with scale and dreadful hair
Drawn tight about the bones: flesh, muscle strong,
And all that helped the life of that great wrong,
2710

Had ebbed away with life; his head, deep cleft
By the fair hero's sword-edge, yet had left
Three teeth like spears within it; on the ground
The rest had fallen, and now lay around
Half hidden in the marsh his blood had made;
2715

Hollow his sides did sound when, still afraid
Of what he had been, with my clenched hand
I smote him. So a minute did we stand
Wondering, until my fellow said to me:

   "In the past night didst thou do valiantly,
2720

So smite the head from off him, and then go
This finished work unto the King to show,
And tell him by that token that I come,
Who heretofore have had no quiet home
Either in Corinth or the Argive land.
2725

Here till to-morrow bide I, to withstand
What new thing yet may come; for strange to me
Are all these things, nor know I if I be
Waking or sleeping yet, although methinks
My soul some foretaste of a great bliss drinks.
2730

So get thee to the work, and then go forth;
These coming days in sooth will show the worth
Of what my hand hath wrought!' "Weary he seemed
And spake, indeed, well-nigh as one who dreamed;
But yet his word I durst not disobey;
2735

With no great pain I smote the head away
From off the trunk, and humbly bade farewell
Unto my godlike saviour from deep hell;
I gat my horse, and to the saddle bound
The monster's head, whose long mane swept the ground,
2740

Whose weight e’en now was no light pack-horse load,
And so with merry heart went on my road,
And made on toward the city, where I thought
A little after nightfall to be brought;
But so it was, that ere I had gone through
2745

[690] The wasted country and now well-nigh drew
Unto the lands where people yet did dwell,
So dull a humour on my spirit fell,
That at the last I might not go nor stand;
So, holding still the reins in my right hand,
2750

I laid me down upon the sunburnt grass
Of the road-side, and just high noon it was.
"But moonrise was it when I woke again;
My horse grazed close beside with dangling rein;
But when I called him, and he turned to me,
2755

No burden on his back I now might see,
And wondered; for right firmly had I bound
The thing unto him; then I searched around
Lest he perchance had rolled, and in such wise
Had rid him of that weight; and as mine eyes
2760

Grew used to the grey moonlight, I could trace
A line of greyish ashes, as from place
To greener place, the wandering beast had fed;
But nothing more I saw of that grim head.
Then much I wondered, and my fear waxed great,
2765

And I ’gan doubt if there I should not wait
The coming of that glorious mighty one,
Who for the world so great a deed had done.
But at the last I thought it good to go
Unto the town e’en as he bade me do,
2770

Because his words constrained me. Nought befell
Upon the road whereof is need to tell,
And so my tale is done; and though it be
That I no token have to show to thee,
Yet doubt not, King Jobates, that no more
2775

The Gods will vex the land as heretofore
With this fell torment. Furthermore, if he
Who wrought this deed is no divinity
He will be here soon; so must thou devise,
O Lycian King, in whatso greatest wise
2780

Thou wilt reward him—but for me, I pray
That thou wilt give me to him from to-day,
That serving him, and in his company,
Not wholly base I too become to be."

   The King and captain for a little while
2785

[691] Gazed each at each; an ugly covert smile
Lurked round the captain's mouth, but the King stared
Blankly upon him, e’en as though he heard
A doom go forth against him; and again
The man who brought the news stared at the twain
2790

With knitted brows, as greatly marvelling
Why they spake nought, until at last the King
Turned eyes upon him, and the captain spake:

   "Certes, O King, brightly the day doth break
If this man sayeth sooth; nor know I one
2795

To do this deed except Bellerophon;
And so much certes hast thou honoured him
That nothing now thy glory can wax dim
Because of his; and though indeed the earth
Hold nought within it of such wondrous worth
2800

As that which thou wilt give him in reward,
Not overmuch it is for such a sword,
And such a heart, the people's very friend."

   So spake he, and before his speech had end
His wonted face at last the King had got,
2805

And spake unto the man: "We doubt thee not;
Thy tale seems true, nor dost thou glorify
Thyself herein—certes thou wouldst abye
A heavy fate if thou shouldst lie herein—
So here shalt thou abide till sight we win
2810

Of him who wrought this deed; then shalt thou have
A good reward, as one both true and brave
As for a son of man, for he, meseems,
Who made an end of our so fearful dreams
Is scarcely man, though friend to me a man—
2815

But now this tale of thine, that well began
And went on clearly, clearly has not told
The very shape of what thou didst behold."

   "No," said the man, "when I stood therebeside
Methought its likeness ever would abide
2820

Within my mind! but now, what shall I say—
Hast thou not heard, O King, before to-day,
That it was three-formed? So men said to me,
[692] Before its very body I did see
That, lion-like, the beast's shape was before,
2825

And that its goat-like hairy middle bore
A dragon's scaly folds across the waste
Itself had made. But I, who oft have faced
The yellow beast, and driven goats afield,
And shaken the black viper from my shield,
2830

Can liken it to these things in no whit.
Nay, as I try e’en now to think of it,
Meseems that when I woke in the past night,
E’en like a dream dissolved by morning light,
Its memory had gone from me; though, indeed,
2835

Nought I forgot of all my dreadful need.
Content thee, King, with what I erst have told;
For when I try his image to behold
Faint grows my heart again, mine eyes wax dim,
Nor can I set forth what I deemed of him
2840

When he lay dead.—Hearken,—what thing draws nigh?"
For from outside there rang a joyous cry,
That grew, still coming nearer, till they heard
From out the midst thereof a well-known word,
The name Bellerophon: then from his bed
2845

The King arose, and clad himself, and said:

   "Go, captain, set the King Bellerophon
Without delay upon the royal throne,
And tell him that I come to make my prayer,
That, since for a long time I have sat there,
2850

And know no other trade than this of King,
He of his bounty yet will add a thing
To all that he hath given, and let me reign
Along with him. Send here my chamberlain,
That I may clothe me in right fitting guise
2855

To do him honour in all goodly wise."

   So spake his lips, but his eyes seemed to say;
'Long is it to the ending of the day,
And many a thing may hap ere eventide;
And well is he who longest may abide.'
2860

   So from the presence did the captain pass,
When now the autumn morn in glory was,
And when he reached the palace court, he found
[693] The eager people flocking all around
The door of the great hall, and variously
2865

Men showed their joyance at that victory.
But in the hall there stood Bellerophon
Anigh the daïs, and the young sun shone
On his bright arms, and round from man to man
In eager notes the hurried question ran,
2870

And, smiling still, he answered each; but yet
Small share that circle of his tale did get,
Because distraught he was, and seemed to be
As he who looks the face of one to see
Who long delays; but when the captain's staff
2875

Cleft through the people's eager word and laugh,
And, after that, his fellow of the night
Bellerophon beheld, his face grew bright
As one who sees the end. Withal he said
As they drew nigh: "Has the King seen the head,
2880

Knows he what it betokens? For, behold!
Before the sun of that day grew acold
Whereon thou left’st me, all that heap was gone
Thou sawest there, both hair and flesh and bone;
So when this dawn I mounted my good steed,
2885

I looked to thee to show forth that my deed,
Lest all should seem a feigned tale or a dream."

   "Master," the other said, "thou well mayst deem,
That what thy will loosed, my will might not hold;
E’en as thy tale, so must my tale be told,
2890

And nought is left to show of that dread thing."

   E’en as he spake did folk cry on the King,
And now to right and left fell back the crowd,
And down the lane of folk gold raiment glowed,
And blare of silver trumpets smote the roof.
2895

Then said the captain: "Certes, no more proof
The King will ask, to show that thou hast done
The glorious deed that was for thee alone;
Be glad, thy day is come, and all is well!"

   But on his sword the hero's left hand fell,
2900

And he looked down and muttered ’neath his breath,
"Trust slayeth many a man, the wise man saith;
Yet must I trust perforce." He stood and heard
[694] The joyful people's many-voicèd word
Change into a glad shout; the feet of those
2905

Who drew anear came closer and more close,
Till their sound ceased, and silence filled the hall;
And then a soft voice on his ears did fall,
That seemed the echo to his yearning thought:

   "Look up, look up! the change of days hath brought
2910

Sweet end to our desires, and made thee mine!"

   He raised his eyes, and saw gold raiment shine
Before him in the low sun; but a face
Above it made the murmuring crowded place
Silent and lone; for there she stood, indeed,
2915

His troublous scarce-kept life's last crown and meed
Her sweet lips trembled, her dear eyes ’gan swim
In tears that fell not, as she reached to him
One hand in greeting, while a little raised
And restless was the other, as she gazed
2920

Into his eyes, and lowly was her mien;
But yet a little forward did she lean,
As though she looked for sudden close embrace,
Yet feared it ’neath the strange eyes of that place.

   But though his heart was melted utterly
2925

Within him, he but drew a little nigh,
And took her hand, and said: "What hour is this
That brings so fair a thing to crown my bliss?
What land far off from that which first I knew?
How shall I know that such a thing is true,
2930

Unless some pain yet falls on thee and me?
Rather this hour is called eternity,
This land the land of heaven, and we have died
That thus at last we might go side by side
For ever, in the flower-strewn happy place."
2935

   Then closer to her drew his bright flushed face;
Well-nigh their lips met, when Jobates cried:
"Good hap, Corinthian! for thou hast not died;
The pale land holds no joy like thou wilt have
If yet awhile the Gods thy dear life save.
2940

Yet mayst thou fear, indeed, for such thou art,
That yet the Gods will have thee play thy part
In heaven and not on earth—But come on now,
[695] And see if this my throne be all too low
For thy great heart; sit here with me to-day,
2945

And in the shrines of the Immortals pray,
With many offerings, lest they envy thee,
And on the morrow wed Philonoë,
And live thy life thereafter." So he spake,
Smiling, and yet a troubled look did break
2950

Across the would-be frankness of his smile.
But still the hero stood a little while
And watched Philonoë, as she turned and went
Adown the hall, and then a sigh he sent
From out his heart, and turned unto the King
2955

As one who had no thought that anything
Of guile clung round him, and said: "Deem thou not,
O King, that ruin from me thou hast got,
Although I take from thee my due reward;
For still for thee my hand shall hold the sword,
2960

Nor will I claim more than thou givest me,
And great is that, though a king's son I be."

   So on the throne was set Bellerophon,
And on his head was laid the royal crown
Instead of helm; and just as safe he felt
2965

As though mid half-fed savage beasts he dwelt.
Yet when he went out through the crowded street,
Shouting because of him, when blossoms sweet
Faint with the autumn fell upon his head,
When his feet touched the silken carpet spread
2970

Over the temple-steps; when the priests' hymn
Rang round him in the inner temple dim,
He smiled for pleasure once or twice, and said:
"So many dangers, yet I am not dead;
So many fears, yet sweet is longing grown,
2975

Because to-morrow morn I gain my own!
So much desire, and but a night there is
Betwixt me and the perfecting of bliss!"

 

[696] SO fell the noisy day to feastful night,
For sleep was slow to hush the new delight
2980

Of the freed folk; and in the royal house
Loud did the revellers grow, and clamorous,
And yet that too must have an end at last,
And to their sleeping-places all folk passed
Not long before the shepherds' sleep grew thin.
2985

But listening to the changing of the din,
Philonoë lay long upon her bed,
Nor would sweet sleep come down to bless her head,
No, not when all was still again; for she,
Oppressed with her new-found felicity,
2990

Had fallen to thoughts of life and death and change,
And through strange lands her wearied heart did range,
And knew no peace; therefore at last she rose
When all was utter stillness and stood close
Unto the window. Such a night it was
2995

That a thin wind swept o’er the garden-grass
And loosened the sick leaves upon the trees;
Promise of rain there was within the breeze,
Yet was the sky not wholly overcast,
But o’er the moon yet high the grey drift passed,
3000

And with a watery gleam at whiles she shone,
And cast strange wavering shadows down upon
The trembling beds of autumn blossoms tall,
And made the dusk of the white garden wall
Gleam like another land against the sky.
3005

   She turned her from the window presently,
And went unto her dainty bed once more;
But as she touched its silk a change came o’er
Her anxious heart, and listening there she stood,
Counting the eager throbbing of her blood;
3010

But nought she heard except the night's dim noise;
Then did she whisper (and her faint, soft voice
Seemed hoarse and loud to her)—"Yet will I go
To Pallas' shrine, for fain I am to know
If all things even yet may go aright,
3015

For my heart fails me." To the blind dusk night
She showed her loveliness awhile half-veiled,
When she had spoke, as though her purpose failed;
[697] Then softly did she turn and take to her
A dusky cloak, and hid her beauty rare
3020

In its dark folds, and turned unto the door;
But ere she passed its marble threshold o’er
Stayed pondering, and she said: "Alas, alas!
To-morrow must I say that all this was
And is not—this sweet longing?—what say men—
3025

It cometh once and cometh not again,
This first love for another? holds the earth
Within its circle aught that is of worth
When it is dead?—and this is part of it,
This measureless sweet longing that doth flit,
3030

Never to come again, when all is won.
And is our first desire so soon foredone,
Like to the rose-bud, that through day and night
In early summer strives to meet the light,
And in some noon-tide of the June, bursts sheath,
3035

And ere the eve is past away in death?
Belike love dies then like the rest of life?
—Or fails asleep until it mix with strife
And fear and grief?—and then we call it pain,
And curse it for its labour lost in vain.
3040

"Sweet pain! be kind to me and leave me not!
Leave me not cold, with all my grief forgot,
And all the joy consumed I thought should fill
My changing troubled days of life, until
Death turned all measuring of the days to nought!
3045

"And thou, O death, when thou my life hast caught
Within thy net, what wilt thou with my love,
That now I deem no lapse of time can move?
O death, maybe that though I seem to pass
And come to nought, with all that once I was,
3050

Yet love shall live I called a part of me,
And hold me in his heart despite of thee,
And call me part of him, when I am dead
As the world talks of dying." So she said,
But scarcely heard her voice, and through the door
3055

Of her own chamber passed; light on the floor
Her white feet fell, her soft clothes rustled nought,
As slowly, wrapped in many a changing thought,
[698] Unto the Maiden's shrine she took her way
That midmost of the palace precincts lay;
3060

But in a chamber that was hard thereby,
Although she knew it not, that night did lie
Her love that was, her lord that was to be.

   Through the dark pillared precinct, silently
She went now, pausing every now and then
3065

To listen, but heard little sound of men;
Though far off in the hill-side homesteads crowed
The waking fowl, or restless milch-kine lowed
In the fair pastures that her love had saved;
And from the haven, as the shipmen heaved
3070

Their sail aloft, a mingled strange voice came.

   So as she went, across her flitted shame
Of her own loneliness, and eager love
That shut the world out so, and she ’gan move
With quicker steps unto the temple-stead,
3075

Scarce knowing what her soft feet thither led.

   Within an open space the temple was,
And dark-stemmed olives rose up from the grass
About it, but a marble path passed o’er
The space betwixt the cloister and its door
3080

Of some ten yards; there on its brink she stayed,
And from the cloister watched the black trees swayed
In the night breeze. E’en as a bather might
Shrink from the water, from the naked night
She shrank a little—the wind wailed within
3085

The cloister walls, the clouds were gotten thin
About the moon, and the night ’gan to wane—
Then, even as she raised her skirts again
And put her foot forth, did she hear arms clash,
And fear and shame her heart did so abash,
3090

She shrank behind a pillar; then the sound
Of footsteps smote upon the hardened ground,
And ’gainst the white steps of the shrine she saw
From out the trees a tall dark figure draw
Unto the holy place: the moon withal
3095

Ran from a cloud now, and her light did fall
Upon a bright steel helm: she trembled then,
But her first thought was not of sons of men;
[699] Of the armed goddess, rather, did she think,
And closer in her hiding-place did shrink.
3100

   Then though the moon grew dull again, yet she
Ten shapes of armed men at the last could see
Steal up the steps and vanish from the night,
And a sharp pang shot through her; but affright
She felt not now of gods: she murmured low;
3105

"What do these men-at-arms in such guise now
Amidst the feast? God help me, we are caught
Within a brazen net!" And with that thought
No more delay she made but girt her gown
Unto her, and with swift feet went adown
3110

The marble steps, and so from tree to tree,
Through all the darkest shadow, silently
Gained the dark side of the brass temple door;
And through its chink she saw the marble floor
Just feebly lit by some small spark of light
3115

She saw not, and the gleam of armour white,
And knew that she unto the men was close.

   E’en as some sound that loud and louder grows
Within our dreams and yet is nought at all
She heard her heart, as clinging to the wall
3120

She strove to listen vainly; but at last
All feebleness from out her did she cast
With thought of love—and death that drew anear-
And therewithal a low voice did she hear,
She thought she knew. "Milo the Colchian?"
3125

It said as asking, and another man
Said "Here" in a hoarse voice and low; once more
The first voice said; "The Clearer of the Shore,
Known by no other name the people say,
Art thou here too?" a new voice muttered "Yea."
3130

And then again the first: "My tale told o’er
And none found wanting—since ye know wherefore
We here are met, few words are best to-night:
Within the ivory chamber, called the White,
Lies the ill monster's bane, asleep belike,
3135

[700] Or, at the worst without a sword to strike,
Or shield to ward withal; his wont it is
To have few by him; on this night of bliss
Those few of night-cropped herbs enow have drunk,
And deep in slumber like short death are sunk:
3140

So light our work is; yet let those who lack
Heart thereunto e’en at this hour go back;
Though—let these take good heed that whatsoe’er
We risk hereafter they in likewise share,
Except the risk of dying by his sword."
3145

   He ceased awhile, and a low muttered word
Seemed to say, "We are ready:" then he said:

   "When he is slain, then shall ye bear his bed
Into this shrine, and burn what burned may be
In little space; but into the deep sea
3150

Thou Clearer of the Shore, with thy two men
Shalt bear him forth.—Fellows, what say we then,
When on the morn the city wakes to find
Its saviour gone? This:—'Men are fools and blind,
And the Gods all-wise; this man born on earth
3155

By some strange chance, yet was of too great worth
To live, and go as common men may go;
Therefore the Gods, who set him work to do,
When that was done, had no more will to see
His head grow white; or with man's frailty
3160

Burn out his heart; they might not hear him curse
His latter days, as unto worse and worse
He fell at last; therefore they took him hence
To make him sharer in omnipotence,
And crown him with their immortality,
3165

Nor may ye hope his body more to see.
These ashes of the web wherein last lay
His godlike limbs that took your fear away,
(Limbs now a very god's), this fire-stained gold
That, unharmed, very god might nowise hold,
3170

Are left for certain signs—so shall ye rear
A temple to him nigh the gate; and bear
Gifts of good things unto the one who wrought
[701] Deliverance for you, when ye e’en were brought
Unto the very gate of death and hell.'
3175

"Fellows, spread vaguely this tale that I tell!
But thou, O Chremes, when the work is done
Get straight unto the forest all alone,
And with some slaughtered beast come back again
Ere noon, as though of hearers thou wert fain;
3180

Folk know thee for a wanderer through the wood,
So make thy tale up as thou deemest good
Of voices heard by thee at dead of night;
So shall our words live and all things be right.
"Come, then; the night is changing; good it were
3185

That dawn's first glimmer did not find us here!"

   So spake he, and then opened wide the door,
And all seemed lonely there as heretofore;
So one by one adown the steps they stole,
Setting their anxious faces to the goal
3190

Of the White Chamber. But Philonoë,
Fair-footed, tender-limbed, and where was she?
Her sick heart did but note the name and place
They spoke of, ere she moved her woe-worn face
From the cold brass, and stayed to hear no more,
3195

But stole away as silent as before,
Keeping love back till all were lost or won;
Nor knew she what she set her feet upon
Till, panting, through his chamber-door she passed;
There through the dusk a quick glance round she cast
3200

And saw his men asleep, nor knew if they
Were dead, or if in sleep indeed they lay;
Then with such haste as a spent man, borne down
A swift stream, catches at some bare bough brown,
From off the wall she took sword, shield, and spear,
3205

Hauberk and helm, and drew his bed anear,
And stayed not now, nor thought, but on his breast,
Laid bare before her, a light hand she pressed,
And as he started upright in the bed
Beneath her touch, bowed down to him and said:
3210

   "Speak not, but listen to Philonoë,
Thy love, and save thy life for thee and me!
Thy foes are on thee! make no more delay
[702] As thou art wise!—needs must I go away;
I do my part—one minute more shall show,
3215

If love in death or life we are to know."

   His lips yet trembled, yet his heart did ache
With longing, ere he felt he was awake
And knew that she was gone, and knew not where:
So driving back desire he armed him there
3220

Over his nakedness, and hastily
Caught up his weapons, and turned round to see
What help was nigh: and when he saw his men
Lie on the floor as dead, well deemed he then
His hour was come; and yet he felt as though
3225

He scarce might tell if it were hard to go,
So short all life seemed that must end at last;
But therewith nowise hope from him he cast,
But on the golden bed he took his stand,
And poised the well-steeled spear in his right hand,
3230

And waited listening. Mid the fallen leaves’ sound,
Driven by the autumn wind along the ground,
Footfalls of stealthy men he seemed to hear;
Yet nowise might that minute teach him fear,
Who life-long had not learned to speak the name;
3235

Calm to his lips his steady breath still came,
Well-nigh he smiled; wide open were his eyes,
As though they looked to see life's mysteries
Unfolded soon before them; as he gazed
Through the dusk room, he heard the light latch raised
3240

And saw the door move. Even therewithal
A gleam of bright light from the sky did fall,
As from a fleecy cloud the white moon ran,
And smiling, stern, unlike the face of man,
His helmed head high o’er the black-shadowed floor
3245

Showed strange and dreadful, as the ivory door
Swung back on well-oiled hinges silently.

   Silence a little space yet,—then a cry
Burst from his lips, and through the chamber rang
A shriek of fear therewith, and a great clang
3250

Of falling arms, and the bright glittering brand
Instead of the long spear was in his hand.
But for his foes, across the threshold lay
[703] Their leader slain, and those his fellows, they
Hung wavering by the door, and feared the night,
3255

And feared the godlike man, who in his might
Seemed changed indeed according to the tale
They were to tell: but as with faces pale
And huddled spears they hung there, in their doubt
If he were God or man, a mighty shout
3260

Came from his lips again, and there was cast
Across the windy night a huge horn's blast,
Hoarse, loud, and long-enduring; and they fled
This way and that, pursued by nought but dread.

   But strange tales of that night of fear they told
3265

In after days. Some said they did behold,
As through the mighty outer door they ran,
A woman greater than a child of man,
All armed and helmed: some told of a bright flame
Glowing about the hero, when they came
3270

Unto the door, and said that his one word
Had slain their leader swifter than a sword.

   But for Bellerophon, awhile he stood
Nigh to the door until his wrathful mood
Changed into scorn; and then the moonlight wan
3275

With kindled light he helped, and then the man
His spear had reached in strong arms he upraised;
But when he saw the eyes that on him gazed
With dead stare, then he knew the captain's face.
"Fool," said he, "fear hath brought thee to this case,
3280

Long hadst thou lived for me—but is this all?
Will not the voice of Sthenobœa call
O’er the green waves to ghosts of lovers dead,
Ere yet the bridal wreath is on my head?"

   E’en as he spake he heard the horn once more,
3285

And then a sound as if on a low shore
The sea were breaking, then a swelling shout
That louder grew, till his own name leapt out
From midst of it, and then he smiled and cried:

   "Prœtus, thy casket held a goodly bride,
3290

A noble realm for me! O love, I come;
Surely thine heart has won me a fair home,
Instead of that straight house I should have had
[704] If these eyes had not made thy dear heart glad."

   Therewith he sheathed his sword, and stepping o’er
3295

His cumbered threshold, made for the great door,
Whither the wakened house now thronging ran:
Men armed and unarmed, child and ancient man;
For death it was to wind that mighty horn,
But when in dangerous battle it was borne
3300

By the king's, hand. Now nigher as he drew
Unto the door he ’gan to see therethrough
The points of steel tossing amid the light
Of torches, and the wind of waning night
Bore sound of many men on it; but dim
3305

The pillared hall was yet. Then close to him
A slim close-mantled woman came and said:

   "Go forth and speak—we twain are not yet dead.
I think we shall not die at all, dear heart;
Farewell!" His soul and body seemed to part,
3310

As swiftly, shadow-like, she passed him by,
And toward her chamber went: unwittingly
He gained the great door's platform, and looked down
Upon the tumult of the gathering town.
While at his back a dark mass clustered now,
3315

With helmet on the head, and spear and how;
So, gathering earthly thoughts, he stood and cried:

   "What will ye, good men, that ye make this tide
More noisy than the day? What will ye do?
Speak out, that we may rest, some one of you!"
3320

   Then stood a man forth, clad in armour bright,
And cried aloud: "O, well betide the night
That hides thee not from us, Bellerophon!
Surely we deemed some horror had been done,
And deemed the Gods had ta’en thee from our hands;
3325

Because the horn, the terror of far lands,
The gift of Neptune, did we seem to hear."

   Then said the hero: "Ah, then all the fear
The beast divine brought with it is not gone
Masters, ye dreamed belike—nor dreamed alone
3330

Strange dreams; for I dreamed too,—that all-armed men
Beset my door to take my life; and when
I went therefrom e’en now, why yet I dreamed
[705] E’en as I went upright—because meseemed
Over my threshold lay a man new slain.
3335

Be merry, O my masters; go again
Unto your well-hung beds; to-morrow comes,
Whereon ye praise the Gods for your saved homes
With great rejoicings, and raise hands for me
And my beloved midst your festivity."
3340

   He ceased, and a great shout the twilight rent,
And one by one unto their homes they went.
Then turned the Prince unto the palace band,
And saw a certain one on his right hand,
Making as he would speak, and knew him straight
3345

To be the man who had the heart to wait
The beast now slain. Smiling on him, he said:
"What, hast thou dreamed the monster was not dead?
Good is it that the grain is gathered in,
Else should men dream that they the crop did win
3350

Last week, and let it stand afield to rot!"

   "Nay," said the man, "O master, I dreamed not;
But from yon flanking tower, waking, I saw
A shadowy figure toward the great horn draw,
And blow a blast thereon, then vanish quite,
3355

Not like a mortal thing, into the night."

   Then spake a grey old man: "Yea, think thereon
As of a portent, O Bellerophon,
Of wondrous things to come, that thou shalt see,
As showing forth how great thy days shall be;
3360

For doubt not this was Pallas, who would show
How great a gift she gives the city now."

   Again from these there rang a joyous shout;
But the Prince hung his head, as if in doubt
Of the new time with hidden lies begun.
3365

At last he said: "Go, friends, ere yet the sun
Has slain the stars outright; what things soe’er
May hap, the Gods will have of me good care,
This night at least!" So through the house they went
Each to his place, when nigh the night was spent.
3370

[706] But when to his own door Bellerophon
Was come, the captain's body was clean gone,
And the drugged men were waking. Then he thought,
"Was it a dream, indeed, that these things brought
Before mine eyes? Nay, my lips tremble yet
3375

With that sweet touch. My breast may more forget
This hauberk's weight, than that sweet clinging hand.
I dreamed not, and this haunted Lycian land
Holds for me good and evil infinite.
So be it, and the new returning light
3380

Shall bring new rede to guard my troubled ways.
May the Gods give beginning of good days!"

   Then on the bed he sat to think of her,
But ere the end of the grey time was there
His head had fallen aside; sleeping he lay,
3385

And let the bright sun bring about the day.

 

 

HE woke at last, and fresh and joyous felt,
As forth he went; no sword within his belt
He set that morn; he bore no biting spear;
But clad he was in gold and royal gear,
3390

Such as a King might bear in Saturn's reign;
And in such wise the great hall did he gain,
And on the ivory throne he sat him down,
And felt the golden circle of the crown,
But light as yet, upon his unused head.
3395

Then to his presence were strange people led;
Hunters from far-off corners of the realm,
Shipmen with hands well hardened by the helm,
Merchants who in strange tongues must bid him thrive,
And dainty cherished things unto him give
3400

And still he wearied, and their words forgot,
And wondered why the other King came not.

   But yet, before the ending of the morn,
The casket that his own hands once had borne,
Was brought unto him by a man, who spake
3405

In this wise: "King Jobates bids thee take,
O King Bellerophon, what lies herein,
And saith that since thine office doth begin
This day, right good it were to judge of this—
If the man did so utterly amiss
3410

[707] To strive to keep his oath. He bids thee say
Withal if thou wilt have what yesterday
He gave unto thine hands—and, taking it,
Forget wild dreams that o’er the year did flit."

   Then King Bellerophon looked down, and drew
3415

A letter from that casket that he knew,
And opened it and read; and in such wise
It gave the key to half-deemed mysteries.

   King Prœtus to Jobates, King of men,
Sends goodly greeting.—Dost thou mind thee when
3420

I saved thee from the lions? then I had
One gift from thee which has not made me glad,
Thy daughter; though a goddess, all men said,
Had scarce been fairer at my board and bed.—
Another thing thou gav’st me then,—an oath
3425

To do my bidding once, if lieve or loath
It were to thee. Now bring all to an end,
And slay the man who bears this—once my friend,
And still too close unto my memory,
That on my skirts his treacherous blood should lie.
3430

Take heed, though, that I say, myself, at whiles,
"The Gods are full of lies and luring smiles,
And know no faith." And this Bellerophon
May be a god; being even such an one
As seemeth kind beyond the wont of men,
3435

Just and far-seeing, brave in those times when
Men's hearts grow sick with fear. Lo, such is he,
And yet a monster! He shall dwell with thee
Life-long, perchance; and once or twice Desire
Shall burn up all these things, as with a fire;
3440

And he shall tread his kindness under foot,
And turn a liar e’en from his heart's root,
And turn a wretched fool. Yea, what say I?
Turn a mere trembling coward, loth to die,
Rather than be all this. So take him, then,
3445

While yet thou deem’st him first of mortal men,
And in forefront of battle let him fall;

Or, lonely, on some foeman's spear-swept wall,
[708] If it may be;—that he may leave behind
A savour, sweet in some men's mouths, nor find
3450

That he has fallen to hell while yet he lives
.

   Such counsel to thee, friend, King Prœtus gives—
A hapless man. But happy mayst thou dwell,
As thou shalt keep thy faith. Live hale and well!

   Not clear he saw these latter words of it,
3455

For many a memory through his heart did flit,
Blinding his eyes belike: at last his head
He raised, and to the messenger he said:

   "Say to Jobates that I deem the man
Did even with his oath as such men can,
3460

Who fear the Gods so much they may not tell
What gifts men give them. Say that all is well,
That I will take the gift he gave to me,
And long right sore that World's Desire to see."

   So the man went, and left Bellerophon
3465

Pensive, and pondering on the days long gone
That brought him unto this: his happy love
The heart within him did to pity move;
He thought, "Alas! and can it ever be
That one can say, 'Thou art enough for me—
3470

And I, and I—wilt thou not suffer it,
That I, at least, before thy feet may sit
Until perchance I grow enough for thee?'
Alas, alas! and can it ever be
That thus a heart shall plead and plead, in vain?"
3475

   So did he murmur; but withal a strain
Of merry music made him lift his head
Slaying all thought of suffering folk or dead;
And even as a man new made a god,
When first he sets his foot upon the sod
3480

Of Paradise, and like a living flame
Joy wraps him round, he felt, as now she came,
Clear won at last, the thing of all the earth
That made his fleeting life a little worth.

   My heart faints now, my lips that tell the tale
3485

[709] Falter to think that such a life should fail;
That use, and long days dropping one by one,
As the wan water frets away the stone,
Should change desires of men, and what they bring,
E'er while their hearts with sickening longing cling
3490

Unto the thought that they are still the same,
When all they were is grown an empty name.

   O Death-in-life, O sure pursuer, Change,
Be kind, be kind, and touch me not, till strange,
Changed too, thy face shows, when thy fellow Death
3495

Delays no more to freeze my faltering breath!

 

THE dull day long had faded into night
Ere all was done; taper and fire-light
Cast on the wall's fair painted images
Shadows confused of some, amidst of these,
3500

The old men on the dais; down below
Amid the youths was stir and murmur now;
Some said they fain had known a little more
Of that Bellerophon ere all was o’er;
Some said, that if the man lived, sure it was
3505

That happiness of his would soon o’erpass,
Because he kept back something of the stake:
Some said the story back their thoughts did take
To Argos, and the deeds there, and the end
Whereto the feet of Sthenobœa did wend
3510

So surely from the first, not without praise
Of some, they said: some wondered of the days
That Prœtus had, and if the godlike man
And he, who clung to joy as cowards can,
E'er met again, and what things they forgat
3515

And what remembered, if it came to that.

   But one youth who had sat alone and sad,
While others friends and loves beside them had,
Rose up amid their talk, and slowly turned
To where the many lights that thereby burned
3520

Scarce reached, and in that dimness walked awhile;
[710] And when he came back, with a quivering smile
On his sad face, gazed at the elders there,
As though he deemed his place among them were,
Who had nigh done with life; and one or two
3525

Among the youths looked up, as if they knew
The pain that ailed him. Many-peopled earth!
In foolish anger and in foolish mirth,
In causeless wars that never had an aim,
In worshipping the kings that bring thee shame,
3530

In spreading lies that hide wrath in their breast,
In breaking up the short-lived days of rest,—
—In all thy folk care nought for, how they cling
Each unto each, fostering the foolish thing,
Nought worth, grown out of nought, that lightly lies
3535

’Twixt throat and lips, and yet works miseries!
While in this love that touches every one,
Still wilt thou let each man abide alone,
Unholpen, with his pain unnameable!
Is it, perchance, lest men should come to tell
3540

Each unto other what a pain it is,
How little balanced by the sullied bliss
They win for some few minutes of their life,—
Lest they die out and leave thee void of strife,
Empty of all their yearning and their fear,
3545

’Twixt storm and sunshine of thy changing year?

 

[711] LATE February days; and now, at last,
Might you have thought that winter's woe was past;
So fair the sky was, and so soft the air.
The happy birds were hurrying here and there,
As something soon would happen. Reddened now
5

The hedges, and in gardens many a bough
Was overbold of buds. Sweet days, indeed,
Although past road and bridge, through wood and mead,
Swift ran the brown stream, swirling by the grass,
And in the hill-side hollows snow yet was.
10

   Within sound of the city, yet amid
Patches of woodland that its white walls hid,
The house was, where the elders sat this tide,
The young folk with them; by the highway-side
The first starred yellow blossoms of the spring
15

Some held in hand; some came in, hurrying
From deeper in the woods, and now in fold
Of skirt and gown its treasures did they hold;
And soon to garland-making youth and maid
Were sat down: then the Swabian smiled, and said:
20

   "However it be that I, so old and grey,
A priest too, yet again must have to say
More words of Venus, judge ye, maids: in sooth,
I, wandering once in long-past days of youth,
Came to the place my tale shall tell of now.
25

Vague tales, wherein I was well fain to trow,
Being dreamy and a youth, I oft had heard
Thereof, yet somewhat I did grow afeard
Before that cavern, although not alone
I was there, and the morn was such an one
30

As this fair morn has been: my fellow there
[712] Was an old forester with thin white hair—
Lo you, like mine now!—but his deep-set eyes,
Bright mid his wrinkles, made him seem right wise—
—As I would fain seem, maidens.—Ye may wot
35

That many a tale of that place had he got,
Because nearby, child boy and man, had he
Dwelt ever: so on a felled oaken tree
We sat beside the cave's mouth there of old,
While he this story, that I looked for, told.
40

 

 

THE HILL OF VENUS.

ARGUMENT.

[721] THIS story tells of a certain man who by strange adventure fell into the power of Venus, and who, repenting of his life with her, was fain to return to the world and amend all, but might not; for his repentance was rejected of men, by whomsoever it was accepted.

A CERTAIN summer afternoon day hung
Doubtful ’twixt storm and sunshine, and the earth
Seemed waiting for the clouds to spread, that clung
About the south-east, ere its morning mirth,
Ere all the freshness of its hopeful birth,
5

Should end in dreadful darkness, and the clash
Of rain-beat boughs and wildering lightning-flash.

   Such a tide brooded o’er the ancient wood,
Wild with sour waste and rough untended tree,
Which, long before the coming of the Rood,
10

Men held a holy place in Germany;
Yea, and still looked therein strange things to see,
Still deemed that dark therein was uglier
Than in all other wilds, more full of fear.

   Grim on that day it was, when the sun shone
15

Clear through the thinner boughs, and yet its light
Seemed threatening; such great stillness lay upon
The wide-head oaks, such terror as of night
[722] Waylaying day, made the sward yet more bright,
As, blotting out the far-away blue sky,
20

The hard and close-packed clouds spread silently.

   Now ’twixt the trees slowly a knight there rode,
Musing belike; a seemly man and fair,
No more a youth, but bearing not the load
Of many years; he might have seen the wear
25

Of thirty summers: why he journeyed there
Nought tells the tale, but Walter doth him name,
And saith that from the Kaiser's court he came.

   Dull enow seemed his thoughts, as on he went
From tree to tree, with heavy knitted brow,
30

And eyes upon the forest grass intent;
And oft beneath his breath he muttered low,
And once looked up and said: "The earth doth grow
Day after day a wearier place belike;
No word for me to speak, no blow to strike:
35

   "Once I looked not for this and it has come;
What shall the end be now I look for worse?
Woe worth the dull walls of mine ancient home,
The ragged fields laid ’neath the ancient curse!
Woe worth false hope that dead despair doth nurse
40

Woe worth the world's false love and babbling hate—
O life, vain, grasping, uncompassionate!"

   He looked around as thus he spake, and saw
That he amidst his thoughts had ridden to where
The close wood backward for a space did draw,
45

Leaving a plain of sweet-grown sward all clear,
Till at the end thereof a cliff rose sheer
From the green grass, o’er which again arose
A hill-side clad with fir-trees dark and close.

   [723] Now nigh the cliff a little river ran,
50

And bright with sun were hill and mead, although
Already, far away, the storm began
To rumble, and the storm lift moving slow,
Over a full third of the sky to grow,
Though still within its heart the tumult stayed,
55

Content as yet to keep the world afraid.

   There had he drawn rein, and his eyes were set
Upon a dark place in the sheer rock's side,
A cavern's mouth; and some new thought did get
Place in his heart therewith, and he must bide
60

To nurse the thing; for certes far and wide
That place was known, and by an evil fame;
The Hill of Venus had it got to name.

   And many a tale yet unforgot there was
Of what a devilish world, dream-like, but true,
65

Would snare the o’er-rash man whose feet should pass
That cavern's mouth: old folk would say they knew
Of men who risked it; nor came back to rue
The losing of their souls; and others told
Of how they watched, when they were young and bold,
70

   Midsummer night through: yea, and not in vain;
For on the stream's banks, and the flowery mead,
Sights had they seen they might not tell again;
And in their hearts that night had sown the seed
Of many a wild desire and desperate need;
75

So that, with longings nought could satisfy,
Their lives were saddened till they came to die.

   For all the stories were at one in this,
That still they told of a trap baited well
With some first minutes of unheard-of bliss;
80

Then, these grasped greedily, the poor fool fell
To earthly misery, or no doubtful hell.
Yet, as these stories flitted by all dim,
The knight's face softened, sweet they seemed to him.—

   [724] He muttered: "Yea, the end is hell and death,
85

The midmost hid, yet the beginning Love.
Ah me! despite the worst Love threateneth,
Still would I cling on to the skirts thereof,
If I could hope his sadness still could move
My heart for evermore.  A little taste
90

Of the king's banquet, then all bare and waste

   "My table is; fresh guests are hurrying in
With eager eyes, there to abide their turn,
That they more hunger therewithal may win!
Ah me! what skill for dying love to yearn?
95

Yet, O my yearning! though my heart should burn
Into light feathery ash, blown here and there,
After one minute of that odorous flare."

   With that once more he hung his head adown;
The name of Love such thoughts in him had stirred,
100

That somewhat sweet his life to him was grown,
And like soft sighs his breathing now he heard;
His heart beat like a lover's heart afeard;
Of such fair women as he erst had seen,
The names he named, and thought what each had been.
105

   Yet, as he told them over one by one,
But dimly might he see their forms, and still
Some lack, some coldness, cursed them all, and none
The void within his straining heart might fill;
For evermore, as if against his will,
110

Words of old stories, turned to images
Of lovelier things, would blur the sight of these.

   Long dwelt he in such musings, though his beast
From out his hand had plucked the bridle-rein,
And, wandering slowly onward, now did feast
115

Upon the short sweet herbage of the plain;
So when the knight raised up his eyes again,
Behind his back the dark of the oakwood lay,
And nigh unto its end was grown the day.

   [725] He gazed round toward the west first, and the stream,
120

Where all was bright and sunny, nor would he
Have deemed himself deep fallen into a dream
If he had seen the grass swept daintily
By raiment that in old days used to be;
When white ’neath Pallas’ smile and Juno's frown
125

Gleamed Venus from the gold slow slipping down.

   But void was all the meadow's beauty now,
And to the east he turned round with a sigh,
And saw the hard lift blacker and blacker grow
’Neath the world's silence, as the storm drew nigh;
130

And to his heart there went home suddenly
A sting of bitter hatred and despair,
That these things, his own heart had made so fair,

   He might not have; and even as he gazed,
And the air grew more stifling yet and still,
135

Down in the east a crooked red line blazed,
And soon the thunder the eve's hush did fill,
Low yet, but strong, persistent as God's will.
He cried aloud: "A world made to be lost,—
A bitter life ’twixt pain and nothing tossed!"
140

   And therewithal he stooped and caught the rein,
And turned his horse about till he did face
The cavern in the hill, and said: "Ah, vain
My yearning for enduring bliss of days
Amidst the dull world's hopeless, hurrying race,
145

Where the past gain each new gain makes a loss,
And yesterday's gold love to-day makes dross!"

   And as he spake, slowly his horse ’gan move
Unto the hill: "To-morrow and to-day,
Why should I name you, so I once hold Love
150

Close to my heart? If others fell away,
That was because within their souls yet lay
[726] Some hope, some thought of making peace at last
With the false world, when all their love was passed."

   But strangely light therewith his heart did grow,
155

He knew not why; and yet again he said:
"A wondrous thing that I this day must trow
In tales that poets and old wives have made!
Time was when duly all these things I weighed.
Yet, O my heart—what sweetens the dull air?
160

What is this growing hope, so fresh and fair?"

   Then therewithal louder the thunder rolled,
And the world darkened, for the sun was down;
A fitful wind ’gan flicker o’er the wold,
And in scared wise the woods began to moan,
165

And fast the black clouds all the sky did drown;
But his eyes glittered,—a strange smile did gleam
Across his face, as in a happy dream.

   Again he cried: "Thou callest me; I come;
I come, O lovely one! Oh, thou art nigh;
170

Like a sweet scent, the nearness of thine home
Is shed around; it lighteth up God's sky—
O me, thy glory!" Therewith suddenly
The lightning streamed across the gathering night,
And his horse swerved aside in wild affright.
175

   He heeded not except to spur him on;
He drew his sword as if he saw a foe,
And rode on madly till the stream he won,
And, even as the storm-wind loud ’gan blow,
And the great drops fell pattering, no more slow,
180

Dashed through the stream and up the other bank,
And leaped to earth amid his armour's clank,

   And faced the wild white rain, and the wind's roar,
The swift wide-dazzling lightning strange of hue,
The griding thunder, saying: "No more, no more,
185

[727] Helpless and cruel, do I deal with you,
Or heed the things the false world calleth true.
Surely mine eyes in spite of you behold
The perfect peace Love's loving arms enfold."

   Then, whirling o’er his head his glittering sword,
190

Into the night he cast it far away;
And turning round, without another word
Left the wild tumult of the ruined day,
And into the darkness that before him lay
Rushed blindly, while the cold rain-bearing wind
195

Wailed after him, and the storm clashed behind.

   A few steps through black darkness did he go,
Then turned and stayed, and with his arms outspread
Stood tottering there a little while, as though
He fain would yet turn back; some words he said
200

If the storm heard, then fell, and as one dead
Lay long, not moving, noting not how soon
Above the dripping boughs outshone the moon.

 

HE woke up with the tears upon his cheek,
As though awakened from some dream of love,
205

And as his senses cleared felt strange and weak,
And would not open eyes or try to move,
Since he felt happy and yet feared to prove
His new-born bliss, lest it should fade from him
E’en as in waking grows the love-dream dim.
210

   A half hush was there round about, as though
Beast, bird, and creeping thing went each their ways,
Yet needs must keep their voices hushed and low,
For worship of the sweet love-laden days.
Most heavenly odours floated through the place,
215

Whate’er it was, wherein his body lay,
And soft the air was as of deathless May.

   At last he rose with eyes fixed on the ground,
And therewithal his armour's clinking seemed
[728] An overloud and clean unlooked-for sound:
220

He trembled; even yet perchance he dreamed,
Though strange hope o’er his wondering heart there streamed;
He looked up; in the thickest of a wood
Of trees fair-blossomed, heavy-leaved, he stood.

   He turned about and looked; some memory
225

Of time late past, of dull and craving pain,
Made him yet look the cavern's mouth to see
Anigh behind him: but he gazed in vain,
For there he stood, as a man born again,
’Mid a close break of eglantine and rose,
230

With no deed now to cast aside or choose.

   Yet, as a man new born at first may hear
A murmur in his ears of life gone by,
Then in a flash may see his past days clear,
The pain, the pleasure, and the strife, all nigh,
235

And stripped of every softening veil and lie,—
So did he hear, and see, and vainly strive
In one short minute all that life to live.

   But even while he strove, as strong as sleep,
As swift as death, came deep forgetfulness,
240

Came fresh desire unnamed; his heart did leap
With a fresh hope, a fresh fear did oppress
The new delight, that else cried out to bless
The unchanging softness of that unknown air,
And the sweet tangle round about him there.
245

   Trembling, and thinking strange things to behold,
The interwoven boughs aside he drew,
And softly, as though sleep the world did hold,
And he should not awake it, passed them through
Into a freer space; yet nought he knew
250

Why he was thither come, or where to turn,
Or why the heart within him so did burn.

   [729] Then through the wood he went on, and for long
Heard but the murmur of the prisoned breeze,
Or overhead the wandering wood-dove's song;
255

But whiles amid the dusk of far-off trees
He deemed he saw swift-flitting images,
That made him strive in vain to call to mind
Old stories of the days now left behind.

   Slowly he went, and ever looking round
260

With doubtful eyes, until he heard at last
Across the fitful murmur of dumb sound,
Far off and faint the sound of singing cast
Upon the lonely air; the sound went past,
And on the moaning wind died soft away,
265

But, as far thunder startles new-born day,

   So was his dream astonied therewithal,
And his lips strove with some forgotten name,
And on his heart strange discontent did fall,
And wild desire o’ersweet therefrom did flame;
270

And then again adown the wind there came
That sound grown louder; then his feet he stayed
And listened eager, joyous and afraid.

   Again it died away, and rose again,
And sank and swelled, and sweeter and stronger grew,
275

Wrapping his heart in waves of joy and pain,
Until at last so near his ears it drew
That very words amid its notes he knew,
And stretched his arms abroad to meet the bliss,
Unnamed indeed as yet, but surely his.
280

SONG.

   Before our lady came on earth
Little there was of joy or mirth;
About the borders of the sea
The sea folk wandered heavily;
About the wintry river side
285

The weary fishers would abide
.

   Alone within the weaving-room
[730] The girls would sit before the loom,
And sing no song, and play no play;
Alone from dawn to hot mid-day,
290

From mid-day unto evening,
The men afield would work, nor sing,
’Mid weary thoughts of man and God,
Before thy feet the wet ways trod.

   Unkissed the merchant bore his care,
295

Unkissed the knights went out to war,
Unkissed the mariner came home,
Unkissed the minstrel men did roam.

   Or in the stream the maids would stare,
Nor know why they were made so fair;
300

Their yellow locks, their bosoms white,
Their limbs well wrought for all delight,
Seemed foolish things that waited death,
As hopeless as the flowers beneath
The weariness of unkissed feet:
305

No life was bitter then, or sweet.

   Therefore, O Venus, well may we
Praise the green ridges of the sea
O’er which, upon a happy day,
Thou cam’st to take our shame away.
310

Well may we praise the curdling foam
Amidst the which thy feet did bloom
,
Flowers of the gods; the yellow sand
They kissed atwixt the sea and land;
The bee-beset ripe-seeded grass,
315

Through which thy fine limbs first did pass;
The purple-dusted butterfly,
First blown against thy quivering thigh;
The first red rose that touched thy side,
And over-blown and fainting died;
320

The flickering of the orange shade,
Where first in sleep thy limbs were laid;
The happy day's sweet life and death,
Whose air first caught thy balmy breath—
[731] Yea, all these things well praised may be,
325

But with what words shall we praise thee—
O Venus, O thou love alive,
Born to give peace to souls that strive?

   Louder the song had grown to its last word,
And with its growth grew odours strange and sweet,
330

And therewithal a rustling noise he heard,
As though soft raiment the soft air did meet,
And through the wood the sound of many feet,
Until its dusk was peopled with a throng
Of fair folk fallen silent after song.
335

   Softly they flowed across his glimmering way,
Young men and girls thin-clad and garlanded,
Too full of love a word of speech to say
Except in song; head leaning unto head,
As in a field the poppies white and red;
340

Hand warm with hand, as faint wild rose with rose,
Mid still abundance of a summer close.

   Softly they passed, and if not swiftly, still
So many, and in such a gliding wise,
That, though their beauty all his heart did fill
345

With hope and eagerness, scarce might his eyes,
Caught in the tangle of their first surprise,
Note mid the throng fair face, or form, or limb,
Ere all amid the far dusk had grown dim.

   A while, indeed, the wood might seem more sweet,
350

That there had been the passionate eyes of them
Wandering from tree to tree loved eyes to meet;
That o’er-blown flower, or heavy-laden stem
Lay scattered, languid ’neath the delicate hem
That kissed the feet moving with love's unrest,
355

Though love was nigh them, to some dreamed-of best.

   A little while, then on his way he went,
With all that company now quite forgot,
But unforgot the name their lips had sent
[732] Adown the wave of song; his heart waxed hot
360

With a new thought of life, remembered not,
Save as a waste passed through with loathing sore
Unto a life, which, if he gained no more

   Than this desire, lonely, unsatisfied,
This name of one unknown, unseen, was bliss;
365

And if this strange world were not all too wide,
But he some day might touch her hand with his,
And turn away from that ungranted kiss
Not all unpitied, nor unhappy quite,
What better knew the lost world of delight?
370

   Now, while he thought these things, and had small heed
Of what was round him, changed the place was grown
Like to a tree-set garden, that no weed,
Nor winter, or decay had ever known;
No longer now complained the dove alone
375

Over his head, but with unwearying voice
’Twixt leaf and blossom did the birds rejoice.

   No longer strove the sun and wind in vain
To reach the earth, but bright and fresh they played
About the flowers of a wide-stretching plain,
380

Where ’twixt the soft sun and the flickering shade
There went a many wild things, unafraid
Each of the other or of the wanderer,
Yea, even when his bright arms drew anear.

   And through the plain a little stream there wound,
385

And far o’er all there rose up mountains grey,
That never so much did the place surround,
But ever through their midmost seemed a way
To whatsoe’er of lovely through them lay.
But still no folk saw Walter; nay, nor knew
390

If those were dreams who passed the wild wood through.

   But on he passed, and now his dream to prove
Plucked down an odorous fruit from overhead,
[733] Opened its purple heart and ate thereof;
Then, where a path of wondrous blossoms led,
395

Beset with lilies and with roses red,
Went to the stream, and felt its ripples cold,
As through a shallow, strewn with very gold

   For pebbles, slow he waded: still no stay
He made, but wandered toward the hills; no fear
400

And scarce a pain upon his heart did weigh;
Only a longing made his life more dear,
A longing for a joy that drew an ear;
And well-nigh now his heart seemed satisfied,
So only in one place he should not bide.
405

   And so he ever wandered on and on,
Till clearer grew the pass ’twixt hill and hill;
Lengthened the shadows, sank adown the sun,
As though in that dull world he journeyed still
Where all day long men labour, night to fill
410

With dreams of toil and trouble, and arise
To find the daylight cold to hopeless eyes.

   Some vague thought of that world was in his heart,
As, meeting sunset and grey moonrise there.
He came unto the strait vale that did part
415

Hill-side from hill-side; through the golden air,
Far off, there lay another valley fair;
Red with the sunset ran the little stream—
Ah me! in such a place, amid a dream,

   Two sundered lovers, each of each forgiven,
420

All things known, all things past away, might meet.
Such place, such time, as the one dream of heaven,
Midst a vain life of nought.—With faltering feet
He stayed a while, for all grew over sweet;
He hid his eyes, lest day should come again
425

As in such dream, and make all blank and vain.

   [734] He trembled as the wind came up the pass,—
Was it long time ’twixt breath and breath thereof?
Did the shade creep slow o’er the flower-strewn grass?
Was it a long time that he might not move,
430

Lest morn should bring the world and slay his love?
Surely the sun had set, the stream was still,
The wind had sunk adown behind the hill.—

   Nay, through his fingers the red sun did gleam,
In cadence with his heart's swift beating now
435

Beat the fresh wind, and fell adown the stream.
Then from his eyes his hands fell, and e’en so
The blissful knowledge on his soul did grow
That she was there, her speech as his speech, stilled
By very love, with love of him fulfilled.
440

   O close, O close there, in the hill's grey shade,
She stood before him, with her wondrous eyes
Fixed full on his! All thought in him did fade
Into the bliss that knoweth not surprise,
Into the life that hath no memories,
445

No hope and fear; the life of all desire,
Whose fear is death, whose hope consuming fire.

   Naked, alone, unsmiling, there she stood,
No cloud to raise her from the earth; her feet
Touching the grass that his touched, and her blood
450

Throbbing as his throbbed through her bosom sweet;
Both hands held out a little, as to meet
His outstretched hands; her lips each touching each;
Praying for love of him, but without speech.

   He fell not and he knelt not; life was strong
455

Within him at that moment; well he thought
That he should never die; all shame and wrong,
Time past and time to come, were all made nought;
As, springing forward, both her hands he caught;
And, even as the King of Love might kiss,
460

Felt her smooth cheek and pressed her lips with his.

   [735] What matter by what name of heaven or earth
Men called his love? Breathing and loving there
She stood, and clung to him; one love had birth
In their two hearts—he said—all things were fair,
465

Although no sunlight warmed the fresh grey air
As their lips sundered. Hand in hand they turned
From where no more the yellow blossoms burned.

   Louder the stream was, fallen dead was the wind,
As up the vale they went into the night,
470

No rest but rest of utter love to find
Amid the marvel of new-born delight,
And as her feet brushed through the dew, made white
By the high moon, he cried: "For this, for this
God made the world, that I might feel thy kiss!"
475

 

WHAT, is the tale not ended then? Woe's me!
How many tales on earth have such an end:
I longed, I found, I lived long happily,
And fearless in death's fellowship did wend?'
—On earth,—where hope is that two souls may blend
480

That God has made but she—who made her then
To be a curse unto the sons of men?

   And yet a flawless life indeed that seemed
For a long while: as flowers, not made to die
Or sin, they were: no dream was ever dreamed,
485

How short soe’er, wherein more utterly
Was fear forgot or weariness worn by;
Wherein less thought of the world's woe and shame,
Of men's vain struggles, o’er the sweet rest came.

   [736] Men say he grew exceeding wise in love,
490

That all the beauty that the earth had known,
At least in seeming, would come back, and move
Betwixt the buds and blossoms overblown;
Till, turning round to that which was his own,
Blind would he grow with ecstasy of bliss,
495

And find unhoped-for joy in each new kiss.

   Men say that every dear voice love has made
Throughout that love-filled loneliness would float,
And make the roses tremble in the shade
With unexpected sweetness of its note;
500

Till he would turn unto her quivering throat,
And, deaf belike, would feel the wave of sound
From out her lips change all the air around.

   Men say he saw the lovers of old time;
That ORPHEUS led in his EURYDICE,
505

Crooning o’er snatches of forgotten rhyme,
That once had striven against eternity,
And only failed, as all love fails, to see
Desire grow into perfect joy, to make
A lonely heaven for one beloved's sake.
510

   THISBE he saw, her wide white bosom bare;
Thereon instead of blood the mulberries' stain;
And single-hearted PYRAMUS anear
Held in his hand tufts of the lion's mane,
And the grey blade that stilled their longings vain
515

Smote down the daisies.—Changeless earth and old,
Surely thy heart amid thy flowers is cold!

   HELEN he saw move slow across the sward,
Until before the feet of her she stood
Who gave her, a bright bane and sad reward,
520

Unto the PARIS that her hand yet wooed:
Trembled her lips now, and the shame-stirred blood
Flushed her smooth cheek; but hard he gazed, and yearned
Unto the torch that Troy and him had burned.

   [737] Then ARIADNE came, her raiment wet
525

From out the sea; to her a prison wall,
A highway to the love she could not get.
Then upon PHYLLIS’ ivory cheeks did fall
The almond-blossoms. Then, black-haired and tall,
Came DIDO, with her slender fingers laid
530

On the thin edge of that so bitter blade.

   Then, what had happed? was the sun darker now?
Had the flowers shrunk, the warm breeze grown achill?
It might be; but his love therewith did grow,
And all his aching heart it seemed to fill
535

With such desire as knows no chain nor will:
Shoulder to shoulder quivering there they lay,
In a changed world that had not night nor day.

   A loveless waste of ages seemed to part,
And through the cloven dullness BRYNHILD came,
540

Her left hand on the fire that was her heart,
That paled her cheeks and through her eyes did flame,
Her right hand holding SIGURD'S; for no shame
Was in his simple eyes, that saw the worth
So clearly now of all the perished earth.
545

   Then suddenly outbroke the thrushes’ sound,
The air grew fresh as after mid-spring showers,
And on the waves of soft wind flowing round
Came scent of apple-bloom and gilliflowers,
[738] And all the world seemed in its morning hours,
550

And soft and dear were kisses, and the sight
Of eyes, and hands, and lips, and bosom white.

   Yea, the earth seemed a-babbling of these twain,
TRISTRAM and YSEULT, as they lingered there,
All their life days now nothing but a gain;
555

While death itself, wrapped in love's arms, must bear
Some blossom grown from depths of all despair,
Some clinging, sweetest, bitterest kiss of all,
Before the dark upon their heads should fall.

   Others he saw, whose names could tell him nought
560

Of any tale they might have sorrowed through;
But their lips spake, when of their lives he sought,
And many a story from their hearts he drew,
Some sweet as any that old poets knew,
Some terrible as death, some strange and wild
565

As any dream that hath sad night beguiled.

   But all with one accord, what else they said,
Would praise with eager words the Queen of Love;
Yet sometimes, while they spake, as if with dread,
Would look askance adown the blossomed grove;
570

Till a strange pain within his heart would move,
And he would cling to her enfolding arm,
Trembling with joy to find her breast yet warm.

   Then a great longing would there stir in him,
That all those kisses might not satisfy;
575

Dreams never dreamed before would gather dim
About his eyes, and trembling would he cry
To tell him how it was he should not die;
To tell him how it was that he alone
Should have a love all perfect and his own.
580

   [739] Ah me! with softest words her lips could make,
With touches worth a lifetime of delight,
Then would she soothe him, and his hand would take,
And lead him through all places fresh and bright,
And show him greater marvels of her might,
585

Till midst of smiles and joy he clean forgot
That she his passionate cry had answered not.

   Forgot to-day, and many days maybe:
Yet many days such questions came again,
And he would ask: "How do I better thee,
590

Who never knewst a sorrow or a pain?
Folk on the earth fear they may love in vain,
Ere first they see the love in answering eyes,
And still from day to day fresh fear doth rise."

   Unanswered and forgot!—forgot to-day,
595

Because too close they clung for sight or sound;
But yet to-morrow:—"Changeless love, O say
Why, since love's grief on earth doth so abound,
No heart my heart that loveth so ere found
That needed me?—for wilt thou say indeed
600

That thou, O perfect one, of me hast need?"

   —Unanswered and forgot a little while;—
Asked and unanswered many a time and oft;
Till something gleamed from out that marvellous smile,
And something moved within that bosom soft,
605

As though the God of Love had turned and scoffed
His worshipper, before his feet cast down,
To tell of all things for his sake o’erthrown.

   How many questions asked, nor answered aught?
How many longings met still by that same
610

Sweet face, by anguish never yet distraught,
Those limbs ne’er marred by any fear or shame;
How many times that dear rest o’er him came—
And faded mid the fear that nought she knew
What bitter seed within his bosom grew?
615

   [740] ’Twixt lessening joy and gathering fear, grew thin
That lovely dream, and glimmered now through it
Gleams of the world cleft from him by his sin;
Hell's flames withal, heavens glory, ’gan to flit
Athwart his eyes sometimes, as he did sit
620

Beside the Queen, in sleep's soft image laid;
And yet awhile the dreadful dawn was stayed.

   And in that while two thoughts there stirred in him,
And this the first: "Am I the only one
Whose eyes thy glorious kisses have made dim?
625

And what then with the others hast thou done?
Where is the sweetness of their sick love gone?"
—Ah me! her lips upon his lips were laid,
And yet awhile the dreadful dawn was stayed.

   And in that while the second thought was this:
630

"And if, wrapped in her love, I linger here
Till God's last justice endeth all our bliss,
Shall my eyes then, by hopeless pain made clear,
See that a vile dream my vain life held dear,
And I am lone? "—Ah, cheek to his cheek laid!
635

And yet awhile the dreadful dawn was stayed.

   How long who knoweth?—and be sure meanwhile,
That could man's heart imagine, man's tongue say,
The strange delights that did his heart beguile
Within that marvellous place from day to day,
640

Whoso might hearken should cast clean away
All thought of sin and shame, and laugh to scorn
The fear and hope of that delaying morn.

   But the third thought at last, unnamed for long,
Bloomed, a weak flower of hope within his heart;
645

And by its side unrest grew bitter strong,
And, though his lips said not the word, "Depart;"
Yet would he murmur: "Hopeless fair thou art!
Is there no love amid earth's sorrowing folk?"
So glared the dreadful dawn—and thus it broke.—
650

   [741] For on a night, amid the lily and rose,
Peaceful he woke from dreams of days bygone;
Peaceful at first; and, seeing her lying close
Beside him, had no memory of deeds done
Since long before that eve he rode alone
655

Amidst the wild wood; still awhile himseemed
That of that fair close, those white limbs he dreamed.

   So there for long he lay in happy rest,
As one too full of peace to wish to wake
From dreams he knows are dreams. Upon her breast
660

The soft wind did the dewy rose-leaves shake;
From out a gleaming cloud the moon did break;
Till, mid her balmy sleep, toward him she turned,
And into his soul her touch his baseness burned.

   Then fled all peace, as in a blaze of flame,
665

Rushed dreadful memory back; and therewithal,
Amid the thoughts that crowding o’er him came, p. 397
Clear vision of the end on him did fall;
Rose up against him a great fiery wall,
Built of vain longing and regret and fear,
670

Dull empty loneliness, and blank despair.

   A little space in stony dread he lay,
Till something of a wretched hope at last
Amidst his tangled misery drave its way.
Slowly he rose, and, cold with terror, passed
675

Through blossomed boughs, whose leaves, upon him cast
As he brushed by, seemed full of life and sound,
Though noiselessly they fell upon the ground.

   But soon he fled fast: and his goal he knew;
For each day's life once burdened with delight
680

Rose clear before him, as he hurried through
That lonely hell the grey moon yet made bright;
And midst them he remembered such a night
Of his first days there, when, hand locked in hand,
Sleepless with love, they wandered through the land;
685

   [742] And how, as thus they went, and as he thought
If he might still remember all her speech,
Whatso fresh pleasure to him might be brought,
A grove of windless myrtles they did reach,
So dark, that closer they clung each to each,
690

As children might; and how, the grove nigh done,
They came upon a cliff of smooth grey stone;

   And how, because the moon shone thereabout
Betwixt the boughs grown thinner, he could see,
Gazing along her smooth white arm stretched out,
695

A cavern mid the cliff gape gloomily;
And how she said: "Hither I guided thee,
To show thee the dark danger and the death,
But if thou have heed, of thy love and faith."

   Ah me! the memory of the sunrise sweet
700

After that warning little understood,
When stole the golden sun unto her feet,
As she lay sleeping by the myrtle-wood,
Watched by his sleepless longing!—"O how good
Those days were! fool, go back, go back again,
705

Shalt thou have lived and wilt thou die in vain?"

   So cried he, knowing well now what it meant,
That long-passed warning; that there gaped the gate
Whereby lost souls back to the cold earth went:
Then through his soul there swept a rush of hate
710

‘Gainst hope, that came so cruel and so late
To drive him forth from all the joys he knew,
Yet scarcely whispering why or whereunto.

   Therewith he stayed: midst a bright mead he was,
Whose flowers across her feet full oft had met
715

While he beheld; a babbling stream did pass
Unto the flowery close that held her yet.
—O bliss grown woe that he might ne’er forget!
But how shall he go back, just, e’en as now,
Oft, o’er again that bliss from him to throw?
720

   [743] He cried aloud with rage and misery,
But once again gat onward through the night;
Nought met him but the wind as he drew nigh
That myrtle-grove, black ’gainst the meadow bright;
Nought followed but the ghost of dead delight;
725

The boughs closed round him as still on he sped,
Half deeming that the world and he were dead.

   But when he came unto the open space,
Grey with the glimmer of the moon, he stayed
Breathless, and turned his white and quivering face
730

Back toward the spot where he had left her, laid
Beneath the rose-boughs by their flowers down-weighed,
As if he looked e’en yet to see her come,
And lead him back unto her changeless home.

   Nought saw he but the black boughs, and he cried:
735

"No sign, no sign for all thy kisses past!
For all thy soft speech that hath lied and lied!
No help, no cry to come back!—Ah, at last
I know that no real love from me I cast;
Nought but a dream; and that God knoweth too;
740

And no great gift He deems this deed I do.

   "O me! if thou across the night wouldst cry,
If through this dusky twilight of the moon
Thou wouldst glide past and sob a-going by,
Then would I turn and ask no greater boon
745

Of God, than here with thee to dwell alone,
And wait His day!—but now, behold, I flee,
Lest thy kissed lips should speak but mocks to me!

   "But now I flee, lest God should leave us twain
Forgotten here when earth has passed away,
750

Nor think us worthy of more hell or pain
Than such a never-ending, hopeless day!—
No sign yet breaketh through the glimmering grey!
Nought have I, God, for thee to take or leave,
Unless this last faint hope thou wilt receive!"
755

   [744] And with that word he rushed into the cave.
But when the depths of its chill dark he gained,
Turning he saw without the black boughs wave;—
—And oh, amidst them swayed her form unstained! '
But as he moved to meet her, all things waned;
760

A void unfathomed caught him as he fell
Into a night whereof no tongue can tell.

 

INTO bright sun he woke up suddenly,
And sprang up like a man with foes beset
Amidst of sleep; and crying an old cry
765

Learned in the tilt-yard, blind and tottering yet,
He stretched his hand out, that a tree-trunk met,
Dank with the dew of morn, and through his blood
A shiver ran, as hapless there he stood.

   Until, though scarce remembering aught at all,
770

Clearly he saw the world and where he was;
For as he gazed around, his eyes did fall
Upon a tree-encompassed plain of grass,
Through which anigh him did a fair stream pass.
He stood and looked, nor a long while did dare
775

To turn and see what lay behind him there.

   At last he did turn, and the cave's mouth, black,
Threatening, and dreadful, close to him did see,
And thither now his first thought drove him back;
A blind hope mingled with the misery
780

That ’gan to close about him; and yet he
Had no will left to move his feet thereto.
Yea, vague that passed joy seemed—yea, hardly true.

   Again he looked about: the sun was bright,
And leafless were the trees of that lone place,
785

Last seen by him amid the storm's wild light;
He passed his hand across his haggard face,
And touched his brow; and therefrom did he raise,
Unwittingly, a strange-wrought golden crown,
Mingled with roses, faded now and brown.
790

  [745] The cold March wind across his raiment ran
As his hand dropped, and the crown fell to earth;
An icy shiver caught the wretched man
As he beheld his raiment of such worth
For gems, that in strange places had their birth,
795

But frail as is the dragon-fly's fair wing
That down the July stream goes flickering.

   Cold to the very bone, in that array
He hugged himself against the biting wind,
And toward the stream went slow upon his way;
800

Nor yet amidst the mazes of his mind
The whole tale of his misery might he find,
Though well he knew he was come back again
Unto a lost world fresh fulfilled of pain.

   But ere he reached the rippling stony ford,
805

His right foot smote on something in the grass,
And, looking down, he saw a goodly sword,
Though rusted, tangled in the weeds it was;
Then to his heart did better memory pass,
And in one flash he saw that bygone night,
810

Big with its sudden hopes of strange delight.

   For, to you, now his blanched and unused hand
Clutched the spoiled grip of his once trusty blade!
There, holding it point downward, did he stand,
Until he heard a cry, and from a glade
815

He saw a man come toward him; sore afraid
Of that new face he was, as a lone child
Of footsteps on a midnight road and wild.

   There he stood still, and watched the man draw near;
A forester, who, gazing on him now,
820

Seemed for his part stayed by some sudden fear
That made him fit a shaft unto his bow,
As his scared heart wild tales to him did show
About that haunted hill-side and the cave,
And scarce he thought by flight his soul to save.
825

   [746] Now when he saw that, out into the stream
The knight strode, with a great and evil cry,
Since all men suddenly his foes did seem:
Then quailed the man, yet withal timidly
His bowstring drew, and close the shaft did fly
830

To Walter's ear, but the carle turned and fled,
E’en as he drew the bowstring to his head.

   But the knight reached the other side, and stood
Staring with hopeless eyes through that cold day;
And nothing that he now might do seemed good:
835

Then muttered he: "Why did I flee away?
My tears are frozen, and I cannot pray;
Nought have I, God, for thee to take or leave,
Unless that last faint hope thou didst receive."

   But as he spake these words unwittingly,
840

He moaned; for once again the moonlit place
Where last he said them did he seem to see,
And in his heart such longing did that raise,
That a bright flush carne o’er his haggard face,
And round he turned unto the cliff once more,
845

And moved as if the stream he would cross o’er.

   Who shall tell what thought stayed him? who shall tell
Why pale he grew? of what was he afraid,
As, turning, fast his hurried footsteps fell
On the wind-bitten blooms of spring delayed?
850

What hope his dull heart tore, as brown birds made
Clear song about the thicket's edge, when he
Rushed by their thorny haunts of melody?

   Heavily now his feet, so well wont, trod
The blind ways of the wood, till it grew thin,
855

And through the beech-trunks the green sunlit sod
He saw again; and presently did win
Into another cleared space, hemmed within
A long loop of the stream, and midmost there
Stood the abode of some stout wood-dweller.
860

   [747] Now as he came anigher to the sun,
Upon his glittering, gauzy, strange array
The bough-flecked, dazzling light of mid-day shone,
And at the wood's edge made he sudden stay,
And, writhing, seemed as he would tear away
865

The bright curse from him, till he raised his face,
And knew the cottage midmost of the place:

   Knew it, as one a-dying might behold
His cup made joyous once with wine and glee,
Now brought unto him with its ruddy gold,
870

Stained with the last sad potion scantily;
For he, a youth, in joyous company,
Maying or hunting, oft had wandered there,
When maiden's love first known was fresh and fair.

   He moaned, and slowly made unto the door,
875

Where sat a woman spinning in the sun,
Who oft belike had seen him there before,
Among those bright folk not the dullest one;
But now when she had set her eyes upon
The wild thing hastening to her, for a space
880

She sat regarding him with scared white face;

   But as he neared her, fell her rock adown.
She rose, and fled with mouth that would have cried
But for her terror. Then did Walter groan:
"O wretched life! how well might I have died
885

Here, where I stand, on many a happy tide,
When folk fled not from me, nor knew me cursed,
And yet who knoweth that I know the worst?"

   Scarce formed upon his lips, the word "Return"
Rang in his heart once more; but a cold cloud
890

Of all despair, however he might yearn,
All pleasure of that bygone dream did shroud,
And hopes and fears, long smothered, now ’gan crowd
About his heart: nor might he rest in pain,
But needs must struggle on, howe’er in vain.
895

   [748] Into the empty house he passed withal;
As in a dream the motes did dance and grow
Amidst the sun, that through the door did fall
Across its gloom, and on the board did show
A bag of silver pieces, many enow,
900

The goodman's market-silver; and a spear
New-shafted, bright, that lay athwart it there.

   Brooding he stood, till in him purpose grew;
Unto the peasants’ coffer, known of old,
He turned, and raised the lid, and from it drew
905

Raiment well worn by miles of wind-beat wold.
And, casting to the floor his gauzy gold,
Did on these things, scarce thinking in meanwhile
How he should deal with his life's new-born toil.

   But now, being clad, he took the spear and purse,
910

And on the board his clothes begemmed he laid,
Half wondering would their wealth turn to a curse,
As in the tales he once deemed vainly made
Of elves and such-like—once again he weighed
The bright web in his hand, and a great flood
915

Of evil memories fevered all his blood,

   Blinded his eyes, and wrung his heart full sore;
Yet grew his purpose among men to dwell,
He scarce knew why, nor said he any more
That word "Return:" perchance the threatened hell,
920

Disbelieved once, seemed all too possible
Amid this anguish, wherefrom if the grain
Of hope should fall, then hell would be a gain.

   He went his ways, and once more crossed the stream,
And hastened through the wood, that scantier grew
925

Till from a low hill he could see the gleam
Of the great river that of old he knew,
Which drank the woodland stream: ’neath the light blue
Of the March sky, swirling and bright it ran,
A wonder and a tale to many a man.
930

   [749] He went on wondering not; all tales were nought
Except his tale; with min of his own life,
To ruin the world's life, hopeful once, seemed brought;
The changing year seemed weary of the strife
Ever recurring, with all vain hope rife;
935

Earth, sky, and water seemed too weak and old
To gain a little rest from waste and cold.

   He wondered not, and no pain smote on him,
Though from a green hill on the further side,
Above the green meads set with poplars slim,
940

A white wall, buttressed well, made girdle wide
To towers and roofs where yet his kin did bide:—
—His father's ancient house; yea, now he saw
His very pennon toward the river draw.

   No pain these gave him, and no scorn withal
945

Of his old self; no rage that men were glad
And went their ways, whatso on him might fall;
For all seemed shadows to him, good or bad;
At most the raiment that his yearning clad,
Yearning made blind with misery, for more life,
950

If it might be, love yet should lead the strife.

   He stood a space and watched the ferry-boat
Take in its load of bright and glittering things;
He watched its head adown the river float,
As o’er the water came the murmurings
955

Of broken talk: and as all memory clings
To such dumb sounds, so dreamlike came back now
The tale of how his life and love did grow.

   He turned away and strode on, knowing not
What purpose moved him; as the river flowed
960

He hastened, where the sun of March blazed hot
Upon the bounding wall and hard white road,
The terraced blossoming vines, the brown abode
Where wife and child and dog of vine-dressers
With mingled careless clamour cursed his ears.
965

   [750] —How can words measure misery, when the sun
Shines at its brightest over plague and ill?
How can I tell the woe of any one,
When the soft showers with fair-hued sweetness fill,
Before the feet of those grief may not kill,
970

The tender meads of hopeful spring, that comes
With eager hours to mock all hopeless homes?

   So let it pass, and ask me not to weigh
Grief against grief:—ye who have ever woke
To wondering, ere came memory back, why day,
975

Bare, blank, immovable, upon you broke—
—Untold shall ye know all—to happy folk
All heaviest words no more of meaning bear
Than far-off bells saddening the summer air.

   But tells my tale, that all that day he went
980

Along the highway by the river side,
Urged on by restlessness without intent;
Until when he was caught by evening-tide,
Worn out withal, at last must he abide
At a small homestead, where he gat him food
985

And bed of straw, among tired folk and rude.

   A weary ghost within the poor hall there,
He sat amid their weariness, who knew
No whit of all his case, yet half with fear
And half with scorn gazed on him, as, with few
990

And heavy words, about the fire they drew,
The goodman and goodwife, both old and grey,
Three stout sons, and one rough uncared-for may.

   A ghost he sat, and as a ghost he heard
What things they spoke of; but sleep-laden night
995

Seemed to have crushed all memory of their word,
When on the morrow, in the young sun's light,
He plodded o’er the highway hard and white;
Unto what end he knew not: though swift thought
Memory of things long spoken to him brought.
1000

   [751] That day he needs must leave the streamside road,
Whereon he met of wayfarers no few;
For sight of wondering eyes now ’gan to goad
His misery more, as still more used he grew
To that dull world he had returned unto;
1005

So into a deep-banked lane he turned aside,
A little more his face from men to hide.

   Slowly he went, for afternoon it was,
And with the long way was he much foreworn;
Nor far between the deep banks did he pass,
1010

Ere on the wind unto his ears was borne
A stranger sound than he had heard that morn,
Sweet sound of mournful singing; then he stayed
His feet, and gazed about as one afraid:

   He shuddered, feeling as in time long past,
1015

When mid the utter joy of his young days
The sudden sound of music would be cast
Upon the bright world with the sun ablaze,
And he would look to see a strange hand raise
The far-off blue, and God in might come down
1020

To judge the earth, and make all hid things known.

   And therewithal came memory of that speech
Of yesternight, and how those folk had said,
That now so far did wrong and misery reach,
That soon belike earth would be visited
1025

At last with that supreme day of all dread;
When right and wrong, and weal and woe of earth,
Should change amid its fiery second birth.

   He hastened toward the road as one who thought
God's visible glory would be passing by,
1030

But, when he looked forth tremblingly, saw nought
Of glorious dread to quench his misery;
There was the sky, and, like a second sky,
The broad stream, the white road, the whispering trees
Swaying about in the sound-laden breeze.
1035

   [752] For nigher and nigher ever came the song,
And presently at turning of the way
A company of pilgrims came along,
Mostly afoot, in garments brown and grey:
Slowly they passed on through the windy day,
1040

Led on by priests who bore aloft the rood,
Singing with knitted brows as on they strode.

   Then sank his heart adown, however sweet,
Pensive and strange, their swinging song might be,
For nought like this he had in heart to meet;
1045

But rather something was he fain to see,
That should change all the old tale utterly;—
—The old tale of the world, and love and death,
And all the wild things that man's yearning saith.

   Nathless did he abide their coming there,
1050

And noted of them as they drew anigh,
That in that fellowship were women fair,
And young men meet for joyous company,
Besides such elders, as might look to die
In few years now, or monks who long had striven
1055

With life desired and feared, life for death given.

   Way-worn they seemed, yet many there strode on,
With flashing eyes and flushed cheeks, as though all
Within a little space should be well won:
Still as he gazed on them, despair did fall
1060

Upon his wasted heart; a fiery wall
Of scorn and hate seemed ’twixt their hearts and his;
While delicate images of bygone bliss

   Grew clear before his eyes, as rood and saint
Gleamed in the sun o’er raiment coarse and foul,
1065

O’er dusty limbs, and figures worn and faint:
Well-nigh he shrieked; yet in his inmost soul
He felt that he must ask them of their goal,
And knew not why: so at a man he clutched,
Who, as he passed, his shoulder well-nigh touched.
1070

   [753] "Where goest thou then, O pilgrim, with all these?"
"Stay me not!" cried he; "unto life I go,
To life at last, and hope of rest and peace;
I whom my dreadful crime hath hunted so
For years, though I am young—O long and slow
1075

The way to where the change awaiteth me—
To Rome, where God nigh visible shall be!

   "Where He who knoweth all, shall know this too,
That I am man—e’en that which He hath made,
Nor be confounded at aught man can do.—
1080

—And thou, who seemest too with ill down-weighed,
Come on with us, nor be too much afraid,
Though some men deem there is but left small space,
Or ere the world shall see the Judge's face."

   He answered not, nor moved; the man's words seemed
1085

An echo of his thoughts, and, as he passed,
Word and touch both might well be only dreamed.
Yea, when the vine-clad terraced hill at last
Had hid them all, and the slim poplars cast
Blue shadows on the road, that scarce did show
1090

A trace of their passed feet, he did not know

   But all had been a dream; all save the pain,
That, mingling with the palpable things around,
Showed them to be not wholly vague and vain,
And him not dead, in whatso hard bonds bound,
1095

Of wandering fate, whose source shall ne’er be found.
He shivered, turned away, and down the same
Deep lane he wandered, whence e’en now he came.

   He toward the night through hapless day-dreams passed,
That knew no God to come, no love: he stood
1100

Before a little town's grey gate at last,
And in the midst of his lost languid mood,
Turned toward the western sky, as red as blood,
As bright as sudden dawn across the dark,
And through his soul fear shot a kindling spark.
1105

   [754] But as he gazed, the rough-faced gate-warder,
Who leaned anigh upon his spear, must turn
Eyes on him, with an answering anxious fear,
That silent, questioning, dared not to learn,
If he too deemed more than the sun did burn
1110

Behind the crimson clouds that made earth grey—
If yet perchance God's host were on its way.

   So too, being come unto his hostelry,
His pain was so much dulled by weariness,
That he might hearken to men's words, whereby
1115

It seemed full sure that great fear did oppress
Men's hearts that tide, that the world's life, grown less
Through time's unnoted lapse, this thousandth year
Since Christ was born, unto its end drew near.

   Time and again, he, listening to such word,
1120

Felt his heart kindle; time and again did seem
As though a cold and hopeless tune he heard,
Sung by grey mouths amidst a dull-eyed dream;
Time and again across his heart would stream
The pain of fierce desire whose aim was gone,
1125

Of baffled yearning loveless and alone.

   Other words heard he too, that served to show
The meaning of that earnest pilgrim train;
For the folk said that many a man would go
To Rome that Easter, there more sure to gain
1130

Full pardon for all sins, since frail and vain,
Cloudlike the very earth grew ’neath men's feet:
Yea, many thought, that there at Rome would meet

   The half-forgotten Bridegroom with the Bride,
Stained with the flushed feast of the world; that He,
1135

Through wrack and flame, would draw unto His side
In the new earth where there is no more sea.
So spake men got together timorously;
Though pride slew fear in some men's souls, that they
Had lived to see the firm earth melt away.
1140

   [755] Next morn were folk about the market cross
Gathered in throngs, and as through these he went
He saw above them a monk's brown arms toss
About his strained and eager mouth, that sent
Strong speech around, whose burden was 'Repent;'
1145

He passed by toward the gate that Romeward lay,
Yet on its other side his feet did stay.

   Upon a daisied patch of road-side grass
He cast himself, and down the road he gazed;
And therewithal the thought through him did pass,
1150

How long and wretched was the way he faced.
Therewith the smouldering fire again outblazed
Within him, and he moaned: "O empty earth,
What shall I do, then, mid thy loveless dearth?"

   But as he spake, there came adown the wind
1155

From out the town the sound of pilgrims’ song,
And other thoughts were borne across his mind,
And hope strove with desire so hopeless strong,
Till in his heart, wounded with pain and wrong,
Something like will was born; until he knew
1160

Now, ere they came, what thing he meant to do.

   So through the gate at last the pilgrims came,
Led by an old priest, fiery-eyed and grey;
Then Walter held no parley with his shame,
But stood before him midmost of the way.
1165

"Will one man's sin so heavy on you weigh,"
He cried, "that ye shall never reach your end?
Unto God's pardon with you would I wend."

   The old man turned to him: "My son," he said,
"Come with us, and be of us! turn not back
1170

When once thine hand upon the plough is laid;
The telling of thy sin we well may lack,
Because the Avenger is upon our track,
And who can say the while we tarry here,
Amid this seeming peace, but God draws near?"
1175

   [756] The crowd had stayed their song to hear the priest,
But now, when Walter joined their company,
Like a great shout it rose up and increased,
And on their way they went so fervently
That swept away from earth he seemed to be;
1180

And many a thought o’er which his heart had yearned
Amid their fire to white ash now seemed burned.

   For many days they journeyed on, and still
Whate’er he deemed that he therein should do,
The hope of Rome his whole soul seemed to fill;
1185

And though the priest heard not his story through,
Yet from him at the last so much he knew,
That he had promised when they reached the place,
To bring him straight before the Pope's own face.

   Through many a town they passed; till on a night
1190

Long through the darkness they toiled on and on
Down a straight road, until a blaze of light
On the grey carving of an old gate shone;
And fast the tears fell down from many an one,
And rose a quavering song, for they were come
1195

Unto the threshold of that mighty Rome.

   They entered: like a town of ghosts it seemed
To Walter, a beleaguered town of ghosts;
And he felt of them, little if he dreamed
Amid his pain of all the marshalled hosts
1200

That lay there buried mid forgotten boasts;
But dead he seemed as those his pleasures were,
Dead in a prison vast and void and drear.

   Unto a convent that eve were they brought,
Where with the abbot spake the priest for long,
1205

Then bade the hapless man to fear him nought,
But that the Pope next day would right his wrong;
"And let thy heart," quoth he, "O son, be strong,
For no great space thou hast to sin anew:
The days of this ill world are grown but few."
1210

   [757] Night passed, day dawned, and at the noon thereof
The priest came unto Walter: "Fair my son,
Now shalt thou know," he said, "of God's great love;
Moreover thou shalt talk with such an one
As hath heard told the worst deeds man hath done,
1215

And will not start at thine or mock at thee:
Be of good heart, and come thy ways with me."

   Amid the tumult of his heart, they went
Through the calm day, by wonders wrought of old;
And fresh young folk they met, and men intent
1220

On eager life; the wind and the sun's gold
Were fresh on bands of monks that did uphold
The carven anguish of the rood above
The wayfarers, who trusted in God's love.

   But no more dead the grey old temples seemed
1225

To him than fresh-cheeked girl or keen-eyed man;
And like a dream for some dim purpose dreamed,
And half forgotten, was the image wan
Nailed on the cross: no tremor through him ran,
No hope possessed him, though his lips might say,
1230

"O love of God, be nigh to me to-day!"

   For surely all things seemed but part of him;
Therefore what help in them? Still on he passed
Through all, and still saw nothing blurred or dim,
Though with a dread air was the world o’ercast,
1235

As of a great fire somewhere; till at last,
At a fair convent door the old priest stayed,
And touched his fellow's shoulder, as he said:

   "Thou tremblest not; thou look’st as other men:
Come then, for surely all will soon be well,
1240

And like a dream shall be that ill day, when
Thou hangedst on the last smooth step of hell!"
But from his shoulder therewith his hand fell,
And long he stared astonished in his place,
At a new horror fallen o’er Walter's face.
1245

   [758] Then silently he led him on again
Through daintily wrought cloisters, to a door,
Whereby there stood a gold-clad chamberlain:
Then, while the monk his errand to him bore,
Walter turned round and cast a wild look o’er
1250

Fair roof, and painted walls, and sunlit green,
That showed the slim and twisted shafts between.

   He shut his eyes and moaned sore, for as clear
As he beheld these, did he now behold
A woman white and lovely drawing near,
1255

Whose face amidst her flower-wreathed hair of gold,
Mocked the faint images of saints of old;
Mocked with sweet smile the pictured mother of God,
As o’er the knee-worn floor her fair feet trod.

   Through his shut eyes he saw her still, as he
1260

Heard voices, and stepped onward, as he heard
The door behind him shut to noisily,
And echo down the cloisters, and a word
Spoke by a thin low voice: "Be not afeard!
Look up! for though most surely God is nigh,
1265

Yet nowise is he with us visibly."

   He looked up, and beside him still she stood,
With eyes that seemed to question; What dost thou,
What wilt thou say?
The fever of his blood
Abated not, because before him now
1270

There sat an old man with high puckered brow,
Thin lips, long chin, and wide brown eyes and mild,
That o’er the sternness of his mouth still smiled.

   "Wilt thou kneel down, my son?" he heard him say,
"God is anigh, though not to give thee fear;
1275

Folk tell me thou hast journeyed a long way,
That I the inmost of thine heart might hear;
It glads me that thou holdest me so dear.
But more of this thy love I yet would win,
By telling thee that God forgives thy sin."
1280

   [759] He knelt down, but all silent did abide
While the Pope waited silent; on the ground
His eyes were fixed, but still anigh his side
He knew she stood; and all the air around
Was odorous with her, yea, the very sound
1285

Of her sweet breath, moving of hair and limb,
Mixed with his own breath in the ears of him.

   Outside the sparrows twittered; a great tree
Stirred near the window, and the city's noise
Still murmured: long the Pope sat patiently
1290

Amid that silence, till the thin weak voice
Spake out and said: "O son, have the world's joys
Made thee a coward? what is thy degree?
Despite thy garb no churl thou seem’st to me."

   Fearfully Walter raised his eyes, and turned,
1295

As though to ask that vision what to say,
And with a bitter pain his vexed heart burned,
When now he found all vanished clean away:
Great wrath stirred in him; shame most grievous lay
Upon his heart, and spreading suddenly
1300

His hands abroad, he ’gan at last to cry:

   "Look at me, father! I have been a knight,
And held my own mid men: such as I kneel
Before thee now, amidst a hopeless fight
Have I stood firm against the hedge of steel,
1305

Casting aside all hope of life and weal
For nought—because folk deemed I would do so,
Though nought there was to gain or win unto.

   "Yet before thee an old man small and weak
I quail indeed: not because thou art great,
1310

Not because God through thy thin pipe doth speak,
As all folk trow: but, rather, that man's hate,
Man's fear, God's scorn shall fall in all their weight
Upon my love when I have spoken out—
—Yea, let me bide a minute more in doubt!
1315

   [760] "Man hates it and God scorns, and I, e’en I—
—How shall I hate my love and scorn my love?
Weak, weak are words—but, O my misery!
More hate than man's hate in my soul doth move;
Greater my scorn than scorn of God above—
1320

And yet I love on.—Is the pain enow
That thou some hope unto my heart mayst show?—

   "Some hope of peace at last that is not death?
Because with all these things I know for sure
I cannot die, else had I stopped my breath
1325

Long time agone—thereto hath many a lure
Drawn on my hand; but now God doth endure,
And this my love, that never more shall bring
Delight to me or help me anything."

   Calm sat the Pope, and said: "Hope, rather, now;
1330

For many a sinner erewhile have I shriven
As utterly o’erwhelmed in soul as thou,
Who, when awhile with words his mouth had striven,
Went forth from me at peace and well forgiven.
Fall we to talk; and let me tell thee first,
1335

That there are such as fain would be the worst

   "Among all men, since best they cannot be,
So strong is that wild lie that men call pride;
And so to-day it is, perchance, with thee—
Cast it aside, son; cast it clean aside,
1340

Nor from my sight thy utmost vileness hide;
Nought worse it makes thy sin, when all is done,
That every day men do the same, my son!"

   The strained lines of the kneeling wretch's face
Were softened; as to something far away
1345

He seemed a-listening: silent for a space
The two men were—who knows what ’twixt them lay,
What world of wondrous visions, of a day
Passed or to come?—to one lost love so clear,
God's glory to the other present there.
1350

   [761] At last the Pope spake; well-nigh musical
His voice was grown, and in his thin dry cheek
There rose a little flush: "Tell of thy fall,
And how thy weak heart its vain lust must seek,
Cursing the kind and treading down the weak!
1355

Tell all the blindness of thy cruelties,
Thy treason, thine unkindness and thy lies!—

   "And be forgiven—these things are of earth:
The fire of God shall burn them up apace,
And leave thee calm in thy pure second birth;
1360

No sin, no lust forgotten, in the place
Where, litten by the glory of God's face,
The souls that He hath made for ever move
Mid never-dying, never-craving love.

   "How fair shall be the dawning of that day
1365

When thy cleared eyes behold the thing thou wast,
Wherefore, and all the tale: hate cast away,
And all the yearning of thy love at last
Full satisfied, and held for ever fast!
O never-dying souls, how sweet to hear
1370

Your laughter in the land that knows no fear!

   "All this thou gainest if to God thou turn,
Since nought but with thy fellows hast thou dealt,
And well He wotteth how vexed hearts may yearn,
Who in the very midst of them hath dwelt,
1375

Whose own soul, too, the world's hard wrong hath felt,
The serpent's burning clutch upon his heel—
Speak, then, and pray, and earn unending weal!"

   A strange look crossed the knight's face as he said:
"Surely all these shall love their God full well;
1380

Good to be one of these; yet have I read
That other things God made, and that they dwell
In that abode He made, too, men call hell.
If every man that will become God's friend
Shall have great joy that nevermore shall end,—
1385

   [762] "Yet is it so that evil dureth still,
Unslain of God—what if a man's love cling,
In sore despite of reason, hope, and will,
Unto the false heart of an evil thing?—
—O me!" he cried, "that scarce heard murmuring
1390

Beside me, and that faint sound of thy feet!
Must thou be wordless this last time we meet?"

   Then the Pope trembled, for, half-risen now,
Walter glared round him through the empty air;
"O man," he said, "speak out: what seest thou?
1395

What ill thing ’twixt thy God and thee stands there?"
"Ah, me!" cried Walter, "kind thou wert and fair
In the past days, and now wilt thou be gone,
And leave me with this cruel God alone?

   "Is it then so as I have deemed erewhile,
1400

That thou fear’st God too, even as I fear?
That I shall see the death of thy kind smile,
When, hand in hand, amid the unshadowed air,
Unto God's face forgot we draw anear?
O mocking lie, that told me while ago,
1405

One minute's bliss was worth unending woe!"

   The Pope caught at the staff across his knees,
And, rising, stood, leaned heavily thereon,
And said: "Why kneelest thou mid words like these;
Rise up, and tell me swift what thou hast done,
1410

E’en as one man speaks to another one;
Or let me go, lest I begin to deem
That I myself spake thus in some ill dream!"

   But, cowering down again, cried out the knight:
"Nay, leave me not! wait, father; thou shalt hear!
1415

Lo, she is gone now!—surely thou said’st right;
For the whole world is trembling with my fear
And tainted with my sin—I will speak clear
And in few words, and know the end at last.
Yea, though e’en now I know myself outcast.
1420

  [763]  "Hast thou not heard about the gods, who erst
Held rule here where thou dwellest? dost thou think
That people ’neath their rule were so accurst
That they forgot in joy to eat and drink,
That they slept not, and loved not, and must shrink
1425

From the world's glory?—how if they loved these
Thou tallest devils and their images?

   "And did God hate the world, then, for their sake,
When fair the sun rose up on every day,
And blade and bloom through the brown earth did break,
1430

And children were as glad as now?—nay, nay,
Time for thy wrath yet—what if these held sway
Even now in some wise, father?—Nay, say then,
Hast thou not heard, from certain Northern men,

   "Of lonely haunters of the wild-woods there,
1435

Not men, nor angels, soulless as men deem,
But of their bodily shape most wondrous fair?
What—thinkest thou I tell thee of some dream,
Some wandering glimmer of the moon's grey beam,
Seen when men's hearts sink mid black-shadowed trees,
1440

And unknown words are in the tangled breeze?

   "Belike I dreamed then! O belike some shade
Of nought that is I saw with these mine eyes!—
—I saw her feet upon the blossoms laid,
The flowers o’er which no God-made sun shall rise!-
1445

Belike I am a mad fool mid the wise,
But nothing therefor of God's wrath need fear,
Because my body and soul I gave her there.

   "What!—must I name her, then, ere thou mayst know
What thing I mean? or say where she doth dwell—
1450

A land that new life unto me did show
Which thou wilt deem a corner cut from Hell,
Set in the world lest all go there too well?
—Lo, from THE HILL OF VENUS do I come,
That now henceforth I know shall be my home!"
1455

   [764] He sprang up as he spoke, and faced the Pope,
Who through his words had stood there trembling sore,
With doubtful anxious eyes, whence every hope
Failed with that last word; a stern look came o’er
His kind vexed face: "Yea, dwell there evermore!"
1460

He cried: "just so much hope I have of thee
As on this dry staff fruit and flowers to see!"

   Walter laughed loud, and knew not who was there,
And who was gone, nor how long he abode
Within that place, or why his feet must fare
1465

Round about Rome that night—or why that load
Was on his heart; or why next morn the road
Beneath his hurrying feet was white and dry,
And no cloud flecked the sunny April sky.

   He knew not—though he wondered at all these,
1470

And where he went—but nought seemed strange to him,
And nought unknown, when the great forest-trees
Around a cleared space of the wood were dim
In windless dawn, with white mist that did swim
About a pine-clad cliff, above a stream
1475

Dark, scarcely seen, and voiceless as a dream.

   No ignorance, no wonder, and no hope
Was in his heart, as his firm feet passed o’er
The shallow's pebbles, and the flowery slope,
And reached the black-mouthed cavern, the dark door,
1480

Unto the fate now his for evermore,
As now at last its echoing stony dearth,
And dull dark closed betwixt him and the earth.

 

AND what more would ye hear of him? Meseems
It passes mind of man to picture well
1485

His second sojourn in that land; yet gleams
There might be thence, if one had heart to tell,
In sleepless nights, of horrors passing hell,
[765] Of joys by which our joys are misery;
But hopeless both, if such a thing may be.
1490

   Let us be silent then, but hear at least
What the old tale tells: that the morrow morn
The Pope was busy at the Holy Feast;
Then through the ancient solemn streets was borne,
Where stood the folk as thick as summer corn;
1495

Then o’er their bowed heads and their weeping stilled,
With his small blessing voice the hushed air thrilled:

   And, many other things being said and done,
Unto his own house came back at the last,
And in his quiet garden walked alone
1500

Pondering, his mind perplexed and overcast,
Not with the hurry of the day late past;
Rather that haggard face, those hopeless eyes,
Despite himself would still before him rise.

   The shadows fell their longest; a great flood
1505

Of golden light glowed through the peaceful place;
The Pope sat down; the staff of olive-wood
Cursed, as it were, at ending of that case,
Fell from him as he turned his weary face
Unto the western glory: close beside
1510

A babbling conduit, from its stone did glide.

   Well sang the birds; all was so sweet and fair,
It melted those dull troublous thoughts within
The old man's heart, transmuted all his care
Into a loving peace right hard to win:
1515

He murmured in his faded voice and thin,
Mid the full sweetness of the spring; "Would God
That man and I this peace together trod!

   "For he mayhap had things to say to me
He could not say then, knowing not what I was;
1520

And I—God wot that there are things I see,
To tell of; if the words my lips would pass:
Things dimly seen, indeed, as in a glass—
[766] Woe's me! for who shall help me if I erred!
Yet God, I deemed, had given me that last word.
1525

   "O God, if I have done thee deadly wrong,
And lost a soul thou wouldst have saved and blessed,
Yet other words thou knowest were on my tongue,
When ’twixt that soul and mine thine image pressed:
Thou wilt remember this and give him rest!
1530

And as for me, thou knowest I fear thee nought,
Since this my body and soul thine own hand wrought."

   The sun was sunken now, the west was red,
And still the birds poured forth their melody,
A marvellous scent about him seemed to spread,
1535

Mid strange new bliss the tears his eyes drew nigh;
He smiled and said; "Too old to weep am I;
Unless the very end be drawing near,
And unimagined sounds I soon shall hear.

   "And yet, before I die, I needs must go
1540

Back to my house, and try if I may write,
For there are some things left for me to do,
Ere my face glow with that ineffable light."
He moved and stooped down for his staff; still bright
The sky was, as he cast his eyes adown,
1545

And his hand sought the well-worn wood and brown.

   With a great cry he sprang up; in his hand
He held against the sky a wondrous thing,
That might have been the bright archangel's wand,
Who brought to Mary that fair summoning;
1550

For lo, in God's unfaltering timeless spring,
Summer, and autumn, had that dry rod been,
And from its barrenness the leaves sprang green,

   And on its barrenness grew wondrous flowers,
That earth knew not; and on its barrenness
1555

Hung the ripe fruit of heaven's unmeasured hours;
And with strange scent the soft dusk did it bless,
And glowed with fair light as earth's light grew less,—
[767] Yea, and its gleam the old man's face did reach,
Too glad for smiles, or tears, or any speech.
1560

   Who seeth such things and liveth? That high-tide
The Pope was missed from throne and chapel-stall,
And when his frightened people sought him wide,
They found him lying by the garden wall,
Set out on that last pilgrimage of all,
1565

Grasping his staff—"and surely," all folk said,
"None ever saw such joy on visage dead."

 

[768] SAD eyes there were the while the tale was told,
And few among the young folk were so bold
As to speak out their thoughts concerning it,
While still amidst that concourse they did sit.
But some when to the fresh bright day they turned,
5

And smooth cheeks even in that freshness burned,
’Neath burning glances might find words to speak,
Wondering that any tale should make love weak
To rule the earth, all hearts to satisfy;
Yet as they spake, perchance, some doubt went by
10

Upon the breeze, till out of sight and sound
Of other folk, their longing lips had found,
If but a little while, some resting-place,
On hand, on bosom, on bright eager face.
But the old men learned in earth's bitter lore,
15

Were glad to leave untouched the too rich store
Of hapless memories, if it might be done;
And wandered forth into the noonday sun,
To watch the blossoms budding on the wall,
And hear the rooks among the elm-trees call,
20

And note the happy voices on the breeze,
And see the lithe forms; making out of these
No tangled story, but regarding them
As hidden elves upon the forest's hem
Gaze on the dancers through the May-night green,
25

Not knowing aught what troubled looks may mean.

 

Page numbers are from The Earthly Paradise, edited Florence S. Boos, New York: Routledge, 2001. "February" appears in the 1870 edition, Part III, pages 231-433; in the 1890 edition, pages 387-441; and in the Kelmscott Press edition 1896-97, Vol. VIII, pages 1-177.


Back to top