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William Morris (1834-1896)

Atalanta's Race


              1Through thick Arcadian woods a hunter went,
              2Following the beasts upon a fresh spring day;
              3But since his horn-tipped bow but seldom bent,
              4Now at the noontide nought had happed to slay,
              5Within a vale he called his hounds away,
              6Hearkening the echoes of his lone voice cling
              7About the cliffs and through the beech-trees ring.

              8But when they ended, still awhile he stood,
              9And but the sweet familiar thrush could hear,
            10And all the day-long noises of the wood,
            11And o'er the dry leaves of the vanished year
            12His hounds' feet pattering as they drew anear,
            13And heavy breathing from their heads low hung,
            14To see the mighty corner bow unstrung.

            15Then smiling did he turn to leave the place,
            16But with his first step some new fleeting thought
            17A shadow cast across his sun-burnt face;
            18I think the golden net that April brought
            19From some warm world his wavering soul had caught;
            20For, sunk in vague sweet longing, did he go
            21Betwixt the trees with doubtful steps and slow.

            22Yet howsoever slow he went, at last
            23The trees grew sparser, and the wood was done;
            24Whereon one farewell backward look he cast,
            25Then, turning round to see what place was won,
            26With shaded eyes looked underneath the sun,
            27And o'er green meads and new-turned furrows brown
            28Beheld the gleaming of King Schœneus' town.

            29So thitherward he turned, and on each side
            30The folk were busy on the teeming land,
            31And man and maid from the brown furrows cried,
            32Or midst the newly blossomed vines did stand,
            33And as the rustic weapon pressed the hand
            34Thought of the nodding of the well-filled ear,
            35Or how the knife the heavy bunch should shear.

            36Merry it was: about him sung the birds,
            37The spring flowers bloomed along the firm dry road,
            38The sleek-skinned mothers of the sharp-horned herds
            39Now for the barefoot milking-maidens lowed;
            40While from the freshness of his blue abode,
            41Glad his death-bearing arrows to forget,
            42The broad sun blazed, nor scattered plagues as yet.

            43Through such fair things unto the gates he came,
            44And found them open, as though peace were there;
            45Wherethrough, unquestioned of his race or name,
            46He entered, and along the streets 'gan fare,
            47Which at the first of folk were well-nigh bare;
            48But pressing on, and going more hastily,

            49Men hurrying too he 'gan at last to see.
            50Following the last of these he still pressed on,
            51Until an open space he came unto,
            52Where wreaths of fame had oft been lost and won,
            53For feats of strength folks there were wont to do.
            54And now our hunter looked for something new,
            55Because the whole wide space was bare, and stilled
            56The high seats were, with eager people filled.

            57There with the others to a seat he gat,
            58Whence he beheld a broidered canopy,
            59'Neath which in fair array King Schœneus sat
            60Upon his throne with councillors thereby;
            61And underneath his well-wrought seat and high,
            62He saw a golden image of the sun,
            63A silver image of the Fleet-foot One.

            64A brazen altar stood beneath their feet
            65Whereon a thin flame flicker'd in the wind;
            66Nigh this a herald clad in raiment meet
            67Made ready even now his horn to wind,
            68By whom a huge man held a sword, entwin'd
            69With yellow flowers; these stood a little space
            70From off the altar, nigh the starting place.

            71And there two runners did the sign abide,
            72Foot set to foot,--a young man slim and fair,
            73Crisp-hair'd, well knit, with firm limbs often tried
            74In places where no man his strength may spare:
            75Dainty his thin coat was, and on his hair.
            76A golden circlet of renown he wore,
            77And in his hand an olive garland bore.

            78But on this day with whom shall he contend?
            79A maid stood by him like Diana clad
            80When in the woods she lists her bow to bend,
            81Too fair for one to look on and be glad,
            82Who scarcely yet has thirty summers had,
            83If he must still behold her from afar;
            84Too fair to let the world live free from war.

            85She seem'd all earthly matters to forget;
            86Of all tormenting lines her face was clear;
            87Her wide gray eyes upon the goal were set
            88Calm and unmov'd as though no soul were near.
            89But her foe trembled as a man in fear,
            90Nor from her loveliness one moment turn'd
            91His anxious face with fierce desire that burn'd.

            92Now through the hush there broke the trumpet's clang
            93Just as the setting sun made eventide.
            94Then from light feet a spurt of dust there sprang,
            95And swiftly were they running side by side;
            96But silent did the thronging folk abide
            97Until the turning-post was reach'd at last,
            98And round about it still abreast they passed.

            99But when the people saw how close they ran,
          100When half-way to the starting-point they were,
          101A cry of joy broke forth, whereat the man
          102Headed the white-foot runner, and drew near
          103Unto the very end of all his fear;
          104And scarce his straining feet the ground could feel,
          105And bliss unhop'd for o'er his heart 'gan steal.

          106But 'midst the loud victorious shouts he heard
          107Her footsteps drawing nearer, and the sound
          108Of fluttering raiment, and thereat afeard
          109His flush'd and eager face he turn'd around,
          110And even then he felt her past him bound
          111Fleet as the wind, but scarcely saw her there
          112Till on the goal she laid her fingers fair.

          113There stood she breathing like a little child
          114Amid some warlike clamour laid asleep,
          115For no victorious joy her red lips smil'd,
          116Her cheek its wonted freshness did but keep;
          117No glance lit up her clear gray eyes and deep,
          118Though some divine thought soften'd all her face
          119As once more rang the trumpet through the place.

          120But her late foe stopp'd short amidst his course,
          121One moment gaz'd upon her piteously.
          122Then with a groan his lingering feet did force
          123To leave the spot whence he her eyes could see;
          124And, changed like one who knows his time must be
          125But short and bitter, without any word
          126He knelt before the bearer of the sword;

          127Then high rose up the gleaming deadly blade,
          128Bar'd of its flowers, and through the crowded place
          129Was silence now, and midst of it the maid
          130Went by the poor wretch at a gentle pace,
          131And he to hers upturn'd his sad white face;
          132Nor did his eyes behold another sight
          133Ere on his soul there fell eternal light.

          134So was the pageant ended, and all folk
          135Talking of this and that familiar thing
          136In little groups from that sad concourse broke,
          137For now the shrill bats were upon the wing,
          138And soon dark night would slay the evening,
          139And in dark gardens sang the nightingale
          140Her little-heeded, oft-repeated tale.

          141And with the last of all the hunter went,
          142Who, wondering at the strange sight he had seen,
          143Prayed an old man to tell him what it meant,
          144Both why the vanquished man so slain had been,
          145And if the maiden were an earthly queen,
          146Or rather what much more she seemed to be,
          147No sharer in this world's mortality.

          148"Stranger," said he, "I pray she soon may die
          149Whose lovely youth has slain so many an one!
          150King Schœneus' daughter is she verily,
          151Who when her eyes first looked upon the sun
          152Was fain to end her life but new begun,
          153For he had vowed to leave but men alone
          154Sprung from his loins when he from earth was gone.

          155"Therefore he bade one leave her in the wood,
          156And let wild things deal with her as they might,
          157But this being done, some cruel god thought good
          158To save her beauty in the world's despite;
          159Folk say that her, so delicate and white
          160As now she is, a rough root-grubbing bear
          161Amidst her shapeless cubs at first did rear.

          162"In course of time the woodfolk slew her nurse,
          163And to their rude abode the youngling brought,
          164And reared her up to be a kingdom's curse;
          165Who grown a woman, of no kingdom thought,
          166But armed and swift, 'mid beasts destruction wrought,
          167Nor spared two shaggy centaur kings to slay
          168To whom her body seemed an easy prey.

          169"So to this city, led by fate, she came
          170Whom known by signs, whereof I cannot tell,
          171King Schœneus for his child at last did claim.
          172Nor otherwhere since that day doth she dwell
          173Sending too many a noble soul to hell--
          174What! shine eyes glisten! what then, thinkest thou
          175Her shining head unto the yoke to bow?

          176"Listen, my son, and love some other maid
          177For she the saffron gown will never wear,
          178And on no flower-strewn couch shall she be laid,
          179Nor shall her voice make glad a lover's ear:
          180Yet if of Death thou hast not any fear,
          181Yea, rather, if thou lov'st her utterly,
          182Thou still may'st woo her ere thou com'st to die,

          183"Like him that on this day thou sawest lie dead;
          184For fearing as I deem the sea-born one;
          185The maid has vowed e'en such a man to wed
          186As in the course her swift feet can outrun,
          187But whoso fails herein, his days are done:
          188He came the nighest that was slain to-day,
          189Although with him I deem she did but play.

          190"Behold, such mercy Atalanta gives
          191To those that long to win her loveliness;
          192Be wise! be sure that many a maid there lives
          193Gentler than she, of beauty little less,
          194Whose swimming eyes thy loving words shall bless,
          195When in some garden, knee set close to knee,
          196Thou sing'st the song that love may teach to thee."

          197So to the hunter spake that ancient man,
          198And left him for his own home presently:
          199But he turned round, and through the moonlight wan
          200Reached the thick wood, and there 'twixt tree and tree
          201Distraught he passed the long night feverishly,
          202'Twixt sleep and waking, and at dawn arose
          203To wage hot war against his speechless foes.

          204There to the hart's flank seemed his shaft to grow,
          205As panting down the broad green glades he flew,
          206There by his horn the Dryads well might know
          207His thrust against the bear's heart had been true,
          208And there Adonis' bane his javelin slew,
          209But still in vain through rough and smooth he went,
          210For none the more his restlessness was spent.

          211So wandering, he to Argive cities came,
          212And in the lists with valiant men he stood,
          213And by great deeds he won him praise and fame,
          214And heaps of wealth for little-valued blood;
          215But none of all these things, or life, seemed good
          216Unto his heart, where still unsatisfied
          217A ravenous longing warred with fear and pride.

          218Therefore it happed when but a month had gone
          219Since he had left King Schœneus' city old,
          220In hunting-gear again, again alone
          221The forest-bordered meads did he behold,
          222Where still mid thoughts of August's quivering gold
          223Folk hoed the wheat, and clipped the vine in trust
          224Of faint October's purple-foaming must.

          225And once again he passed the peaceful gate,
          226While to his beating heart his lips did lie,
          227That owning not victorious love and fate,
          228Said, half aloud, "And here too must I try,
          229To win of alien men the mastery,
          230And gather for my head fresh meed of fame
          231And cast new glory on my father's name."

          232In spite of that, how beat his heart, when first
          233Folk said to him, "And art thou come to see
          234That which still makes our city's name accurst
          235Among all mothers for its cruelty?
          236Then know indeed that fate is good to thee
          237Because to-morrow a new luckless one
          238Against the white-foot maid is pledged to run."

          239So on the morrow with no curious eyes
          240As once he did, that piteous sight he saw,
          241Nor did that wonder in his heart arise
          242As toward the goal the conquering maid 'gan draw,
          243Nor did he gaze upon her eyes with awe,
          244Too full the pain of longing filled his heart
          245For fear or wonder there to have a part.

          246But O, how long the night was ere it went!
          247How long it was before the dawn begun
          248Showed to the wakening birds the sun's intent
          249That not in darkness should the world be done!
          250And then, and then, how long before the sun
          251Bade silently the toilers of the earth
          252Get forth to fruitless cares or empty mirth!

          253And long it seemed that in the market-place
          254He stood and saw the chaffering folk go by,
          255Ere from the ivory throne King Schœneus' face
          256Looked down upon the murmur royally,
          257But then came trembling that the time was nigh
          258When he midst pitying looks his love must claim,
          259And jeering voices must salute his name.

          260But as the throng he pierced to gain the throne,
          261His alien face distraught and anxious told
          262What hopeless errand he was bound upon,
          263And, each to each, folk whispered to behold
          264His godlike limbs; nay, and one woman old
          265As he went by must pluck him by the sleeve
          266And pray him yet that wretched love to leave.

          267For sidling up she said, "Canst thou live twice,
          268Fair son? canst thou have joyful youth again,
          269That thus thou goest to the sacrifice
          270Thyself the victim? nay then, all in vain
          271Thy mother bore her longing and her pain,
          272And one more maiden on the earth must dwell
          273Hopeless of joy, nor fearing death and hell.

          274"O, fool, thou knowest not the compact then
          275That with the three-formed goddess she has made
          276To keep her from the loving lips of men,
          277And in no saffron gown to be arrayed,
          278And therewithal with glory to be paid,
          279And love of her the moonlit river sees
          280White 'gainst the shadow of the formless trees.

          281"Come back, and I myself will pray for thee
          282Unto the sea-born framer of delights,
          283To give thee her who on the earth may be
          284The fairest stirrer up to death and fights,
          285To quench with hopeful days and joyous nights
          286The flame that doth thy youthful heart consume:
          287Come back, nor give thy beauty to the tomb."

          288How should he listen to her earnest speech?
          289Words, such as he not once or twice had said
          290Unto himself, whose meaning scarce could reach
          291The firm abode of that sad hardihead--
          292He turned about, and through the marketstead
          293Swiftly he passed, until before the throne
          294In the cleared space he stood at last alone.

          295Then said the King, "Stranger, what dost thou here?
          296Have any of my folk done ill to thee?
          297Or art thou of the forest men in fear?
          298Or art thou of the sad fraternity
          299Who still will strive my daughter's mates to be,
          300Staking their lives to win an earthly bliss,
          301The lonely maid, the friend of Artemis?"

          302"O King," he said, "thou sayest the word indeed;
          303Nor will I quit the strife till I have won
          304My sweet delight, or death to end my need.
          305And know that I am called Milanion,
          306Of King Amphidamas the well-loved son:
          307So fear not that to thy old name, O King,
          308Much loss or shame my victory will bring."

          309"Nay, Prince," said Schœneus, "welcome to this land
          310Thou wert indeed, if thou wert here to try
          311Thy strength 'gainst some one mighty of his hand;
          312Nor would we grudge thee well-won mastery.
          313But now, why wilt thou come to me to die,
          314And at my door lay down thy luckless head,
          315Swelling the band of the unhappy dead,

          316"Whose curses even now my heart doth fear?
          317Lo, I am old, and know what life can be,
          318And what a bitter thing is death anear.
          319O, Son! be wise, and harken unto me,
          320And if no other can be dear to thee,
          321At least as now, yet is the world full wide,
          322And bliss in seeming hopeless hearts may hide:

          323"But if thou losest life, then all is lost."
          324"Nay, King," Milanion said, "thy words are vain.
          325Doubt not that I have counted well the cost.
          326But say, on what day wilt thou that I gain
          327Fulfilled delight, or death to end my pain.
          328Right glad were I if it could be to-day,
          329And all my doubts at rest for ever lay."

          330"Nay," said King Schœneus, "thus it shall not be,
          331But rather shalt thou let a month go by,
          332And weary with thy prayers for victory
          333What god thou know'st the kindest and most nigh.
          334So doing, still perchance thou shalt not die:
          335And with my goodwill wouldst thou have the maid,
          336For of the equal gods I grow afraid.

          337"And until then, O Prince, be thou my guest, .
          338And all these troublous things awhile forget."
          339"Nay," said he, "couldst thou give my soul good rest,
          340And on mine head a sleepy garland set,
          341Then had I 'scaped the meshes of the net,
          342Nor should thou hear from me another word;
          343But now, make sharp thy fearful heading-sword.

          344"Yet will I do what son of man may do,
          345And promise all the gods may most desire,
          346That to myself I may at least be true;
          347And on that day my heart and limbs so tire,
          348With utmost strain and measureless desire,
          349That, at the worst, I may but fall asleep
          350When in the sunlight round that sword shall sweep. "

          351He went therewith, nor anywhere would bide,
          352But unto Argos restlessly did wend;
          353And there, as one who lays all hope aside,
          354Because the leech has said his life must end,
          355Silent farewell he bade to foe and friend,
          356And took his way unto the restless sea,
          357For there he deemed his rest and help might be.

          358Upon the shore of Argolis there stands
          359A temple to the goddess that he sought,
          360That, turned unto the lion-bearing lands,
          361Fenced from the east, of cold winds hath no thought,
          362Though to no homestead there the sheaves are brought,
          363No groaning press torments the close-clipped murk,
          364Lonely the fane stands, far from all men's work.

          365Pass through a close, set thick with myrtle-trees,
          366Through the brass doors that guard the holy place,
          367And entering, hear the washing of the seas
          368That twice a-day rise high above the base,
          369And with the south-west urging them, embrace
          370The marble feet of her that standeth there
          371That shrink not, naked though they be and fair.

          372Small is the fane through which the sea-wind sings
          373About Queen Venus' well-wrought image white,
          374But hung around are many precious things,
          375The gifts of those who, longing for delight,
          376Have hung them there within the goddess' sight,
          377And in return have taken at her hands
          378The living treasures of the Grecian lands.

          379And thither now has come Milanion,
          380And showed unto the priests' wide open eyes
          381Gifts fairer than all those that there have shone,
          382Silk cloths, inwrought with Indian fantasies,
          383And bowls inscribed with sayings of the wise
          384Above the deeds of foolish living things;
          385And mirrors fit to be the gifts of kings.

          386And now before the Sea-born One he stands,
          387By the sweet veiling smoke made dim and soft,
          388And while the incense trickles from his hands,
          389And while the odorous smoke-wreaths hang aloft,
          390Thus doth he pray to her: "O Thou, who oft
          391Hast holpen man and maid in their distress
          392Despise me not for this my wretchedness!

          393"O goddess, among us who dwelt below,
          394Kings and great men, great for a little while,
          395Have pity on the lowly heads that bow,
          396Nor hate the hearts that love them without guile;
          397Wilt thou be worse than these, and is thy smile
          398A vain device of him who set thee here,
          399An empty dream of some artificer?

          400"O great one, some men love, and are ashamed;
          401Some men are weary of the bonds of love;
          402Yea, and by some men lightly art thou blamed,
          403That from thy toils their lives they cannot move,
          404And 'mid the ranks of men their manhood prove.
          405Alas! O goddess, if thou slayest me,
          406What new immortal can I serve but thee?

          407"Think then, will it bring honour to thy head
          408If folk say, 'Everything aside he cast
          409And to all fame and honour was he dead,
          410And to his one hope now is dead at last,
          411Since all unholpen he is gone and past;
          412Ah, the gods love not man, for certainly,
          413He to his helper did not cease to cry.'

          414"Nay, but thou wilt help; they who died before
          415Not single-hearted as I deem came here,
          416Therefore unthanked they laid their gifts before
          417Thy stainless feet, still shivering with their fear,
          418Lest in their eyes their true thought might appear,
          419Who sought to be the lords of that fair town,
          420Dreaded of men and winners of renown.

          421"O Queen, thou knowest I pray not for this:
          422O set us down together in some place
          423Where not a voice can break our heaven of bliss,
          424Where nought but rocks and I can see her face,
          425Softening beneath the marvel of thy grace,
          426Where not a foot our vanished steps can track--
          427The golden age, the golden age come back!

          428"O fairest, hear me now who do thy will,
          429Plead for thy rebel that she be not slain,
          430But live and love and be thy servant still;
          431Ah, give her joy and take away my pain,
          432And thus two long-enduring servants gain.
          433An easy thing this is to do for me,
          434What need of my vain words to weary thee.

          435"But none the less, this place will I not leave
          436Until I needs must go my death to meet,
          437Or at thy hands some happy sign receive
          438That in great joy we twain may one day greet
          439Thy presence here and kiss thy silver feet,
          440Such as we deem thee, fair beyond all words,
          441Victorious o'er our servants and our lords."

          442Then from the altar back a space he drew,
          443But from the Queen turned not his face away,
          444But 'gainst a pillar leaned, until the blue
          445That arched the sky, at ending of the day,
          446Was turned to ruddy gold and changing gray,
          447And clear, but low, the nigh-ebbed windless sea
          448In the still evening murmured ceaselessly.

          449And there he stood when all the sun was down,
          450Nor had he moved, when the dim golden light,
          451Like the fair lustre of a godlike town,
          452Had left the world to seeming hopeless night,
          453Nor would he move the more when wan moonlight
          454Streamed through the pillows for a little while,
          455And lighted up the white Queen's changeless smile.

          456Nought noted he the shallow-flowing sea
          457As step by step it set the wrack a-swim;
          458The yellow torchlight nothing noted he
          459Wherein with fluttering gown and half-bared limb
          460The temple damsels sung their midnight hymn;
          461And nought the doubled stillness of the fane
          462When they were gone and all was hushed again.

          463But when the waves had touched the marble base,
          464And steps the fish swim over twice a-day,
          465The dawn beheld him sunken in his place
          466Upon the floor; and sleeping there he lay,
          467Not heeding aught the little jets of spray
          468The roughened sea brought nigh, across him cast,
          469For as one dead all thought from him had passed.

          470Yet long before the sun had showed his head,
          471Long ere the varied hangings on the wall
          472Had gained once more their blue and green and red,
          473He rose as one some well-known sign doth call
          474When war upon the city's gates doth fall,
          475And scarce like one fresh risen out of sleep,
          476He 'gan again his broken watch to keep.

          477Then he turned round; not for the sea-gull's cry
          478That wheeled above the temple in his flight,
          479Not for the fresh south wind that lovingly
          480Breathed on the new-born day and dying night,
          481But some strange hope 'twixt fear and great delight
          482Drew round his face, now flushed, now pale and wan,
          483And still constrained his eyes the sea to scan.

          484Now a faint light lit up the southern sky,
          485Not sun or moon, for all the world was gray,
          486But this a bright cloud seemed, that drew anigh,
          487Lighting the dull waves that beneath it lay
          488As toward the temple still it took its way,
          489And still grew greater, till Milanion
          490Saw nought for dazzling light that round him shone.

          491But as he staggered with his arms outspread,
          492Delicious unnamed odours breathed around,
          493For languid happiness he bowed his head,
          494And with wet eyes sank down upon the ground,
          495Nor wished for aught, nor any dream he found
          496To give him reason for that happiness,
          497Or make him ask more knowledge of his bliss.

          498At last his eyes were cleared, and he could see
          499Through happy tears the goddess face to face
          500With that faint image of Divinity,
          501Whose well-wrought smile and dainty changeless grace
          502Until that morn so gladdened all the place;
          503Then, he unwitting cried aloud her name
          504And covered up his eyes for fear and shame.

          505But through the stillness he her voice could hear
          506Piercing his heart with joy scarce bearable,
          507That said, "Milanion, wherefore dost thou fear,
          508I am not hard to those who love me well;
          509List to what I a second time will tell,
          510And thou mayest hear perchance, and live to save
          511The cruel maiden from a loveless grave.

          512"See, by my feet three golden apples lie--
          513Such fruit among the heavy roses falls,
          514Such fruit my watchful damsels carefully
          515Store up within the best loved of my walls,
          516Ancient Damascus, where the lover calls
          517Above my unseen head, and faint and light
          518The rose-leaves flutter round me in the night.

          519"And note, that these are not alone most fair
          520With heavenly gold, but longing strange they bring
          521Unto the hearts of men, who will not care
          522Beholding these, for any once-loved thing
          523Till round the shining sides their fingers cling.
          524And thou shalt see thy well-girt swift-foot maid
          525By sight of these amidst her glory stayed.

          526"For bearing these within a scrip with thee,
          527When first she heads thee from the starting-place
          528Cast down the first one for her eyes to see,
          529And when she turns aside make on apace,
          530And if again she heads thee in the race
          531Spare not the other two to cast aside
          532If she not long enough behind will bide.

          533"Farewell, and when has come the happy time
          534That she Diana's raiment must unbind
          535And all the world seems blessed with Saturn's clime,
          536And thou with eager arms about her twined
          537Beholdest first her gray eyes growing kind,
          538Surely, O trembler, thou shalt scarcely then
          539Forget the Helper of unhappy men."

          540Milanion raised his head at this last word
          541For now so soft and kind she seemed to be
          542No longer of her Godhead was he feared;
          543Too late he looked; for nothing could he see
          544But the white image glimmering doubtfully
          545In the departing twilight cold and gray,
          546And those three apples on the step that lay.

          547These then he caught up quivering with delight,
          548Yet fearful lest it all might be a dream;
          549And though aweary with the watchful night,
          550And sleepless nights of longing, still did deem
          551He could not sleep; but yet the first sunbeam
          552That smote the fane across the heaving deep
          553Shone on him laid in calm, untroubled sleep.

          554But little ere the noontide did he rise,
          555And why he felt so happy scarce could tell
          556Until the gleaming apples met his eyes.
          557Then leaving the fair place where this befell
          558Oft he looked back as one who loved it well,
          559Then homeward to the haunts of men, 'gan wend
          560To bring all things unto a happy end.

          561Now has the lingering month at last gone by,
          562Again are all folk round the running place,
          563Nor other seems the dismal pageantry
          564Than heretofore, but that another face
          565Looks o'er the smooth course ready for the race,
          566For now, beheld of all, Milanion
          567Stands on the spot he twice has looked upon.

          568But yet--what change is this that holds the maid?
          569Does she indeed see in his glittering eye
          570More than disdain of the sharp shearing blade,
          571Some happy hope of help and victory?
          572The others seem'd to say, "We come to die;
          573Look down upon us for a little while,
          574That, dead, we may bethink us of thy smile."

          575But he--what look of mastery was this
          576He cast on her? why were his lips so red;
          577Why was his face so flush'd with happiness?
          578So looks not one who deems himself but dead,
          579E'en if to death he bows a willing head;
          580So rather looks a god well pleas'd to find
          581Some earthly damsel fashion'd to his mind,

          582Why must she drop her lids before his gaze,
          583And even as she casts adown her eyes
          584Redden to note his eager glance of praise,
          585And wish that she were clad in other guise?
          586Why must the memory to her heart arise
          587Of things unnoticed when they first were heard,
          588Some lover's song, some answering maiden's word?

          589What makes these longings, vague--without a name,
          590And this vain pity never felt before,
          591This sudden languor, this contempt of fame,
          592This tender sorrow for the time past o'er,
          593These doubts that grow each minute more and more?
          594Why does she tremble as the time grows near,
          595And weak defeat and woeful victory fear?

          596But while she seem'd to hear her beating heart,
          597Above their heads the trumpet blast rang out
          598And forth they sprang, and she must play her part;
          599Then flew her white feet, knowing not a doubt,
          600Though, slackening once, she turn'd her head about,
          601But then she cried aloud and faster fled
          602Than e'er before, and all men deemed him dead.

          603But with no sound he raised aloft his hand,
          604And thence what seemed a ray of light there flew
          605And past the maid rolled on along the sand;
          606Then trembling she her feet together drew
          607And in her heart a strong desire there grew
          608To have the toy, some god she thought had given
          609That gift to her, to make of earth a heaven.

          610Then from the course with eager steps she ran,
          611And in her odorous bosom laid the gold.
          612But when she turned again, the great-limbed man,
          613Now well ahead she failed not to behold,
          614And mindful of her glory waxing cold,
          615Sprang up and followed him in hot pursuit,
          616Though with one hand she touched the golden fruit.

          617Note, too, the bow that she was wont to bear
          618She laid aside to grasp the glittering prize,
          619And o'er her shoulder from the quiver fair
          620Three arrows fell and lay before her eyes
          621Unnoticed, as amidst the people's cries
          622She sprang to head the strong Milanion,
          623Who now the turning-post had well-nigh won.

          624But as he set his mighty hand on it
          625White fingers underneath his own were laid,
          626And white limbs from his dazzled eyes did flit,
          627Then he the second fruit cast by the maid:
          628She ran awhile, and then as one afraid
          629Wavered and stopped, and turned and made no stay,
          630Until the globe with its bright fellow lay.

          631Then, as a troubled glance she cast around,
          632Now far ahead the Argive could she see,
          633And in her garment's hem one hand she wound
          634To keep the double prize, and strenuously
          635Sped o'er the course, and little doubt had she
          636To win the day, though now but scanty space
          637Was left betwixt him and the winning place.

          638Short was the way unto such wingèd feet,
          639Quickly she gained upon him till at last
          640He turned about her eager eyes to meet
          641And from his hand the third fair apple cast.
          642She wavered not, but turned and ran so fast
          643After the prize that should her bliss fulfil,
          644That in her hand it lay ere it was still.

          645Nor did she rest, but turned about to win
          646Once more, an unblest woeful victory--
          647And yet--and yet--why does her breath begin
          648To fail her, and her feet drag heavily?
          649Why fails she now to see if far or nigh
          650The goal is? why do her gray eyes grow dim?
          651Why do these tremors run through every limb?

          652She spreads her arms abroad some stay to find
          653Else must she fall, indeed, and findeth this,
          654A strong man's arms about her body twined.
          655Nor may she shudder now to feel his kiss,
          656So wrapped she is in new unbroken bliss:
          657Made happy that the foe the prize hath won,
          658She weeps glad tears for all her glory done.

          659Shatter the trumpet, hew adown the posts!
          660Upon the brazen altar break the sword,
          661And scatter incense to appease the ghosts
          662Of those who died here by their own award.
          663Bring forth the image of the mighty Lord,
          664And her who unseen o'er the runners hung,
          665And did a deed for ever to be sung.

          666Here are the gathered folk; make no delay,
          667Open King Schœneus' well-filled treasury,
          668Bring out the gifts long hid from light of day,
          669The golden bowls o'erwrought with imagery,
          670Gold chains, and unguents brought from over sea,
          671The saffron gown the old Phœnician brought,
          672Within the temple of the Goddess wrought.

          673O ye, O damsels, who shall never see
          674Her, that Love's servant bringeth now to you,
          675Returning from another victory,
          676In some cool bower do all that now is due!
          677Since she in token of her service new
          678Shall give to Venus offerings rich enow,
          679Her maiden zone, her arrows and her bow.

Notes

1] This is one of the poems of "The Earthly Paradise" and was published in the year 1868. The whole framework of the plot is derived from ancient Greek story.
Arcadian. Arcadia is the central portion of the Peloponnesus.

63] the Fleet-foot One. Artemis (Diana).

176] the saffron gown. The costume of a bride (cf. 1. 670 below).

183] the seaborn one. Aphrodite (Venus).

206] Dryads. Wood nymphs.

208] Adonis' bane. The beautiful young hunter, Adonis, beloved of Aphrodite, was killed by a boar.

275] the three-formed goddess. Diana, who was Luna in heaven, Diana on earth, and Hecate in the under-world.

535] Saturn's clime. The time when Saturn, not Jupiter, ruled was the Golden Age.


Online text copyright © 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: William Morris, The Earthly Paradise; a poem, 6 vols. (London: F. S. Ellis, 1868-70). end M677 D44 1858 (Fisher Library).
First publication date: 1868
RPO poem editor: W. J. Alexander, William Hall Clawson
RP edition: RP (1912), pp. 401-23; RPO 1997.
Recent editing: 2:2002/4/10

Rhyme: ababbcc


Other poems by William Morris