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by Oscar Wilde, 1881

HE was a Grecian lad, who coming home
   With pulpy figs and wine from Sicily
 Stood at his galley’s prow, and let the foam
   Blow through his crisp brown curls unconsciously,
 And holding wave and wind in boy’s despite
 Peered from his dripping seat across the wet and stormy night

 Till with the dawn he saw a burnished spear
   Like a thin thread of gold against the sky,
 And hoisted sail, and strained the creaking gear,
   And bade the pilot head her lustily
 Against the nor’west gale, and all day long
 Held on his way, and marked the rowers’ time with measured song,

 And when the faint Corinthian hills were red
   Dropped anchor in a little sandy bay,
 And with fresh boughs of olive crowned his head,
   And brushed from cheek and throat the hoary spray,
 And washed his limbs with oil, and from the hold
 Brought out his linen tunic and his sandals brazen-soled,

 And a rich robe stained with the fishes’ juice
   Which of some swarthy trader he had bought
 Upon the sunny quay at Syracuse,
   And was with Tyrian broideries inwrought,
 And by the questioning merchants made his way
 Up through the soft and silver woods, and when the labouring day

 Had spun its tangled web of crimson cloud,
   Clomb the high hill, and with swift silent feet
 Crept to the fane unnoticed by the crowd
   Of busy priests, and from some dark retreat
 Watched the young swains his frolic playmates bring
 The firstling of their little flock, and the shy shepherd fling

 The crackling salt upon the flame, or hang
   His studded crook against the temple wall
 To Her who keeps away the ravenous fang
   Of the base wolf from homestead and from stall;
 And then the clear-voiced maidens ’gan to sing,
 And to the altar each man brought some goodly offering,

 A beechen cup brimming with milky foam,
   A fair cloth wrought with cunning imagery
 Of hounds in chase, a waxen honey-comb
   Dripping with oozy gold which scarce the bee
 Had ceased from building, a black skin of oil
 Meet for the wrestlers, a great boar the fierce and white-tusked spoil

 Stolen from Artemis that jealous maid
   To please Athena, and the dappled hide
 Of a tall stag who in some mountain glade
   Had met the shaft; and then the herald cried,
 And from the pillared precinct one by one
 Went the glad Greeks well pleased that they their simple vows had done.

 And the old priest put out the waning fires
   Save that one lamp whose restless ruby glowed
 For ever in the cell, and the shrill lyres
   Came fainter on the wind, as down the road
 In joyous dance these country folk did pass,
 And with stout hands the warder closed the gates of polished brass.

 Long time he lay and hardly dared to breathe,
   And heard the cadenced drip of spilt-out wine,
 And the rose-petals falling from the wreath
   As the night breezes wandered through the shrine,
 And seemed to be in some entrancèd swoon
 Till through the open roof above the full and brimming moon

 Flooded with sheeny waves the marble floor,
   When from his nook upleapt the venturous lad,
 And flinging wide the cedar-carven door
   Beheld an awful image saffron-clad
 And armed for battle! the gaunt Griffin glared
 From the huge helm, and the long lance of wreck and ruin flared

 Like a red rod of flame, stony and steeled
   The Gorgon’s head its leaden eyeballs rolled,
 And writhed its snaky horrors through the shield,
   And gaped aghast with bloodless lips and cold
 In passion impotent, while with blind gaze
 The blinking owl between the feet hooted in shrill amaze.

 The lonely fisher as he trimmed his lamp
   Far out at sea off Sunium, or cast
 The net for tunnies, heard a brazen tramp
   Of horses smite the waves, and a wild blast
 Divide the folded curtains of the night,
 And knelt upon the little poop, and prayed in holy fright.

 And guilty lovers in their venery
   Forgat a little while their stolen sweets,
 Deeming they heard dread Dian’s bitter cry;
   And the grim watchmen on their lofty seats
 Ran to their shields in haste precipitate,
 Or strained black-bearded throats across the dusky parapet.

 For round the temple rolled the clang of arms,
   And the twelve Gods leapt up in marble fear,
 And the air quaked with dissonant alarums
   Till huge Poseidon shook his mighty spear,
 And on the frieze the prancing horses neighed,
 And the low tread of hurrying feet rang from the cavalcade.

 Ready for death with parted lips he stood,
   And well content at such a price to see
 That calm wide brow, that terrible maidenhood,
   The marvel of that pitiless chastity,
 Ah! well content indeed, for never wight
 Since Troy’s young shepherd prince had seen so wonderful a sight.

 Ready for death he stood, but lo! the air
   Grew silent, and the horses ceased to neigh,
 And off his brow he tossed the clustering hair,
   And from his limbs he threw the cloak away,
 For whom would not such love make desperate,
 And nigher came, and touched her throat, and with hands violate

 Undid the cuirass, and the crocus gown,
   And bared the breasts of polished ivory,
 Till from the waist the peplos falling down
   Left visible the secret mystery
 Which to no lover will Athena show,
 The grand cool flanks, the crescent thighs, the bossy hills of snow.

 Those who have never known a lover’s sin
   Let them not read my ditty, it will be
 To their dull ears so musicless and thin
   That they will have no joy of it, but ye
 To whose wan cheeks now creeps the lingering smile,
 Ye who have learned who Eros is,—O listen yet a-while.

 A little space he let his greedy eyes
   Rest on the burnished image, till mere sight
 Half swooned for surfeit of such luxuries,
   And then his lips in hungering delight
 Fed on her lips, and round the towered neck
 He flung his arms, nor cared at all his passion’s will to check.

 Never I ween did lover hold such tryst,
   For all night long he murmured honeyed word,
 And saw her sweet unravished limbs, and kissed
   Her pale and argent body undisturbed,
 And paddled with the polished throat, and pressed
 His hot and beating heart upon her chill and icy breast.

 It was as if Numidian javelins
   Pierced through and through his wild and whirling brain,
 And his nerves thrilled like throbbing violins
   In exquisite pulsation, and the pain
 Was such sweet anguish that he never drew
 His lips from hers till overhead the lark of warning flew.

 They who have never seen the daylight peer
   Into a darkened room, and drawn the curtain,
 And with dull eyes and wearied from some dear
   And worshipped body risen, they for certain
 Will never know of what I try to sing,
 How long the last kiss was, how fond and late his lingering.

 The moon was girdled with a crystal rim,
   The sign which shipmen say is ominous
 Of wrath in heaven, the wan stars were dim,
   And the low lightening east was tremulous
 With the faint fluttering wings of flying dawn,
 Ere from the silent sombre shrine this lover had withdrawn.

 Down the steep rock with hurried feet and fast
   Clomb the brave lad, and reached the cave of Pan,
 And heard the goat-foot snoring as he passed,
   And leapt upon a grassy knoll and ran
 Like a young fawn unto an olive wood
 Which in a shady valley by the well-built city stood.

 And sought a little stream, which well he knew,
   For oftentimes with boyish careless shout
 The green and crested grebe he would pursue,
   Or snare in woven net the silver trout,
 And down amid the startled reeds he lay
 Panting in breathless sweet affright, and waited for the day.

 On the green bank he lay, and let one hand
   Dip in the cool dark eddies listlessly,
 And soon the breath of morning came and fanned
   His hot flushed cheeks, or lifted wantonly
 The tangled curls from off his forehead, while
 He on the running water gazed with strange and secret smile.

 And soon the shepherd in rough woollen cloak
   With his long crook undid the wattled cotes,
 And from the stack a thin blue wreath of smoke
   Curled through the air across the ripening oats,
 And on the hill the yellow house-dog bayed
 As through the crisp and rustling fern the heavy cattle strayed.

 And when the light-foot mower went afield
   Across the meadows laced with threaded dew,
 And the sheep bleated on the misty weald,
   And from its nest the waking corn-crake flew,
 Some woodmen saw him lying by the stream
 And marvelled much that any lad so beautiful could seem,

 Nor deemed him born of mortals, and one said,
   “It is young Hylas, that false runaway
 Who with a Naiad now would make his bed
   Forgetting Herakles,” but others, “Nay,
 It is Narcissus, his own paramour,
 Those are the fond and crimson lips no woman can allure.”

 And when they nearer came a third one cried,
   “It is young Dionysos who has hid
 His spear and fawnskin by the river side
   Weary of hunting with the Bassarid,
 And wise indeed were we away to fly
 They live not long who on the gods immortal come to spy.”

 So turned they back, and feared to look behind,
   And told the timid swain how they had seen
 Amid the reeds some woodland God reclined,
   And no man dared to cross the open green,
 And on that day no olive-tree was slain,
 Nor rushes cut, but all deserted was the fair domain.

 Save when the neat-herd’s lad, his empty pail
   Well slung upon his back, with leap and bound
 Raced on the other side, and stopped to hail
   Hoping that he some comrade new had found,
 And gat no answer, and then half afraid
 Passed on his simple way, or down the still and silent glade

 A little girl ran laughing from the farm
   Not thinking of love’s secret mysteries,
 And when she saw the white and gleaming arm
   And all his manlihood, with longing eyes
 Whose passion mocked her sweet virginity
 Watched him a-while, and then stole back sadly and wearily.

 Far off he heard the city’s hum and noise,
   And now and then the shriller laughter where
 The passionate purity of brown-limbed boys
   Wrestled or raced in the clear healthful air,
 And now and then a little tinkling bell
 As the shorn wether led the sheep down to the mossy well.

 Through the grey willows danced the fretful gnat,
   The grasshopper chirped idly from the tree,
 In sleek and oily coat the water-rat
   Breasting the little ripples manfully
 Made for the wild-duck’s nest, from bough to bough
 Hopped the shy finch, and the huge tortoise crept across the slough.

 On the faint wind floated the silky seeds,
   As the bright scythe swept through the waving grass,
 The ousel-cock splashed circles in the reeds
   And flecked with silver whorls the forest’s glass,
 Which scarce had caught again its imagery
 Ere from its bed the dusky tench leapt at the dragonfly.

 But little care had he for any thing
   Though up and down the beech the squirrel played,
 And from the copse the linnet ’gan to sing
   To her brown mate her sweetest serenade,
 Ah! little care indeed, for he had seen
 The breasts of Pallas and the naked wonder of the Queen.

 But when the herdsman called his straggling goats
   With whistling pipe across the rocky road,
 And the shard-beetle with its trumpet-notes
   Boomed through the darkening woods, and seemed to bode
 Of coming storm, and the belated crane
 Passed homeward like a shadow, and the dull big drops of rain

 Fell on the pattering fig-leaves, up he rose,
   And from the gloomy forest went his way
 Past sombre homestead and wet orchard-close,
   And came at last unto a little quay,
 And called his mates a-board, and took his seat
 On the high poop, and pushed from land, and loosed the dripping sheet,

 And steered across the bay, and when nine suns
   Passed down the long and laddered way of gold,
 And nine pale moons had breathed their orisons
   To the chaste stars their confessors, or told
 Their dearest secret to the downy moth
 That will not fly at noonday, through the foam and surging froth

 Came a great owl with yellow sulphurous eyes
   And lit upon the ship, whose timbers creaked
 As though the lading of three argosies
   Were in the hold, and flapped its wings, and shrieked,
 And darkness straightway stole across the deep,
 Sheathed was Orion’s sword, dread Mars himself fled down the steep,

 And the moon hid behind a tawny mask
   Of drifting cloud, and from the ocean’s marge
 Rose the red plume, the huge and hornèd casque,
   The seven-cubit spear, the brazen targe!
 And clad in bright and burnished panoply
 Athena strode across the stretch of sick and shivering sea!

 To the dull sailors’ sight her loosened locks
   Seemed like the jagged storm-rack, and her feet
 Only the spume that floats on hidden rocks,
   And marking how the rising waters beat
 Against the rolling ship, the pilot cried
 To the young helmsman at the stern to luff to windward side.

 But he, the over-bold adulterer,
   A dear profaner of great mysteries,
 An ardent amorous idolater,
   When he beheld those grand relentless eyes
 Laughed loud for joy, and crying out “I come”
 Leapt from the lofty poop into the chill and churning foam.

 Then fell from the high heaven one bright star,
   One dancer left the circling galaxy,
 And back to Athens on her clattering car
   In all the pride of venged divinity
 Pale Pallas swept with shrill and steely clank,
 And a few gurgling bubbles rose where her boy lover sank.

 And the mast shuddered as the gaunt owl flew
   With mocking hoots after the wrathful Queen,
 And the old pilot bade the trembling crew
   Hoist the big sail, and told how he had seen
 Close to the stern a dim and giant form,
 And like a dipping swallow the stout ship dashed through the storm.

 And no man dared to speak of Charmides
   Deeming that he some evil thing had wrought,
 And when they reached the strait Symplegades
   They beached their galley on the shore, and sought
 The toll-gate of the city hastily,
 And in the market showed their brown and pictured pottery.

But some good Triton-god had ruth, and bare
   The boy’s drowned body back to Grecian land,
 And mermaids combed his dank and dripping hair
   And smoothed his brow, and loosed his clenching hand,
 Some brought sweet spices from far Araby,
 And others bade the halcyon sing her softest lullaby.

 And when he neared his old Athenian home,
   A mighty billow rose up suddenly
 Upon whose oily back the clotted foam
   Lay diapered in some strange fantasy,
 And clasping him unto its glassy breast,
 Swept landward, like a white-maned steed upon a venturous quest!

 Now where Colonos leans unto the sea
   There lies a long and level stretch of lawn,
 The rabbit knows it, and the mountain bee
   For it deserts Hymettus, and the Faun
 Is not afraid, for never through the day
 Comes a cry ruder than the shout of shepherd lads at play.

 But often from the thorny labyrinth
   And tangled branches of the circling wood
 The stealthy hunter sees young Hyacinth
   Hurling the polished disk, and draws his hood
 Over his guilty gaze, and creeps away,
 Nor dares to wind his horn, or—else at the first break of day

 The Dyrads come and throw the leathern ball
   Along the reedy shore, and circumvent
 Some goat-eared Pan to be their seneschal
   For fear of bold Poseidon’s ravishment,
 And loose their girdles, with shy timorous eyes,
 Lest from the surf his azure arms and purple beard should rise.

 On this side and on that a rocky cave,
   Hung with the yellow-bell’d laburnum, stands,
 Smooth is the beach, save where some ebbing wave
   Leaves its faint outline etched upon the sands,
 As though it feared to be too soon forgot
 By the green rush, its playfellow,—and yet, it is a spot

 So small, that the inconstant butterfly
   Could steal the hoarded honey from each flower
 Ere it was noon, and still not satisfy
   Its over-greedy love,—within an hour
 A sailor boy, were he but rude enow
 To land and pluck a garland for his galley’s painted prow,

 Would almost leave the little meadow bare,
   For it knows nothing of great pageantry,
 Only a few narcissi here and there
   Stand separate in sweet austerity,
 Dotting the unmown grass with silver stars,
 And here and there a daffodil waves tiny scimetars.

 Hither the billow brought him, and was glad
   Of such dear servitude, and where the land
 Was virgin of all waters laid the lad
   Upon the golden margent of the strand,
 And like a lingering lover oft returned
 To kiss those pallid limbs which once with intense fire burned,

 Ere the wet seas had quenched that holocaust,
   That self-fed flame, that passionate lustihead,
 Ere grisly death with chill and nipping frost
   Had withered up those lilies white and red
 Which, while the boy would through the forest range,
 Answered each other in a sweet antiphonal counterchange.

 And when at dawn the woodnymphs, hand-in-hand,
   Threaded the bosky dell, their satyr spied
 The boy’s pale body stretched upon the sand,
   And feared Poseidon’s treachery, and cried,
 And like bright sunbeams flitting through a glade,
 Each startled Dryad sought some safe and leafy ambuscade.

 Save one white girl, who deemed it would not be
   So dread a thing to feel a sea-god’s arms
 Crushing her breasts in amorous tyranny,
   And longed to listen to those subtle charms
 Insidious lovers weave when they would win
 Some fencèd fortress, and stole back again, nor thought it sin

 To yield her treasure unto one so fair,
   And lay beside him, thirsty with love’s drouth,
 Called him soft names, played with his tangled hair,
   And with hot lips made havoc of his mouth
 Afraid he might not wake, and then afraid
 Lest he might wake too soon, fled back, and then, fond renegade,

 Returned to fresh assault, and all day long
   Sat at his side, and laughed at her new toy,
 And held his hand, and sang her sweetest song,
   Then frowned to see how froward was the boy
 Who would not with her maidenhood entwine,
 Nor knew that three days since his eyes had looked on Proserpine,

 Nor knew what sacrilege his lips had done,
   But said, “He will awake, I know him well,
 He will awake at evening when the sun
   Hangs his red shield on Corinth’s citadel,
 This sleep is but a cruel treachery
 To make me love him more, and in some cavern of the sea

 Deeper than ever falls the fisher’s line
   Already a huge Triton blows his horn,
 And weaves a garland from the crystalline
   And drifting ocean-tendrils to adorn
 The emerald pillars of our bridal bed,
 For sphered in foaming silver, and with coral-crownèd head,

 We two will sit upon a throne of pearl,
   And a blue wave will be our canopy,
 And at our feet the water-snakes will curl
   In all their amethystine panoply
 Of diamonded mail, and we will mark
 The mullets swimming by the mast of some storm-foundered bark,

 Vermilion-finned with eyes of bossy gold
   Like flakes of crimson light, and the great deep
 His glassy-portaled chamber will unfold,
   And we will see the painted dolphins sleep
 Cradled by murmuring halcyons on the rocks
 Where Proteus in quaint suit of green pastures his monstrous flocks.

 And tremulous opal-hued anemones
   Will wave their purple fringes where we tread
 Upon the mirrored floor, and argosies
   Of fishes flecked with tawny scales will thread
 The drifting cordage of the shattered wreck,
 And honey-coloured amber beads our twining limbs will deck.”

 But when that baffled Lord of War the Sun
   With gaudy pennon flying passed away
 Into his brazen House, and one by one
   The little yellow stars began to stray
 Across the field of heaven, ah! then indeed
 She feared his lips upon her lips would never care to feed,

 And cried, “Awake, already the pale moon
   Washes the trees with silver, and the wave
 Creeps grey and chilly up this sandy dune,
   The croaking frogs are out, and from the cave
 The night-jar shrieks, the fluttering bats repass,
 And the brown stoat with hollow flanks creeps through the dusky grass.

 Nay, though thou art a God, be not so coy,
   For in yon stream there is a little reed
 That often whispers how a lovely boy
   Lay with her once upon a grassy mead,
 Who when his cruel pleasure he had done
 Spread wings of rustling gold and soared aloft into the sun.

 Be not so coy, the laurel trembles still
   With great Apollo’s kisses, and the fir
 Whose clustering sisters fringe the sea-ward hill
   Hath many a tale of that bold ravisher
 Whom men call Boreas, and I have seen
 The mocking eyes of Hermes through the poplar’s silvery sheen.

 Even the jealous Naiads call me fair,
   And every morn a young and ruddy swain
 Wooes me with apples and with locks of hair,
   And seeks to soothe my virginal disdain
 By all the gifts the gentle wood-nymphs love;
 But yesterday he brought to me an iris-plumaged dove

 With little crimson feet, which with its store
   Of seven spotted eggs the cruel lad
 Had stolen from the lofty sycamore
   At day-break, when her amorous comrade had
 Flown off in search of berried juniper
 Which most they love; the fretful wasp, that earliest vintager

 Of the blue grapes, hath not persistency
   So constant as this simple shepherd-boy
 For my poor lips, his joyous purity
   And laughing sunny eyes might well decoy
 A Dryad from her oath to Artemis;
 For very beautiful is he, his mouth was made to kiss,

 His argent forehead, like a rising moon
   Over the dusky hills of meeting brows,
 Is crescent shaped, the hot and Tyrian noon
   Leads from the myrtle-grove no goodlier spouse
 For Cytheræa, the first silky down
 Fringes his blushing cheeks, and his young limbs are strong and brown:

 And he is rich, and fat and fleecy herds
   Of bleating sheep upon his meadows lie,
 And many an earthen bowl of yellow curds
   Is in his homestead for the thievish fly
 To swim and drown in, the pink clover mead
 Keeps its sweet store for him, and he can pipe on oaten reed.

 And yet I love him not, it was for thee
   I kept my love, I knew that thou would’st come
 To rid me of this pallid chastity;
   Thou fairest flower of the flowerless foam
 Of all the wide Ægean, brightest star
 Of ocean’s azure heavens where the mirrored planets are!

 I knew that thou would’st come, for when at first
   The dry wood burgeoned, and the sap of Spring
 Swelled in my green and tender bark or burst
   To myriad multitudinous blossoming
 Which mocked the midnight with its mimic moons
 That did not dread the dawn, and first the thrushes’ rapturous tunes

 Startled the squirrel from its granary,
   And cuckoo flowers fringed the narrow lane,
 Through my young leaves a sensuous ecstasy
   Crept like new wine, and every mossy vein
 Throbbed with the fitful pulse of amorous blood,
 And the wild winds of passion shook my slim stem’s maidenhood.

 The trooping fawns at evening came and laid
   Their cool black noses on my lowest boughs
 And on my topmost branch the blackbird made
   A little nest of grasses for his spouse,
 And now and then a twittering wren would light
 On a thin twig which hardly bare the weigh of such delight.

 I was the Attic shepherd’s trysting place,
   Beneath my shadow Amaryllis lay,
 And round my trunk would laughing Daphnis chase
   The timorous girl, till tired out with play
 She felt his hot breath stir her tangled hair,
 And turned, and looked, and fled no more from such delightful snare.

 Then come away unto my ambuscade
   Where clustering woodbine weaves a canopy
 For amorous pleasaunce, and the rustling shade
   Of Paphian myrtles seems to sanctify
 The dearest rites of love, there in the cool
 And green recesses of its farthest depth there is a pool,

 The ouzel’s haunt, the wild bee’s pasturage,
   For round its rim great creamy lilies float
 Through their flat leaves in verdant anchorage,
   Each cup a white-sailed golden-laden boat
 Steered by a dragon-fly,—be not afraid
 To leave this wan and wave-kissed shore, surely the place were made

 For lovers such as we, the Cyprian Queen,
   One arm around her boyish paramour,
 Strays often there at eve, and I have seen
   The moon strip off her misty vestiture
 For young Endymion’s eyes, be not afraid,
 The panther feet of Dian never tread that secret glade.

 Nay if thou wil’st, back to the beating brine,
   Back to the boisterous billow let us go,
 And walk all day beneath the hyaline
   Huge vault of Neptune’s watery portico,
 And watch the purple monsters of the deep
 Sport in ungainly play, and from his lair keen Xiphias leap.

 For if my mistress find me lying here
   She will not ruth or gentle pity show,
 But lay her boar-spear down, and with austere
   Relentless fingers string the cornel bow,
 And draw the feathered notch against her breast,
 And loose the archèd cord, ay, even now upon the quest

 I hear her hurrying feet,—awake, awake,
   Thou laggard in love’s battle! once at least
 Let me drink deep of passion’s wine, and slake
   My parchèd being with the nectarous feast
 Which even Gods affect! O come Love come,
 Still we have time to reach the cavern of thine azure home.”

 Scarce had she spoken when the shuddering trees
   Shook, and the leaves divided, and the air
 Grew conscious of a God, and the grey seas
   Crawled backward, and a long and dismal blare
 Blew from some tasselled horn, a sleuth-hound bayed,
 And like a flame a barbèd reed flew whizzing down the glade.

 And where the little flowers of her breast
   Just brake into their milky blossoming,
 This murderous paramour, this unbidden guest,
   Pierced and struck deep in horrid chambering,
 And ploughed a bloody furrow with its dart,
 And dug a long red road, and cleft with wingèd death her heart.

 Sobbing her life out with a bitter cry
   On the boy’s body fell the Dryad maid,
 Sobbing for incomplete virginity,
   And raptures unenjoyed, and pleasures dead,
 And all the pain of things unsatisfied,
 And the bright drops of crimson youth crept down her throbbing side.

 Ah! pitiful it was to hear her moan,
   And very pitiful to see her die
 Ere she had yielded up her sweets, or known
   The joy of passion, that dread mystery
 Which not to know is not to live at all,
 And yet to know is to be held in death’s most deadly thrall.

 But as it hapt the Queen of Cythere,
   Who with Adonis all night long had lain
 Within some shepherd’s hut in Arcady,
   On team of silver doves and gilded wane
 Was journeying Paphos-ward, high up afar
 From mortal ken between the mountains and the morning star,

 And when low down she spied the hapless pair,
   And heard the Oread’s faint despairing cry,
 Whose cadence seemed to play upon the air
   As though it were a viol, hastily
 She bade her pigeons fold each straining plume,
 And dropt to earth, and reached the strand, and saw their dolorous doom.

 For as a gardener turning back his head
   To catch the last notes of the linnet, mows
 With careless scythe too near some flower bed,
   And cuts the thorny pillar of the rose,
 And with the flower’s loosened loveliness
 Strews the brown mould, or as some shepherd lad in wantonness

 Driving his little flock along the mead
   Treads down two daffodils which side by side
 Have lured the lady-bird with yellow brede
   And made the gaudy moth forget its pride,
 Treads down their brimming golden chalices
 Under light feet which were not made for such rude ravages,

 Or as a schoolboy tired of his book
   Flings himself down upon the reedy grass
 And plucks two water-lilies from the brook,
   And for a time forgets the hour glass,
 Then wearies of their sweets, and goes his way,
 And lets the hot sun kill them, even so these lovers lay.

 And Venus cried, “It is dread Artemis
   Whose bitter hand hath wrought this cruelty,
 Or else that mightier may whose care it is
   To guard her strong and stainless majesty
 Upon the hill Athenian,—alas!
 That they who loved so well unloved into Death’s house should pass.

 So with soft hands she laid the boy and girl
   In the great golden waggon tenderly,
 Her white throat whiter than a moony pearl
   Just threaded with a blue vein’s tapestry
 Had not yet ceased to throb, and still her breast
 Swayed like a wind-stirred lily in ambiguous unrest.

 And then each pigeon spread its milky van,
   The bright car soared into the dawning sky,
 And like a cloud the aerial caravan
   Passed over the Ægean silently,
 Till the faint air was troubled with the song
 From the wan mouths that call on bleeding Thammuz all night long.

 But when the doves had reached their wonted goal
   Where the wide stair of orbèd marble dips
 Its snows into the sea, her fluttering soul
   Just shook the trembling petals of her lips
 And passed into the void, and Venus knew
 That one fair maid the less would walk amid her retinue,

 And bade her servants carve a cedar chest
   With all the wonder of this history,
 Within whose scented womb their limbs should rest
   Where olive-trees make tender the blue sky
 On the low hills of Paphos, and the faun
 Pipes in the noonday, and the nightingale sings on till dawn.

 Nor failed they to obey her hest, and ere
   The morning bee had stung the daffodil
 With tiny fretful spear, or from its lair
   The waking stag had leapt across the rill
 And roused the ouzel, or the lizard crept
 Athwart the sunny rock, beneath the grass their bodies slept.

 And when day brake, within that silver shrine
   Fed by the flames of cressets tremulous,
 Queen Venus knelt and prayed to Proserpine
   That she whose beauty made Death amorous
 Should beg a guerdon from her pallid Lord,
 And let Desire pass across dread Charon’s icy ford.

In melancholy moonless Acheron,
   Far from the goodly earth and joyous day,
 Where no spring ever buds, nor ripening sun
   Weighs down the apple trees, nor flowery May
 Chequers with chestnut blooms the grassy floor,
 Where thrushes never sing, and piping linnets mate no more,

 There by a dim and dark Lethæan well
   Young Charmides was lying, wearily
 He plucked the blossoms from the asphodel,
   And with its little rifled treasury
 Strewed the dull waters of the dusky stream,
 And watched the white stars founder, and the land was like a dream,

 When as he gazed into the watery glass
   And through his brown hair’s curly tangles scanned
 His own wan face, a shadow seemed to pass
   Across the mirror, and a little hand
 Stole into his, and warm lips timidly
 Brushed his pale cheeks, and breathed their secret forth into a sigh.

 Then turned he round his weary eyes and saw,
   And ever nigher still their faces came,
 And nigher ever did their young mouths draw
   Until they seemed one perfect rose of flame,
 And longing arms around her neck he cast,
 And felt her throbbing bosom, and his breath came hot and fast,

 And all his hoarded sweets were hers to kiss,
   And all her maidenhood was his to slay,
 And limb to limb in long and rapturous bliss
   Their passion waxed and waned,—O why essay
 To pipe again of love too venturous reed!
 Enough, enough that Erôs laughed upon that flowerless mead.

 Too venturous poesy O why essay
   To pipe again of passion! fold thy wings
 O’er daring Icarus and bid thy lay
   Sleep hidden in the lyre’s silent strings,
 Till thou hast found the old Castalian rill,
 Or from the Lesbian waters plucked drowned Sappho’s golden quill!

 Enough, enough that he whose life had been
   A fiery pulse of sin, a splendid shame,
 Could in the loveless land of Hades glean
   One scorching harvest from those fields of flame
 Where passion walks with naked unshod feet
 And is not wounded,—ah! enough that once their lips could meet

 In that wild throb when all existences
   Seem narrowed to one single ecstasy
 Which dies through its own sweetness and the stress
   Of too much pleasure, ere Persephone
 Had bade them serve her by the ebon throne
 Of the pale God who in the fields of Enna loosed her zone.

Published in Poems

Any corrections or public domain poems I should have here? Email me at poems (at) this domain.