Verse > Anthologies > T. H. Ward, ed. > The English Poets > Vol. V. Browning to Rupert Brooke
Thomas Humphry Ward, ed.  The English Poets.  1880–1918.
Vol. V. Browning to Rupert Brooke
Le Jeune Homme Caressant sa Chimère
By John Addington Symonds (1840–1893)
(For an Intaglio)

A BOY of eighteen years ’mid myrtle-boughs
  Lying love-languid on a morn of May,
Watched half-asleep his goats insatiate browse
  Thin shoots of thyme and lentisk, by the spray
  Of biting sea-winds bitter made and grey:        5
Therewith when shadows fell, his waking thought
Of love into a wondrous dream was wrought.
A woman lay beside him,—so it seemed;
  For on her marble shoulders, like a mist
Irradiate with tawny moonrise, gleamed        10
  Thick silken tresses; her white woman’s wrist,
  Glittering with snaky gold and amethyst,
Upheld a dainty chin; and there beneath,
Her twin breasts shone like pinks that lilies wreathe.
What color were her eyes I cannot tell;        15
  For as he gazed thereon, at times they darted
Dun rays like water in a dusky well;
  Then turned to topaz: then like rubies smarted
  With smouldering flames of passion tiger-hearted;
Then ’neath blue-veined lids swam soft and tender        20
With pleadings and shy timorous surrender.
Thus far a woman: but the breath that lifted
  Her panting breast with long melodious sighs,
Stirred o’er her neck and hair broad wings that sifted
  The perfumes of meridian Paradise;        25
  Dusk were they, furred like velvet, gemmed with eyes
Of such dull lustre as in isles afar
Night-flying moths spread to the summer star.
Music these pinions made—a sound and surge
  Of pines innumerous near lisping waves—        30
Rustlings of reeds and rushes on the verge
  Of level lakes and naiad-haunted caves—
  Drowned whispers of a wandering stream that laves
Deep alder-boughs and tracts of ferny grass
Bordered with azure-belled campanulas.        35
Potent they were: for never since her birth
  With feet of woman this fair siren pressed
Sleek meadow swards or stony ways of earth;
  But ’neath the silken marvel of her breast,
  Displayed in sinuous length of coil and crest,        40
Glittered a serpent’s tail, fold over fold,
In massy labyrinths of languor rolled.
Ah me! what fascination! what faint stars
  Of emerald and opal, with the shine
Of rubies intermingled, and dim bars        45
  Of twisting turquoise and pale coraline!
  What rings and rounds! what thin streaks sapphirine
Freckled that gleaming glory, like the bed
Of Eden streams with gems enamelled!
There lurked no loathing, no soul-freezing fear,        50
  But luxury and love these coils between:
Faint grew the boy; the siren filled his ear
  With singing sweet as when the village green
  Re-echoes to the tinkling tambourine,
And feet of girls aglow with laughter glance        55
In myriad mazy errors of the dance.
How long he dallied with delusive joy
  I know not: but thereafter never more
The peace of passionless slumber soothed the boy;
  For he was stricken to the very core        60
  With sickness of desire exceeding sore,
And through the radiance of his eyes there shone
Consuming fire too fierce to gaze upon.
He, ere he died—and they whom lips divine
  Have touched, fade flower-like and cease to be—        65
Bade Charicles on agate carve a sign
  Of his strange slumber: therefore can we see
  Here in the ruddy gem’s transparency
The boy, the myrtle-boughs, the triple spell
Of moth and snake and white witch terrible.        70

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