Verse > Oscar Wilde > Poems

Oscar Wilde (1854–1900).  Poems.  1881.

33. Charmides


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         5
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  10
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,  15
  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  20
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,  25
  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  30
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,  35
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  40
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  45
  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  50
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,  55
  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  60
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  65
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  70
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  75
  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,  80
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,  85
  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.  90
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  95
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, 100
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 105
  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 110
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 115
  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. 120
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 125
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 130
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 135
  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 140
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 145
  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. 150
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 155
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 160
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 165
  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, 170
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, 175
  “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.” 180
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 185
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, 190
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 195
  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, 200
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, 205
  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. 210
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 215
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, 220
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 225
  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, 230
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, 235
  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, 240
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 245
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, 250
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, 255
  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 260
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, 265
  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. 270
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, 275
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 280
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 285
  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, 290
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, 295
  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! 300
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 305
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 310
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 315
  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, 320
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 325
  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, 330
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, 335
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, 340
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 345
  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 350
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 355
  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 360
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 365
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 370
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 375
  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, 380
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, 385
  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, 390
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 395
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 400
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 405
  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 410
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, 415
  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. 420
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 425
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 430
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 435
  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 440
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 445
  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: 450
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 455
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 460
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 465
  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, 470
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 475
  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. 480
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, 485
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 490
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, 495
  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, 500
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, 505
  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. 510
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, 515
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 520
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 525
  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, 530
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 535
  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. 540
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, 545
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 550
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 555
  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 560
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 565
  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, 570
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, 575
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 580
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 585
  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, 590
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 595
  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, 600
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 605
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 610
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 615
  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, 620
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 625
  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, 630
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 635
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, 640
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 645
  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 650
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 655
  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 660
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 665
Of the pale God who in the fields of Enna loosed her zone. 



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