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Is sure enough to make a mortal man
Grow impious." So he inwardly began
On things for which no wording can be found;
Deeper and deeper sinking, until drown'd
Beyond the reach of music: for the choir
Of Cynthia he heard not, though rough brier
Nor muffling thicket interposed to dull
The vesper hymn, far swollen, soft and full,
Through the dark pillars of those sylvan aisles.
He saw not the two maidens, nor their smiles,
Wan as primroses gather'd at midnight
By chilly-finger'd spring. Unhappy wight!
"Endymion!" said Peons, "we are here!
What wouldst thou ere we all are laid on bier?"
Then he embraced her, and his lady's hand
Press'd, saying : "Sister, I would have command,
If it were heaven's will, on our sad fate."
At which that dark-eyed stranger stood elate
And said, in a new voice, but sweet as love,
To Endymion's amaze : "By Cupid's dove,
And so thou shalt! and by the lily truth
Of my own breast thou shalt, beloved youth!"
And as she spake, into her face there came
Light, as reflected from a silver flame:
Her long black hair swell'd ampler, in display
Full golden ; in her eyes a brighter day
Dawn'd blue, and full of love. Aye, he beheld
Phoebe, his passion ! joyous she upheld
Her lucid bow, continuing thus: "Drear, drear
Has our delaying been ; but foolish fear
Withheld me first; and then decrees of fate;
And then't was fit that from this mortal state
Thou shouldst, my love, by some unlook'd-for change
Be spiritualised. Peona, we shall range
These forests, and to thee they safe shall be
As was thy cradle; hither shalt thou flee
To meet us many a time." Next Cynthia bright
Peona kiss'd, and bless'd with fair good night:
Her brother kiss'd her too, and knelt down
Before his goddess, in a blissful swoon.
She gave her fair hands to him, and behold,
Before three swiftest kisses he had told,
They vanish'd far away !—Peona went
Home through the gloomy wood in wonderment.
Upon a time, before the faery broods
Drove Nymph and Satyr from the prosperous woods,
Before King Oberon's bright diadem,
Sceptre, and mantle, clasp'd with dewy gem,
Frighted away the Dryads and the Fauns
From rushes green, and brakes, and cowslipp'd lawns,
The ever-smitten Hermes empty left
His golden throne, bent warm on amorous theft:
From high Olympus had he stolen light,
On this side of Jove's clouds, to escape the sight
Of his great summoner, and made retreat
Into a forest on the shores of Crete.
For somewhere in that sacred island dwelt
A nymph, to whom all hoofed Satyrs knelt;
At whose white feet the languid Tritons pour'd
Pearls, while on land they wither'd and adored.
Fast by the springs where she to bathe was wont,
And in those meads where sometimes she might haunt,
Were strewn rich gifts, unknown to any Muse,
Though Fancy's casket were unlock'd to choose.
Ah, what a world of love was at her feet!
So Hermes thought, and a celestial heat
Burn'd from his winged heels to either ear,
That from a whiteness, as the lily clear,
Blush'd into roses 'mid his golden hair,
Fallen in jealous curls about his shoulders bare.
From vale to vale, from wood to wood, he flew,
Breathing upon the flowers his passion new,
And wound with many a river to its head,
To find where this sweet nymph prepared her secret bed:
In vain; the sweet nymph might nowhere be found,
And so he rested, on the lonely ground,
Pensive, and full of painful jealousies
Of the Wood-Gods, and even the very trees.
There as he stood, he heard a mournful voice,
Such as once heard, in gentle heart, destroys
All pain but pity : thus the lone voice spake:
"When from this wreathed tomb shall I awake!
When move in a sweet body fit for life,
And love, and pleasure, and the ruddy strife
Of hearts and lips ! Ah, miserable me I"
The God, dove-footed, glided silently
Round bush and tree, soft-brushing, in his speed,
The taller grasses and full-flowering weed,
Until he found a palpitating snake,
Bright, and cirque-couchant in a dusky brake.
She was a gordian shape of dazzling hue, Vermilion-spotted, golden, green, and blue; Striped like a zebra, freckled like a pard, Eyed like a peacock, and all crimson barr'd; And full of silver moons, that, as she breathed, Dissolved, or brighter shone, or interwreathed Their lustres with the gloomier tapestries— So rainbow-sided, touch'd with miseries, She seem'd at once, some penanced lady elf, Some demon's mistress, or the demon's self. Upon her crest she wore a wannish fire Sprinkled with stars, like Ariadne's tiar: Her head was serpent, but ah, bitter-sweet! She had a woman's mouth with all its pearls complete: And for her eyes—what could such eyes do there But weep, and weep, that they were born so fair? As Proserpine still weeps for her Sicilian air. Her throat was serpent, but the words she spake Came, as through bubbling honey, for Love's sake, And thus ; while Hermes on his pinions lay, Like a stoop'd falcon ere he takes his prey:
"Fair Hermes! crown'd with feathers, fluttering light, I had a splendid dream of thee last night: I saw thee sitting, on a throne of gold, Among the Gods, upon Olympus old, The only sad one; for thou didst not hear The soft, lute-finger'd Muses chanting clear, Nor even Apollo when he sang alone, Deaf to his throbbing throat's long, long melodious moan.