Like as some solitary woodland flower,1
Far out of reach, upon a perilous ledge,2
Flaunts its rich colours in a maiden’s eyes,3
And seems more fair because desired in vain,—4
So he, a stream-god’s son, more beautiful5
Than all his peers, serene and passionless,6
Lived whole of heart, in scornful self-delight7
Vacant for ever. Love, that comes to all,8
Sought not nor found him. Many raving words,9
The multiplied despair of aching hearts,10
Thickened around him, and he heeded not ;—11
Ay, though enamoured Echo, woodland nymph,12
Pursuing him with love, filled the deep air,13
The caves, and the bleak rocks, valleys and hills,14
With murmurs meaningless to none save him,15
Wasting away till she became a voice,16
Vague, incorporeal.—And thus it went,17
Till one who also loved him all in vain18
Uttered this dying curse :— “ So let him love19
A fiery love, and, loving, not enjoy !”20
And the suns travelled till there came a day,21
When, heated from the chase and tired with toil,22
Whether of chance, or by some envious Fate23
Misguided, he bore on with flagging steps24
Unto a pure cold fount, where never bird25
Nor mountain-goat frequented, clothed around26
With fresh green turf, and secret from the sun,27
Thither no devious track of mortal feet,28
Led through the shady labyrinth of wood ;29
No sounds of shepherds, calling from the bowers30
With melody of flute or vocal play,31
Made welcome for the weary flocks at noon ;32
Only the immemorial silences33
Kept haunt for ever on those flowery floors,34
Where the sweet summers ever came and went,35
And went and came, and even from the bees36
Year after year their customary spoil37
Concealed, as in a secret treasure-house ;38
And there, in evil hour slaking his thirst,39
He in his spirit conceived a thirst tenfold,40
Which water could not quench. For, as he drank,41
Leaning to the cold lymph, he saw therein42
The phantom of himself clear as the life,43
The mirrored white and red upon his cheek,44
The loose locks clustering round his snowy neck,45
Full of divinest beauty—saw and loved.46
O Love ! thou art the theme of many songs ;47
And some have thought thee but a froward boy,48
Risking thy random arrows here and there,49
Careless who suffer from thy pastime wild :50
Some paint thee pensive and serene of mood,51
Gentle, with very heaven upon thy face,52
Planting the deadly nightshade at the heart,53
Whereof men die, and leave wild words behind,54
And melancholy music strange to hear.55
But whether thou wert born in Rhodope,56
And sharp winds sang around thy couch of snow,57
And thy young heart grew hard among the hills—58
Or, cradled in the warmth of tropic isles,59
The softnesses of life corrupted thee,60
Till, to wear out the languid summer hours,61
Thou couldst not but be cruel to mankind—62
Or whencesoever or of whom thou art—63
Herein thou wast supremely merciless,64
That the twin shafts, whose piercing should create65
A mutual sympathy in different hearts,66
Thou without pity at one single breast67
Didst aim too surely, so that wild desire68
Tended to no sweet haven, but must rave69
In desolate unrest without a home !—70
Ah ! there and then hot hope, with eager eye,71
Sprung from that first fierce hunger in his blood,72
Flashed change upon his face, and o’er his soul73
Rolled moments like to years. Ah ! then and there74
Were passionate strivings with extended arms75
To fold a shadow ; and he sought not rest76
Nor food ; the hours went on ; and still he lay,77
Gazing upon the form that answered him78
With silent gestures, silent moving lips,79
Seeming to mean a not unequal love,80
Till the truth dawned upon him, and he knew81
Himself alone of all to his own heart82
Was cruel—for himself was his own love,83
Himself his own despair. Then in his ear84
Sudden there spake, or seemed to speak, a voice :—85
Life without love, or with a love unreaped,86
Makes every hour a death ; but death comes once—87
Better to die, for death will make an end.”88
Then spake he, weaving his own funeral dirge,89
Accents whose wildness might unnerve the rage90
Of wolves that wander in the Hercynian glens,91
Roll back the rivers from their seaward march,92
And rive compassion from the core of rocks :—93
O forests, dreaming of the years of old,94
Ask of your branches, whether green or sere,95
Whether by night or day, in calm, in storm,96
They may remember any love like mine.97
O Love, dread Love, I know thee—but too late :98
Come, feast thine eyes ; thou art indeed avenged !”99
And lovelorn Echo, startling at the cry,100
Paused in her bower a moment, then took up101
The shrill-toned sorrow, and from hill to hill102
Tossed it in mocking mood, until the voice103
Failed in the far-off clouds—Avenged ! Avenged104
So when the sun unyoked his flaming steeds,105
And through the glimmering silence, calm and slow106
The dark world drifted to the bourne of sleep,107
Came the death-angel in the cool of eve,108
Who seals impermeable to life and light109
The charm-constrainèd orbs, and solemnly110
O’er the lost lover bending in the gloom,111
Touched the pale brow with ceremonial wand.112
Whence a sad wonderment, the pain of dreams,113
Hung round his trancèd spirit like a mist ;114
And all about him snatches of old songs,115
Heard in old hours among the Oréades.116
Mixed with a meaning never felt before,117
Floated—dark legends of mysterious love118
Unhappy, and of hope for ever fallen,119
Fallen for ever, like his own—and still120
Haunted him more than all a simple strain121
Sung by Liriopè, the naïad-nymph,122
His mother, how a maiden golden-haired,123
Trusting to treachery and led by love,124
Followed a stranger from her father’s halls :—125
She like a rose just opening into bloom,126
Which one hath paused in passing to admire,127
Anon hath gathered, and against his heart128
Worn for a little hour, then cast away129
For ever, and remembers it no more ;130
But all the while it lieth where it fell,131
Silently drooping on an alien earth,132
Alone, unpitied of the passers-by ;133
Nor any more availeth that the showers134
Strive with sweet influences to lend it life,135
And golden suns caress it as of old ;136
Nor to have been in native loveliness137
First among flowers availeth any more,138
So lowly doth it lie, so far hath fallen.’—139
Here Echo seemed to answer—Fallen ! Fallen !140
Slowly and sad, like one that hath her wish,141
And finds it other than she hoped, not gain,142
But bitterest loss—which when the dying heard,143
The pulses of his heart grew faint and still,144
The life-stream halted and then ebbed away ;145
From limb to limb, crept the damp languor cold ;146
And he lay silent in a seeming sleep,147
Moveless like marble, with unlighted eyes148
Changelessly fastened on the crystal pool,149
And countenance snow-cold, which even in death ;150
Bore impress of unutterable desire.151
Then, after twilight, the stars one by one152
Peered from the broad blue curtain of the heavens,153
And the blanched delicate features of the dead154
Showed whiter in the broken misty light.155
There he lay all night long, until the birds156
Sang in the mirthful morning, and the sun,157
Piercing a slant path through the woven green,158
Rested upon a flower, ambrosial, sweet,159
Alone in grace among the forest flowers ;160
And therein lay embalmed the love, the life,161
Of that bright being, who but yesterday162
Was Beauty’s youngest-born upon the earth.163