Their footfalls made upon the ground,
Most real indeed they seemed to be.
The spilt blood savoured horribly.
Heart-breaking the dumb writhings were,
Unuttered curses filled the air ;
Yea, as the A\Tetched band went past,
A dreadful look one woman cast
On Laurence, and upon his breast
A wounded blood-stained hand she pressed.
But on the heels of these there came
A King, that through the night did flame,
For something more than steel or brass
The matter of his armour was ;
Its fashion strange past words to say ;
Who knows where first it saw the day ?
On a red horse he rode ; his face
THE RING GIVEN TO VENUS. 219
Gave no more hope of any grace
Than through the blackness of the night
The swift-descending hghtning might ;
And yet therein great joy indeed
The brightness of his eyes did feed ; â€”
A joy as of the leaping fire
Over the house-roof rising higher
To greet the noon-sun, when the glaive
Forbids all folk to help or save.
Yet harmless this one passed him by,
And through the air deliciously
Faint pensive music breathed, and then
There came a throng of maids and menâ€”
A young and fair and gentle band ;
Wliereof some passed him hand in hand,
Some side by side not touching walked.
As though of happy things they talked ;
Noiseless they were like all the rest
As past him up the hill they pressed ;
Yet she who brushed by him most close
Cast to his feet a fresh red rose.
Then somewhat of a space there was
Before the next band 'gan to pass,
So faint they moved for very woe ;
And these were men and maids also,
And young were most, and most were fair ;
And hand in hand some few went there,
And still were fain with love to see
THE EARTHLY PARADISE.
Each other's bitter misery ;
But most, just sundered, went along,
With faces drawn by hidden wrong,
Clenched hands and muttering lips that cursed
From brooding hearts their sin that nursed.
And she that went the last of all,
Black-robed, in passing by let fall
At Laurence's feet a black-bound wreath
Of bitter herbs long come to death.
Alone, afoot, when these were gone,
A bright one came, whose garments shone
In wondrous wise ; a bow he bore,
And deadly feathered shafts' good store ;
Winged was he and most Godlike fair ;
Slowly he went, and oft would stare
With eyes distraught down on the grass.
As waiting what might come to pass ;
Then whiles would he look up again,
And set his teeth as if with pain ;
And whiles for very joy of heart
His eyes would gleam, his lips would part
With such a smile as though the earth
Were newly made to give him mirth ;
Back o'er his shoulder would he gaze
Seaward, or through the marshland haze
That lay before, strain long and hard,
Till fast the tears fell on the sward : â€”
So towards the hill's brow wandered he.
THE RING GIVEN TO VENUS. 221
Then through the moaning of the sea
There came a faint and thriUing strain,
Till Laurence strove with tears in vain,
And his flesh trembled, part with fear,
Part as with some great pleasure near.
And then his dazzled eyes could see
Once more a noiseless company ;
And his heart failed him at the sight,
And he forgot both wrong and right,
And nothing thought of his intent ;
For close before him now there went
Fair women clad in ancient guise
That hid but little from his eyes
More loveliness than earth doth hold
Now, when her bones are growing old ;
But all too swift they went by him,
And fluttering gown and ivory limb
Went twinkling up the bare hill-side,
And lonely there must he abide.
Then seaward had he nigh turned round,
And thus the end of life had found,
When even before his wildered sight
There glided forth a figure white.
And passed him by afoot, alone ;
No raiment on her sweet limbs shone,
Only the tresses of her hair
The wind drove round her body fair ;
No sandals were there on her feet.
THE EARTHL Y PARADISE.
But still before them blossoms sweet
Unnamed, unknown within that land,
Sprang up ; she held aloft her hand
As to the trembling man she turned
Her glorious eyes, and on it burned
The dreadful pledge, the looked-for thing.
The well-wrought, lovely spousal ring.
Then Laurence trembled more and more ;
Huge longing his faint heart swept o'er,
As one who would a boon beseech.
His fevered hand forth did he reach,
And then she stayed and gazed at him,
Just moving lightly each fair limb
As one who loiters, but must go ;
But even as the twain stood so,
She saying nought, he saying nought,
And who knows w^hat wild wave of thought
Beating betwixt them, from his girth
The dread scroll loosened fell to earth,
And to his ears where sounds waxed dim
Louder its rustle seemed to him
Than loudest thunder ; down he bent,
Remembering now his good intent,
And got the scroll within his hand ;
And when mid prayers he came to stand
Upright again, then was she gone,
And he once more was left alone.
THE RING GIVEN TO VENUS. 22;
Foredone, bewildered, downcast now,
Confused clamour heard he grow,
And then swept onward through the night
A babbling crowd in raiment bright,
Wherein none listened aught at all
To what from other lips might fall,
And none might meet his fellow's gaze ;
And still o'er every restless face
Passed restless shades of rage and pain,
And sickening fear and longing vain.
On wound that manifold agony
Unholpen, vile, till earth and sea
Grew silent, till the moonlight died
Before a false light blaring wide.
And from amidst that fearful folk
The Lord of all the pageant broke.
Most like a mighty king was he.
And crowned and sceptered royally ;
As a white flame his visage shone.
Sharp, clear-cut as a face of stone ;
But flickering flame, not flesh, it was ;
And over it such looks did pass
Of wild desire, and pain, and fear.
As in his people's faces were.
But tenfold fiercer : furthermore,
A wondrous steed the Master bore,
Unnameable of kind or make,
Not horse, nor hippogriff, nor drake.
2 24 7HE EARTHLY PARADISE.
Like and unlike to all of these,
And flickering like the semblances
Of an ill dream, wrought as in scorn
Of sunny noon, fresh eve, and morn,
That feed the fair things of the earth.
And now brake out a mock of mirth
From all that host, and all their eyes
Were turned on Laurence in strange wise.
Who met the maddening fear that burned
Round his unholpen heart, and turned
Unto the dreadful king and cried :
" What errand go ye on ? Abide,
Abide ! for I have tarried long ;
Turn thou to me, and right my wrong !
One of thy servants keeps from me
That which I gave her not ; nay, see
What thing thy Master bids thee do ! "
Then wearily, as though he knew
How all should be, the Master turned,
And his red eyes on Laurence burned.
As without word the scroll he took ;
But as he touched the skin he shook
As though for fear, and presently
In a great voice he 'gan to cry :
" Shall this endure for ever. Lord ?
Hast thou no care to keep thy word ?
And must such double men abide ?
Not mine, not mine, nor on thy side ?
THE RING GIVEN TO VENUS. 22;
For as thou cursest them I curse : â€”
Make thy souls better, Lord, or worse !"
Then spake he to the trembhng man,
" What I am bidden, that I can ;
Bide here, and thou shalt see thine own
Unto thy very feet cast down ;
Then go and dwell in peace awhile."
Then round he turned with sneering smile,
And once more lonely was the night.
And colourless with grey moonlight.
But soon indeed the dawn drew near,
As Laurence stood 'twixt hope and fear.
Still doubting, now that all was gone.
If his own heart the thing had done,
Though on his coat the blood-mark was.
Though rose and wreath lay on the grass ;
So long he waited wearily,
Until, when dawn 'gan stripe the sky,
If he were waking scarce he knew,
When, as he deemed, a white cloud drew
Anigh him from the marshland grey,
Over the empty ghost-trod way,
And from its midst a voice there came :
" T/wu who hast wrought vie added shame.,
Take back thhie own and go thy ways;
And think, perchance, in coming days,
2 26 THE EARTHLY PARADTSE.
When all grows old about thee, hoia
From foolish hands thou needs must throiv
A gift of iinhoped great delight y
It vanished as the east grew bright,
And in the shadowless still morn
A sense of rest to him was born,
And looking down unto his feet,
His eyes the spousal-ring did meet.
He caught it up with a glad cry,
And kissed it over longingly,
And set it on his hand again ;
And dreamlike now, and vague and vain.
Seemed all those images of fear,
The ^vicked sights that held him there ;
And rather now his eyes could see
Her that was his now verily.
Then from that drear unhallowed place
With merry heart he set his face.
A light wind o'er the ocean blew.
And fresh and fair the young day grew ;
The sun rose o'er the green sea's rim.
And gave new life and joy to him ;
The white birds crying o'er his head
Seemed praising all his hardihead,
And laughing at the worsted foe ;
So, joyous, onward did he go.
And in a little sheltered bay
His weariness he washed away.
THE RING GIVEN TO VENUS. 227
And made afresh on toward the town :
He met the fish-wife coming down
From her red cottage to the strand,
The fisher-children hand in hand
Over some wonder washed ashore;
The old man muttering words of lore
About the wind that was to be ;
And soon the white sails specked the sea,
And fisher-keel on fisher-keel
The furrowed sand again did feel,
And round them many a barefoot maid
The burden on her shoulders laid,
While unto rest the fishers went,
And grumbling songs from rough throats sent.
Now all is done, and he at last,
Weary, but full of joy, has passed
Over his threshold once again,
And scarce believed is all the pain
And all the fear that he has had,
Now night and day shall make him glad.
As for Palumbus, tossed about
His soul might be in dread and doubt,
In rest at least his body lay
Ere the great bell struck noon that day.
And soon a carver did his best
To make an image of that rest.
2 2 8 THE EARTHL Y PARADISE.
Nor aught of gold did Laurence spare
To make his tomb both rich and fair ;
And o'er his clasped hands and his head
Thereafter many a mass was said.
SO when the tale was clean done, with a smile
The old priest looked around a little while,
That grew, as young and old 'gan say their say
On that strange dream of time long past away ;
So listening, with his pleased and thoughtful look
He 'gan turn o'er the worn leaves of his book,
Half noting at the first the flowers therein.
Drawn on the margin of the yellowing skin
Where chapters ended ; or fair images
Of kings and lords amidst of war and peace
At books' beginnings ; till within a space
His eyes grew fixed upon a certain place,
And he seemed reading. Was it then the name
Of some old town before his eyes that came,
And drew his thoughts there ? Did he see it now ?
The bridge across the river choked with snow ;
The pillared market-place, not thronged this eve ;
The muffled goodwives making haste to leave
The gusty minster porch, whose windows shone
With the first-litten candles ; while the drone
Of the great organ shook the leaded panes,
And the wind moaned about the turret vanes ?
â€” Nought changed there, and himself so changed mid
That the next land â€” Death's land â€” would seem
230 THE EARTHLY PARADISE.
To his awakening eyes !
Ah ! good and ill,
When mil your strife the fated measure fill ?
^Vhen will the tangled veil be drawn away,
And show us all that unimagined day ?
NOON â€” and the north-west sweeps the empty
The rain-washed fields from hedge to hedge are bare ;
Beneath the leafless elms some hind's abode
Looks small and void, and no smoke meets the air
From its poor hearth : one lonely rook doth dare
The gale, and beats above the unseen corn.
Then turns, and whirling down the wind is borne.
Shall it not hap that on some dawn of May
Thou shalt awake, and, thinking of days dead,
See nothing clear but this same dreary day,
Of all the days that have passed o'er thine head ?
Shalt thou not wonder, looking from thy bed,
Through green leaves on the windless east a-fire.
That this day too thine heart doth still desire ?
Shalt thou not wonder that it liveth yet.
The useless hope, the useless craving pain,
That made thy face, that lonely noontide, wet
With more than beating of tlie cliilly rain ?
Shalt thou not hope for joy new born again.
Since no grief ever born can ever die
Tlirough changeless change of seasons passing by ?
232 THE EAR THL Y PA RAD IS E.
THE change has come at last, and from the west
Drives on the wind, and gives the clouds no rest,
And ruffles up the water thin that lies
Over the surface of the tha^ving ice ;
Sunrise and sunset with no glorious show
Are seen, as late they were across the snow ;
The wet-lipped west wind chilleth to the bone
More than the light and flickering east hath done.
Full soberly the earth's fresh hope begins.
Nor stays to think of what each new day A^dns :
And still it seems to bid us turn away
From this chill thaw to dream of blossomed May :
E'en as some hapless lover's dull shame sinks
Away sometimes in day-dreams, and he thinks
No more of yesterday's disgrace and foil.
No more he thinks of all the sickening toil
Of piling straw on straw to reach the sky ;
But rather now a pitying face draws nigh,
Mid tears and prayers for pardon ; and a tale
To make love tenderer now is all the bale
Love brought him erst.
But on this chill dank tide
Still are the old men by the fireside.
And all things cheerful round the day just done
Shut out the memory of the cloud-drowned sun,
And dripping bough and blotched and snow-soaked
And little as the tide seemed made for mirth,
Scarcely they lacked it less than months agone,
When on their wrinkles bright the great sun shone ;
Rather, perchance, less pensive now they were.
And meeter for that cause old tales to hear
Of stirring deeds long dead :
So, as it fell,
Preluding nought, an elder 'gan to tell
The story promised in mid-winter days
Of all that latter end of bliss and praise
That erst befell Bellerophon the bright,
Ere all except his name sank into night.
234 THE EARTHLY PARADISE.
BELLEROPHON IN LYCIA.
Bellerophon bore unawares to Jobates King of Lycia the
deadly message of King Proetus : wherefore the Lycian King
threw him often in the way of death, but the Fates willed
him not to perish so, but gave him rather great honour and a
LO ye have erst heard how Bellerophon
Left Argos with his fortune all undone,
Well deeming why, and with a certain scorn,
Rather than anger, in his heart new-born.
To mingle with old courage, and the hope
That yet with life's wild tangle he might cope,
Nor be so wholly beaten in the end :
Whatever pain he gat from failing friend,
And earth made lonely for his feet again,
The brightness of his youth might nowise wane
Before it, or his hardihood grow dim.
So now the evening sun shines fair on him
In Lycia, as he goes up from the quays,
AVell pleased beneath the neAv folk's curious gaze
BELLEROPHON IN L YCIA. 235
With all the fair things that his eyes behold :
As goodly as the tale was that men told
Of King Jobates' city, goodlier
Than all they told it seemeth to him here,
And mid things new and strange and fairly wrought
Small care he hath for any anxious thought.
And so amid the shipmen's company
He came unto the King's hall, builded high
Above the market-place, and no delay
In getting speech of the great King had they.
For ever King Jobates' wont it was
To learn of new-comers things brought to pass
In outlands, and he served in noble Avise
Such guests as might seem trusty to his eyes.
So in the midmost of his company
He passed in through the hall, and seemed to be
A very god chance-come among them there,
Though little splendid soothly was his gear ;
A bright steel helm upon his brows he had,
And in a dark blue kirtle was he clad.
And a grey cloak thereover ; bright enow
With gold and gems his great sword's hilt did glow,
But no such thing was in aught else he wore ;
A spear great-shafted his strong right hand bore,
And in his left King Proetus' casket shone :
Grave was his face now, though there played thereon
A flickering smile, that erst you might have seen
In such wise play, when small sjjace was between
The spears he led and fierce eyes of tlie foe.
236 THE EARTHL V PARADISE.
Thus through the Lycian court-folk did they go
Till to the King they came : e'en such a man
As sLxty summers made not pinched or wan,
Though beard and hair alike were white as snow.
Down on the sea-farers did he gaze now
With curious peering eyes, and now and then
He smiled and nodded, as he saw such men
Amidst them as he knew in other days ;
But when he met Bellerophon's frank gaze,
There his eyes rested, and he said : " O guest,
Though among these thy gear is not the best,
Yet know I no man more if thou art not
E'en that Bellerophon, who late hast got
Such praise mid men of Argos, that thy name
Two months agone to this our country came.
Adorned with many tales of deeds of thine ;
And certainly as of a man divine
Thy mien is and thy face : how sayest thou?"
" So am I called," he said, " mid all men now.
Since that unhappy day that drave me forth.
Lacking that half that was of greatest worth,
And made me worthy â€” for my deeds, O King,
What I have done is but a little thing ;
I ^\Tought that I might live from day to day.
That something I might give for hire and pay
Unto my lord \ from whom I bring to thee
A message written by him privily,
Hid in this casket ; take it from my hand,
BELLEROPHON IN L YCIA. 23 7
And do thou worthily to this my band,
And let us soon depart, for I am fain
The good report of other men to gain,
Wide through the world; â€” nor do thou keep me here
As one unto King Proetus' heart right dear,
Because I deem that I have done amiss
Unto him, though I wot not how it is
That I have sinned : certes he bade me flee,
And ere he went my face he would not see ;
Therefore I bid thee. King, to have a care
Lest on a troublous voyage thou shouldst fare."
" Sweet is thy voice," the King said ; " many a maid
Among our fairest would be well a-paid
In listening to thy words a summer day.
Nor will our honour let thee go away
Whatso thy deed is, though I deem full well
But little ill there is of thee to tell.
Give forth the casket ; in good time will we
This message of the King of Argos see.
And do withal what seemeth good therein.
Sit ye, O guests, for supper doth begin ! â€”
Ho ! marshals, give them room ; but thou sit here,
And gather heart the deeds of Kings to bear
While yet thou mayst, and here with me rejoice,
Forgetting much ; for certes in thy voice
Was wrath e'en now, and unmeet anger is
To mingle with our short-lived spell of bliss."
Then sat Bellcrophon adown and thought
238 THE EARTHLY PARADISE.
How fate his wandering footsteps erst had brought
To such another place, and of the end,
Whate'er it was, that fate to him did send.
Yet since the time was fair, and day by day
E^â€¢e^ some rag of fear he cast away,
And ever less doubt of himself he had.
In that bright concourse was he blithe and glad,
And the King blessed the fair and merry tide
That set so blithe a fellow by his side.
BUT the next day, in honour of the guest.
The King bade deck all chambers with his best.
And bid all folk to joyous festival,
And let the heralds all the fair youth call
To play -within the lists at many a game j
" Since here last eve the great Corinthian came
That ye have heard of: and though ye indeed
Of more than manly strength may well have need
To match him, do your best, lest word he bear
Too soft that noAv the Lycian folk live here,
Forgetting whence their fathers came of yore
And whom their granddames to their grandsires bore."
So came the young men thronging, and withal
BELLER OPHON IN L YCIA. 2 3 9
Before the altars did the oxen fall
To many a god, the well-washed fleeces fair
In their own bearers' blood were dyed, and there
The Persian merchants stood and snuffed the scent
Of frankincense, for which of old they went
Through plain and desert waterless, and faced
The lion-haunted woods that edged the waste.
Then in the lists were couched the pointless spears,
The oiled sleek wrestler struggled with his peers.
The panting runner scarce could see the crown
Held by white hands before his visage brown ;
The horses, with no hope of gold or gain.
With fluttering hearts remembered not the rein
Nor thought of earth. And still all things fared so,
That all who with the hero had to do
Deemed him too strong for mankind ; or if one
Gained seeming victory on Bellerophon,
He knew it for a courteous mockery
Granted to him. So did the day go by,
And others like it, and the talk still was
How even now such things could come to pass
That such a man upon the earth was left.
But when the ninth sun from the earth had reft
Silence, and rest from care, then the King sent
To see Bellerophon, who straightly went.
And found Jobates with a troubled face.
Pacing a chamber of the royal place
From end to end, who turned as he drew near,
2 4C THE EARTHLY PARADISE.
And said in a low voice, " What dost thou here ?
This is a land with many dangers rife ;
Hast thou no heed to save thy joyous life?
The wide sea is before thee, get thee gone,
All lands are good for thee but this alone ! "
And as the hero strove to catch his eye
And 'gan to speak, he passed him hurriedly,
And gat him from the chamber : with a smile
Bellerophon turned too within a while,
When he could gather breath from such a speech,
And said, " Far then King Prcetus' arm can reach :
So was it as I doubted ; yet withal
Not everything to every king will fall
As he desires it, and the Gods are good ;
Nor shall the Lycian herbage drink my blood : â€”
The Gods are good, though far they drive me forth ;
But the four quarters, south, west, east, and north,
All are alike to me, who therein have
None left me now to weep above my grave
Whereso I fall : and fair things shall I see,
Nor may great deeds be lacking unto me :â€¢ â€”
Would I were gone then !"
But with that last word
Light footsteps drawing swiftly nigh he heard,
And made a shift therewith his eyes to raise.
Then staggering back, bewildered with amaze.
Caught at the wall and wondered if he dreamed.
For there before his very eyes he seemed
BELLEROPHON IN L YCIA. 241
To see the Lycian Sthenobcea draw nigh ;
But as he strove with his perplexity
A soft voice reached his ears, and then he knew
That in one mould the Gods had fashioned two,
But given them hearts unlike ; yea, and her eyes
Looked on his troubled face in no such wise
As had the other's ; wistful these and shy,
And seemed to pray, Use me not cruelly,
I have not harmed thee. â€” Thus her soft speech ran :
" Far have I sought thee, O Corinthian man,
And now that I have found thee my words fail,
Though erst my heart had taught me well my tale."
She paused, her half-closed lips were e'en as sweet
As the sweet sounds that thence the air did meet,
And such a sense swept o'er Bellerophon
As whiles in spring had come, and lightly gone
Ere he could name it ; like a wish it was,
A wish for something that full swift did pass.
To be forgotten.
Some three paces were
Betwixt them when she first had spoken there.
But now, as though it were unwittingly.
He slowly moved a little more anigh ;
But she flushed red now ere she spake once more.
And faltered and looked down upon the floor.
" O Prince Bellerophon," at last she said,
242 THE EARTHLY PARADISE.
" I dreamed last night that I beheld thee dead ;
I knew thee thus, for twice had I seen thee,
Unseen myself, in this festivity ;
And since I know how loved a man thou art,
Here have I come, to bid thee to depart.
Since that thou mayst do yet."
Nigher he came
And said, " O fair one, I am but a name
To thee, as men are to the Gods above ;
And what thing, then, thy heart to this did move?"
So spake he, knowing scarce what words he said,
Strange his own voice seemed to him ; and the maid
Spake not at first, but grew pale, and there passed
A quivering o'er her lips ; but at the last.
With eyes fixed full upon him, thus she spake :
" Why should I lie ? this did I for thy sake,
Because thou art the worthiest of all men.
The loveliest to look on. Hear me, then ;
But ere my tale is finished, speak thou not.
Because this moment has my heart waxed hot,
And I can speak before I go my way â€”