Canto III

  1.  Sweet and low, sweet and low,
  2.  Wind of the western sea,
  3.  Low, low, breathe and blow,
  4.  Wind of the western sea!
  5.  Over the rolling waters go,
  6.  Come from the dying moon, and blow,
  7.  Blow him again to me;
  8.  While my little one, while my pretty one, sleeps.

  9.  Sleep and rest, sleep and rest,
  10.  Father will come to thee soon;
  11.  Rest, rest, on mother's breast,
  12.  Father will come to thee soon;
  13.  Father will come to his babe in the nest,
  14.  Silver sails all out of the west
  15.  Under the silver moon:
  16.  Sleep, my little one, sleep, my pretty one, sleep.

  17. MORN in the white wake of the morning star
  18. Came furrowing all the orient into gold.
  19. We rose, and each by other drest with care
  20. Descended to the court that lay three parts
  21. In shadow, but the Muses' heads were touch'd
  22. Above the darkness from their native East.

  23.  There while we stood beside the fount, and watch'd
  24. Or seem'd to watch the dancing bubble, approach'd
  25. Melissa, tinged with wan from lack of sleep,
  26. Or grief, and glowing round her dewy eyes
  27. The circled Iris of a night of tears;
  28. And fly, 'she cried,' O fly, while yet you may!
  29. My mother knows: 'and when I ask'd her 'how,'
  30. 'My fault,' she wept, 'my fault! and yet not mine;
  31. Yet mine in part. O hear me, pardon me.
  32. My mother, 'tis her wont from night to night
  33. To rail at Lady Psyche and her side.
  34. She says the Princess should have been the Head,
  35. Herself and Lady Psyche the two arms; I
  36. And so it was agreed when first they came;
  37. But Lady Psyche was the right hand now,
  38. And she the left, or not, or seldom used;
  39. Hers more than half the students, all the love.
  40. And so last night she fell to canvass you:
  41. Her countrywomen! she did not envy her. I
  42. "Who ever saw such wild barbarians?
  43. Girls? --more like men! " and at these words the snake,
  44. My secret, seem'd to stir within my breast;
  45. And oh, Sirs, could I help it, but my cheek
  46. Began to burn and burn, and her lynx eye
  47. To fix and make me hotter, till she laugh'd:
  48. "O marvellously modest maiden, you!
  49. Men! girls, like men! why, if they had been men
  50. You need not set your thoughts in rubric thus
  51. For wholesale comment. " Pardon, I am shamed
  52. That I must needs repeat for my excuse
  53. What looks so little graceful: "men" (for still
  54. My mother went revolving on the word)
  55. "And so they are, --very like men indeed--
  56. And with that woman closeted for hours! "
  57. Then came these dreadful words out one by one,
  58. Why-these-are-men: " I shudder'd: "and you know it. "
  59. "O ask me nothing, " I said: "And she knows too,
  60. And she conceals it. " So my mother clutch'd
  61. The truth at once, but with no word ftom me;
  62. And now thus early risen she goes to inform
  63. The Princess: Lady Psyche will be crush'd;
  64. But you may yet be saved, and therefore fly
  65. But heal me with your pardon ere you go.'

  66.  'What pardon, sweet Melissa, for a blush?'
  67. Said Cyril: 'Pale one, blush again: than wear
  68. Those lilies, better blush our lives away.
  69. Yet let us breathe for one hour more in Heaven,'
  70. He added, 'lest some classic Angel speak
  71. In scorn of us, "They mounted, Ganymedes,
  72. To tumble, Vulcans, on the second morn. "
  73. But I will melt this marble into wax
  74. To yield us farther furlough:' and he went.

  75.  Melissa shook her doubtful curls, and thought
  76. He scarce would prosper. 'Tell us,' Florian ask'd,
  77. 'How grew this feud betwixt the right and left.'
  78. 'O long ago,' she said, 'betwixt these two
  79. Division smoulders hidden; 'tis my mother,
  80. Too jealous, often fretful as the wind
  81. Pent in a crevice: much I bear with her:
  82. I never knew my father, but she says
  83. (God help her) she was wedded to a fool;
  84. And still she rail'd against the state of things.
  85. She had the care of Lady Ida's youth,
  86. And from the Queen's decease she brought her up.
  87. But when your sister came she won the heart
  88. Of Ida: they were still together, grew
  89. (For so they said themselves) inosculated;
  90. Consonant chords that shiver to one note;
  91. One mind in all things: yet my mother still
  92. Affirms your Psyche thieved her theories,
  93. And angled with them for her pupil's love:
  94. She calls her plagiarist; I know not what:
  95. But I must go: I dare not tarry' and light,
  96. As flies the shadow of a bird, she fled.

  97.  Then murmur'd Florian gazing after her:
  98. 'An open-hearted maiden, true and pure.
  99. If I could love, why this were she: how pretty
  100. Her blushing was, and how she blush'd again,
  101. As if to close with Cyril's random wish:
  102. Not like your Princess cramm'd with erring pride,
  103. Nor like poor Psyche whom she drags in tow.'

  104.  'The crane,' I said, 'may chatter of the crane,
  105. The dove may murmur of the dove, but I
  106. An eagle clang an eagle to the sphere.
  107. My princess, O my princess! true she errs,
  108. But in her own grand way: being herself
  109. Three times more noble than threescore of men,
  110. She sees herself in every woman else,
  111. And so she wears her error like a crown
  112. To blind the truth and me: for her, and her,
  113. Hebes are they to hand ambrosia, mix
  114. The nectar; but--ah she--whene'er she moves
  115. The Samian Herè rises and she speaks
  116. A Memnon smitten with the morning Sun.'

  117.  So saying from the court we paced, and gain'd
  118. The terrace ranged along the Northern front,
  119. And leaning there on those balusters, high
  120. Above the empurpled champaign, drank the gale
  121. That blown about the foliage underneath,
  122. And sated with the innumerable rose,
  123. Beat balm upon our eyelids. Hither came
  124. Cyril, and yawning, 'O hard task.' he cried;
  125. 'No fighting shadows here! I forced a way
  126. Thro' solid opposition crabb'd and gnarl'd.
  127. Better to clear prime forests, heave and thump
  128. A league of street in summer solstice down,
  129. Than hammer at this reverend gentlewoman.
  130. I knock'd and, bidden, enter'd; found her there
  131. At point to move, and settled in her eyes
  132. The green malignant light of coming storm.
  133. Sir, I was courteous, every phrase well-oil'd,
  134. As man's could be; yet maiden-meek I pray'd
  135. Concealment: she demanded who we were,
  136. And why we came? I fabled nothing fair,
  137. But, your example pilot, told her all.
  138. Up went the hush'd amaze of hand and eye.
  139. But when I dwelt upon your old affiance,
  140. She answer'd sharply that I talk'd astray.
  141. I urged the fierce inscription on the gate,
  142. And our three lives. True--we had limed ourselves
  143. With open eyes, and we must take the chance.
  144. But such extremes, I told her, well might harm
  145. The woman's cause. "Not more than now, " she said,
  146. "So puddled as it is with favouritism. "
  147. I tried the mother's heart. Shame might befall
  148. Melissa, knowing, saying not she knew:
  149. Her answer was "Leave me to deal with that. "
  150. I spoke of war to come and many deaths,
  151. And she replied, her duty was to speak,
  152. And duty duty, clear of consequences.
  153. I grew discouraged, Sir; but since I knew
  154. No rock so hard but that a little wave
  155. May beat admission in a thousand years,
  156. I recommenced: "Decide not ere you pause.
  157. I find you here but in the second place,
  158. Some say the third--the authentic foundress you.
  159. I offer boldly: we will seat you highest:
  160. Wink at our advent: help my prince to gain
  161. His rightful bride, and here I promise you
  162. Some palace in our land, where you shall reign
  163. The head and heart of all our fair she-world,
  164. And your great name flow on with broadening time
  165. For ever. " Well, she balanced this a little,
  166. And told me she would answer us to-day,
  167. Meantime be mute: thus much, nor more I gain'd.'

  168.  He ceasing, came a message from the Head.
  169. 'That afternoon the Princess rode to take
  170. The dip of certain strata to the North.
  171. Would we go with her? we should find the land
  172. Worth seeing; and the river made a fall
  173. Out yonder:' then she pointed on to where
  174. A double hill ran up his furrowy forks
  175. Beyond the thick-leaved platans of the vale.

  176.  Agreed to, this, the day fled on thro' all
  177. Its range of duties to the appointed hour.
  178. Then summon'd to the porch we went. She stood
  179. Among her maidens, higher by the head,
  180. Her back against a pillar, her foot on one
  181. Of those tame leopards. Kittenlike he roll'd
  182. And paw'd about her sandal. I drew near;
  183. I gazed. On a sudden my strange seizure came
  184. Upon me, the weird vision of our house:
  185. The Princess Ida seem'd a hollow show,
  186. Her gay-furr'd cats a painted fantasy,
  187. Her college and her maidens, empty masks,
  188. And I myself the shadow of a dream,
  189. For all things were and were not. Yet I felt
  190. My heart beat thick with passion and with awe;
  191. Then from my breast the involuntary sigh
  192. Brake, as she smote me with the light of eyes
  193. That lent my knee desire to kneel, and shook
  194. My pulses, till to horse we got, and so
  195. Went forth in long retinue following up
  196. The river as it narrow'd to the hills.

  197.  I rode beside her and to me she said:
  198. 'O friend, we trust that you esteem'd us not
  199. Too harsh to your companion yestermorn;
  200. Unwillingly we spake.' 'No--not to her,'
  201. I answer'd, 'but to one of whom we spake
  202. Your Highness might have seem'd the thing you say.'
  203. 'Again?' she cried, 'are you ambassadresses
  204. From him to me? we give you, being strange,
  205. A licence: speak, and let the topic die.'

  206.  I stammer'd that I knew him--could have wish'd--
  207. 'Our king expects--was there no precontract?
  208. There is no truer-hearted--ah, you seem
  209. All he prefigured, and he could not see
  210. The bird of passage flying south but long'd
  211. To follow: surely, if your Highness keep
  212. Your purport, you will shock him ev'n to death,
  213. Or baser courses, children of despair.'

  214.  'Poor boy,' she said, 'can he not read--no books?
  215. Quoit, tennis, ball--no games? nor deals in that
  216. Which men delight in, martial exercise?
  217. To nurse a blind ideal like a girl,
  218. Methinks he seems no better than a girl;
  219. As girls were once, as we ourselves have been:
  220. We had our dreams; perhaps he mixt with them:
  221. We touch on our dead self, nor shun to do it,
  222. Being other--since we learnt our meaning here,
  223. To lift the woman's fall'n divinity
  224. Upon an even pedestal with man.'

  225.  She paused, and added with a haughtier smile,
  226. 'And as to precontracts, we move, my friend,
  227. At no man's beck, but know ourselves and thee.
  228. O Vashti, noble Vashti! Summon'd out
  229. She kept her state, and left the drunken king
  230. To brawl at Shushan underneath the palms.'

  231.  'Alas, your Highness breathes full East,' I said,
  232. 'On that which leans to you. I know the Prince,
  233. I prize his truth: and then how vast a work
  234. To assail this grey prë eminence of man!
  235. You grant me licence; might I use it? think;
  236. Ere half be done perchance your life may fail;
  237. Then comes the feebler heiress of your plan,
  238. And takes and ruins all; and thus your pains
  239. May only make that footprint upon sand
  240. Which old-recurring waves of prejudice
  241. Resmooth to nothing: might I dread that you,
  242. With only Fame for spouse and your great deeds
  243. For issue, yet may live in vain, and miss,
  244. Meanwhile, what every woman counts her due,
  245. Love, children, happiness?'
    And she exclaim'd,
  246. 'Peace, you young savage of the Northern wild!
  247. What! tho' your Prince's love were like a God's,
  248. Have we not made ourself the sacrifice?
  249. You are bold indeed: we are not talk'd to thus:
  250. Yet will we say for children, would they grew
  251. Like field-flowers everywhere! we like them well:
  252. But children die; and let me tell you, girl,
  253. Howe'er you babble, great deeds cannot die:
  254. They with the sun and moon renew their light
  255. For ever, blessing those that look on them.
  256. Children--that men may pluck them from our hearts,
  257. Kill us with pity, break us with ourselves--
  258. O-children-there is nothing upon earth
  259. More miserable than she that has a son
  260. And sees him err: nor would we work for fame;
  261. Tho' she perhaps might reap the applause of Great,
  262. Who learns the one POU STO whence after-hands
  263. May move the world, tho' she herself effect
  264. But little: wherefore up and act, nor shrink
  265. For fear our solid aim be dissipated
  266. By frail successors. Would, indeed, we had been,
  267. In lieu of many mortal flies, a race
  268. Of giants living, each, a thousand years,
  269. That we might see our own work out, and watch
  270. The sandy footprint harden into stone.'

  271.  I answer'd nothing, doubtful in myself
  272. If that strange Poet-princess with her grand
  273. Imaginations might at all be won.
  274. And she broke out interpreting my thoughts:

  275.  'No doubt we seem a kind of monster to you;
  276. We are used to that: for women, up till this
  277. Cramp'd under worse than South-sea-isle taboo,
  278. Dwarfs of the gynæ ceum, fail so far
  279. In high desire, they know not, cannot guess
  280. How much their welfare is a passion to us.
  281. If we could give them surer, quicker proof--
  282. Oh if our end were less achievable
  283. By slow approaches, than by single act
  284. Of immolation, any phase of death,
  285. We were as prompt to spring against the pikes,
  286. Or down the fiery gulf as talk of it,
  287. To compass our dear sisters' liberties.'

  288.  She bow'd as if to veil a noble tear;
  289. And up we came to where the river sloped
  290. To plunge in cataract, shattering on black blocks
  291. A breadth of thunder. O'er it shook the woods,
  292. And danced the colour, and, below, stuck out
  293. The bones of some vast bulk that lived and roar'd
  294. Before man was. She gazed awhile and said,
  295. 'As these rude bones to us, are we to her
  296. That will be.' 'Dare we dream of that,' I ask'd,
  297. 'Which wrought us, as the workman and his work,
  298. That practice betters?' 'How,' she cried, 'you love
  299. The metaphysics! read and earn our prize,
  300. A golden broach: beneath an emerald plane
  301. Sits Diotima, teaching him that died
  302. Of hemlock; our device; wrought to the life;
  303. She rapt upon her subject, he on her:
  304. For there are schools for all.' 'And yet,' I said,
  305. 'Methinks, I have not found among them all
  306. One anatomic.' 'Nay, we thought of that,'
  307. She answer'd, 'but it pleased us not: in truth
  308. We shudder but to dream our maids should ape
  309. Those monstrous males that carve the living hound,
  310. And cram him with the fragments of the grave,
  311. Or in the dark dissolving human heart,
  312. And holy secrets of this microcosm,
  313. Dabbling a shameless hand with shameful jest,
  314. Encarnalize their spirits: yet we know
  315. Knowledge is knowledge, and this matter hangs:
  316. Howbeit ourself, foreseeing casualty,
  317. Nor willing men should come among us, learnt,
  318. For many weary moons before we came,
  319. This craft of healing. Were you sick, ourself
  320. Would tend upon you. To your question now,
  321. Which touches on the workman and his work.
  322. Let there be light and there was light: 'tis so;
  323. For was, and is, and will be, are but is;
  324. And all creation is one act at once,
  325. The birth of light: but we that are not all,
  326. As parts, can see but parts, now this, now that,
  327. And live, perforce, from thought to thought, and make
  328. One act a phantom of succession: thus
  329. Our weakness somehow shapes the shadow, Time;
  330. But in the shadow will we work, and mould
  331. The woman to the fuller day'
    She spake
  332. With kindled eyes: we rode a league beyond,
  333. And, o'er a bridge of pinewood crossing, came
  334. On flowery levels underneath the crag,
  335. Full of all beauty. 'O how sweet,' I said
  336. (For I was half-oblivious of my mask),
  337. 'To linger here with one that loved us.' 'Yea,'
  338. She answer'd, 'or with fair philosophies
  339. That lift the fancy; for indeed these fields
  340. Are lovely, lovelier than the Elysian lawns,
  341. Where paced the demigods of old, and saw
  342. The soft white vapour streak the crowned towers
  343. Built to the Sun:' then, turning to her maids,
  344. 'Pitch our pavilion here upon the sward;
  345. Lay out the viands.' At the word, they raised
  346. A tent of satin, elaborately wrought
  347. With fair Corinna's triumph; here she stood,
  348. Engirt with many a florid maiden-cheek,
  349. The woman-conqueror; woman-conquer'd there
  350. The bearded Victor of ten-thousand hymns,
  351. And all the men mourn'd at his side: but we
  352. Set forth to climb; then, climbing, Cyril kept
  353. With Psyche, with Melissa Florian, I
  354. With mine affianced. Many a little hand
  355. Glanced like a touch of sunshine on the rocks,
  356. Many a light foot shone like a jewel set
  357. In the dark crag: and then we turn'd, we wound
  358. About the cliffs, the copses, out and in,
  359. Hammering and clinking, chattering stony names
  360. Of shale and homblende, rag and trap and tuff,
  361. Amygdaloid and trachyte, till the Sun
  362. Grew broader toward his death and fell, and all
  363. The rosy heights came out above the lawns.

Canto II | Introduction | Canto IV

Last updated July 23, 1997