WHY starts this company so fair arrayed
In pomegranate brocade,
Blue shoulder-cloak and barley-coloured dress
Of flaunting shepherdess,
From shelter of the full-leaved, summer trees ?
What vague unease
Draws them in couples to a burnished boat ?
And wherefore from its prow,
Borne upward on a spiral, amber swirl
Of incense-light, themselves half-rose, half-pearl,
So languorously doth float
This flock of Loves that in degree
Fling their own hues as raiment on the sea ;
While one from brandished censer
Flings wide a flame and smoke
Diffusive to provoke
The heavens to consummation and to spread
Of sun and cool
And tempting azure on that bed
Of splendour, that delicious, variant pool ?
I see it now !
'Tis Venus' rose-veiled barque
And that great company ere dark
Must to Cythera, so the Loves prevail,
O happy youth, that thus by Venus' guile
Is summoned to her fabulous,
Her crystal-burnished isle !
Her virile votaries are not slack
In ceremonious worship : bravely clad
In coats of flickering velvet, crimson-greys
or corn-field gold, they leap to give her praise,
They grasp long staves, they joy as they were mad,
Draving then : dainty Beauties by the waist
To that warm water-track.
What terror holds these noble damsels back ?
Alack, what strange distaste
Works in their hearts that thus
They sigh estranged ? What pressure of what ill
Turns their vague sweetness chill ?
Why should they in debate,
Beneath the nodding, sunmer trees,
Dissentient dally and defer their fate ?
Methinks none sees
The statue of a Venus set
Mid some fair trellis, in a lovely fret
Of rose ; her marble mien,
Secret, imperial, blank, no joy discovers
In these uncertain lovers
That parley and grow pale :
Not one of them but is afraid to sail,
Save this firm-tripping dame who chooses
The voyage as a queen,
Conscious of what she wins and what she loses.
Her petticoat of fine-creased white
And, oh, her barley-coloured gown,
What miracles of silver- brown
They work amid the blues and puces !
As, full of whimsical delight
To mark a sister's half-abashed surrender.
Full proudly she doth bend her
Arched, amorous eyelids to commend her,
Gripping more tight
Her slender stave, that she may seem
Prompt to descend toward that dead, heated stream.
Her lover's face we lack,
Bent from us ; yet we feel
How fervid his appeal,
As raised on tip-toe he his lofty dame addresses.
Fine streaks of light across his raiment steal ;
For, though his cap is black,
When blossoms of japonica are spread
In sunshine, whiter-smiling red
Was never seen than glistens on his sleeve.
And how his furs flash to relieve
His lady's train of chrome !
Ah me, how long must these fond gallants blind
The fears and waive the light distresses
Of the coy girls who stay behind,
Nor yet consent to roam
Toward that soft, vermeil country far, so very far from home !
First of the twain is seen
A pale-tressed dame, couched on the grass, her bodice lambent green,
Her frilling skirt of salmon and primrose
And green of many a flower before it blows
Who, pettish in remorse,
Awhile her lover's urgent hand refuses,
Then rises buoyant on its welcome force.
But, see, this third
Sweet lady is not stirred,
Though at her side a man
Half-kneels. Why is he pleading in her ear,
With eyes so near
That Paradise of light,
Where angles of the yellow, open fan
And gown the sunken pink
Of dying roses rim her bosom's white ?
Her eyelids are full-drooped, but under
The lids is wonder ;
And, at her skirt,
Ah, woe ! in pilgrim hood and shirt
Dressed whimsical, a cunning Cupid-lad :
Soon shall the naked urchin be
Plunged in the depths of that cerulean sea
Where life runs warm, delicious, limpid, free.
So pause the nearer groups : to the land's rim
Presses a dim
Confluence of hopes and angry amities :
‘ Forth to the fairy water, come ; thine hand . . .
Nay then, by force ; it is a god's command
And I by rape will bring thee to thy bliss.
What, sweet, so slow !'—'But ere I leave the land
Give me more vows ; oh, bind thee to me fast ;
Speak, speak ! I do not crave thy kiss.
To-morrow. . .' — ‘Love, the tide is rising swift ;
Shall we not talk aboard ? Your skirts are wet ;
If once I lift
You in I ' — ‘ Nay, nay, I cannot so forget
The statue in the shade,
The fountain-trickle by the leafy grot.
Might not this mad embarking be delayed
An instant?'—'Dearest, would you cast your lot
In that dull countryside,
Where men abide
Who must be buried ? Note the swell
Of colour 'gainst the coast.'—'Then as you please.
How strange a story we shall have to tell !'
Two rowers wait ; one shoves
The boat from shore, her cry
From luscious mouth, her bosom lifted high
Incite ; and one doth wait,
With lip that hath full time to laugh
And hand on oar,
Conclusion of the soft debate.
Sudden the foremost of the fulgent Loves
Seizes a staff
From wanton hand ; a thousand flambeaux pour
Their plumy smoke upon the kindled breeze
That wafts these silken loiterers to submerging seas.
Now are they gone: a change is in the light,
The iridescent ranges wane,
The waters spread : ere fall of night
The red-prowed shallop will have passed from sight
And the stone Venus by herself remain
Ironical above that wide, embrowning plain.