THERE is laughter soft and free
'Neath the pines of Thessaly,
Thrilling echoes, thrilling cries
Of pursuit, delight, surprise ;
Dryope beneath the trees
With the Hamadryades
Plays upon the mountain-side :
Now they meet, and now they hide.
On the hot and sandy ground,
Crumbling still as still they bound,
Crouches, basks a tortoise ; all
But the mortal maiden fall
Back in trepidation ; she
Takes the creature on her knee,
Strokes the ardent shell, and lays
Even her cheek against its blaze,
Till she calms her playmates' fear ;
Suddenly beside her ear
Flashes forth a tongue ; the beast
Changes, and with shape released
Grows into a serpent bright,
Covetous, subduing, tight
Round her body backward bent In forlorn astonishment.
With their convoluted strain
His upreaching coils attain
Full ascendency—her breast
By their passion is compressed
Till her breath in terror fails ;
'Mid the flicker of the scales,
Half she seems to hear, half sees
How each frighted comrade flees.
And alone beneath the pine,
With the serpent's heavy twine
On her form, she almost dies :
But a magic from his eyes
Keeps her living, and entranced
At the wonder that has chanced,
As she feels a god within
Fiery looks that thrill and win.
'Tis Apollo in disguise
Holds possession of his prize.
Thus he binds in fetters dire
Those for whom he knows desire ;
Mortal loves or poets—all
He must dominate, enthrall
By the rapture of his sway,
Which shall either bless or slay.
So she shudders with a joy
Which no childish fears alloy,
For the spell is round her now
Which has made old prophets bow
Tremulous and wild. An hour
Must she glow beneath his power,
Then a dryad shy and strange
Through the firs thereafter range.
For she joins the troop of those
Dedicate to joy and woes,
Whom by stricture of his love
Leto's son has raised above
Other mortals, who, endowed
With existence unallowed
To their fellows, wander free
Girt with earth's own mystery.