There is laughter soft and free 



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.