Infomotions, Inc.The Witch of Atlas / Shelley, Percy Bysshe, 1792-1822



Author: Shelley, Percy Bysshe, 1792-1822
Title: The Witch of Atlas
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): witch; hart
Contributor(s): Shepherd, J. Clinton, 1888-1975 [Illustrator]
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Rights: GNU General Public License
Size: 7,592 words (really short) Grade range: 12-14 (college) Readability score: 56 (average)
Identifier: etext4696
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Title: The Witch of Atlas

Author: Percy Bysshe Shelley

Release Date: November, 2003 [Etext #4696]
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 TO MARY
 (ON HER OBJECTING TO THE FOLLOWING POEM, UPON THE
 SCORE OF ITS CONTAINING NO HUMAN INTEREST).

 1.
 How, my dear Mary,--are you critic-bitten
 (For vipers kill, though dead) by some review,
 That you condemn these verses I have written,
 Because they tell no story, false or true?
 What, though no mice are caught by a young kitten,             _5
 May it not leap and play as grown cats do,
 Till its claws come? Prithee, for this one time,
 Content thee with a visionary rhyme.

 2.
 What hand would crush the silken-winged fly,
 The youngest of inconstant April's minions,                   _10
 Because it cannot climb the purest sky,
 Where the swan sings, amid the sun's dominions?
 Not thine. Thou knowest 'tis its doom to die,
 When Day shall hide within her twilight pinions
 The lucent eyes, and the eternal smile,                       _15
 Serene as thine, which lent it life awhile.

 3.
 To thy fair feet a winged Vision came,
 Whose date should have been longer than a day,
 And o'er thy head did beat its wings for fame,
 And in thy sight its fading plumes display;                   _20
 The watery bow burned in the evening flame.
 But the shower fell, the swift Sun went his way--
 And that is dead.--O, let me not believe
 That anything of mine is fit to live!

 4.
 Wordsworth informs us he was nineteen years                   _25
 Considering and retouching Peter Bell;
 Watering his laurels with the killing tears
 Of slow, dull care, so that their roots to Hell
 Might pierce, and their wide branches blot the spheres
 Of Heaven, with dewy leaves and flowers; this well            _30
 May be, for Heaven and Earth conspire to foil
 The over-busy gardener's blundering toil.

 5.
 My Witch indeed is not so sweet a creature
 As Ruth or Lucy, whom his graceful praise
 Clothes for our grandsons--but she matches Peter,             _35
 Though he took nineteen years, and she three days
 In dressing. Light the vest of flowing metre
 She wears; he, proud as dandy with his stays,
 Has hung upon his wiry limbs a dress
 Like King Lear's 'looped and windowed raggedness.'            _40

 6.
 If you strip Peter, you will see a fellow
 Scorched by Hell's hyperequatorial climate
 Into a kind of a sulphureous yellow:
 A lean mark, hardly fit to fling a rhyme at;
 In shape a Scaramouch, in hue Othello.                        _45
 If you unveil my Witch, no priest nor primate
 Can shrive you of that sin,--if sin there be
 In love, when it becomes idolatry.


 THE WITCH OF ATLAS.

 1.
 Before those cruel Twins, whom at one birth
 Incestuous Change bore to her father Time,                    _50
 Error and Truth, had hunted from the Earth
 All those bright natures which adorned its prime,
 And left us nothing to believe in, worth
 The pains of putting into learned rhyme,
 A lady-witch there lived on Atlas' mountain                   _55
 Within a cavern, by a secret fountain.

 2.
 Her mother was one of the Atlantides:
 The all-beholding Sun had ne'er beholden
 In his wide voyage o'er continents and seas
 So fair a creature, as she lay enfolden                       _60
 In the warm shadow of her loveliness;--
 He kissed her with his beams, and made all golden
 The chamber of gray rock in which she lay--
 She, in that dream of joy, dissolved away.

 3.
 'Tis said, she first was changed into a vapour,               _65
 And then into a cloud, such clouds as flit,
 Like splendour-winged moths about a taper,
 Round the red west when the sun dies in it:
 And then into a meteor, such as caper
 On hill-tops when the moon is in a fit:                       _70
 Then, into one of those mysterious stars
 Which hide themselves between the Earth and Mars.

 4.
 Ten times the Mother of the Months had bent
 Her bow beside the folding-star, and bidden
 With that bright sign the billows to indent                   _75
 The sea-deserted sand--like children chidden,
 At her command they ever came and went--
 Since in that cave a dewy splendour hidden
 Took shape and motion: with the living form
 Of this embodied Power, the cave grew warm.                   _80

 5.
 A lovely lady garmented in light
 From her own beauty--deep her eyes, as are
 Two openings of unfathomable night
 Seen through a Temple's cloven roof--her hair
 Dark--the dim brain whirls dizzy with delight.                _85
 Picturing her form; her soft smiles shone afar,
 And her low voice was heard like love, and drew
 All living things towards this wonder new.

 6.
 And first the spotted cameleopard came,
 And then the wise and fearless elephant;                      _90
 Then the sly serpent, in the golden flame
 Of his own volumes intervolved;--all gaunt
 And sanguine beasts her gentle looks made tame.
 They drank before her at her sacred fount;
 And every beast of beating heart grew bold,                   _95
 Such gentleness and power even to behold.

 7.
 The brinded lioness led forth her young,
 That she might teach them how they should forego
 Their inborn thirst of death; the pard unstrung
 His sinews at her feet, and sought to know                    _100
 With looks whose motions spoke without a tongue
 How he might be as gentle as the doe.
 The magic circle of her voice and eyes
 All savage natures did imparadise.

 8.
 And old Silenus, shaking a green stick                        _105
 Of lilies, and the wood-gods in a crew
 Came, blithe, as in the olive copses thick
 Cicadae are, drunk with the noonday dew:
 And Dryope and Faunus followed quick,
 Teasing the God to sing them something new;                   _110
 Till in this cave they found the lady lone,
 Sitting upon a seat of emerald stone.

 9.
 And universal Pan, 'tis said, was there,
 And though none saw him,--through the adamant
 Of the deep mountains, through the trackless air,             _115
 And through those living spirits, like a want,
 He passed out of his everlasting lair
 Where the quick heart of the great world doth pant,
 And felt that wondrous lady all alone,--
 And she felt him, upon her emerald throne.                    _120

 10.
 And every nymph of stream and spreading tree,
 And every shepherdess of Ocean's flocks,
 Who drives her white waves over the green sea,
 And Ocean with the brine on his gray locks,
 And quaint Priapus with his company,                          _125
 All came, much wondering how the enwombed rocks
 Could have brought forth so beautiful a birth;--
 Her love subdued their wonder and their mirth.

 11.
 The herdsmen and the mountain maidens came,
 And the rude kings of pastoral Garamant--                     _130
 Their spirits shook within them, as a flame
 Stirred by the air under a cavern gaunt:
 Pigmies, and Polyphemes, by many a name,
 Centaurs, and Satyrs, and such shapes as haunt
 Wet clefts,--and lumps neither alive nor dead,                _135
 Dog-headed, bosom-eyed, and bird-footed.

 12.
 For she was beautiful--her beauty made
 The bright world dim, and everything beside
 Seemed like the fleeting image of a shade:
 No thought of living spirit could abide,                      _140
 Which to her looks had ever been betrayed,
 On any object in the world so wide,
 On any hope within the circling skies,
 But on her form, and in her inmost eyes.

 13.
 Which when the lady knew, she took her spindle                _145
 And twined three threads of fleecy mist, and three
 Long lines of light, such as the dawn may kindle
 The clouds and waves and mountains with; and she
 As many star-beams, ere their lamps could dwindle
 In the belated moon, wound skilfully;                         _150
 And with these threads a subtle veil she wove--
 A shadow for the splendour of her love.

 14.
 The deep recesses of her odorous dwelling
 Were stored with magic treasures--sounds of air,
 Which had the power all spirits of compelling,                _155
 Folded in cells of crystal silence there;
 Such as we hear in youth, and think the feeling
 Will never die--yet ere we are aware,
 The feeling and the sound are fled and gone,
 And the regret they leave remains alone.                      _160

 15.
 And there lay Visions swift, and sweet, and quaint,
 Each in its thin sheath, like a chrysalis,
 Some eager to burst forth, some weak and faint
 With the soft burthen of intensest bliss.
 It was its work to bear to many a saint                       _165
 Whose heart adores the shrine which holiest is,
 Even Love's:--and others white, green, gray, and black,
 And of all shapes--and each was at her beck.

 16.
 And odours in a kind of aviary
 Of ever-blooming Eden-trees she kept,                         _170
 Clipped in a floating net, a love-sick Fairy
 Had woven from dew-beams while the moon yet slept;
 As bats at the wired window of a dairy,
 They beat their vans; and each was an adept,
 When loosed and missioned, making wings of winds,             _175
 To stir sweet thoughts or sad, in destined minds.

 17.
 And liquors clear and sweet, whose healthful might
 Could medicine the sick soul to happy sleep,
 And change eternal death into a night
 Of glorious dreams--or if eyes needs must weep,               _180
 Could make their tears all wonder and delight,
 She in her crystal vials did closely keep:
 If men could drink of those clear vials, 'tis said
 The living were not envied of the dead.

 18.
 Her cave was stored with scrolls of strange device,           _185
 The works of some Saturnian Archimage,
 Which taught the expiations at whose price
 Men from the Gods might win that happy age
 Too lightly lost, redeeming native vice;
 And which might quench the Earth-consuming rage               _190
 Of gold and blood--till men should live and move
 Harmonious as the sacred stars above;

 19.
 And how all things that seem untameable,
 Not to be checked and not to be confined,
 Obey the spells of Wisdom's wizard skill;                     _195
 Time, earth, and fire--the ocean and the wind,
 And all their shapes--and man's imperial will;
 And other scrolls whose writings did unbind
 The inmost lore of Love--let the profane
 Tremble to ask what secrets they contain.                     _200

 20.
 And wondrous works of substances unknown,
 To which the enchantment of her father's power
 Had changed those ragged blocks of savage stone,
 Were heaped in the recesses of her bower;
 Carved lamps and chalices, and vials which shone              _205
 In their own golden beams--each like a flower,
 Out of whose depth a fire-fly shakes his light
 Under a cypress in a starless night.

 21.
 At first she lived alone in this wild home,
 And her own thoughts were each a minister,                    _210
 Clothing themselves, or with the ocean foam,
 Or with the wind, or with the speed of fire,
 To work whatever purposes might come
 Into her mind; such power her mighty Sire
 Had girt them with, whether to fly or run,                    _215
 Through all the regions which he shines upon.

 22.
 The Ocean-nymphs and Hamadryades,
 Oreads and Naiads, with long weedy locks,
 Offered to do her bidding through the seas,
 Under the earth, and in the hollow rocks,                     _220
 And far beneath the matted roots of trees,
 And in the gnarled heart of stubborn oaks,
 So they might live for ever in the light
 Of her sweet presence--each a satellite.

 23.
 'This may not be,' the wizard maid replied;                   _225
 'The fountains where the Naiades bedew
 Their shining hair, at length are drained and dried;
 The solid oaks forget their strength, and strew
 Their latest leaf upon the mountains wide;
 The boundless ocean like a drop of dew                        _230
 Will be consumed--the stubborn centre must
 Be scattered, like a cloud of summer dust.

 24.
 'And ye with them will perish, one by one;--
 If I must sigh to think that this shall be,
 If I must weep when the surviving Sun                         _235
 Shall smile on your decay--oh, ask not me
 To love you till your little race is run;
 I cannot die as ye must--over me
 Your leaves shall glance--the streams in which ye dwell
 Shall be my paths henceforth, and so--farewell!'--            _240

 25.
 She spoke and wept:--the dark and azure well
 Sparkled beneath the shower of her bright tears,
 And every little circlet where they fell
 Flung to the cavern-roof inconstant spheres
 And intertangled lines of light:--a knell                     _245
 Of sobbing voices came upon her ears
 From those departing Forms, o'er the serene
 Of the white streams and of the forest green.

 26.
 All day the wizard lady sate aloof,
 Spelling out scrolls of dread antiquity,                      _250
 Under the cavern's fountain-lighted roof;
 Or broidering the pictured poesy
 Of some high tale upon her growing woof,
 Which the sweet splendour of her smiles could dye
 In hues outshining heaven--and ever she                       _255
 Added some grace to the wrought poesy.

 27.
 While on her hearth lay blazing many a piece
 Of sandal wood, rare gums, and cinnamon;
 Men scarcely know how beautiful fire is--
 Each flame of it is as a precious stone                       _260
 Dissolved in ever-moving light, and this
 Belongs to each and all who gaze upon.
 The Witch beheld it not, for in her hand
 She held a woof that dimmed the burning brand.

 28.
 This lady never slept, but lay in trance                      _265
 All night within the fountain--as in sleep.
 Its emerald crags glowed in her beauty's glance;
 Through the green splendour of the water deep
 She saw the constellations reel and dance
 Like fire-flies--and withal did ever keep                     _270
 The tenour of her contemplations calm,
 With open eyes, closed feet, and folded palm.

 29.
 And when the whirlwinds and the clouds descended
 From the white pinnacles of that cold hill,
 She passed at dewfall to a space extended,                    _275
 Where in a lawn of flowering asphodel
 Amid a wood of pines and cedars blended,
 There yawned an inextinguishable well
 Of crimson fire--full even to the brim,
 And overflowing all the margin trim.                          _280

 30.
 Within the which she lay when the fierce war
 Of wintry winds shook that innocuous liquor
 In many a mimic moon and bearded star
 O'er woods and lawns;--the serpent heard it flicker
 In sleep, and dreaming still, he crept afar--                 _285
 And when the windless snow descended thicker
 Than autumn leaves, she watched it as it came
 Melt on the surface of the level flame.

 31.
 She had a boat, which some say Vulcan wrought
 For Venus, as the chariot of her star;                        _290
 But it was found too feeble to be fraught
 With all the ardours in that sphere which are,
 And so she sold it, and Apollo bought
 And gave it to this daughter: from a car
 Changed to the fairest and the lightest boat                  _295
 Which ever upon mortal stream did float.

 32.
 And others say, that, when but three hours old,
 The first-born Love out of his cradle lept,
 And clove dun Chaos with his wings of gold,
 And like a horticultural adept,                               _300
 Stole a strange seed, and wrapped it up in mould,
 And sowed it in his mother's star, and kept
 Watering it all the summer with sweet dew,
 And with his wings fanning it as it grew.

 33.
 The plant grew strong and green, the snowy flower             _305
 Fell, and the long and gourd-like fruit began
 To turn the light and dew by inward power
 To its own substance; woven tracery ran
 Of light firm texture, ribbed and branching, o'er
 The solid rind, like a leaf's veined fan--                    _310
 Of which Love scooped this boat--and with soft motion
 Piloted it round the circumfluous ocean.

 34.
 This boat she moored upon her fount, and lit
 A living spirit within all its frame,
 Breathing the soul of swiftness into it.                      _315
 Couched on the fountain like a panther tame,
 One of the twain at Evan's feet that sit--
 Or as on Vesta's sceptre a swift flame--
 Or on blind Homer's heart a winged thought,--
 In joyous expectation lay the boat.                           _320

 35.
 Then by strange art she kneaded fire and snow
 Together, tempering the repugnant mass
 With liquid love--all things together grow
 Through which the harmony of love can pass;
 And a fair Shape out of her hands did flow--                  _325
 A living Image, which did far surpass
 In beauty that bright shape of vital stone
 Which drew the heart out of Pygmalion.

 36.
 A sexless thing it was, and in its growth
 It seemed to have developed no defect                         _330
 Of either sex, yet all the grace of both,--
 In gentleness and strength its limbs were decked;
 The bosom swelled lightly with its full youth,
 The countenance was such as might select
 Some artist that his skill should never die,                  _335
 Imaging forth such perfect purity.

 37.
 From its smooth shoulders hung two rapid wings,
 Fit to have borne it to the seventh sphere,
 Tipped with the speed of liquid lightenings,
 Dyed in the ardours of the atmosphere:                        _340
 She led her creature to the boiling springs
 Where the light boat was moored, and said: 'Sit here!'
 And pointed to the prow, and took her seat
 Beside the rudder, with opposing feet.

 38.
 And down the streams which clove those mountains vast,        _345
 Around their inland islets, and amid
 The panther-peopled forests whose shade cast
 Darkness and odours, and a pleasure hid
 In melancholy gloom, the pinnace passed;
 By many a star-surrounded pyramid                             _350
 Of icy crag cleaving the purple sky,
 And caverns yawning round unfathomably.

 39.
 The silver noon into that winding dell,
 With slanted gleam athwart the forest tops,
 Tempered like golden evening, feebly fell;                    _355
 A green and glowing light, like that which drops
 From folded lilies in which glow-worms dwell,
 When Earth over her face Night's mantle wraps;
 Between the severed mountains lay on high,
 Over the stream, a narrow rift of sky.                        _360

 40.
 And ever as she went, the Image lay
 With folded wings and unawakened eyes;
 And o'er its gentle countenance did play
 The busy dreams, as thick as summer flies,
 Chasing the rapid smiles that would not stay,                 _365
 And drinking the warm tears, and the sweet sighs
 Inhaling, which, with busy murmur vain,
 They had aroused from that full heart and brain.

 41.
 And ever down the prone vale, like a cloud
 Upon a stream of wind, the pinnace went:                      _370
 Now lingering on the pools, in which abode
 The calm and darkness of the deep content
 In which they paused; now o'er the shallow road
 Of white and dancing waters, all besprent
 With sand and polished pebbles:--mortal boat                  _375
 In such a shallow rapid could not float.

 42.
 And down the earthquaking cataracts which shiver
 Their snow-like waters into golden air,
 Or under chasms unfathomable ever
 Sepulchre them, till in their rage they tear                  _380
 A subterranean portal for the river,
 It fled--the circling sunbows did upbear
 Its fall down the hoar precipice of spray,
 Lighting it far upon its lampless way.

 43.
 And when the wizard lady would ascend                         _385
 The labyrinths of some many-winding vale,
 Which to the inmost mountain upward tend--
 She called 'Hermaphroditus!'--and the pale
 And heavy hue which slumber could extend
 Over its lips and eyes, as on the gale                        _390
 A rapid shadow from a slope of grass,
 Into the darkness of the stream did pass.

 44.
 And it unfurled its heaven-coloured pinions,
 With stars of fire spotting the stream below;
 And from above into the Sun's dominions                       _395
 Flinging a glory, like the golden glow
 In which Spring clothes her emerald-winged minions,
 All interwoven with fine feathery snow
 And moonlight splendour of intensest rime,
 With which frost paints the pines in winter time.             _400

 45.
 And then it winnowed the Elysian air
 Which ever hung about that lady bright,
 With its aethereal vans--and speeding there,
 Like a star up the torrent of the night,
 Or a swift eagle in the morning glare                         _405
 Breasting the whirlwind with impetuous flight,
 The pinnace, oared by those enchanted wings,
 Clove the fierce streams towards their upper springs.

 46.
 The water flashed, like sunlight by the prow
 Of a noon-wandering meteor flung to Heaven;                   _410
 The still air seemed as if its waves did flow
 In tempest down the mountains; loosely driven
 The lady's radiant hair streamed to and fro:
 Beneath, the billows having vainly striven
 Indignant and impetuous, roared to feel                       _415
 The swift and steady motion of the keel.

 47.
 Or, when the weary moon was in the wane,
 Or in the noon of interlunar night,
 The lady-witch in visions could not chain
 Her spirit; but sailed forth under the light                  _420
 Of shooting stars, and bade extend amain
 Its storm-outspeeding wings, the Hermaphrodite;
 She to the Austral waters took her way,
 Beyond the fabulous Thamondocana,--

 48.
 Where, like a meadow which no scythe has shaven,              _425
 Which rain could never bend, or whirl-blast shake,
 With the Antarctic constellations paven,
 Canopus and his crew, lay the Austral lake--
 There she would build herself a windless haven
 Out of the clouds whose moving turrets make                   _430
 The bastions of the storm, when through the sky
 The spirits of the tempest thundered by:

 49.
 A haven beneath whose translucent floor
 The tremulous stars sparkled unfathomably,
 And around which the solid vapours hoar,                      _435
 Based on the level waters, to the sky
 Lifted their dreadful crags, and like a shore
 Of wintry mountains, inaccessibly
 Hemmed in with rifts and precipices gray,
 And hanging crags, many a cove and bay.                       _440

 50.
 And whilst the outer lake beneath the lash
 Of the wind's scourge, foamed like a wounded thing,
 And the incessant hail with stony clash
 Ploughed up the waters, and the flagging wing
 Of the roused cormorant in the lightning flash                _445
 Looked like the wreck of some wind-wandering
 Fragment of inky thunder-smoke--this haven
 Was as a gem to copy Heaven engraven,--

 51.
 On which that lady played her many pranks,
 Circling the image of a shooting star,                        _450
 Even as a tiger on Hydaspes' banks
 Outspeeds the antelopes which speediest are,
 In her light boat; and many quips and cranks
 She played upon the water, till the car
 Of the late moon, like a sick matron wan,                     _455
 To journey from the misty east began.

 52.
 And then she called out of the hollow turrets
 Of those high clouds, white, golden and vermilion,
 The armies of her ministering spirits--
 In mighty legions, million after million,                     _460
 They came, each troop emblazoning its merits
 On meteor flags; and many a proud pavilion
 Of the intertexture of the atmosphere
 They pitched upon the plain of the calm mere.

 53.
 They framed the imperial tent of their great Queen            _465
 Of woven exhalations, underlaid
 With lambent lightning-fire, as may be seen
 A dome of thin and open ivory inlaid
 With crimson silk--cressets from the serene
 Hung there, and on the water for her tread                    _470
 A tapestry of fleece-like mist was strewn,
 Dyed in the beams of the ascending moon.

 54.
 And on a throne o'erlaid with starlight, caught
 Upon those wandering isles of aery dew,
 Which highest shoals of mountain shipwreck not,               _475
 She sate, and heard all that had happened new
 Between the earth and moon, since they had brought
 The last intelligence--and now she grew
 Pale as that moon, lost in the watery night--
 And now she wept, and now she laughed outright.               _480

 55.
 These were tame pleasures; she would often climb
 The steepest ladder of the crudded rack
 Up to some beaked cape of cloud sublime,
 And like Arion on the dolphin's back
 Ride singing through the shoreless air;--oft-time             _485
 Following the serpent lightning's winding track,
 She ran upon the platforms of the wind,
 And laughed to hear the fire-balls roar behind.

 56.
 And sometimes to those streams of upper air
 Which whirl the earth in its diurnal round,                   _490
 She would ascend, and win the spirits there
 To let her join their chorus. Mortals found
 That on those days the sky was calm and fair,
 And mystic snatches of harmonious sound
 Wandered upon the earth where'er she passed,                  _495
 And happy thoughts of hope, too sweet to last.

 57.
 But her choice sport was, in the hours of sleep,
 To glide adown old Nilus, where he threads
 Egypt and Aethiopia, from the steep
 Of utmost Axume, until he spreads,                            _500
 Like a calm flock of silver-fleeced sheep,
 His waters on the plain: and crested heads
 Of cities and proud temples gleam amid,
 And many a vapour-belted pyramid.

 58.
 By Moeris and the Mareotid lakes,                             _505
 Strewn with faint blooms like bridal chamber floors,
 Where naked boys bridling tame water-snakes,
 Or charioteering ghastly alligators,
 Had left on the sweet waters mighty wakes
 Of those huge forms--within the brazen doors                  _510
 Of the great Labyrinth slept both boy and beast,
 Tired with the pomp of their Osirian feast.

 59.
 And where within the surface of the river
 The shadows of the massy temples lie,
 And never are erased--but tremble ever                        _515
 Like things which every cloud can doom to die,
 Through lotus-paven canals, and wheresoever
 The works of man pierced that serenest sky
 With tombs, and towers, and fanes, 'twas her delight
 To wander in the shadow of the night.                         _520

 60.
 With motion like the spirit of that wind
 Whose soft step deepens slumber, her light feet
 Passed through the peopled haunts of humankind.
 Scattering sweet visions from her presence sweet,
 Through fane, and palace-court, and labyrinth mined           _525
 With many a dark and subterranean street
 Under the Nile, through chambers high and deep
 She passed, observing mortals in their sleep.

 61.
 A pleasure sweet doubtless it was to see
 Mortals subdued in all the shapes of sleep.                   _530
 Here lay two sister twins in infancy;
 There, a lone youth who in his dreams did weep;
 Within, two lovers linked innocently
 In their loose locks which over both did creep
 Like ivy from one stem;--and there lay calm                   _535
 Old age with snow-bright hair and folded palm.

 62.
 But other troubled forms of sleep she saw,
 Not to be mirrored in a holy song--
 Distortions foul of supernatural awe,
 And pale imaginings of visioned wrong;                        _540
 And all the code of Custom's lawless law
 Written upon the brows of old and young:
 'This,' said the wizard maiden, 'is the strife
 Which stirs the liquid surface of man's life.'

 63.
 And little did the sight disturb her soul.--                  _545
 We, the weak mariners of that wide lake
 Where'er its shores extend or billows roll,
 Our course unpiloted and starless make
 O'er its wild surface to an unknown goal:--
 But she in the calm depths her way could take,                _550
 Where in bright bowers immortal forms abide
 Beneath the weltering of the restless tide.

 64.
 And she saw princes couched under the glow
 Of sunlike gems; and round each temple-court
 In dormitories ranged, row after row,                         _555
 She saw the priests asleep--all of one sort--
 For all were educated to be so.--
 The peasants in their huts, and in the port
 The sailors she saw cradled on the waves,
 And the dead lulled within their dreamless graves.            _560

 65.
 And all the forms in which those spirits lay
 Were to her sight like the diaphanous
 Veils, in which those sweet ladies oft array
 Their delicate limbs, who would conceal from us
 Only their scorn of all concealment: they                     _565
 Move in the light of their own beauty thus.
 But these and all now lay with sleep upon them,
 And little thought a Witch was looking on them.

 66.
 She, all those human figures breathing there,
 Beheld as living spirits--to her eyes                         _570
 The naked beauty of the soul lay bare,
 And often through a rude and worn disguise
 She saw the inner form most bright and fair--
 And then she had a charm of strange device,
 Which, murmured on mute lips with tender tone,                _575
 Could make that spirit mingle with her own.

 67.
 Alas! Aurora, what wouldst thou have given
 For such a charm when Tithon became gray?
 Or how much, Venus, of thy silver heaven
 Wouldst thou have yielded, ere Proserpina                     _580
 Had half (oh! why not all?) the debt forgiven
 Which dear Adonis had been doomed to pay,
 To any witch who would have taught you it?
 The Heliad doth not know its value yet.

 68.
 'Tis said in after times her spirit free                      _585
 Knew what love was, and felt itself alone--
 But holy Dian could not chaster be
 Before she stooped to kiss Endymion,
 Than now this lady--like a sexless bee
 Tasting all blossoms, and confined to none,                   _590
 Among those mortal forms, the wizard-maiden
 Passed with an eye serene and heart unladen.

 69.
 To those she saw most beautiful, she gave
 Strange panacea in a crystal bowl:--
 They drank in their deep sleep of that sweet wave,            _595
 And lived thenceforward as if some control,
 Mightier than life, were in them; and the grave
 Of such, when death oppressed the weary soul,
 Was as a green and overarching bower
 Lit by the gems of many a starry flower.                      _600

 70.
 For on the night when they were buried, she
 Restored the embalmers' ruining, and shook
 The light out of the funeral lamps, to be
 A mimic day within that deathy nook;
 And she unwound the woven imagery                             _605
 Of second childhood's swaddling bands, and took
 The coffin, its last cradle, from its niche,
 And threw it with contempt into a ditch.

 71.
 And there the body lay, age after age.
 Mute, breathing, beating, warm, and undecaying,               _610
 Like one asleep in a green hermitage,
 With gentle smiles about its eyelids playing,
 And living in its dreams beyond the rage
 Of death or life; while they were still arraying
 In liveries ever new, the rapid, blind                        _615
 And fleeting generations of mankind.

 72.
 And she would write strange dreams upon the brain
 Of those who were less beautiful, and make
 All harsh and crooked purposes more vain
 Than in the desert is the serpent's wake                      _620
 Which the sand covers--all his evil gain
 The miser in such dreams would rise and shake
 Into a beggar's lap;--the lying scribe
 Would his own lies betray without a bribe.

 73.
 The priests would write an explanation full,                  _625
 Translating hieroglyphics into Greek,
 How the God Apis really was a bull,
 And nothing more; and bid the herald stick
 The same against the temple doors, and pull
 The old cant down; they licensed all to speak                 _630
 Whate'er they thought of hawks, and cats, and geese,
 By pastoral letters to each diocese.

 74.
 The king would dress an ape up in his crown
 And robes, and seat him on his glorious seat,
 And on the right hand of the sunlike throne                   _635
 Would place a gaudy mock-bird to repeat
 The chatterings of the monkey.--Every one
 Of the prone courtiers crawled to kiss the feet
 Of their great Emperor, when the morning came,
 And kissed--alas, how many kiss the same!                     _640

 75.
 The soldiers dreamed that they were blacksmiths, and
 Walked out of quarters in somnambulism;
 Round the red anvils you might see them stand
 Like Cyclopses in Vulcan's sooty abysm,
 Beating their swords to ploughshares;--in a band              _645
 The gaolers sent those of the liberal schism
 Free through the streets of Memphis, much, I wis,
 To the annoyance of king Amasis.

 76.
 And timid lovers who had been so coy,
 They hardly knew whether they loved or not,                   _650
 Would rise out of their rest, and take sweet joy,
 To the fulfilment of their inmost thought;
 And when next day the maiden and the boy
 Met one another, both, like sinners caught,
 Blushed at the thing which each believed was done             _655
 Only in fancy--till the tenth moon shone;

 77.
 And then the Witch would let them take no ill:
 Of many thousand schemes which lovers find,
 The Witch found one,--and so they took their fill
 Of happiness in marriage warm and kind.                       _660
 Friends who, by practice of some envious skill,
 Were torn apart--a wide wound, mind from mind!--
 She did unite again with visions clear
 Of deep affection and of truth sincere.

 80.
 These were the pranks she played among the cities             _665
 Of mortal men, and what she did to Sprites
 And Gods, entangling them in her sweet ditties
 To do her will, and show their subtle sleights,
 I will declare another time; for it is
 A tale more fit for the weird winter nights                   _670
 Than for these garish summer days, when we
 Scarcely believe much more than we can see.








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