Thursday, May 18, 2017

HYLAS, a poem

     UNTO the woodland spring he came
     For water welling fresh and sweet;
     An eager purpose winged his feet
     And set his heart aflame.
     But musing on Alcmene's son—
     Reviewing, emulous, each prize
     By the godlike hero won,
     A-sudden, with surprise,
     He heard soft voices call upon his name:

     "Hylas, Hylas, stay and listen!
Though but a moment, bright dreamer, delay!
          Pleasure greets thee,
          Youth entreats thee,—
From their enchantments, ah, turn not away!
     Where the eddies dimpling glisten,
     To the love-lorn naiads listen!

     "Let not carping care destroy
     Life's jocund prime with counsels cold!—
     From happy youth the gods withhold
     The sordid gifts that they employ
          To plague the old.
     Let not fruitless toil destroy
     Days fresh as blossoms newly sprung!
     Ere sages spoke, ere poets sung,
     Youth was the gala-time of joy,—
          And thou art young!

     "Glory?—ah, 't is labor double!
     Wealth?—alas! 't is costly trouble!
     Foolish Hylas! Wouldst thou follow
     Glistering shows and phantoms hollow,
     Vague intents and dreams ideal?
     Here are pleasures sweet as real:
          Still delights
          Of summer nights,
     Rest—which e'en ambition misses—
          Soft repose
          On beds of rose
     In murmurous grots, and waking blisses.
     Hither comes no word of duty;
     Life is love, and love is beauty.
     Hither comes no note of strife;
     Life is love, and love is life.
     Raptures bubbling to the brink,
     Would not a wise man stoop and drink?

     "Though Heracles sit in his tent
     And boast to warlike Telamon
     Of monsters tamed and labors done;
     Though he recount in lofty strain
     How dread Nemea's plague was slain,
     And loudly vaunt, grown eloquent,
     The rattling heaven-descended spell,
     And Cerberus upborne from Hell,—
     Yet, even as he tells the story,
     And boasts a world-renownèd glory,
     Telamon applauding—then,
     Ay, even then, let him recall
     Shy Megara's face—he'd give it all,
     All, Hylas, to be young again!"

     The wondering boy beheld the gleam
     Of tresses mirrored in the spring:
     Naught else; yet soft as in a dream,
     Those voices sweetly ravishing
     Fell on his ear.
     He bent more near,
     Trembling, amazed,
     And wistful gazed—
     Grown eager more to hear—
     Far down below the cool reflection
     And wavy sheen of auburn hair.
     But, Eros blest!—what marvel rare,
     What more than mortal beauty there,
     What coy, what wooing-sweet perfection
     Entrancèd held him, bound as in a snare?

     No need to urge him now to stay! . . .
     Alas! he could not turn away,
     But on the Naiad's nearing charms
     Gazed amorous:—on locks of brown,
     On melting eyes, and rubied lips,
     Slim throats and dewy finger-tips.
     He stooped; they caught him in their arms,
     And held him fast, and drew him down.

          Down, down, down, down,
     Through the liquid deeps of the soundless well:
          Down, down, down, down,—
     How many fathom, ah! who can tell?
     Away from the day and the starlit hours,
     Away from the shadows, the birds, and the flowers;
     Away from the fell and the spicy dell,
     From the fountain's smile and the mountain's frown;
          Down, down, down, down!
     He tried to ascend, but the lithe arms enwound him;
     He sought to escape, but the wily weeds bound him.
     By pleasure's softening touches thrill'd—
     The dainty marvels at his side—
     He missed not tasks left unfulfill'd,
     Nor heard despisèd honor chide;
     And sinking slowly to the watery goal,
     His visage shrank to match his ebbing soul.
     ·      ·      ·      ·      ·      ·      ·      ·      ·
     Late in the purple twilight of the day
     Alcides came with heavy tread that way,
     Crushing the fragile reeds and shrinking ferns,
     Searching now here, now there—by doubtful turns—
     And calling loudly on the boy,
               His dear annoy.
     Long, long he stayed, still hoping to rejoice,
     While babbling Echo, with her far-off voice,
     Railed at his care. Then, sad and slow, he passed—
     Reluctant to resign the quest at last,
     Nor dreamed, beholding a poor frog emerge
     From that enchanted fountain's plashy verge,
     That Hylas, once so ready to aspire,
     There harshly croaked, contented in the mire!
"Hylas" by Florence Earle Coates. Published in Poems (1898) and Poems (1916) Volume II.

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