La Belle Dame Sans Merci’

The summer sweet, unnumbered days ago

When dreams outraced the vigor of the hours;

A mild-eyed night with moon and earth and sea —

 

Amid the sleep-time in that summer sweet,

Through paling astral towers spinning slow

From ashen moons, I made me down a way

 

Unfrequented of man. Through solitudes

Of murmuring space where children never keep

A reckoning of the day, I made me down

The couchant sky’s encroaching canopy,

Amove beside the old imperious sea

On lengthened white sea-sand. Ere long there came

Invisibly, and breathing quick a pain,

Some form of argent web all wrapped around.

I tore the web, the web tore easily,

And underneath, of fragile girlishness,

I saw a queen of fairly kind stretch forth

And lean to me. Aweary then, and faint,

And crying on the world a bitter cry,

Accursed one who lived and loved and lost,

And never loved but lost, I wrapped the form,

The dream-made girlish form, within mine arms;

When lo ! I joyed to feel the wildered beat

Of heart ecstatic. Sobs, of far-off seas

Abandoned to the dead, she sobbed ; and deep,

Deep into eyes of invitation sweet.

Of various emotion, down I sank

As far as God had made; and then, ah, then

She closed her eyes! Began her lucid lips

To carve some speech that tinkled by her teeth

As virgin streams by shingly bars ; it fell

Into my passive heart, relumed the place

Where Faith had ever battled with the dark

That little gods put there — Again her eyes ! —

Dear revenants, drooped open wide and wild,

And shot lucernal ardors to my depth : —

An instant on the South where minnows school

And flash their silver bellies to the sun,

I dreamed a passing dream — then felt her lie

Along my neck in never-ending glow,

As haunting mists through all the autumn long

Sleep on the yearning soil; or very like

The patient streams of moon that wondering come

To warn the aching sea to love the sky,

Her paramour. Ah no, you other race,

You cannot understand, you cannot know

Divine communion any night. In dreams

I see you at the end, by Acheron,

With hearts of lust, and dead unmeaning hands

The spade has hardened. All alone, alone

I understand the pulsing of her flesh ;

Why tragic broke its mighty thought, and gave

A touch misunderstood of all the world.

Her heart, — I thought of cataracts afar

That thunder in their solitudes; her feet, —

Like tiny coral stems that fingered mine,

And clung as mosses to the oak. Then wind

Crept out of earth, the sea and sky, and blew

Her mellow hair, those wild magnetic streams,

Into the face of me ; and kisses soft

From deep vermilion lip to lip. My Soul !

I only knew I lived, and not in vain.

More perfect hearts, more perfect happy hearts,

Were not in sprites that thrid the slender trees

And render birth to song. I came aware

Not in the thrall of human kind was I,

 

Nor in the visioned thrall of fairy kind,

But weakened to a melancholy soul

That wanders to the end, and makes along

The white sea-sands unfrequented of man;

Of argent web all wrapped and wrapped around;

Of sad inconstancy ; that flees alway,

Shot through and through with foaming vein, and burns

Unhumanly. Too little in the world,

Apart from Night-folk, Sea-folk, all alone

She dwells, Earth-daemon Man may never know.

 

Recovered once, of pain the absolute,

I pressed my fingers through her tender neck,

Each one to one — soft, soft’ was her neck, soft

As all the foam along the restless shore.

Abuseful she was not, nor I to her,

Except in madness. Swift she floated back,

Shook free, as gray phantasmal mists have done

To rid them of the earth. I saw her face

Betray no blood, and her ensanguined lips,

Full wan as any death, grow on their turn

Acanthice beads. An echo from her throat.

The last she made this night, rang down the dark

And lost itself beyond the pale of earth.

Mine eyes have seen what Shepherds never saw,

She passed adown the lengthened moon-steeped way,

And on and on reproachfully, her feet

Of tiny coral certain to the road

And beating sadly on the wasted shells ;

Aye, passed adown the beach of argentine,

Herself more argent, white as white sea-sand.

 

Days after — days — I had to know her well.

Below the sun, of all dream-memories,

Not one is like the hell of this. Some god,

Lend rest to mind and freedom from her toil ! —

 

My amaranthine flower. I swear the Night

Gives up her glowing face, whose hated eyes,

Like deserts hot and dead, exact from man

An awful price. Afar in darker lands

I feel her kisses burning to the deep, —

Those damned uncertain lips as sweet, as faint,

As hand-pats from a babe. Deep in the waste,

In her unlimited demesne of sleep,

I hear a fountain singing lotus-songs;

But ever, when the fountain music dies,

I hear a mocking-bird who mocks its song,

And mockery is only half the truth.

With naked eyes, how often leers the Night

To see her charnel body weight me down

As tombstones weight the dead ! By night I fade

Into the old, unlimited demesne,

And there, beside the old. imperious sea,

I stir the astral webs and loiter on.

Ere long the daemon comes, then forward hurls

Upon me — “Dying, Arthur, dying,” cries ;

And when my fingers find their dreadful use

To press the tender neck to death, she turns,

And wanders far along the moon-lit way,

And dies reproachfully.

 

Began this toil

In summer sweet, unnumbered days ago

When dreams outraced the vigor of the hours:

A mild-eyed night with moon and earth and sea.

 

Arthur Wilson.

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