“One golden day; when from the stone-hewn plow
Which, though my frame was slight, my heart urged on,
I turned with ruddy rounded face, sweat-healthy brow,
And clothing dusted with light grassy fronds;
I gathered up the lilies of the field
And tripped with clumsy passion through the grass
For romance, clean and innocent and feeled,
Then made me love my long-known neighbor lass.
I knew not how a courter was to clad
But walked in the sun’s light in working clothes
And that I may not seem a manless lad,
I wore a sword upon my trouser-close.
All large and free and fresh and strong I felt
Just as the hedgéd field where’pon She dwelt.
She was a modest maid of quiet ways
Who passed unnoticed in her family’s home
And no one saw her worthy of a praise
When to her healthy meals they did come.
But I knew she a secret virtue had
That, did the dragon depart from the brack
And waste the meadow, I’d be knightly lad
And she the one who would my cow’rdice crack.
For when she spoke of anything at all
(How no-one saw but I?) her words would bite
Like chisels on the hardened marble wall
And truth and justice follow. Will of might!
Who by home-acts by men all counted wrong
Can do what we cannot: You make us strong!
And in this mood, this palace crystal-light
That multiplies the goods refracted there
Until they become a bewildering, bright
And glorious thing that fillés all the air,
I shattered out when crashed a clashing shout.
My love cried out with high and helpless wails!
“A cruel, cruel man is lurking hereabout
To knife me like he’s processing a whale!”
I burst in through the opened heavy door
Into the stony house (it closed behind).
And there she lay, supine upon the floor
Her father o’er her with a deranged mind.
He thought himself to force upon her there
To soil her, and tug her lovely hair.
And as he sank a knife into her side,
I drew my sword. Its loyal metal rang
One with my voice: “You shall not touch my bride!”
My sword arm flew, and all things for me sang!
But fey he was and much too quick for speed
Of mine to make a fatal, fell dispatch.
We whirled all o’er: I followed, he did lead
The crisis trumping furnishings well-matched.
And every china plate upon the shelf
Did die in willing sacrifice for her
For though she loved them like a man loves wealth,
They and she, against HIM pow’rless were.
But he was old and dull, I young and skilled
And soon I had the daughter-killer killed.
But she had not a breath. I sat and wept
Upon her hands for full space of an hour.
But as the setting sun the meadows swept
With moist and bloody light and sinking pow’r
I thought upon her corpse, that she must not
Endure without a cleansing bath of earth.
I tried the door, to dig the grave I ought
But it was locked. Of op’ning there was dearth.
I searched for the key: upon the ice
That was her father dead my hands combed:
With caress loathsome my hands searched him twice
And through the rooms vile furnishings I probed.
Then noticed I a drain upon the floor.
The keys had flowed away. Unlock! No more!
And with them went all of my waking life.
I swooned. Insensible, I sprawled upon
Her pierced side. She would have been my wife!
Would that I slept! Awake was fear, not dawn.
I started up about at three of morn,
Awake as if I’d never slept at all,
To see a glowing filament or frond
Slow-serpentine itself between the desk and wall
As if a gorge-head lurked behind the desk:
A man with woman’s features, woman’s lips
And scorpion-tails a-sprouting from his mouth
Each one a tendril, groping for my leg.
And as it grabbed my shin, the truth I saw:
It came from inside the dead father’s jaw!
The jaw was moved by an unknown force
“My dear son, Athan, list to me,” it slimed
With slowness aggravating as, perforce,
The swamp-light cloud crawled up towards my spine.
“Do not reflex toward your wanted bride,
For I, through pact immortal, have the power
To move your limbs to mutilate her side
When’er I reach your heart. The devil’s dower
I paid in life. I wished to win at whist
You see. And for my soul’s priceless excheque,
I got all powers wanted: they’re on this list
That I’ll not read, so as to take you quick.
Don’t try to stop me: you can’t love the dead’s
Cold corpses. Wait. Keep your life and head.”
And then there surged, a heavy metal-mass
Through water: soft displaced by the weight
All overwhelming of the solid facts;
Cold duty, strong and real, surpassing great
Shoving aside the loving wat’ry thing
Of romance, which though hot and compelling
Is bleached in compare to all the cries:
The cold-filled cries, yet hotter cries than “love”
The cries sans nicety all filled above
The breaking point of romance with more blyss:
The beauty, glory, majesty, desire
Of Moral Duty. I, Athanasius,
Escaping from the demon, was inspired
To slow down its effects by hero-stroke:
With my own sword, my own legs I then broke.
Then, helpless, I did writhe upon the floor
Five minutes, maybe, freed from demon’s grasp,
Yet able not to flee from the horror
Impending: my free will's last final gasp.
Then as the tendrils closed upon my breast
To hypnotize me ever for its will,
There broke upon the door another guest
Quite uninvited by the man-devil.
From his free mouth there came a blast of spells
Uncountable and rapid and devout
With flying waters spurged from leafy wells
And oils designed to drive such demons out.
For several hours they fought upon the floor
a-Wrestling, and dueling spells galore.
And when ‘twas done, the magic-man emerged
And taking out his bag of healing herbs
With incantations healed the severed legs
And raised from sleep the girl (he used a dreg).
I, Athanasius saw that love was dead.
I’d tasted magic’s work in time of need,
When only it could save from That Most Dread
And from the Chains of death, it ‘lone could free.
She woke to life, and I to bitter death
We shed great tears of wormwood at the sight
Of all the joyful life the other hath.
No sin of envy: these tears were our right.
For I knew that I must magician be
A celibate, yet still He loved She."