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Where naked boys bridling tame water-snakes,
Or charioteering ghastly alligators,
Of those huge forms;—within the brazen doors
And where within the surface of the river
And never are erased, but tremble ever
Like things which every cloud can doom to die,—
Through lotus-paven canals, and wheresoever
With tombs and towers and fanes,—'twas her delight
To wander in the shadow of the night.
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 With many a dark and subterranean street
Under the Nile; through chambers high and deep
She passed, observing mortals in their sleep.
A pleasure sweet doubtless it was to see
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
Old age with snow-bright hair and folded palm.
Not to be mirrored in a holy song,—
And pale imaginings of visioned wrong,
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."
We, the weak mariners of that wide lake,
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, Where in bright bowers immortal forms abide Beneath the weltering of the restless tide.
Of sunlike gems; and round each temple-court In dormitories ranged, row after row,
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
Were to her sight like the diaphanous
Their delicate limbs who would conceal from us Only their scorn of all concealment: they
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.
She all those human figures breathing there
Beheld as living spirits. To her eyes 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, Could make that spirit mingle with her own.
Alas! Aurora, what wouldst thou have given
Or how much, Venus, of thy silver heaven
Had half (oh! why not all ?) the debt forgiven
To any witch who would have taught you it?
The Heliad doth not know its value yet .
Knew what love was, and felt itself alone:
Before she stooped to kiss Endymion Than now this Lady. Like a sexless bee,
Tasting all blossoms and confined to none, Among those mortal forms the Wizard Maiden Passed with an eye serene and heart unladen.
To those she saw most beautiful she gave
They drank in their deep sleep of that sweet wave,
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.
For, on the night that they were buried, she
The light out of the funeral lamps, to be
And she unwound the woven imagery
The coffin, its last cradle, from its niche,
And threw it with contempt into a ditch.
And there the body lay, age after age,
Like one asleep in a green hermitage,—
And living in its dreams beyond the rage
Of death or life; while they were still arraying
In liveries ever new the rapid, blind,
And fleeting generations of mankind.
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 Which the sand covers. All his evil gain
The miser, in such dreams, would rise and shake
Translating hieroglyphics into Greek,
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 Whate'er they thought of hawks and cats and geese, By pastoral letters to each diocese.
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
Wpuld place a gaudy mockbird 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!
The soldiers dreamed that they were blacksmiths, and Walked out of quarters in somnambulism;
74 THE WTTCH OF ATLAS—MRS SHELLEVS NOTE.
Round the red anvils you might see them stand
Like Cyclopses in Vulcan's sooty abysm,
The gaolers sent those of the liberal schism
They hardly knew whether they loved or not,
To the fulfilment of their inmost thought;
Met one another, both, like sinners caught,
Of many thousand schemes which lovers find,
Of happiness in marriage warm and kind.
Were torn apart (a wide wound, mind from mind)
These were the pranks she played among the cities
And Gods, entangling them in her sweet ditties,
I will declare another time; for it is
A tale more fit for the weird winter nights
Than for these garish summer days, when we
Scarcely believe much more than we can sec.
NOTE ON THE WITCH OF ATLAS, BY MRS. SHELLEY.
We spent the summer of 1820 at the Baths of San Giuliano, four miles from Pisa. These baths were of great use to Shelley in soothing his nervous irritability. We made several excursions in the neighbourhood. The country around is fertile, and diversified and rendered picturesque by ranges of near hills and more distant mountains. The peasantry are a handsome intelligent race ; and there was a gladsome