The Year's twelve daughters had in turn gone by, Of measured pace tho' varying mien all twelve, Some froward, some sedater, some adorn'd For festival, some reckless of attire. The snow had left the mountain-top; fresh flowers Had withered in the meadow; fig and prune Hung wrinkling; the last apple glow'd amid Its freckled leaves; and weary oxen blinkt Between the trodden corn and twisted vine, Under whose bunches stood the empty crate, To creak ere long beneath them carried home. This was the season when twelve months before, O gentle Hamadryad, true to love! Thy mansion, thy dim mansion in the wood Was blasted and laid desolate: but none Dared violate its precincts, none dared pluck The moss beneath it, which alone remain'd Of what was thine.
Old Thallinos sat mute In solitary sadness. The strange tale (Not until Rhaicos died, but then the whole) Echion had related, whom no force Could ever make look back upon the oaks. The father said "Echion! thou must weigh, Carefully, and with steady hand, enough (Although no longer comes the store as once!) Of wax to burn all day and night upon That hollow stone where milk and honey lie: So may the Gods, so may the dead, be pleas'd!" Thallinos bore it thither in the morn, And lighted it and left it.
First of those Who visited upon this solemn day The Hamadryad's oak, were Rhodope And Acon; of one age, one hope, one trust. Graceful was she as was the nymph whose fate She sorrowed for: he slender, pale, and first Lapt by the flame of love: his father's lands Were fertile, herds lowed over them afar. Now stood the two aside the hollow stone And lookt with stedfast eyes toward the oak Shivered and black and bare.
"May never we Love as they loved!" said Acon. She at this Smiled, for he said not what he meant to say, And thought not of its bliss, but of its end. He caught the flying smile, and blusht, and vow'd Nor time nor other power, whereto the might Of love hath yielded and may yield again, Should alter his.
The father of the youth Wanted not beauty for him, wanted not Song, that could lift earth's weight from off his heart, Discretion, that could guide him thro' the world, Innocence, that could clear his way to heaven; Silver and gold and land, not green before The ancestral gate, but purple under skies Bending far off, he wanted for his heir.
Fathers have given life, but virgin heart They never gave; and dare they then control Or check it harshly? dare they break a bond Girt round it by the holiest Power on high?
Acon was grieved, he said, grieved bitterly, But Acon had complied . . 'twas dutiful!
Crush thy own heart, Man! Man! but fear to wound The gentler, that relies on thee alone, By thee created, weak or strong by thee; Touch it not but for worship; watch before Its sanctuary; nor leave it till are closed The temple-doors and the last lamp is spent.
Rhodope, in her soul's waste solitude, Sate mournful by the dull-resounding sea, Often not hearing it, and many tears Had the cold breezes hardened on her cheek. Meanwhile he sauntered in the wood of oaks, Nor shun'd to look upon the hollow stone That held the milk and honey, nor to lay His plighted hand where recently 'twas laid Opposite hers, when finger playfully Advanced and pusht back finger, on each side. He did not think of this, as she would do If she were there alone.
The day was hot; The moss invited him; it cool'd his cheek, It cool'd his hands; he thrust them into it And sank to slumber. Never was there dream Divine as his. He saw the Hamadryad. She took him by the arm and led him on Along a valley, where profusely grew The smaller lilies with their pendent bells, And, hiding under mint, chill drosera, The violet shy of butting cyclamen, The feathery fern, and, browser of moist banks, Her offspring round her, the soft strawberry; The quivering spray of ruddy tamarisk, The oleander's light-hair'd progeny Breathing bright freshness in each other's face, And graceful rose, bending her brow, with cup Of fragrance and of beauty, boon for Gods. The fragrance fill'd his breast with such delight His senses were bewildered, and he thought He saw again the face he most had loved. He stopt: the Hamadryad at his side Now stood between; then drew him farther off: He went, compliant as before: but soon Verdure had ceast: altho' the ground was smooth, Nothing was there delightful. At this change He would have spoken, but his guide represt All questioning, and said,
"Weak youth! what brought Thy footstep to this wood, my native haunt, My life-long residence? this bank, where first I sate with him . . the faithful (now I know, Too late!) the faithful Rhaicos. Haste thee home; Be happy, if thou canst; but come no more Where those whom death alone could sever, died."
He started up: the moss whereon he slept Was dried and withered: deadlier paleness spread Over his cheek; he sickened: and the sire Had land enough; it held his only son.