A sultry eve pursu'd a sultry day;
Dark streaks of purple in the sky were seen,
And shadows half conceal'd the lonely way;
I spurr'd my courser, and more swiftly rode,
In moody silence, through the forests green,
Where doves and linnets had their lone abode:
It was my fate to reach a brook, at last,
Which, by sweet-scented bushes fenc'd around,
Defiance bade to heat and nipping blast.
Inclin'd to rest, and hear the wild birds' song,
I stretch'd myself upon that brook's soft bound,
And there I fell asleep and slumber'd long;
And only woke, O wonder, to perceive
A gold-hair'd maiden, as a snowdrop pale,
Her slender form from out the ground upheave:
Then fear o'ercame me, and this daring heart
Beat three times audibly against my mail;
I wish'd to speak, but could no sound impart.
And see! another maid rose up and took
Some drops of water from the foaming rill,
And gaz'd upon me with a wistful look.
Said she, "What brings thee to this lonely place?
But do not fear, for thou shalt meet no ill;
Thou steel-clad warrior, full of youth and grace."
"No;" sang the other, in delightful tone,
"But thou shalt gaze on prodigies which ne'er
To man's unhallow'd eye have yet been shown."
The brook which lately brawl'd among the trees
Stood still, the murmur of that song to hear;
No green leaf stirr'd, and fetter'd seem'd the breeze.
The thrush, upstarting in the distant dell,
Shook its brown wing, with golden streaks array'd,
And ap'd the witch-notes, as they rose and fell.
Bright gleam'd the lake's broad sheet of liquid blue,
Where, with the rabid pike, the troutling play'd;
The rose unlock'd its folded leaves anew,
And blush'd, besprinkled with the night's cold tear.
Once more the lily rais'd its head and smil'd,
All ghastly white, as when it decks the bier.
Though sweet she sang, my fears were not the less,
For in her accents there was something wild,
Which I can feel, 'tis true, but not express.
"Come with us," sang she, "deep below the earth,
Where sun ne'er burns, and storm-winds never rave;
Come with us to our halls of princely mirth,
"There thou shalt learn from us the Runic lay;
But dip thee, first, in yonder crystal wave,
Which binds thee to the Elfin race for aye:
"Though painted flowers on earth's breast abound,
Yet we have far more lovely ones below;
Like grass the chrysolites there strew the ground."
"O come," the other syren did exclaim,
"For rubies there more red than roses grow -
The sapphir's blue the violet puts to shame."
I rais'd my eyes to heaven's starry dome,
And gripp'd my faulchion with convulsive might,
Resolv'd no witchcraft should my mind o'ercome.
My lengthen'd silence vex'd the maidens sore:
"Wilt thou detain us here the live-long night,
Or must we, stripling, proffer something more?
"Taught by us, thou shalt bind the rugged bear, -
Seize on the mighty dragon's heap of gold, -
And slay the cockatrice while in her lair!
"But from thy breast the blood we will suck out,
Unless thou follow us beneath the mould!
Decide, decide, nor longer pause in doubt!"
Cold sweat I shed, and as, with trembling hand,
I strove to whirl my beaming faulchion round,
It sank, enthrall'd by magic's potent band.
Each witch drew nigh, with dagger high uprear'd;
Just then a cock, beyond the wild wood's bound,
Crew loud-and in the earth they disappear'd.
I flung myself upon my frighten'd barb,
Just as the shades began to grow less murk,
And sun-beams clad the sky in gayer garb.
Let each young warrior from such places fly:
Disease and death beneath the flowers lurk;
And elves would suck the warm blood from his eye.