Acon and Rhodope; or, Inconstancy

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The Year's twelve daughters had in turn gone by,Of measured pace tho' varying mien all twelve,Some froward, some sedater, some adorn'dFor festival, some reckless of attire.The snow had left the mountain-top; fresh flowersHad withered in the meadow; fig and pruneHung wrinkling; the last apple glow'd amidIts freckled leaves; and weary oxen blinktBetween 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 woodWas blasted and laid desolate: but noneDared violate its precincts, none dared pluckThe moss beneath it, which alone remain'dOf what was thine.

Old Thallinos sat muteIn solitary sadness. The strange tale(Not until Rhaicos died, but then the whole)Echion had related, whom no forceCould 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 uponThat 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 thoseWho visited upon this solemn dayThe Hamadryad's oak, were RhodopeAnd Acon; of one age, one hope, one trust.Graceful was she as was the nymph whose fateShe sorrowed for: he slender, pale, and firstLapt by the flame of love: his father's landsWere fertile, herds lowed over them afar.Now stood the two aside the hollow stoneAnd lookt with stedfast eyes toward the oakShivered and black and bare.

"May never weLove as they loved!" said Acon. She at thisSmiled, 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'dNor time nor other power, whereto the mightOf love hath yielded and may yield again,Should alter his.

The father of the youthWanted not beauty for him, wanted notSong, 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 beforeThe ancestral gate, but purple under skiesBending far off, he wanted for his heir.

Fathers have given life, but virgin heartThey never gave; and dare they then controlOr check it harshly? dare they break a bondGirt 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 woundThe gentler, that relies on thee alone,By thee created, weak or strong by thee;Touch it not but for worship; watch beforeIts sanctuary; nor leave it till are closedThe 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 tearsHad the cold breezes hardened on her cheek.Meanwhile he sauntered in the wood of oaks,Nor shun'd to look upon the hollow stoneThat held the milk and honey, nor to layHis plighted hand where recently 'twas laidOpposite hers, when finger playfullyAdvanced and pusht back finger, on each side.He did not think of this, as she would doIf 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 itAnd sank to slumber. Never was there dreamDivine as his. He saw the Hamadryad.She took him by the arm and led him onAlong a valley, where profusely grewThe 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 progenyBreathing 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 delightHis senses were bewildered, and he thoughtHe saw again the face he most had loved.He stopt: the Hamadryad at his sideNow stood between; then drew him farther off:He went, compliant as before: but soonVerdure had ceast: altho' the ground was smooth,Nothing was there delightful. At this changeHe would have spoken, but his guide represtAll questioning, and said,

"Weak youth! what broughtThy footstep to this wood, my native haunt,My life-long residence? this bank, where firstI sate with him . . the faithful (now I know,Too late!) the faithful Rhaicos. Haste thee home;Be happy, if thou canst; but come no moreWhere those whom death alone could sever, died."

He started up: the moss whereon he sleptWas dried and withered: deadlier paleness spreadOver his cheek; he sickened: and the sireHad land enough; it held his only son.

© Walter Savage Landor