Wild with intricate artifice of song
He wandered by the lake in his own light.
Flushed from the reeds she rose; yet, poised for flight,
She paused, as love unbidden loosed his tongue,
And laughed and shook her head and turned and ran.
He thought: “It is easy now; I have my cue;
Knowing beforehand what a woman will do,
A god may venture further than a man.”
So, letting her run, he followed at his ease.
She fled with such voluptuous grace, he thought
Her flight a game whose end was to be caught
Among those flowers ahead beneath the trees.
Her long thighs leaping seemed to glide on air;
Each sole behind kicked back a rosy kiss;
To watch her body in motion was such bliss
That, though he could have seized her flying hair,
He followed, as in a dream, the dreamlike chase
Whose double rhythm seemed almost to rehearse
The pulse and passion of his unfinished verse.
Willing to hear it still, he slackened pace,
But caught her at the entrance to the wood.
At his first touch she stopped and turned to wait,
Masked in deep shade, so still, so cool, so straight.
Wild with desire, he leapt to where she stood;
But, even as he embraced his living goal,
Found all his baffled senses miss their mark:
Only two lips dissolving in the bark,
And two warm breasts fast hardening on the bole;
While all around a ghostly laughter stirred
Her leafy fronds that whispered on the bough:
“All you have won is laurel for your brow;
Love lost becomes a changeling for the word.
“Sing, poet, sing that metamorphosis!
In this alone, men share in the divine;
In this alone, the gods their power resign;
The natural order triumphs alone in this.”
Wild with his grief, the god yet loosed his hold
And turned and, seated in the laurel shade,
Finished and sang the paean he had made,
And found his triumph in this—as he was told.