Canto III


He woke, and all at once before his eyes
The pale spires of the chestnut-trees in bloom
Rose waving and, beyond, dove-coloured skies;
But where he lay was dark and, out of gloom,
He saw them, through the doorway of a room
Full of strange scents and softness, padded deep
With growing leaves, heavy with last night’s sleep.


He rubbed his eyes. He felt that chamber wreathing
New sleepiness around him. At his side
He was aware of warmth and quiet breathing.
Twice he sank back, loose-limbed and drowsy-eyed;
But the wind came even there. A sparrow cried
And the wood shone without. Then Dymer rose,
—“Just for one glance,” he said, and went, tip-toes,


Out into crisp grey air and drenching grass.
The whitened cobweb sparkling in its place
Clung to his feet. He saw the wagtail pass
Beside him and the thrush: and from his face
Felt the thin-scented winds divinely chase
The flush of sleep. Far off he saw, between
The trees, long morning shadows of dark green.


He stretched his lazy arms to their full height,
Yawning, and sighed and laughed, and sighed anew;
Then wandered farther, watching with delight
How his broad naked footprints stained the dew,
—Pressing his foot to feel the cold come through
Between the spreading toes⁠—then wheeled round
Each moment to some new, shrill forest sound.


The wood with its cold flowers had nothing there
More beautiful than he, new waked from sleep,
New born from joy. His soul lay very bare
That moment to life’s touch, and pondering deep
Now first he knew that no desire could keep
These hours for always, and that men do die
—But oh, the present glory of lungs and eye!


He thought: “At home they are waking now. The stair
Is filled with feet. The bells clang⁠—far from me.
Where am I now? I could not point to where
The City lies from here,”⁠ ⁠… then, suddenly,
“If I were here alone, these woods could be
A frightful place! But now I have met my friend
Who loves me, we can talk to the road’s end.”


Thus, quickening with the sweetness of the tale
Of his new love, he turned. He saw, between
The young leaves, where the palace walls showed pale
With chilly stone: but far above the green,
Springing like cliffs in air, the towers were seen,
Making more quiet yet the quiet dawn.
Thither he came. He reached the open lawn.


No bird was moving here. Against the wall
Out of the unscythed grass the nettle grew.
The doors stood open wide, but no footfall
Rang in the colonnades. Whispering through
Arches and hollow halls the lights wind blew⁠ ⁠…
His awe returned. He whistled⁠—then, no more,
It’s better to plunge in by the first door.


But then the vastness threw him into doubt.
Was this the door that he had found last night?
Or that, beneath the tower? Had he come out
This side at all? As the first snow falls light
With following rain before the year grows white,
So the first, dim foreboding touched his mind,
Gently as yet, and easily thrust behind.


And with it came the thought, “I do not know
Her name⁠—no, nor her face.” But still his mood
Ran blithely as he felt the morning blow
About him, and the earth-smell in the wood
Seemed waking for long hours that must be good
Here, in the unfettered lands, that knew no cause
For grudging⁠—out of reach of the old laws.


He hastened to one entry. Up the stair,
Beneath the pillared porch, without delay,
He ran⁠—then halted suddenly: for there
Across the quiet threshold something lay,
A bundle, a dark mass that barred the way.
He looked again, and lo, the formless pile
Under his eyes was moving all the while.


And it had hands, pale hands of wrinkled flesh,
Puckered and gnarled with vast antiquity,
That moved. He eyed the sprawling thing afresh,
And bit by bit (so faces come to be
In the red coal) yet surely, he could see
That the swathed hugeness was uncleanly human,
A living thing, the likeness of a woman.


In the centre a draped hummock marked the head;
Thence flowed the broader lines with curve and fold
Spreading as oak roots do. You would have said
A man could hid among them and grow old
In finding a way out. Breast manifold
As of the Ephesian Artemis might be
Under that robe. The face he did not see.


And all his being answered, “Not that way!”
Never a word he spoke. Stealthily creeping
Back from the door he drew. Quick! No delay!
Quick, quick, but very quiet!⁠—backward peeping
Till fairly out of sight. Then shouting, leaping,
Shaking himself, he ran⁠—as puppies do
From bathing⁠—till that door was out of view.


Another gate⁠—and empty. In he went
And found a courtyard open to the sky,
Amidst it dripped a fountain. Heavy scent
Of flowers was here; the foxglove standing high
Sheltered the whining wasp. With hasty eye
He travelled round the walls. One doorway led
Within: one showed a further court ahead.


He ran up to the first⁠—a hungry lover,
And not yet taught to endure, not blunted yet,
But weary of long waiting to discover
That loved one’s face. Before his foot was set
On the first stair, he felt the sudden sweat
Cold on his sides. That sprawling mass in view,
That shape⁠—the horror of heaviness⁠—here too.


He fell back from the porch. Not yet⁠—not yet⁠—
There must be other ways where he would meet
No watcher in the door. He would not let
The fear rise, nor hope falter, nor defeat
Be entered in his thoughts. A sultry heat
Seemed to have filled the day. His breath came short,
And he passed on into that inner court.


And (like a dream) the sight he feared to find
Was waiting here. Then cloister, path and square
He hastened through: down paths that ended blind,
Traced and retraced his steps. The thing sat there
In every door, still watching, everywhere,
Behind, ahead, all around⁠—So! Steady now,
Lest panic comes. He stopped. He wiped his brow.


But, as he strove to rally, came the thought
That he had dreamed of such a place before
—Knew how it all would end. He must be caught
Early or late. No good! But all the more
He raged with passionate will that overbore
That knowledge: and cried out, and beat his head,
Raving, upon the senseless walls, and said:


“Where? Where? Dear, look once out. Give but one sign.
It’s I, I, Dymer. Are you chained and hidden?
What have they done to her? Loose her! She is mine.
Through stone and iron, haunted and hag-ridden,
I’ll come to you⁠—no stranger, nor unbidden,
It’s I. Don’t fear them. Shout above them all.
Can you not hear? I’ll follow at your call.”


From every arch the echo of his cry
Returned. Then all was silent, and he knew
There was no other way. He must pass by
That horror: tread her down, force his way through,
Or die upon the threshold. And this too
Had all been in a dream. He felt his heart
Beating as if his throat would burst apart.


There was no other way. He stood a space
And pondered it. Then, gathering up his will,
He went to the next door. The pillared place
Beneath the porch was dark. The air was still,
Moss on the steps. He felt her presence fill
The threshold with dull life. Here too was she.
This time he raised his eyes and dared to see.


Pah! Only an old woman!⁠ ⁠… but the size,
The old, old matriarchal dreadfulness,
Immovable, intolerable⁠ ⁠… the eyes
Hidden, the hidden head, the winding dress,
Corpselike⁠ ⁠… The weight of the brute that seemed to press
Upon his heart and breathing. Then he heard
His own voice, strange and humble, take the word.


“Good Mother, let me pass. I have a friend
To look for in this house. I slept the night
And feasted here⁠—it was my journey’s end,
—I found it by the music and the light,
And no one kept the doors, and I did right
To enter⁠—did I not? Now, Mother, pray,
Let me pass in⁠ ⁠… good Mother, give me way.”


The woman answered nothing: but he saw
The hands, like crabs, still wandering on her knee.
“Mother, if I have broken any law,
I’ll ask a pardon once: then let it be,
—Once is enough⁠—and leave the passage free.
I am in haste. And though it were a sin
By all the laws you have, I must go in.”


Courage was rising in him now. He said,
“Out of my path, old woman. For this cause
I am new born, new freed, and here new wed,
That I might be the breaker of bad laws.
The frost of old forbiddings breaks and thaws
Wherever my feet fall. I bring to birth
Under its crust the green, ungrudging earth.”


He had started, bowing low: but now he stood
Stretched to his height. His own voice in his breast
Made misery pompous, firing all his blood.
“Enough,” he cried, “Give place. You shall not wrest
My love from me. I journey on quest
You cannot understand, whose strength shall bear me
Through fire and earth. A body will not scare me.


“I am the sword of spring; I am the truth.
Old night, put out your stars, the dawn is here,
The sleeper’s wakening, and the wings of youth.
With crumbling veneration and cowed fear
I make no truce. My loved one, live and dear,
Waits for me. Let me in! I fled the City,
Shall I fear you or⁠ ⁠… Mother, ah, for pity.”


For his high mood fell shattered. Like a man
Unnerved, in bayonet-fighting, in the thick,
—Full of red rum and cheers when he began,
Now, in a dream, muttering: “I’ve not the trick.
It’s no good. I’m no good. They’re all too quick.
There! Look there! Look at that!”⁠—so Dymer stood,
Suddenly drained of hope. It was no good.


He pleaded then. Shame beneath Shame. “Forgive.
It may be there are powers I cannot break.
If you are of them, speak. Speak. Let me live.
I ask so small a thing. I beg. I make
My body a living prayer whose force would shake
The mountains. I’ll recant⁠—confess my sin⁠—
But this once let me pass. I must go in.”


“Yield but one inch, once only from your law;
Set any price⁠—I will give all, obey
All else but this, hold your least word in awe,
Give you no cause for anger from this day.
Answer! The least things living when they pray
As I pray now bear witness. They speak true
Against God. Answer! Mother, let me through.”


Then when he heard no answer, mad with fear
And with desire, too strained with both to know
What he desired or feared, yet staggering near,
He forced himself towards her and bent low
For grappling. Then came darkness. Then a blow
Fell on his heart, he thought. There came a blank
Of all things. As the dead sink, down he sank.


The first big drops are rattling on the trees,
The sky is copper dark, low thunder pealing.
See Dymer with drooped head and knocking knees
Comes from the porch. Then slowly, drunkly reeling,
Blind, beaten, broken, past desire of healing,
Past knowledge of his misery, he goes on
Under the first dark trees and now is gone.