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Atalanta's Race
William Morris, 1868

1     Through thick Arcadian woods a hunter went, 
2     Following the beasts upon a fresh spring day; 
3     But since his horn-tipped bow but seldom bent, 
4     Now at the noontide nought had happed to slay, 
5     Within a vale he called his hounds away, 
6     Hearkening the echoes of his lone voice cling 
7     About the cliffs and through the beech-trees ring.

8     But when they ended, still awhile he stood,
9     And but the sweet familiar thrush could hear,
10   And all the day-long noises of the wood,
11   And o'er the dry leaves of the vanished year
12   His hounds' feet pattering as they drew anear,
13   And heavy breathing from their heads low hung,
14   To see the mighty corner bow unstrung.

15   Then smiling did he turn to leave the place, 
16   But with his first step some new fleeting thought 
17   A shadow cast across his sun-burnt face; 
18   I think the golden net that April brought 
19   From some warm world his wavering soul had caught;
20   For, sunk in vague sweet longing, did he go 
21   Betwixt the trees with doubtful steps and slow.

22   Yet howsoever slow he went, at last
23   The trees grew sparser, and the wood was done;
24   Whereon one farewell backward look he cast,
25   Then, turning round to see what place was won,
26   With shaded eyes looked underneath the sun,
27   And o'er green meads and new-turned furrows brown
28   Beheld the gleaming of King Schśneus' town.

29   So thitherward he turned, and on each side 
30   The folk were busy on the teeming land, 
31   And man and maid from the brown furrows cried, 
32   Or midst the newly blossomed vines did stand, 
33   And as the rustic weapon pressed the hand 
34   Thought of the nodding of the well-filled ear, 
35   Or how the knife the heavy bunch should shear.

36   Merry it was: about him sung the birds, 
37   The spring flowers bloomed along the firm dry road, 
38   The sleek-skinned mothers of the sharp-horned herds 
39   Now for the barefoot milking-maidens lowed;
40   While from the freshness of his blue abode, 
41   Glad his death-bearing arrows to forget, 
42   The broad sun blazed, nor scattered plagues as yet.

43   Through such fair things unto the gates he came, 
44   And found them open, as though peace were there; 
45   Wherethrough, unquestioned of his race or name, 
46   He entered, and along the streets 'gan fare, 
47   Which at the first of folk were well-nigh bare; 
48   But pressing on, and going more hastily, 

49   Men hurrying too he 'gan at last to see.
50   Following the last of these he still pressed on,
51   Until an open space he came unto,
52   Where wreaths of fame had oft been lost and won,
53   For feats of strength folks there were wont to do.
54   And now our hunter looked for something new,
55   Because the whole wide space was bare, and stilled
56   The high seats were, with eager people filled.

57   There with the others to a seat he gat,
58   Whence he beheld a broidered canopy,
59   'Neath which in fair array King Schśneus sat
60   Upon his throne with councillors thereby;
61   And underneath his well-wrought seat and high,
62   He saw a golden image of the sun,
63   A silver image of the Fleet-foot One.

64   A brazen altar stood beneath their feet
65   Whereon a thin flame flicker'd in the wind;
66   Nigh this a herald clad in raiment meet
67   Made ready even now his horn to wind,
68   By whom a huge man held a sword, entwin'd
69   With yellow flowers; these stood a little space
70   From off the altar, nigh the starting place.

71   And there two runners did the sign abide,
72   Foot set to foot,--a young man slim and fair,
73   Crisp-hair'd, well knit, with firm limbs often tried
74   In places where no man his strength may spare:
75   Dainty his thin coat was, and on his hair.
76   A golden circlet of renown he wore,
77   And in his hand an olive garland bore.

78   But on this day with whom shall he contend?
79   A maid stood by him like Diana clad
80   When in the woods she lists her bow to bend,
81   Too fair for one to look on and be glad,
82   Who scarcely yet has thirty summers had,
83   If he must still behold her from afar;
84   Too fair to let the world live free from war.

85   She seem'd all earthly matters to forget;
86   Of all tormenting lines her face was clear;
87   Her wide gray eyes upon the goal were set
88   Calm and unmov'd as though no soul were near.
89   But her foe trembled as a man in fear,
90   Nor from her loveliness one moment turn'd
91   His anxious face with fierce desire that burn'd.

92   Now through the hush there broke the trumpet's clang 
93   Just as the setting sun made eventide. 
94   Then from light feet a spurt of dust there sprang, 
95   And swiftly were they running side by side; 
96   But silent did the thronging folk abide 
97   Until the turning-post was reach'd at last, 
98   And round about it still abreast they passed.

99   But when the people saw how close they ran,
100   When half-way to the starting-point they were,
101   A cry of joy broke forth, whereat the man
102   Headed the white-foot runner, and drew near
103   Unto the very end of all his fear; 
104   And scarce his straining feet the ground could feel, 
105   And bliss unhop'd for o'er his heart 'gan steal.

106   But 'midst the loud victorious shouts he heard 
107   Her footsteps drawing nearer, and the sound 
108   Of fluttering raiment, and thereat afeard 
109   His flush'd and eager face he turn'd around, 
110   And even then he felt her past him bound 
111   Fleet as the wind, but scarcely saw her there 
112   Till on the goal she laid her fingers fair.

113   There stood she breathing like a little child 
114   Amid some warlike clamour laid asleep, 
115   For no victorious joy her red lips smil'd, 
116   Her cheek its wonted freshness did but keep; 
117   No glance lit up her clear gray eyes and deep, 
118   Though some divine thought soften'd all her face 
119   As once more rang the trumpet through the place.

120   But her late foe stopp'd short amidst his course,
121   One moment gaz'd upon her piteously. 
122   Then with a groan his lingering feet did force 
123   To leave the spot whence he her eyes could see; 
124   And, changed like one who knows his time must be 
125   But short and bitter, without any word 
126   He knelt before the bearer of the sword;

127   Then high rose up the gleaming deadly blade, 
128   Bar'd of its flowers, and through the crowded place 
129   Was silence now, and midst of it the maid 
130   Went by the poor wretch at a gentle pace, 
131   And he to hers upturn'd his sad white face; 
132   Nor did his eyes behold another sight 
133   Ere on his soul there fell eternal light.

134   So was the pageant ended, and all folk 
135   Talking of this and that familiar thing 
136   In little groups from that sad concourse broke, 
137   For now the shrill bats were upon the wing, 
138   And soon dark night would slay the evening, 
139   And in dark gardens sang the nightingale 
140   Her little-heeded, oft-repeated tale.

141   And with the last of all the hunter went, 
142   Who, wondering at the strange sight he had seen, 
143   Prayed an old man to tell him what it meant, 
144   Both why the vanquished man so slain had been, 
145   And if the maiden were an earthly queen, 
146   Or rather what much more she seemed to be, 
147   No sharer in this world's mortality.

148   "Stranger," said he, "I pray she soon may die 
149   Whose lovely youth has slain so many an one! 
150   King Schśneus' daughter is she verily, 
151   Who when her eyes first looked upon the sun 
152   Was fain to end her life but new begun, 
153   For he had vowed to leave but men alone 
154   Sprung from his loins when he from earth was gone.

155   "Therefore he bade one leave her in the wood, 
156   And let wild things deal with her as they might, 
157   But this being done, some cruel god thought good 
158   To save her beauty in the world's despite; 
159   Folk say that her, so delicate and white 
160   As now she is, a rough root-grubbing bear 
161   Amidst her shapeless cubs at first did rear.

162   "In course of time the woodfolk slew her nurse,
163   And to their rude abode the youngling brought,
164   And reared her up to be a kingdom's curse;
165   Who grown a woman, of no kingdom thought,
166   But armed and swift, 'mid beasts destruction wrought, 
167   Nor spared two shaggy centaur kings to slay 
168   To whom her body seemed an easy prey.

169   "So to this city, led by fate, she came 
170   Whom known by signs, whereof I cannot tell, 
171   King Schśneus for his child at last did claim. 
172   Nor otherwhere since that day doth she dwell 
173   Sending too many a noble soul to hell-- 
174   What! shine eyes glisten! what then, thinkest thou 
175   Her shining head unto the yoke to bow?

176   "Listen, my son, and love some other maid
177   For she the saffron gown will never wear,
178   And on no flower-strewn couch shall she be laid,
179   Nor shall her voice make glad a lover's ear:
180   Yet if of Death thou hast not any fear,
181   Yea, rather, if thou lov'st her utterly,
182   Thou still may'st woo her ere thou com'st to die,

183   "Like him that on this day thou sawest lie dead; 
184   For fearing as I deem the sea-born one; 
185   The maid has vowed e'en such a man to wed 
186   As in the course her swift feet can outrun, 
187   But whoso fails herein, his days are done: 
188   He came the nighest that was slain to-day, 
189   Although with him I deem she did but play.

190   "Behold, such mercy Atalanta gives 
191   To those that long to win her loveliness; 
192   Be wise! be sure that many a maid there lives 
193   Gentler than she, of beauty little less, 
194   Whose swimming eyes thy loving words shall bless, 
195   When in some garden, knee set close to knee, 
196   Thou sing'st the song that love may teach to thee."

197   So to the hunter spake that ancient man,
198   And left him for his own home presently:
199   But he turned round, and through the moonlight wan
200   Reached the thick wood, and there 'twixt tree and tree
201   Distraught he passed the long night feverishly,
202   'Twixt sleep and waking, and at dawn arose
203   To wage hot war against his speechless foes.

204   There to the hart's flank seemed his shaft to grow,
205   As panting down the broad green glades he flew,
206   There by his horn the Dryads well might know
207   His thrust against the bear's heart had been true,
208   And there Adonis' bane his javelin slew,
209   But still in vain through rough and smooth he went,
210   For none the more his restlessness was spent. 

211   So wandering, he to Argive cities came, 
212   And in the lists with valiant men he stood, 
213   And by great deeds he won him praise and fame, 
214   And heaps of wealth for little-valued blood; 
215   But none of all these things, or life, seemed good 
216   Unto his heart, where still unsatisfied 
217   A ravenous longing warred with fear and pride.

218   Therefore it happed when but a month had gone 
219   Since he had left King Schśneus' city old, 
220   In hunting-gear again, again alone 
221   The forest-bordered meads did he behold, 
222   Where still mid thoughts of August's quivering gold 
223   Folk hoed the wheat, and clipped the vine in trust 
224   Of faint October's purple-foaming must.

225   And once again he passed the peaceful gate,
226   While to his beating heart his lips did lie,
227   That owning not victorious love and fate,
228   Said, half aloud, "And here too must I try,
229   To win of alien men the mastery,
230   And gather for my head fresh meed of fame
231   And cast new glory on my father's name."

232   In spite of that, how beat his heart, when first
233   Folk said to him, "And art thou come to see
234   That which still makes our city's name accurst
235   Among all mothers for its cruelty?
236   Then know indeed that fate is good to thee
237   Because to-morrow a new luckless one
238   Against the white-foot maid is pledged to run."

239   So on the morrow with no curious eyes
240   As once he did, that piteous sight he saw,
241   Nor did that wonder in his heart arise
242   As toward the goal the conquering maid 'gan draw,
243   Nor did he gaze upon her eyes with awe,
244   Too full the pain of longing filled his heart
245   For fear or wonder there to have a part.

246   But O, how long the night was ere it went!
247   How long it was before the dawn begun
248   Showed to the wakening birds the sun's intent
249   That not in darkness should the world be done!
250   And then, and then, how long before the sun
251   Bade silently the toilers of the earth
252   Get forth to fruitless cares or empty mirth!

253   And long it seemed that in the market-place
254   He stood and saw the chaffering folk go by,
255   Ere from the ivory throne King Schśneus' face
256   Looked down upon the murmur royally,
257   But then came trembling that the time was nigh
258   When he midst pitying looks his love must claim,
259   And jeering voices must salute his name.

260   But as the throng he pierced to gain the throne,
261   His alien face distraught and anxious told 
262   What hopeless errand he was bound upon, 
263   And, each to each, folk whispered to behold 
264   His godlike limbs; nay, and one woman old 
265   As he went by must pluck him by the sleeve 
266   And pray him yet that wretched love to leave.

267   For sidling up she said, "Canst thou live twice, 
268   Fair son? canst thou have joyful youth again, 
269   That thus thou goest to the sacrifice 
270   Thyself the victim? nay then, all in vain 
271   Thy mother bore her longing and her pain, 
272   And one more maiden on the earth must dwell 
273   Hopeless of joy, nor fearing death and hell.

274   "O, fool, thou knowest not the compact then
275   That with the three-formed goddess she has made
276   To keep her from the loving lips of men,
277   And in no saffron gown to be arrayed,
278   And therewithal with glory to be paid,
279   And love of her the moonlit river sees
280   White 'gainst the shadow of the formless trees.

281   "Come back, and I myself will pray for thee 
282   Unto the sea-born framer of delights, 
283   To give thee her who on the earth may be 
284   The fairest stirrer up to death and fights, 
285   To quench with hopeful days and joyous nights 
286   The flame that doth thy youthful heart consume: 
287   Come back, nor give thy beauty to the tomb."

288   How should he listen to her earnest speech?
289   Words, such as he not once or twice had said
290   Unto himself, whose meaning scarce could reach
291   The firm abode of that sad hardihead--
292   He turned about, and through the marketstead 
293   Swiftly he passed, until before the throne 
294   In the cleared space he stood at last alone.

295   Then said the King, "Stranger, what dost thou here?
296   Have any of my folk done ill to thee?
297   Or art thou of the forest men in fear?
298   Or art thou of the sad fraternity
299   Who still will strive my daughter's mates to be,
300   Staking their lives to win an earthly bliss,
301   The lonely maid, the friend of Artemis?"

302   "O King," he said, "thou sayest the word indeed;
303   Nor will I quit the strife till I have won
304   My sweet delight, or death to end my need.
305   And know that I am called Milanion,
306   Of King Amphidamas the well-loved son:
307   So fear not that to thy old name, O King,
308   Much loss or shame my victory will bring."

309   "Nay, Prince," said Schśneus, "welcome to this land
310   Thou wert indeed, if thou wert here to try
311   Thy strength 'gainst some one mighty of his hand;
312   Nor would we grudge thee well-won mastery.
313   But now, why wilt thou come to me to die,
314   And at my door lay down thy luckless head,
315   Swelling the band of the unhappy dead,

316   "Whose curses even now my heart doth fear? 
317   Lo, I am old, and know what life can be, 
318   And what a bitter thing is death anear. 
319   O, Son! be wise, and harken unto me, 
320   And if no other can be dear to thee, 
321   At least as now, yet is the world full wide, 
322   And bliss in seeming hopeless hearts may hide:

323   "But if thou losest life, then all is lost."
324   "Nay, King," Milanion said, "thy words are vain. 
325   Doubt not that I have counted well the cost. 
326   But say, on what day wilt thou that I gain 
327   Fulfilled delight, or death to end my pain. 
328   Right glad were I if it could be to-day, 
329   And all my doubts at rest for ever lay."

330   "Nay," said King Schśneus, "thus it shall not be, 
331   But rather shalt thou let a month go by, 
332   And weary with thy prayers for victory 
333   What god thou know'st the kindest and most nigh. 
334   So doing, still perchance thou shalt not die: 
335   And with my goodwill wouldst thou have the maid, 
336   For of the equal gods I grow afraid.

337   "And until then, O Prince, be thou my guest, .
338   And all these troublous things awhile forget."
339   "Nay," said he, "couldst thou give my soul good rest,
340   And on mine head a sleepy garland set, 
341   Then had I 'scaped the meshes of the net,
342   Nor should thou hear from me another word;
343   But now, make sharp thy fearful heading-sword.

344   "Yet will I do what son of man may do,
345   And promise all the gods may most desire,
346   That to myself I may at least be true;
347   And on that day my heart and limbs so tire,
348   With utmost strain and measureless desire,
349   That, at the worst, I may but fall asleep
350   When in the sunlight round that sword shall sweep. "

351   He went therewith, nor anywhere would bide,
352   But unto Argos restlessly did wend;
353   And there, as one who lays all hope aside,
354   Because the leech has said his life must end,
355   Silent farewell he bade to foe and friend, 
356   And took his way unto the restless sea, 
357   For there he deemed his rest and help might be.

358   Upon the shore of Argolis there stands 
359   A temple to the goddess that he sought, 
360   That, turned unto the lion-bearing lands, 
361   Fenced from the east, of cold winds hath no thought, 
362   Though to no homestead there the sheaves are brought, 
363   No groaning press torments the close-clipped murk, 
364   Lonely the fane stands, far from all men's work.

365   Pass through a close, set thick with myrtle-trees, 
366   Through the brass doors that guard the holy place, 
367   And entering, hear the washing of the seas 
368   That twice a-day rise high above the base, 
369   And with the south-west urging them, embrace 
370   The marble feet of her that standeth there 
371   That shrink not, naked though they be and fair.

372   Small is the fane through which the sea-wind sings 
373   About Queen Venus' well-wrought image white, 
374   But hung around are many precious things, 
375   The gifts of those who, longing for delight, 
376   Have hung them there within the goddess' sight, 
377   And in return have taken at her hands 
378   The living treasures of the Grecian lands.

379   And thither now has come Milanion,
380   And showed unto the priests' wide open eyes
381   Gifts fairer than all those that there have shone,
382   Silk cloths, inwrought with Indian fantasies,
383   And bowls inscribed with sayings of the wise
384   Above the deeds of foolish living things;
385   And mirrors fit to be the gifts of kings.

386   And now before the Sea-born One he stands,
387   By the sweet veiling smoke made dim and soft,
388   And while the incense trickles from his hands,
389   And while the odorous smoke-wreaths hang aloft,
390   Thus doth he pray to her: "O Thou, who oft
391   Hast holpen man and maid in their distress
392   Despise me not for this my wretchedness!

393   "O goddess, among us who dwelt below,
394   Kings and great men, great for a little while,
395   Have pity on the lowly heads that bow,
396   Nor hate the hearts that love them without guile;
397   Wilt thou be worse than these, and is thy smile
398   A vain device of him who set thee here,
399   An empty dream of some artificer?

400   "O great one, some men love, and are ashamed;
401   Some men are weary of the bonds of love;
402   Yea, and by some men lightly art thou blamed,
403   That from thy toils their lives they cannot move,
404   And 'mid the ranks of men their manhood prove.
405   Alas! O goddess, if thou slayest me,
406   What new immortal can I serve but thee?

407   "Think then, will it bring honour to thy head
408   If folk say, 'Everything aside he cast
409   And to all fame and honour was he dead,
410   And to his one hope now is dead at last,
411   Since all unholpen he is gone and past;
412   Ah, the gods love not man, for certainly,
413   He to his helper did not cease to cry.'

414   "Nay, but thou wilt help; they who died before
415   Not single-hearted as I deem came here,
416   Therefore unthanked they laid their gifts before
417   Thy stainless feet, still shivering with their fear,
418   Lest in their eyes their true thought might appear,
419   Who sought to be the lords of that fair town,
420   Dreaded of men and winners of renown.

421   "O Queen, thou knowest I pray not for this: 
422   O set us down together in some place 
423   Where not a voice can break our heaven of bliss, 
424   Where nought but rocks and I can see her face, 
425   Softening beneath the marvel of thy grace, 
426   Where not a foot our vanished steps can track-- 
427   The golden age, the golden age come back!

428   "O fairest, hear me now who do thy will, 
429   Plead for thy rebel that she be not slain, 
430   But live and love and be thy servant still; 
431   Ah, give her joy and take away my pain, 
432   And thus two long-enduring servants gain. 
433   An easy thing this is to do for me, 
434   What need of my vain words to weary thee.

435   "But none the less, this place will I not leave
436   Until I needs must go my death to meet,
437   Or at thy hands some happy sign receive
438   That in great joy we twain may one day greet
439   Thy presence here and kiss thy silver feet,
440   Such as we deem thee, fair beyond all words,
441   Victorious o'er our servants and our lords."

442   Then from the altar back a space he drew,
443   But from the Queen turned not his face away,
444   But 'gainst a pillar leaned, until the blue
445   That arched the sky, at ending of the day,
446   Was turned to ruddy gold and changing gray,
447   And clear, but low, the nigh-ebbed windless sea
448   In the still evening murmured ceaselessly.

449   And there he stood when all the sun was down,
450   Nor had he moved, when the dim golden light, 
451   Like the fair lustre of a godlike town, 
452   Had left the world to seeming hopeless night, 
453   Nor would he move the more when wan moonlight 
454   Streamed through the pillows for a little while, 
455   And lighted up the white Queen's changeless smile.

456   Nought noted he the shallow-flowing sea 
457   As step by step it set the wrack a-swim; 
458   The yellow torchlight nothing noted he 
459   Wherein with fluttering gown and half-bared limb 
460   The temple damsels sung their midnight hymn;
461   And nought the doubled stillness of the fane 
462   When they were gone and all was hushed again.

463   But when the waves had touched the marble base, 
464   And steps the fish swim over twice a-day, 
465   The dawn beheld him sunken in his place 
466   Upon the floor; and sleeping there he lay, 
467   Not heeding aught the little jets of spray 
468   The roughened sea brought nigh, across him cast, 
469   For as one dead all thought from him had passed.

470   Yet long before the sun had showed his head,
471   Long ere the varied hangings on the wall 
472   Had gained once more their blue and green and red, 
473   He rose as one some well-known sign doth call 
474   When war upon the city's gates doth fall, 
475   And scarce like one fresh risen out of sleep, 
476   He 'gan again his broken watch to keep.

477   Then he turned round; not for the sea-gull's cry 
478   That wheeled above the temple in his flight, 
479   Not for the fresh south wind that lovingly 
480   Breathed on the new-born day and dying night,
481   But some strange hope 'twixt fear and great delight
482   Drew round his face, now flushed, now pale and wan,
483   And still constrained his eyes the sea to scan.

484   Now a faint light lit up the southern sky,
485   Not sun or moon, for all the world was gray,
486   But this a bright cloud seemed, that drew anigh,
487   Lighting the dull waves that beneath it lay
488   As toward the temple still it took its way,
489   And still grew greater, till Milanion
490   Saw nought for dazzling light that round him shone.

491   But as he staggered with his arms outspread,
492   Delicious unnamed odours breathed around,
493   For languid happiness he bowed his head,
494   And with wet eyes sank down upon the ground,
495   Nor wished for aught, nor any dream he found
496   To give him reason for that happiness,
497   Or make him ask more knowledge of his bliss.

498   At last his eyes were cleared, and he could see
499   Through happy tears the goddess face to face
500   With that faint image of Divinity,
501   Whose well-wrought smile and dainty changeless grace
502   Until that morn so gladdened all the place;
503   Then, he unwitting cried aloud her name
504   And covered up his eyes for fear and shame.

505   But through the stillness he her voice could hear 
506   Piercing his heart with joy scarce bearable, 
507   That said, "Milanion, wherefore dost thou fear, 
508   I am not hard to those who love me well; 
509   List to what I a second time will tell, 
510   And thou mayest hear perchance, and live to save 
511   The cruel maiden from a loveless grave.

512   "See, by my feet three golden apples lie-- 
513   Such fruit among the heavy roses falls, 
514   Such fruit my watchful damsels carefully 
515   Store up within the best loved of my walls, 
516   Ancient Damascus, where the lover calls 
517   Above my unseen head, and faint and light 
518   The rose-leaves flutter round me in the night.

519   "And note, that these are not alone most fair
520   With heavenly gold, but longing strange they bring
521   Unto the hearts of men, who will not care
522   Beholding these, for any once-loved thing
523   Till round the shining sides their fingers cling.
524   And thou shalt see thy well-girt swift-foot maid
525   By sight of these amidst her glory stayed.

526   "For bearing these within a scrip with thee,
527   When first she heads thee from the starting-place
528   Cast down the first one for her eyes to see,
529   And when she turns aside make on apace,
530   And if again she heads thee in the race
531   Spare not the other two to cast aside
532   If she not long enough behind will bide.

533   "Farewell, and when has come the happy time 
534   That she Diana's raiment must unbind 
535   And all the world seems blessed with Saturn's clime, 
536   And thou with eager arms about her twined 
537   Beholdest first her gray eyes growing kind,
538   Surely, O trembler, thou shalt scarcely then 
539   Forget the Helper of unhappy men."

540   Milanion raised his head at this last word
541   For now so soft and kind she seemed to be
542   No longer of her Godhead was he feared;
543   Too late he looked; for nothing could he see
544   But the white image glimmering doubtfully 
545   In the departing twilight cold and gray, 
546   And those three apples on the step that lay.

547   These then he caught up quivering with delight, 
548   Yet fearful lest it all might be a dream; 
549   And though aweary with the watchful night, 
550   And sleepless nights of longing, still did deem 
551   He could not sleep; but yet the first sunbeam 
552   That smote the fane across the heaving deep 
553   Shone on him laid in calm, untroubled sleep.

554   But little ere the noontide did he rise, 
555   And why he felt so happy scarce could tell 
556   Until the gleaming apples met his eyes. 
557   Then leaving the fair place where this befell 
558   Oft he looked back as one who loved it well, 
559   Then homeward to the haunts of men, 'gan wend 
560   To bring all things unto a happy end.

561   Now has the lingering month at last gone by, 
562   Again are all folk round the running place, 
563   Nor other seems the dismal pageantry 
564   Than heretofore, but that another face 
565   Looks o'er the smooth course ready for the race, 
566   For now, beheld of all, Milanion 
567   Stands on the spot he twice has looked upon.

568   But yet--what change is this that holds the maid? 
569   Does she indeed see in his glittering eye 
570   More than disdain of the sharp shearing blade,
571   Some happy hope of help and victory? 
572   The others seem'd to say, "We come to die; 
573   Look down upon us for a little while, 
574   That, dead, we may bethink us of thy smile."

575   But he--what look of mastery was this
576   He cast on her? why were his lips so red;
577   Why was his face so flush'd with happiness?
578   So looks not one who deems himself but dead,
579   E'en if to death he bows a willing head;
580   So rather looks a god well pleas'd to find
581   Some earthly damsel fashion'd to his mind,

582   Why must she drop her lids before his gaze, 
583   And even as she casts adown her eyes 
584   Redden to note his eager glance of praise, 
585   And wish that she were clad in other guise? 
586   Why must the memory to her heart arise 
587   Of things unnoticed when they first were heard, 
588   Some lover's song, some answering maiden's word?

589   What makes these longings, vague--without a name, 
590   And this vain pity never felt before, 
591   This sudden languor, this contempt of fame, 
592   This tender sorrow for the time past o'er, 
593   These doubts that grow each minute more and more? 
594   Why does she tremble as the time grows near, 
595   And weak defeat and woeful victory fear?

596   But while she seem'd to hear her beating heart,
597   Above their heads the trumpet blast rang out
598   And forth they sprang, and she must play her part;
599   Then flew her white feet, knowing not a doubt,
600   Though, slackening once, she turn'd her head about,
601   But then she cried aloud and faster fled
602   Than e'er before, and all men deemed him dead.

603   But with no sound he raised aloft his hand,
604   And thence what seemed a ray of light there flew
605   And past the maid rolled on along the sand;
606   Then trembling she her feet together drew
607   And in her heart a strong desire there grew 
608   To have the toy, some god she thought had given 
609   That gift to her, to make of earth a heaven.

610   Then from the course with eager steps she ran,
611   And in her odorous bosom laid the gold. 
612   But when she turned again, the great-limbed man, 
613   Now well ahead she failed not to behold, 
614   And mindful of her glory waxing cold, 
615   Sprang up and followed him in hot pursuit, 
616   Though with one hand she touched the golden fruit.

617   Note, too, the bow that she was wont to bear 
618   She laid aside to grasp the glittering prize, 
619   And o'er her shoulder from the quiver fair 
620   Three arrows fell and lay before her eyes 
621   Unnoticed, as amidst the people's cries 
622   She sprang to head the strong Milanion, 
623   Who now the turning-post had well-nigh won.

624   But as he set his mighty hand on it
625   White fingers underneath his own were laid,
626   And white limbs from his dazzled eyes did flit,
627   Then he the second fruit cast by the maid:
628   She ran awhile, and then as one afraid
629   Wavered and stopped, and turned and made no stay,
630   Until the globe with its bright fellow lay. 

631   Then, as a troubled glance she cast around,
632   Now far ahead the Argive could she see,
633   And in her garment's hem one hand she wound
634   To keep the double prize, and strenuously
635   Sped o'er the course, and little doubt had she
636   To win the day, though now but scanty space
637   Was left betwixt him and the winning place.

638   Short was the way unto such wingčd feet, 
639   Quickly she gained upon him till at last 
640   He turned about her eager eyes to meet 
641   And from his hand the third fair apple cast. 
642   She wavered not, but turned and ran so fast 
643   After the prize that should her bliss fulfil, 
644   That in her hand it lay ere it was still.

645   Nor did she rest, but turned about to win
646   Once more, an unblest woeful victory--
647   And yet--and yet--why does her breath begin
648   To fail her, and her feet drag heavily?
649   Why fails she now to see if far or nigh
650   The goal is? why do her gray eyes grow dim?
651   Why do these tremors run through every limb?

652   She spreads her arms abroad some stay to find
653   Else must she fall, indeed, and findeth this,
654   A strong man's arms about her body twined.
655   Nor may she shudder now to feel his kiss,
656   So wrapped she is in new unbroken bliss:
657   Made happy that the foe the prize hath won,
658   She weeps glad tears for all her glory done.

659   Shatter the trumpet, hew adown the posts!
660   Upon the brazen altar break the sword,
661   And scatter incense to appease the ghosts
662   Of those who died here by their own award.
663   Bring forth the image of the mighty Lord,
664   And her who unseen o'er the runners hung,
665   And did a deed for ever to be sung.

666   Here are the gathered folk; make no delay,
667   Open King Schśneus' well-filled treasury,
668   Bring out the gifts long hid from light of day,
669   The golden bowls o'erwrought with imagery,
670   Gold chains, and unguents brought from over sea,
671   The saffron gown the old Phśnician brought, 
672   Within the temple of the Goddess wrought.

673   O ye, O damsels, who shall never see
674   Her, that Love's servant bringeth now to you,
675   Returning from another victory,
676   In some cool bower do all that now is due!
677   Since she in token of her service new
678   Shall give to Venus offerings rich enow,
679   Her maiden zone, her arrows and her bow. 

To learn more about Atalanta in Greek mythology, go here.