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The Earthly Paradise: The Lady of the Land
William Morris, 1868

1     It happened once, some men of Italy
2     Midst the Greek Islands went a sea-roving,
3     And much good fortune had they on the sea:
4     Of many a man they had the ransoming,
5     And many a chain they gat and goodly thing;
6     And midst their voyage to an isle they came,
7     Whereof my story keepeth not the name. 

8     Now though but little was there left to gain,
9     Because the richer folk had gone away,
10   Yet since by this of water they were fain
11   They came to anchor in a land-locked bay,
12   Whence in a while some went ashore to play,
13   Going but lightly armed in twos or threes,
14   For midst that folk they feared no enemies. 

15   And of these fellows that thus went ashore,
16   One was there who left all his friends behind;
17   Who going inland ever more and more,
18   And being left quite alone, at last did find
19   A lonely valley sheltered from the wind,
20   Wherein, amidst an ancient cypress wood,
21   A long-deserted ruined castle stood. 

22   The wood, once ordered in fair grove and glade,
23   With gardens overlooked by terraces,
24   And marble-pavèd pools for pleasure made,
25   Was tangled now and choked with fallen trees;
26   And he who went there, with but little ease
27   Must stumble by the stream's side, once made meet
28   For tender women's dainty wandering feet. 

29   The raven's croak, the low wind choked and drear,
30   The baffled stream, the grey wolf's doleful cry,
31   Were all the sounds that mariner could hear,
32   As through the wood he wandered painfully;
33   But as unto the house he drew anigh,
34   The pillars of a ruined shrine he saw,
35   The once fair temple of a fallen law. 

36   No image was there left behind to tell
37   Before whose face the knees of men had bowed;
38   An altar of black stone, of old wrought well,
39   Alone beneath a ruined roof now showed
40   The goal whereto the folk were wont to crowd,
41   Seeking for things forgotten long ago,
42   Praying for heads long ages laid a-low. 

43   Close to the temple was the castle-gate,
44   Doorless and crumbling; there our fellow turned,
45   Trembling indeed at what might chance to wait
46   The prey entrapped, yet with a heart that burned
47   To know the most of what might there be learned,
48   And hoping somewhat too, amid his fear,
49   To light on such things as all men hold dear. 

50   Noble the house was, nor seemed built for war,
51   But rather like the work of other days,
52   When men, in better peace than now they are,
53   Had leisure on the world around to gaze,
54   And noted well the past times' changing ways;
55   And fair with sculptured stories it was wrought,
56   By lapse of time unto dim ruin brought. 

57   Now as he looked about on all these things
58   And strove to read the mouldering histories,
59   Above the door an image with wide wings,
60     Whose unclad limbs a serpent seemed to seize,
61   He dimly saw, although the western breeze
62   And years of biting frost and washing rain
63   Had made the carver's lab our well-nigh vain. 

64   But this, though perished sore and worn away,
65   He noted well, because it seemed to be,
66   After the fashion of another day,
67   Some great man's badge of war or armoury;
68   And round it a carved wreath he seemed to see:
69   But taking note of these things, at the last
70   The mariner beneath the gateway passed. 

71   And there a lovely cloistered court he found,
72   A fountain in the mist o'erthrown and dry,
73   And in the cloister briers twining round
74   The slender shafts; the wondrous imagery
75   Outworn by more than many years gone by;
76   Because the country people, in their fear
77   Of wizardry, had wrought destruction here, 

78   And piteously these fair things had been maimed;
79   There stood great Jove, lacking his head of might;
80   Here was the archer, swift Apollo, lamed;
81   The shapely limbs of Venus hid from sight
82   By weeds and shards; Diana's ankles light
83   Bound with the cable of some coasting ship;
84   And rusty nails through Helen's maddening lip. 

85   Therefrom unto the chambers did he pass,
86   And found them fair still, midst of their decay,
87   Though in them now no sign of man there was,
88   And everything but stone had passed away
89   That made them lovely in that vanished day;
90   Nay, the mere walls themselves would soon be gone
91   And nought be left but heaps of mouldering stone. 

92   But he, when all the place he had gone o'er,
93   And with much trouble clomb the broken stair,
94   And from the topmost turret seen the shore
95   And his good ship drawn up at anchor there,
96   Came down again, and found a crypt most fair
97   Built wonderfully beneath the greatest hall,
98   And there he saw a door within the wall, 

99   Well-hinged, close shut; nor was there in that place
100 Another on its hinges, therefore he
101 Stood there and pondered for a little space
102 And thought: "Perchance some marvel I shall see,
103 For surely here some dweller there must be,
104 Because this door seems whole and new and sound,
105 While nought but ruin I can see around." 

106 So with that word, moved by a strong desire,
107 He tried the hasp, that yielded to his hand,
108 And in a strange place, lit as by a fire
109 Unseen but near, he presently did stand;
110 And by an odorous breeze his face was fanned,
111 As though in some Arabian plain he stood,
112 Anigh the border of a spice-tree wood. 

113 He moved not for awhile, but looking round,
114 He wondered much to see the place so fair,
115 Because, unlike the castle above ground,
116 No pillager or wrecker had been there;
117 It seemed that time had passed on otherwhere,
118 Nor laid a finger on this hidden place
119 Rich with the wealth of some forgotten race. 

120 With hangings, fresh as when they left the loom,
121 The walls were hung a space above the head,
122 Slim ivory chairs were set about the room,
123 And in one corner was a dainty bed
124 That seemed for some fair queen apparellèd;
125 And marble was the worst stone on the floor,
126 That with rich Indian webs was covered o'er. 

127 The wanderer trembled when he saw all this,
128 Because he deemed by magic it was wrought;
129 Yet in his heart a longing for some bliss
130 Whereof the hard and changing world knows nought, 
131 Arose and urged him on, and dimmed the thought
132 That there perchance some devil lurked to slay
133 The heedless wanderer from the light of day. 

134 Over against him was another door
135 Set in the wall, so casting fear aside,
136 With hurried steps he crossed the varied floor,
137 And there again the silver latch he tried
138 And with no pain the door he opened wide,
139 And entering the new chamber cautiously
140 The glory of great heaps of gold could see. 

141 Upon the floor uncounted medals lay
142 Like things of little value; here and there
143 Stood golden caldrons, that might well outweigh
144 The biggest midst an emperor's copper-ware,
145 And golden cups were set on tables fair,
146 Themselves of gold; and in all hollow things
147 Were stored great gems, worthy the crowns of kings. 

148 The walls and roof with gold were overlaid,
149 And precious raiment from the wall hung down;
150 The fall of kings that treasure might have stayed,
151 Or gained some longing conqueror great renown,
152 Or built again some God-destroyed old town;
153 What wonder if this plunderer of the sea
154 Stood gazing at it long and dizzily? 

155 But at the last his troubled eyes and dazed
156 He lifted from the glory of that gold,
157 And then the image, that well-nigh erased
158 Over the castle-gate he did behold,
159 Above a door well wrought in coloured gold
160 Again he saw; a naked girl with wings
161 Enfolded in a serpent's scaly rings. 

162 And even as his eyes were fixed on it
163 A woman's voice came from the other side,
164 And through his heart strange hopes began to flit
165 That in some wondrous land he might abide
166 Not dying, master of a deathless bride,
167 So o'er the gold which now he scarce could see
168 He went, and passed this last door eagerly. 

169 Then in a room he stood wherein there was
170 A marble bath, whose brimming water yet
171 Was scarcely still; a vessel of green glass
172 Half full of odorous ointment was there set
173 Upon the topmost step that still was wet,
174 And jewelled shoes and women's dainty gear,
175 Lay cast upon the varied pavement near. 

176 In one quick glance these things his eyes did see,
177 But speedily they turned round to behold
178 Another sight, for throned on ivory
179 There sat a woman, whose wet tresses rolled
180 On to the floor in waves of gleaming gold,
181 Cast back from such a form as, erewhile shown
182 To one poor shepherd, lighted up Troy town. 

183 Naked she was, the kisses of her feet
184 Upon the floor a dying path had made
185 From the full bath unto her ivory seat;
186 In her right hand, upon her bosom laid,
187 She held a golden comb, a mirror weighed
188 Her left hand down, aback her fair head lay
189 Dreaming awake of some long vanished day. 

190 Her eyes were shut but she seemed not to sleep,
191 Her lips were murmuring things unheard and low,
192 Or sometimes twitched as though she needs must weep,
193 Though from her eyes the tears refused to flow,
194 And oft with heavenly red her cheek did glow,
195 As if remembrance of some half-sweet shame
196 Across the web of many memories came. 

197 There stood the man, scarce daring to draw breath
198 For fear the lovely sight should fade away;
199 Forgetting heaven, forgetting life and death,
200 Trembling for fear lest something he should say
201 Unwitting, lest some sob should yet betray
202 His presence there, for to his eager eyes
203 Already did the tears begin to rise. 

204 But as he gazed she moved, and with a sigh
205 Bent forward, dropping down her golden head:
206 "Alas, alas! another day gone by,
207 Another day and no soul come," she said;
208 "Another year, and still I am not dead!"
209 And with that word once more her head she raised,
210 And on the trembling man with great eyes gazed. 

211 Then he imploring hands to her did reach,
212 And toward her very slowly 'gan to move
213 And with wet eyes her pity did beseech,
214 And seeing her about to speak he strove
215 From trembling lips to utter words of love;
216 But with a look she stayed his doubtful feet,
217 And made sweet music as their eyes did meet. 

218 For now she spoke in gentle voice and clear,
219 Using the Greek tongue that he knew full well:
220 "What man art thou that thus hast wandered here,
221 And found this lonely chamber where I dwell?
222 Beware, beware! for I have many a spell;
223 If greed of power and gold have led thee on,
224 Not lightly shall this untold wealth be won. 

225 "But if thou com'st here knowing of my tale,
226 In hope to bear away my body fair,
227 Stout must thine heart be, nor shall that avail
228 If thou a wicked soul in thee dost bear;
229 So once again I bid thee to beware,
230 Because no base man things like this may see,
231 And live thereafter long and happily." 

232 "Lady," he said, "in Florence is my home,
233 And in my city noble is my name;
234 Neither on peddling voyage am I come,
235 But, like my fathers, bent to gather fame;
236 And though thy face has set my heart a-flame
237 Yet of thy story nothing do I know
238 But here have wandered heedlessly enow. 

239 "But since the sight of thee mine eyes did bless,
240 What can I be but thine? what would'st thou have?
241 From those thy words, I deem from some distress
242 By deeds of mine thy dear life I might save;
243 O then, delay not! if one ever gave
244 His life to any, mine I give to thee;
245 Come, tell me what the price of love must be? 

246 "Swift death, to be with thee a day and night
247 And with the earliest dawning to be slain?
248 Or better, a long year of great delight,
249 And many years of misery and pain?
250 Or worse, and this poor hour for all my gain?
251 A sorry merchant am I on this day,
252 E'en as thou willest so must I obey." 

253 She said, "What brave words! nought divine am I,
254 But an unhappy and unheard-of maid
255 Compelled by evil fate and destiny
256 To live, who long ago should have been laid
257 Under the earth within the cypress shade.
258 Hearken awhile, and quickly shalt thou know
259 What deed I pray thee to accomplish now. 

260 "God grant indeed thy words are not for nought!
261 Then shalt thou save me, since for many a day
262 To such a dreadful life I have been brought:
263 Nor will I spare with all my heart to pay
264 What man soever takes my grief away;
265 Ah! I will love thee, if thou lovest me
266 But well enough my saviour now to be. 

267 "My father lived a many years agone
268 Lord of this land, master of all cunning,
269 Who ruddy gold could draw from out grey stone
270 And gather wealth from many an uncouth thing;
271 He made the wilderness rejoice and sing,
272 And such a leech he was that none could say
273 Without his word what soul should pass away. 

274 "Unto Diana such a gift he gave,
275 Goddess above, below and on the earth,
276 That I should be her virgin and her slave
277 From the first hour of my most wretched birth;
278 Therefore my life had known but little mirth
279 When I had come unto my twentieth year
280 And the last time of hallowing drew anear. 

281 "So in her temple had I lived and died
282 And all would long ago have passed away,
283 But ere that time came, did strange things betide,
284 Whereby I am alive unto this day;
285 Alas, the bitter words that I must say!
286 Ah! can I bring my wretched tongue to tell
287 How I was brought unto this fearful hell. 

288 "A queen I was, what Gods I knew I loved,
289 And nothing evil was there in my thought,
290 And yet by love my wretched heart was moved
291 Until to utter ruin I was brought!
292 Alas! thou sayest our gods were vain and nought,
293 Wait, wait, till thou hast heard this tale of mine,
294 Then shalt thou think them devilish or divine. 

295 "Hearken! in spite of father and of vow
296 I loved a man; but for that sin I think
297 Men had forgiven me--yea, yea, even thou;
298 But from the Gods the full cup must I drink
299 And into misery unheard-of sink,
300 Tormented when their own names are forgot,
301 And men must doubt e'er if they lived or not. 

302 "Glorious my lover was unto my sight,
303 Most beautiful; of love we grew so fain
304 That we at last agreed, that on a night
305 We should be happy, but that he were slain
306 Or shut in hold; and neither joy nor pain
307 Should else forbid that hoped-for time to be;
308 So came the night that made a wretch of me. 

309 "Ah! well do I remember all that night,
310 When through the window shone the orb of June,
311 And by the bed flickered the taper's light,
312 Whereby I trembled, gazing at the moon:
313 Ah me! the meeting that we had, when soon
314 Into his strong, well-trusted arms I fell
315 And many a sorrow we began to tell. 

316 "Ah me! what parting on that night we had!
317 I think the story of my great despair
318 A little while might merry folk make sad;
319 For, as he swept away my yellow hair
320 To make my shoulder and my bosom bare,
321 I raised mine eyes, and shuddering could behold
322 A shadow cast upon the bed of gold: 

323 "Then suddenly was quenched my hot desire
324 And he untwined his arms; the moon so pale
325 A while ago, seemed changed to blood and fire,
326 And yet my limbs beneath me did not fail,
327 And neither had I strength to cry or wail,
328 But stood there helpless, bare and shivering,
329 With staring eyes still fixed upon the thing. 

330 "Because the shade that on the bed of gold
331 The changed and dreadful moon was throwing down
332 Was of Diana, whom I did behold
333 With knotted hair and shining girt-up gown,
334 And on the high white brow a deadly frown
335 Bent upon us, who stood scarce drawing breath,
336 Striving to meet the horrible sure death. 

337 "No word at all the dreadful Goddess said,
338 But soon across my feet my lover lay,
339 And well indeed I knew that he was dead;
340 And would that I had died on that same day!
341 For in a while the image turned away,
342 And without words my doom I understood,
343 And felt a horror change my human blood. 

344 "And there I fell, and on the floor I lay
345 By the dead man, till daylight came on me,
346 And not a word thenceforward could I say
347 For three years; till of grief and misery,
348 The lingering pest, the cruel enemy,
349 My father and his folk were dead and gone,
350 And in this castle I was left alone: 

351 "And then the doom foreseen upon me fell,
352 For Queen Diana did my body change
353 Into a fork-tongued dragon flesh and fell,
354 And through the island nightly do I range,
355 Or in the green sea mate with monsters strange,
356 When in the middle of the moonlit night
357 The sleepy mariner I do affright. 

358 "But all day long upon this gold I lie
359 Within this place, where never mason's hand
360 Smote trowel on the marble noisily;
361 Drowsy I lie, no folk at my command,
362 Who once was called the Lady of the Land;
363 Who might have bought a kingdom with a kiss,
364 Yea, half the world with such a sight as this." 

365 And therewithal, with rosy fingers light,
366 Backward her heavy-hanging hair she threw,
367 To give her naked beauty more to sight;
368 But when, forgetting all the things he knew,
369 Maddened with love unto the prize he drew,
370 She cried: "Nay, wait! for wherefore wilt thou die,
371 Why should we not be happy, thou and I? 

372 "Wilt thou not save me? once in every year
373 This rightful form of mine that thou dost see
374 By favour of the Goddess have I here
375 From sunrise unto sunset given me,
376 That some brave man may end my misery.
377 And thou--art thou not brave? can thy heart fail,
378 Whose eyes e'en now are weeping at my tale? 

379 "Then listen! when this day is overpast,
380 A fearful monster shall I be again,
381 And thou mayst be my saviour at the last,
382 Unless, once more, thy words are nought and vain.
383 If thou of love and sovereignty art fain,
384 Come thou next morn, and when thou seest here
385 A hideous dragon, have thereof no fear, 

386 "But take the loathsome head up in thine hands
387 And kiss it, and be master presently
388 Of twice the wealth that is in all the lands
389 From Cathay to the head of Italy;
390 And master also, if it pleaseth thee,
391 Of all thou praisest as so fresh and bright,
392 Of what thou callest crown of all delight. 

393 "Ah! with what joy then shall I see again
394 The sunlight on the green grass and the trees,
395 And hear the clatter of the summer rain,
396 And see the joyous folk beyond the seas.
397 Ah, me! to hold my child upon my knees
398 After the weeping of unkindly tears
399 And all the wrongs of these four hundred years. 

400 "Go now, go quick! leave this grey heap of stone; 
401 And from thy glad heart think upon thy way,
402 How I shall love thee--yea, love thee alone,
403 That bringest me from dark death unto day;
404 For this shall be thy wages and thy pay;
405 Unheard-of wealth, unheard-of love is near,
406 If thou hast heart a little dread to bear." 

407 Therewith she turned to go; but he cried out:
408 "Ah! wilt thou leave me then without one kiss,
409 To slay the very seeds of fear and doubt,
410 That glad to-morrow may bring certain bliss?
411 Hast thou forgotten how love lives by this,
412 The memory of some hopeful close embrace,
413 Low whispered words within some lonely place?" 

414 But she, when his bright glittering eyes she saw
415 And burning cheeks, cried out: "Alas, alas!
416 Must I be quite undone, and wilt thou draw
417 A worse fate on me than the first one was?
418 O haste thee from this fatal place to pass!
419 Yet, ere thou goest, take this, lest thou shouldst deem
420 Thou hast been fooled by some strange midday dream." 

421 So saying, blushing like a new-kissed maid,
422 From off her neck a little gem she drew,
423 That 'twixt those snowy rose-tinged hillocks laid,
424 The secrets of her glorious beauty knew;
425 And ere he well perceived what she would do,
426 She touched his hand, the gem within it lay,
427 And, turning, from his sight she fled away. 

428 Then at the doorway where her rosy heel
429 Had glanced and vanished, he awhile did stare,
430 And still upon his hand he seemed to feel
431 The varying kisses of her fingers fair;
432 Then turned he toward the dreary crypt and bare,
433 And dizzily throughout the castle passed
434 Till by the ruined fane he stood at last. 

435 Then weighing still the gem within his hand,
436 He stumbled backward through the cypress wood,
437 Thinking the while of some strange lovely land
438 Where all his life should be most fair and good;
439 Till on the valley's wall of hills he stood,
440 And slowly thence passed down unto the bay
441 Red with the death of that bewildering day. 

442 The next day came, and he, who all the night
443 Had ceaselessly been turning in his bed,
444 Arose and clad himself in armour bright,
445 And many a danger he rememberèd;
446 Storming of towns, lone sieges full of dread,
447 That with renown his heart had borne him through,
448 And this thing seemed a little thing to do. 

449 So on he went, and on the way he thought
450 Of all the glorious things of yesterday,
451 Nought of the price whereat they must be bought,
452 But ever to himself did softly say
453 "No roaming now, my wars are passed away,
454 No long dull days devoid of happiness,
455 When such a love my yearning heart shall bless." 

456 Thus to the castle did he come at last,
457 But when unto the gateway he drew near,
458 And underneath its ruined archway passed
459 Into the court, a strange noise did he hear,
460 And through his heart there shot a pang of fear;
461 Trembling, he gat his sword into his hand,
462 And midmost of the cloisters took his stand. 

463 But for a while that unknown noise increased,
464 A rattling, that with strident roars did blend
465 And whining moans; but suddenly it ceased,
466 A fearful thing stood at the cloister's end
467 And eyed him for a while, then 'gan to wend
468 Adown the cloisters, and began again
469 That rattling, and the moan like fiends in pain. 

470 And as it came on towards him, with its teeth
471 The body of a slain goat did it tear,
472 The blood whereof in its hot jaws did seethe,
473 And on its tongue he saw the smoking hair;
474 Then his heart sank, and standing trembling there,
475 Throughout his mind wild thoughts and fearful ran:
476 "Some fiend she was," he said, "the bane of man." 

477 Yet he abode her still, although his blood
478 Curdled within him: the thing dropped the goat,
479 And creeping on, came close to where he stood,
480 And raised its head to him and wrinkled throat.
481 Then he cried out and wildly at her smote,
482 Shutting his eyes, and turned and from the place
483 Ran swiftly, with a white and ghastly face. 

484 But little things rough stones and tree-trunks seemed,
485 And if he fell, he rose and ran on still;
486 No more he felt his hurts than if he dreamed,
487 He made no stay for valley or steep hill,
488 Heedless he dashed through many a foaming rill,
489 Until he came unto the ship at last
490 And with no word into the deep hold passed. 

491 Meanwhile the dragon, seeing him clean gone,
492 Followed him not, but crying horribly,
493 Caught up within her jaws a block of stone
494 And ground it into powder, then turned she,
495 With cries that folk could hear far out at sea,
496 And reached the treasure set apart of old,
497 To brood above the hidden heaps of gold. 

498 Yet was she seen again on many a day
499 By some half-waking mariner or herd,
500 Playing amid the ripples of the bay,
501 Or on the hills making all things afeard,
502 Or in the wood that did that castle gird,
503 But never any man again durst go
504 To seek her woman 's form, and end her woe. 

505 As for the man, who knows what things he bore?
506 What mournful faces peopled the sad night,
507 What wailings vexed him with reproaches sore,
508 What images of that nigh-gained delight!
509 What dreamed caresses from soft hands and white,
510 Turning to horrors ere they reached the best;
511 What struggles vain, what shame, what huge unrest? 

512 No man he knew, three days he lay and raved
513 And cried for death, until a lethargy
514 Fell on him, and his fellows thought him saved;
515 But on the third night he awoke to die;
516 And at Byzantium doth his body lie
517 Between two blossoming pomegranate trees,
518 Within the churchyard of the Genoese.
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