Proserpina and the Sea-Nymphs

PROSERPINA

I TIRE of these embroideries.
Now I have gilded all my stars,
And plumed with light my ilex trees,
And made the moon and sun, there is
The sea to finish. Only this
Eludes my eager hand and mars
The beauty of my tapestry.
Which color of the changeful sea
Would she most love, my mother? Blue
Superbly shadowed like her hood,
Or blazing, like her peacock? — hue
Of dawn or wine, or purple silk
With foamy fringes white as milk?
There is a gray-green, much her mood
In early Spring. — Nay, I must go
And ask the sea-nymphs. They will know.

SEA-NYMPHS SINGING

Mother Ceres’ daughter
Straying down the shore,
Brings with her a beauty
Never known before.
(Who had heard, until she came,
Such a ripple of a name?)

PROSERPINA

I hear them singing on the shore,
My little sisters of the sea!
Surely I can return before
The golden lonesome afternoon
Leans toward the dusk?
I shall come soon
And weave a miracle for thee,
My mother, out of showered light
Upon great waters: and to-night,
Give thee my tapestry of dreams,
And sing thee what the sisters sing.
— Too bright the sea! Unreal it seems,
And so aloof, I hardly know,
With all its glory changing so,
How I dare try embroidering —
Oh, they are there, all wet and cool
From out the foam, and beautiful!

SEA-NYMPHS SINGING

Is there any flower
Delicate as she?
Only tender-breathing
Sea-anemone.
(Maidens, was there ever heard
Such a little limpid word?)

PROSERPINA

Laugh, laugh again, for I so love
Your glittering laughter in the sun,
Like sudden wave-crests fashioned of
Bubbles and rainbows! Did you say
Nobody knew you came away?
Then I am not the only one
Truant along these yellow sands!
(How soft your little starfish hands!)
Now tell me, darlings, is it true
You travel far within the sea,
And drive the dolphins two and two? And are there islands rooted deep,
That you must scale like mountains steep,
To find out what their names may be?
(I made an island, once, a shore
Dazzled with surf.) — Oh, tell me more!

SEA-NYMPHS

Fair the clustered islands,
Deep the coral wells!
You who bring us flowers,
Do you like our shells?
These, all jeweled, only grow
On an island that we know.
Who has felt its beauty
Cannot go away.
It is like a crystal
Irised in bright spray —
There is untold mystery
In the islands of the sea!
One is all a garden,
One has sands of gold.
One is built of silver:
One is very old,
Made of coral and most fair.
One conceals the GORGONS’ lair.
Shells of many islands
Blossoming from foam,
See, they make a necklace!
Will you wear it home?
Asphodels are sweet, but ours
Are the everlasting flowers.

PROSERPINA

And I shall keep them evermore!
But in the April-colored mead
Beyond the crescent of the shore,
There are such lilies! Let me get
Enough of them, with violet
And hyacinth as I may need,
To make you each a coronal!
You will not have to wait at all,
They are so many, and so sweet!
Throw me your little dripping kiss!
Look, there are wings upon my feet,
Wait for me! —

(Alone)

(Now, you asphodels,
Rose-lined and petaled like sea-shells,
Could any fate be strange as this
The nymphs’ green tresses to confine,
And plunge full fathom-deep in brine?)
I never thought to make them say
The wisest color for my sea!
Corn-flower blue it was to-day,
And veined with topaz — If I go
Much farther, now the sun is low,
The sisters will not wait for me.
But April only once a year
Comes true! — What loveliness is here —
These unknown flowers waxen-white,
That glimmer in a starry crowd
A-shiver with their own delight?
Mother must tell me. — Are they real?
Whence the sharp terror that I feel?
Dread Darknessart thou god or cloud
Enfolding me ?
My mother, oh,
Hear thou, and make him let me go!

SEA-NYMPHS SINGING, FAR AWAY

Do you see her coming?
Did you hear her call?
There is sudden menace
In the sky, and all
The bright waters have gone gray.
Little friend, we dare not stay!