I sprang into the air,
As down a rocky steep we scrambled;
And strove to burst the galling bonds,
Or hurl my guards on one another;
But, all too sure of foot, the beasts,
And too securely girths and cords
Held me, and I stumbled.
Instantly a thong
Struck my wincing shoulders,
Blow on thudding blow.
I bit my lips; and strode on silently;
Nor fought again for freedom.
So on we journeyed through the night,
And down familiar mountain-tracks,
Through deep, dark forest,
Ever down and down;
Fording the streams, whose moon-bright waters flowed,
In eddies of delicious, aching cool,
About our weary thighs.
And, once, when in mid-torrent,
That swirled, girth-high about the plunging beasts,
A startled otter, glancing
Before their very hoofs,
Affrighted them; and, rearing,
With blind and desperate floundering,
They nearly dragged us down to death:
And, ere we righted,
With a fearful cry,
My eldest sister from the bevy broke;
And struck down-stream
With wild arm lashing desperately,
Until the current caught her;
And she sank, to rise no more.
And on again we travelled,
Down through the darkling woodlands:
And once I saw green, burning eyes,
Where, on a low-hung bough,
A night-black panther crouched,
As though to pounce upon my sisters;
But, the sudden crack of whips,
Startling him, he snarled;
And turned with lashing tail,
Crashing through dense brushwood.
When, once, again we came unto a clearing,
The night was near its noon:
And all the vales that lay before us
Were filled with moving, moonlit mists,
That seemed phantasmal waters
Of that enchanted world,
Where we, in dreams, sail over still lagoons,
Throughout eternal night,
And under unknown stars.
Still, on we fared, unresting,
Until the low moon paled;
When, halting on a mountain-spur,
We first looked down on Babylon,
Far in the dreaming West,
A cluster of dim towers,
Scarce visible to wearied eyes.
We camped within a sheltering cedar-grove;
And all the day, beneath the level boughs,
Upon the agelong-bedded needles lay,
Half-slumbering, with fleeting, fretful dreams
That could not quite forget the chafing cords,
That held our arms in aching numbness:
But, ere the noon, in sounder sleep I sank,
Dreaming I floated on a still, deep pool,
Beneath dark, overhanging branches;
And seemed to feel upon my cheek
The cool caress of waters;
While, far above me, through the night of trees,
Noon glimmered faintly as the glint of stars.
As thus I lay, in indolent ecstasy,
O'er me, suddenly, the waters
Curved, and I was dragged,
Down and down,
Through gurgling deeps
Of swirling, drowning darkness...
When I awoke in terror;
And strove to sit upright;
But, tautly, with a jerk,
The thongs that held me to my brothers,
Dragged me back to earth.
Awhile I lay, with staring eyes, awake,
Watching a big, grey spider, crouched overhead,
In ambush 'neath a twig, beside her web,
Oft sallying out, to bind yet more securely,
The half-entangled flies.
And then, once more, I slumbered;
And dreamed a face leant over me,
More fair than any face
My waking eyes had ever looked upon.
Its beauty burned above me,
Not dusky like my sisters' faces,
But pale as the wan moon,
Reflected in a flood
Of darkly flowing waters,
Or as the creaming froth,
That, born amid the thunder of the fall,
Floats on the river's bosom in the sunshine,
Bubble after bubble,
Perishing in air.
So, a moment, over me,
With frail and fleeting glimmer
Of strange elusive, evanescent light,
The holy vision hovered.
And yet, whenever, with a fervent longing,
I sought to look into the darkling eyes,
The face would fade from me,
As foam caught in an eddy:
Until, at last, I wakened,
And, wondering, saw a pale star gleaming
Betwixt the cedar-branches.
And soon our captors stirred:
And we arose, to see
The walls and towers of Babylon, dark
Against the clear