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There is an instinct in the human heart Which makes that all the fables it hath coined, To justify the reign of its belief And strengthen it by beauty's right divine, Veil in their inner cells a mystic gift, Which, like the hazle twig, in faithful hands, Points surely to the hidden springs of truth. For, as in nature naught is made in vain, But all things have within their hull of use A wisdom and a meaning which may speak Of spiritual secrets to the ear Of spirit ; so, in whatsoe'er the heart Hath fashioned for a solace to itself, To make its inspirations 'suit its creed, And from the niggard hands of falsehood wring Its needful food of truth, there ever is A sympathy with Nature, which reveals, Not less than her own works, pure gleams of light And earnest parables of inward lore. Hear now this fairy legend of old Greece, As full of freedom, youth, and beauty still
As the immortal freshness of that grace
A youth named Rhæcus, wandering in the wood, Saw an old oak just trembling to its fall, And, feeling pity of so fair a tree, He propped its gray trunk with admiring care, And with a thoughtless footstep loitered on. But, as he turned, he heard a voice behind That murmured “ Rhæcus !” ’T was as if the leaves, Stirred by a passing breath, had murmured it, And, while he paused bewildered, yet again It murmured “ Rhæcus !” softer than a breeze. He started and beheld with dizzy eyes What seemed the substance of a happy dream Stand there before him, spreading a warm glow Within the green glooms of the shadowy oak. It seemed a woman's shape, yet all too fair To be a woman, and with eyes too meek For any that were wont to mate with gods. All naked like a goddess stood she there, And like a goddess all too beautiful
To feel the guilt-born earthliness of shame.
Then Rhæcus, with a flutter at the heart, Yet, by the prompting of such beauty, bold, Answered : “What is there that can satisfy The endless craving of the soul but love? Give me thy love, or but the hope of that Which must be evermore my spirit's goal.” After a little pause she said again, But with a glimpse of sadness in her tone, “I give it, Rhæcus, though a perilous gift ; An hour before the sunset meet me here." And straightway there was nothing he could see But the green glooms beneath the shadowy oak,
And not a sound came to his straining ears
Now, in those days of simpleness and faith, Men did not think that happy things were dreams Because they overstepped the narrow bourne Of likelihood, but reverently deemed Nothing too wondrous or too beautiful To be the guerdon of a daring heart. So Rhæcus made no doubt that he was blest, And all along unto the city's gate Earth seemed to spring beneath him as he walked, The clear, broad sky looked bluer than its wont, And he could scarce believe he had not wings, Such sunshine seemed to glitter through his veins Instead of blood, so light he felt and strange.
Young Rhæcus had a faithful heart enough, But one that in the present dwelt too much, And, taking with blithe welcome whatsoe'er
Chance gave of joy, was wholly bound in that,
The dice were rattling at the merriest, And Rhæcus, who had met but sorry luck, Just laughed in triumph at a happy throw, When through the room there hummed a yellow bee That buzzed about his ear with down-dropped legs As if to light. And Rhæcus laughed and said, Feeling how red and flushed he was with loss, “ By Venus ! does he take me for a rose ? " And brushed him off with rough, impatient hand. But still the bee came back, and thrice again Rhæcus did beat him off with growing wrath. Then through the window flew the wounded bee, And Rhæcus, tracking him with angry eyes, Saw a sharp mountain-peak of Thessaly Against the red disc of the setting sun,