Home  »  A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895  »  From “Gebir”

Edmund Clarence Stedman, ed. (1833–1908). A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895. 1895.

Walter Savage Landor 1775–1864

From “Gebir”


“’T WAS evening, though not sunset, and the tide,

Level with these green meadows, seem’d yet higher:

’T was pleasant, and I loosen’d from my neck

The pipe you gave me, and began to play.

O that I ne’er had learn’d the tuneful art!

It always brings us enemies or love.

Well, I was playing, when above the waves

Some swimmer’s head methought I saw ascend;

I, sitting still, survey’d it with my pipe

Awkwardly held before my lips half-clos’d.

Gebir! it was a Nymph! a Nymph divine!

I cannot wait describing how she came,

How I was sitting, how she first assum’d

The sailor; of what happen’d there remains

Enough to say, and too much to forget.

The sweet deceiver stepp’d upon this bank

Before I was aware; for with surprise

Moments fly rapid as with love itself.

Stooping to tune afresh the hoarsen’d reed,

I heard a rustling, and where that arose

My glance first lighted on her nimble feet.

Her feet resembled those long shells explor’d

By him who to befriend his steed’s dim sight

Would blow the pungent powder in the eye.

Her eyes too! O immortal gods! her eyes

Resembled—what could they resemble? what

Ever resemble those? Even her attire

Was not of wonted woof nor vulgar art:

Her mantle show’d the yellow samphire-pod,

Her girdle the dove-color’d wave serene.

‘Shepherd,’ said she, ‘and will you wrestle now

And with the sailor’s hardier race engage?’

I was rejoiced to hear it, and contriv’d

How to keep up contention: could I fail

By pressing not too strongly, yet to press?

‘Whether a shepherd, as indeed you seem,

Or whether of the hardier race you boast,

I am not daunted; no; I will engage.’

‘But first,’ said she, ‘what wager will you lay?’

‘A sheep,’ I answered: ‘add whate’er you will.’

‘I cannot,’ she replied, ‘make that return:

Our hided vessels in their pitchy round

Seldom, unless from rapine, hold a sheep.

But I have sinuous shells of pearly hue

Within, and they that lustre have imbib’d

In the sun’s palace-porch, where when unyok’d

His chariot-wheel stands midway in the wave:

Shake one and it awakens, then apply

Its polish’d lips to your attentive ear,

And it remembers its august abodes,

And murmurs as the ocean murmurs there.

And I have others given me by the nymphs,

Of sweeter sound than any pipe you have:

But we, by Neptune! for no pipe contend;

This time a sheep I win, a pipe the next.’

Now came she forward eager to engage,

But first her dress, her bosom then survey’d

And heav’d it, doubting if she could deceive.

Her bosom seem’d, inclos’d in haze like heaven,

To baffle touch, and rose forth undefin’d;

Above her knee she drew the robe succinct,

Above her breast, and just below her arms.

‘This will preserve my breath when tightly bound,

If struggle and equal strength should so constrain.’

Thus, pulling hard to fasten it, she spake,

And, rushing at me, clos’d: I thrill’d throughout

And seem’d to lessen and shrink up with cold.

Again with violent impulse gush’d my blood,

And hearing nought external, thus absorb’d,

I heard it, rushing through each turbid vein,

Shake my unsteady swimming sight in air.

Yet with unyielding though uncertain arms

I clung around her neck; the vest beneath

Rustled against our slippery limbs entwin’d:

Often mine springing with eluded force

Started aside and trembled till replaced:

And when I most succeeded, as I thought,

My bosom and my throat felt so compress’d

That life was almost quivering on my lips.

Yet nothing was there painful: these are signs

Of secret arts and not of human might;

What arts I cannot tell; I only know

My eyes grew dizzy and my strength decay’d;

I was indeed o’ercome—with what regret,

And more, with what confusion, when I reach’d

The fold, and yielding up the sheep, she cried,

‘This pays a shepherd to a conquering maid.’

She smil’d, and more of pleasure than disdain

Was in her dimpled chin and liberal lip,

And eyes that languish’d, lengthening, just like love.

She went away; I on the wicker gate

Leant, and could follow with my eyes alone

The sheep she carried easy as a cloak;

But when I heard its bleating, as I did,

And saw, she hastening on, its hinder feet

Struggle, and from her snowy shoulder slip,

One shoulder its poor efforts had unveil’d,

Then all my passions mingling fell in tears;

Restless then ran I to the highest ground

To watch her; she was gone; gone down the tide;

And the long moonbeam on the hard wet sand

Lay like a jasper column half uprear’d.”