Home  »  A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895  »  From “The Earthly Paradise.” II. Atalanta’s Victory

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

William Morris 1834–96

From “The Earthly Paradise.” II. Atalanta’s Victory


Through thick Arcadian woods a hunter went,

Following the beasts up, on a fresh spring day;

But since his horn-tipp’d bow but seldom bent,

Now at the noontide nought had happ’d to slay,

Within a vale he call’d his hounds away,

Hearkening the echoes of his lone voice cling

About the cliffs, and through the beech-trees ring.

But when they ended, still awhile he stood,

And but the sweet familiar thrush could hear,

And all the day-long noises of the wood,

And o’er the dry leaves of the vanish’d year

His hounds’ feet pattering as they drew anear,

And heavy breathing from their heads low hung,

To see the mighty cornel bow unstrung.

Then, smiling, did he turn to leave the place,

But with his first step some new fleeting thought

A shadow cast across his sun-burn’d face;

I think the golden net that April brought

From some warm world his wavering soul had caught;

For, sunk in vague, sweet longing, did he go

Betwixt the trees with doubtful steps and slow.

Yet, howsoever slow he went, at last

The trees grew sparser, and the wood was done;

Whereon one farewell, backward look he cast,

Then, turning round to see what place was won,

With shaded eyes look’d underneath the sun,

And o’er green meads and new-turn’d furrows brown

Beheld the gleaming of King Schœneus’ town.

So thitherward he turn’d, and on each side

The folk were busy on the teeming land,

And man and maid from the brown furrows cried,

Or ’midst the newly blossom’d vines did stand,

And, as the rustic weapon press’d the hand,

Thought of the nodding of the well-fill’d ear,

Or how the knife the heavy bunch should shear.

Merry it was: about him sung the birds,

The spring flowers bloom’d along the firm, dry road,

The sleek-skinn’d mothers of the sharphorn’d herds

Now for the barefoot milking-maidens low’d;

While from the freshness of his blue abode,

Glad his death-bearing arrows to forget,

The broad sun blaz’d, nor scatter’d plagues as yet.

Through such fair things unto the gates he came,

And found them open, as though peace were there;

Wherethrough, unquestion’d of his race or name,

He enter’d, and along the streets ’gan fare,

Which at the first of folk were well-nigh bare;

But pressing on, and going more hastily,

Men hurrying, too, he ’gan at last to see.

Following the last of these, he still press’d on,

Until an open space he came unto,

Where wreaths of fame had oft been lost and won,

For feats of strength folk there were wont to do.

And now our hunter look’d for something new,

Because the whole wide space was bare, and still’d

The high seats were, with eager people fill’d.

There with the others to a seat he gat,

Whence he beheld a broider’d canopy,

’Neath which in fair array King Schœneus sat

Upon his throne with councillors thereby;

And underneath this well-wrought seat and high

He saw a golden image of the sun,

A silver image of the Fleet-foot One.

A brazen altar stood beneath their feet

Whereon a thin flame flicker’d in the wind;

Nigh this a herald clad in raiment meet

Made ready even now his horn to wind,

By whom a huge man held a sword, entwin’d

With yellow flowers; these stood a little space

From off the altar, nigh the starting place.

And there two runners did the sign abide,

Foot set to foot,—a young man slim and fair,

Crisp-hair’d, well knit, with firm limbs often tried

In places where no man his strength may spare:

Dainty his thin coat was, and on his hair

A golden circlet of renown he wore,

And in his hand an olive garland bore.

But on this day with whom shall he contend?

A maid stood by him like Diana clad

When in the woods she lists her bow to bend,

Too fair for one to look on and be glad,

Who scarcely yet has thirty summers had,

If he must still behold her from afar;

Too fair to let the world live free from war.

She seem’d all earthly matters to forget;

Of all tormenting lines her face was clear;

Her wide gray eyes upon the goal were set

Calm and unmov’d as though no soul were near.

But her foe trembled as a man in fear,

Nor from her loveliness one moment turn’d

His anxious face with fierce desire that burn’d.

Now through the hush there broke the trumpet’s clang

Just as the setting sun made eventide.

Then from light feet a spurt of dust there sprang,

And swiftly were they running side by side;

But silent did the thronging folk abide

Until the turning-post was reach’d at last,

And round about it still abreast they past.

But when the people saw how close they ran,

When half-way to the starting-point they were,

A cry of joy broke forth, whereat the man

Headed the white-foot runner, and drew near

Unto the very end of all his fear;

And scarce his straining feet the ground could feel,

And bliss unhop’d for o’er his heart ’gan steal.

But ’midst the loud victorious shouts he heard

Her footsteps drawing nearer, and the sound

Of fluttering raiment, and thereat afeard

His flush’d and eager face he turn’d around,

And even then he felt her past him bound

Fleet as the wind, but scarcely saw her there

Till on the goal she laid her fingers fair.

There stood she breathing like a little child

Amid some warlike clamor laid asleep,

For no victorious joy her red lips smil’d,

Her cheek its wonted freshness did but keep;

No glance lit up her clear gray eyes and deep,

Though some divine thought soften’d all her face

As once more rang the trumpet through the place.

But her late foe stopp’d short amidst his course,

One moment gaz’d upon her piteously,

Then with a groan his lingering feet did force

To leave the spot whence he her eyes could see;

And, changed like one who knows his time must be

But short and bitter, without any word

He knelt before the bearer of the sword;

Then high rose up the gleaming deadly blade,

Bar’d of its flowers, and through the crowded place

Was silence now, and midst of it the maid

Went by the poor wretch at a gentle pace,

And he to hers upturn’d his sad white face;

Nor did his eyes behold another sight

Ere on his soul there fell eternal night.