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

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

William Morris 1834–96

From “The Earthly Paradise.” III. Atalanta’s Defeat


Now has the lingering month at last gone by,

Again are all folk round the running place,

Nor other seems the dismal pageantry

Than heretofore, but that another face

Looks o’er the smooth course ready for the race,

For now, beheld of all, Milanion

Stands on the spot he twice has look’d upon.

But yet—what change is this that holds the maid?

Does she indeed see in his glittering eye

More than disdain of the sharp shearing blade,

Some happy hope of help and victory?

The others seem’d to say, “We come to die;

Look down upon us for a little while,

That, dead, we may bethink us of thy smile.”

But he—what look of mastery was this

He cast on her? why were his lips so red?

Why was his face so flush’d with happiness?

So looks not one who deems himself but dead,

E’en if to death he bows a willing head;

So rather looks a god well pleas’d to find

Some earthly damsel fashion’d to his mind.

Why must she drop her lids before his gaze,

And even as she casts adown her eyes

Redden to note his eager glance of praise,

And wish that she were clad in other guise?

Why must the memory to her heart arise

Of things unnoticed when they first were heard,

Some lover’s song, some answering maiden’s word?

What makes these longings, vague, without a name,

And this vain pity never felt before,

This sudden languor, this contempt of fame,

This tender sorrow for the time past o’er,

These doubts that grow each minute more and more?

Why does she tremble as the time grows near,

And weak defeat and woeful victory fear?

But while she seem’d to hear her beating heart,

Above their heads the trumpet blast rang out

And forth they sprang, and she must play her part;

Then flew her white feet, knowing not a doubt,

Though, slackening once, she turn’d her head about,

But then she cried aloud and faster fled

Than e’er before, and all men deem’d him dead.

But with no sound he rais’d aloft his hand,

And thence what seem’d a ray of light there flew

And past the maid roll’d on along the sand;

Then trembling she her feet together drew,

And in her heart a strong desire there grew

To have the toy; some god she thought had given

That gift to her, to make of earth a heaven.

Then from the course with eager steps she ran,

And in her odorous bosom laid the gold.

But when she turn’d again, the greatlimb’d man,

Now well ahead, she fail’d not to behold,

And, mindful of her glory waxing cold,

Sprang up and follow’d him in hot pursuit,

Though with one hand she touch’d the golden fruit.

Note, too, the bow that she was wont to bear

She laid aside to grasp the glittering prize,

And o’er her shoulder from the quiver fair

Three arrows fell and lay before her eyes

Unnoticed, as amidst the people’s cries

She sprang to head the strong Milanion,

Who now the turning-post had well-nigh won.

But as he set his mighty hand on it

White fingers underneath his own were laid,

And white limbs from his dazzled eyes did flit;

Then he the second fruit cast by the maid,

But she ran on awhile, then as afraid

Waver’d and stopp’d, and turn’d and made no stay

Until the globe with its bright fellow lay.

Then, as a troubled glance she cast around,

Now far ahead the Argive could she see,

And in her garment’s hem one hand she wound

To keep the double prize, and strenuously

Sped o’er the course, and little doubt had she

To win the day, though now but scanty space

Was left betwixt him and the winning place.

Short was the way unto such winged feet;

Quickly she gain’d upon him, till at last

He turn’d about her eager eyes to meet,

And from his hand the third fair apple cast.

She waver’d not, but turn’d and ran so fast

After the prize that should her bliss fulfil,

That in her hand it lay ere it was still.

Nor did she rest, but turn’d about to win

Once more an unbless’d woeful victory—

And yet—and yet—why does her breath begin

To fail her, and her feet drag heavily?

Why fails she now to see if far or nigh

The goal is? why do her gray eyes grow dim?

Why do these tremors run through every limb?

She spreads her arms abroad some stay to find,

Else must she fall, indeed, and findeth this,

A strong man’s arms about her body entwin’d.

Nor may she shudder now to feel his kiss,

So wrapt she is in new unbroken bliss:

Made happy that the foe the prize hath won.

She weeps glad tears for all her glory done.