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

James Thomson 1834–82

Life’s Hebe


IN the early morning-shine

Of a certain day divine,

I beheld a Maiden stand

With a pitcher in her hand;

Whence she pour’d into a cup,

Until it was half fill’d up,

Nectar that was golden light

In the cup of crystal bright.

And the first who took the cup

With pure water fill’d it up;

As he drank then, it was more

Ruddy golden then before:

And he leap’d and danced and sang

As to Bacchic cymbals’ clang.

But the next who took the cup

With the red wine fill’d it up;

What he drank then was in hue

Of a heavy sombre blue:

First he reel’d and then he crept,

Then lay faint but never slept.

And the next who took the cup

With the white milk fill’d it up;

What he drank at first seem’d blood,

Then turn’d thick and brown as mud:

And he mov’d away as slow

As a weary ox may go.

But the next who took the cup

With sweet honey fill’d it up;

Nathless that which he did drink

Was thin fluid black as ink:

As he went he stumbled soon,

And lay still in deathlike swoon.

She the while without a word

Unto all the cup preferr’d;

Blandly smil’d and sweetly laugh’d

As each mingled his own draught.

And the next who took the cup

To the sunshine held it up,

Gave it back and did not taste;

It was empty when replaced:

First he bow’d a reverent bow,

Then he kiss’d her on the brow.

But the next who took the cup

Without mixture drank it up;

When she took it back from him

It was full unto the brim:

He with a right bold embrace

Kiss’d her sweet lips face to face.

Then she sang with blithest cheer:

Who has thirst, come here, come here!

Nectar that is golden light

In the cup of crystal bright,

Nectar that is sunny fire

Warm as warmest heart’s desire:

Pitcher never lacketh more,

Arm is never tir’d to pour:

Honey, water, milk, or wine

Mingle with the draught divine,

Drink it pure, or drink it not;

Each is free to choose his lot;

Am I old? or am I cold?

Only two have kiss’d me bold!

She was young and fair and gay

As that young and glorious day.