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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.
The Library of the World’s Best Literature. An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

Romance of the Swan’s Nest

By Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806–1861)

LITTLE Ellie sits alone

’Mid the beeches of a meadow,

By a stream-side on the grass;

And the trees are showering down

Doubles of their leaves in shadow,

On her shining hair and face.

She has thrown her bonnet by;

And her feet she has been dipping

In the shallow water’s flow—

Now she holds them nakedly

In her hands, all sleek and dripping,

While she rocketh to and fro.

Little Ellie sits alone,

And the smile she softly uses

Fills the silence like a speech;

While she thinks what shall be done,

And the sweetest pleasure chooses,

For her future within reach.

Little Ellie in her smile

Chooseth—“I will have a lover,

Riding on a steed of steeds!

He shall love me without guile;

And to him I will discover

That swan’s nest among the reeds.

“And the steed shall be red-roan,

And the lover shall be noble,

With an eye that takes the breath,

And the lute he plays upon

Shall strike ladies into trouble,

As his sword strikes men to death.

“And the steed it shall be shod

All in silver, housed in azure,

And the mane shall swim the wind:

And the hoofs along the sod

Shall flash onward and keep measure,

Till the shepherds look behind.

“But my lover will not prize

All the glory that he rides in,

When he gazes in my face.

He will say, ‘O Love, thine eyes

Build the shrine my soul abides in;

And I kneel here for thy grace.’

“Then, ay, then—he shall kneel low,

With the red-roan steed anear him,

Which shall seem to understand—

Till I answer, ‘Rise and go!

For the world must love and fear him

Whom I gift with heart and hand.’

“Then he will arise so pale,

I shall feel my own lips tremble

With a yes I must not say—

Nathless maiden-brave, ‘Farewell,’

I will utter, and dissemble—

‘Light to-morrow with to-day.’

“Then he’ll ride among the hills

To the wide world past the river,

There to put away all wrong:

To make straight distorted wills,

And to empty the broad quiver

Which the wicked bear along.

“Three times shall a young foot-page

Swim the stream and climb the mountain

And kneel down beside my feet—

‘Lo! my master sends this gage,

Lady, for thy pity’s counting!

What wilt thou exchange for it?’

“And the first time I will send

A white rosebud for a guerdon,

And the second time, a glove:

But the third time—I may bend

From my pride, and answer—‘Pardon—

If he come to take my love.’

“Then the young foot-page will run—

Then my lover will ride faster,

Till he kneeleth at my knee:

‘I am a duke’s eldest son!

Thousand serfs do call me master,—

But, O Love, I love but thee!’

“He will kiss me on the mouth

Then; and lead me as a lover

Through the crowds that praise his deeds;

And when soul-tied by one troth,

Unto him I will discover

That swan’s nest among the reeds.”

Little Ellie, with her smile

Not yet ended, rose up gayly,

Tied the bonnet, donned the shoe—

And went homeward, round a mile,

Just to see, as she did daily,

What more eggs were with the two.

Pushing through the elm-tree copse

Winding by the stream, light-hearted,

Where the osier pathway leads—

Past the boughs she stoops—and stops!

Lo! the wild swan had deserted—

And a rat had gnawed the reeds.

Ellie went home sad and slow:

If she found the lover ever,

With his red-roan steed of steeds,

Sooth I know not! but I know

She could never show him—never,

That swan’s nest among the reeds!