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

Mary Ashley Townsend (1836–1901)

The Bather

WARM from her waist her girdle she unwound,

And cast it down on the insensate turf;

Then copse and cove and deep-secluded vale

She scrutinized with keen though timid eyes,

And stood with ear intent to catch each stir

Of leaf or twig or bird-wing rustling there.

Her startled heart beat quicker even to hear

The wild bee woo the blossom with a hymn,

Or hidden insect break its lance of sound

Against the obdurate silence. Then she smiled,

At her own fears amused, and knew herself

God’s only image by that hidden shore;

Out from its bonds her wondrous hair she loosed,—

Hair glittering like spun glass, and bright as though

Shot full of golden arrows. Down below

Her supple waist the soft and shimmering coils

Rolled in their bright abundance, goldener

Than was the golden wonder Jason sought.

Her fair hands then, like white doves in a net,

A moment fluttered ’mid the shining threads,

As with a dexterous touch she higher laid

The gleaming tresses on her shapely head,

Beyond the reach of rudely amorous waves.

Then from her throat her light robe she unclasped,

And dropped it downward with a blush that rose

The higher as the garment lower fell.

Then cast she off the sandals from her feet,

And paused upon the brink of that blue lake:

A sight too fair for either gods or men;

An Eve untempted in her Paradise.

The waters into which her young eyes looked

Gave back her image with so true a truth,

She blushed to look; but blushing looked again,

As maidens to their mirrors oft return

With bashful boldness, once again to gaze

Upon the crystal page that renders back

Themselves unto themselves, until their eyes

Confess their love for their own loveliness.

Her rounded cheeks, in each of which had grown,

With sudden blossoming, a fresh red rose,

She hid an instant in her dimpled hands;

Then met her pink palms up above her head,

And whelmed her white shape in the welcoming wave.

Around each lithesome limb the waters twined,

And with their lucent raiment robed her form;

And as her hesitating bosom sunk

To the caresses of bewildered waves,

The foamy pearls from their own foreheads gave

For her fair brow, and showered in her hair

The evanescent diamonds of the deep.

Thus dallying with the circumfluent tide,

Her loveliness half hidden, half revealed,

An Undine with a soul, she plunged and rose,

Whilst the white graces of her rounded arms

She braided with the blue of wandering waves,

And saw the shoulders of the billows yield

Before the even strokes of her small hands,

And laughed to see, and held her crimson mouth

Above the crest of each advancing surge

Like a red blossom pendent o’er a pool;

Till, done with the invigorating play,

Once more she gained the bank, and once again

Saw her twin image in the waters born.

From the translucent wave each beauty grew

To strange perfection. Never statue wrought

By cunning art to fullness of all grace,

And kissed to life by love, could fairer seem

Than she who stood upon that grassy slope

So fresh, so human, so immaculate!

Out from the dusky cloisters of the wood

The nun-like winds stole with a saintly step,

And dried the bright drops from her panting form,

As she with hurried hands once more let down

The golden drapery of her glorious hair,

That fell about her like some royal cloak

Dropped from the sunset’s rare and radiant loom.