The Willow Water

A poem by Madison Julius Cawein

Deep in the hollow wood he found a way
Winding unto a water, dim and gray,
Grayer and dimmer than the break of day;
By which a wildrose blossomed; flower on flower
Leaning above its image hour on hour,
Musing, it seemed, on its own loveliness,
And longing with sweet longing to express
Some thought to its reflection.

Dropping now
Bee-shaken pollen from th' o'erburdened bough,
And now a petal, delicate as a blush,
It seemed to sigh or whisper to the hush
The dreams, the myths and marvels it had seen
Tip-toeing dimly through the woodland green:
Faint shapes of fragrance; forms like flowers, that go
Footing the moss; or, shouldered with moonbeam glow,
Through starlit waves oaring an arm of snow.

He sat him down and gazed into the pool:
And as he gazed, two petals, silken cool,
Fell, soft as starbeams fall that arrow through
The fern-hung trembling of a drop of dew;
And, pearly-placid, on the water lay,
Two curves of languid ruby, where, rose-gray,
The shadow of a willow dimmed the stream.

And suddenly he saw or did he dream
He saw? the rose-leaves change to rosy lips,
A laughing crimson. And, with silvery hips,
And eyes of luminous emerald, full of sleep
And all the stillness of the under deep,
The shadow of the tree become a girl,
A shadowy girl, who shook from many a curl
Faint, tangled glimmerings of shell and pearl.

A girl who called him, beckoned him to come,
Waving a hand whiter than moonlit foam,
And pointing, minnowy fingered, to her home
A bubble, rainbow-built, beneath the wave,
Dim-domed, and murmurous as the deep-sea cave,
Columned of coral and of grottoed foam,
Where the pale mermaids never cease to comb
Their weed-green hair with fingers crystal-cold,
Sighing forever 'round the Sea King old
Throned. on his throne of shell and ribbéd gold.

Laughing, she lured him, lipped like some wild rose;
Bidding him follow; come to her; repose
Upon her bosom and forever dream
Lulled by the wandering whisper of the stream.
But him mortality weighed heavily on
And earthly love: and, sorrowful and wan,
He shook his head, motioning, "I cannot rise";

But still he felt the magic of her eyes
Drawing him to her; felt her hands of foam
Around his heart; her lips, that bade him come
With smiling witchery, and with laughing looks
Like those that lured us in the fairy books
Our childhood dreamed on.

Then, as suddenly,
A wind, it seemed, from no where he could see,
Wrinkled the water; ruffled its smooth glass;
And there again, behold! when it did pass
The rose-leaves lay and shadow, dimly seen;
The willow's shadow, and no thing between.

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