Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Asia: Vols. XXI–XXIII. 1876–79.

Asia Minor: Scamander (Xanthus), the River


By Bayard Taylor (1825–1878)

STORM-WEARIED Argo slept upon the water.

No cloud was seen; on blue and craggy Ida

The hot noon lay, and on the plain’s enamel;

Cool, in his bed, alone, the swift Scamander.

“Why should I haste?” said young and rosy Hylas:

“The seas were rough, and long the way from Colchis.

Beneath the snow-white awning slumbers Jason,

Pillowed upon his tame Thessalian panther;

The shields are piled, the listless oars suspended

On the black thwarts, and all the hairy bondsmen

Doze on the benches. They may wait for water,

Till I have bathed in mountain-born Scamander.”

So said, unfilleting his purple chlamys,

And putting down his urn, he stood a moment,

Breathing the faint, warm odor of the blossoms

That spangled thick the lovely Dardan meadows.

Then, stooping lightly, loosened he his buskins,

And felt with shrinking feet the crispy verdure,

Naked, save one light robe that from his shoulder

Hung to his knee, the youthful flush revealing

Of warm, white limbs, half nerved with coming manhood,

Yet fair and smooth with tenderness of beauty.

Now to the river’s sandy marge advancing,

He dropped the robe, and raised his head exulting

In the clear sunshine, that with beam embracing

Held him against Apollo’s glowing bosom;

For sacred to Latona’s son is Beauty,

Sacred is Youth, the joy of youthful feeling,

A joy indeed, a living joy, was Hylas,

Whence Jove-begotten Hêraclês, the mighty,

To men though terrible, to him was gentle,

Smoothing his rugged nature into laughter

When the boy stole his club, or from his shoulders

Dragged the huge paws of the Nemæan lion.

The thick, brown locks, tossed backward from his forehead,

Fell soft about his temples; manhood’s blossom

Not yet had sprouted on his chin, but freshly

Curved the fair check, and full the red lips’ parting,

Like a loose bow, that just has launched its arrow.

His large blue eyes, with joy dilate and beamy,

Were clear as the unshadowed Grecian heaven;

Dewy and sleek his dimpled shoulders rounded

To the white arms and whiter breast between them.

Downward, the supple lines had less of softness:

His back was like a god’s; his loins were moulded

As if some pulse of power began to waken:

The springy fulness of his thighs, outswerving,

Sloped to his knee, and, lightly dropping downward,

Drew the curved lines that breathe, in rest, of motion.

He saw his glorious limbs reversely mirrored

In the still wave, and stretched his foot to press it

On the smooth sole that answered at the surface:

Alas! the shape dissolved in glimmering fragments.

Then, timidly at first, he dipped, and catching

Quick breath, with tingling shudder, as the waters

Swirled round his thighs, and deeper, slowly deeper,

Till on his breast the River’s cheek was pillowed,

And deeper still, till every shoreward ripple

Talked in his ear, and like a cygnet’s bosom

His white, round shoulder shed the dripping crystal.

There, as he floated, with a rapturous motion,

The lucid coolness folding close around him,

The lily-cradling ripples murmured, “Hylas!”

He shook from off his ears the hyacinthine

Curls that had lain unwet upon the water,

And still the ripples murmured, “Hylas! Hylas!”

He thought: “The voices are but ear-born music.

Pan dwells not here, and Echo still is calling

From some high cliff that tops a Thracian valley:

So long mine ears, on tumbling Hellespontus,

Have heard the sea-waves hammer Argo’s forehead,

That I misdeem the fluting of this current

For some lost nymph—” Again the murmur, “Hylas!”

And with the sound a cold, smooth arm around him

Slid like a wave, and down the clear, green darkness

Glimmered on either side a shining bosom,—

Glimmered, uprising slow; and ever closer

Wound the cold arms, till, climbing to his shoulders,

Their cheeks lay nestled, while the purple tangles

Their loose hair made, in silken mesh enwound him.

Their eyes of clear, pale emerald then uplifting,

They kissed his neck with lips of humid coral,

And once again there came a murmur, “Hylas!”

O, come with us! O, follow where we wander

Deep down beneath the green, translucent ceiling,—

Where on the sandy bed of old Scamander

With cool, white buds we braid our purple tresses,

Lulled by the bubbling waves around us stealing!

Thou fair Greek boy, O, come with us! O, follow

Where thou no more shalt hear Propontis riot,

But by our arms be lapped in endless quiet,

Within the glimmering caves of Ocean hollow!

We have no love; alone, of all the Immortals,

We have no love. O, love us, we who press thee

With faithful arms, though cold,—whose lips caress thee,—

Who hold thy beauty prisoned! Love us, Hylas!”

The boy grew chill to feel their twining pressure

Lock round his limbs, and bear him, vainly striving,

Down from the noonday brightness. “Leave me, Naiads!

Leave me!” he cried; “the day to me is dearer

Than all your caves deep-sphered in Ocean’s quiet.

I am but mortal, seek but mortal pleasure:

I would not change this flexile, warm existence,

Though swept by storms, and shocked by Jove’s dread thunder,

To be a king beneath the dark-green waters.”

Still moaned the humid lips, between their kisses,

“We have no love. O, love us, we who love thee!”

And came in answer, thus, the words of Hylas:

“My love is mortal. For the Argive maidens

I keep the kisses which your lips would ravish.

Unlock your cold white arms, take from my shoulder

The tangled swell of your bewildering tresses.

Let me return: the wind comes down from Ida,

And soon the galley, stirring from her slumber,

Will fret to ride where Pelion’s twilight shadow

Falls o’er the towers of Jason’s sea-girt city.

I am not yours,—I cannot braid the lilies

In your wet hair, nor on your argent bosoms

Close my drowsed eyes to hear your rippling voices.

Hateful to me your sweet, cold, crystal being,—

Your world of watery quiet. Help, Apollo!

For I am thine: thy fire, thy beam, thy music,

Dance in my heart and flood my sense with rapture:

The joy, the warmth and passion now awaken,

Promised by thee, but erewhile calmly sleeping.

O, leave me, Naiads! loose your chill embraces,

Or I shall die, for mortal maidens pining.”

But still, with unrelenting arms they bound him,

And still, accordant, flowed their watery voices:

“We have thee now,—we hold thy beauty prisoned;

O, come with us beneath the emerald waters!

We have no love; we love thee, rosy Hylas.

O, love us, who shall nevermore release thee:

Love us, whose milky arms will be thy cradle

Far down on the untroubled sands of ocean,

Where now we bear thee, clasped in our embraces.”

And slowly, slowly sank the amorous Naiads;

The boy’s blue eyes, upturned, looked through the water,

Pleading for help; but Heaven’s immortal Archer

Was swathed in cloud. The ripples hid his forehead,

And last, the thick, bright curls a moment floated,

So warm and silky that the stream upbore them,

Closing reluctant, as he sank forever.

The sunset died behind the crags of Imbros.

Argo was tugging at her chain; for freshly

Blew the swift breeze, and leaped the restless billows.

The voice of Jason roused the dozing sailors,

And up the mast was heaved the snowy canvas.

But mighty Hêraclês, the Jove-begotten,

Unmindful stood, beside the cool Scamander,

Leaning upon his club. A purple chlamys

Tossed o’er an urn was all that lay before him:

And when he called, expectant, “Hylas! Hylas!”

The empty echoes made him answer,—“Hylas!”