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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Russia: Vol. XX. 1876–79.

Asiatic Russia: Colchis (Transcaucasia)

The Golden Fleece

By William Morris (1834–1896)

(From The Life and Death of Jason, Book IX)

BUT Jason, going swiftly with good heart,

Came to the wished-for shrine built all apart

Midmost the temple, that on pillars stood

Of jasper green, and marble red as blood,

All white itself, and carven cunningly

With Neptune bringing from the wavy sea

The golden shining ram to Athamas;

And the first door thereof of silver was,

Wrought over with a golden glittering sun

That seemed wellnigh alike the heavenly one.

Such art therein the cunningest of men

Had used, which little Jason heeded then,

But thrusting in the lock the smallest key

Of those he bore, it opened easily;

And then five others, neither wrought of gold,

Or carved with tales, or lovely to behold,

He opened; but before the last one stayed

His hand, wherein the heavy key he weighed,

And pondering, in low muttered words he said:—

“The prize is reached, which yet I somewhat dread

To draw unto me; since I know indeed,

That henceforth war and toil shall be my meed.

Too late to fear, it was too late, the hour

I left the gray cliffs and the beechen bower,

So here I take hard life and deathless praise,

Who once desired naught but quiet days,

And painless life, not empty of delight;

I, who shall now be quickener of the fight,

Named by a great name,—a far-babbled name,

The ceaseless seeker after praise and fame.

“May all be well, and on the noisy ways

Still may I find some wealth of happy days.”

Therewith he threw the last door open wide,

Whose hammered iron did the marvel hide,

And shut his dazzled eyes, and stretched his hands

Out toward the sea-born wonder of all lands,

And buried them deep in the locks of gold,

Grasping the fleece within his mighty hold.

Which when Medea saw, her gown of gray

She caught up from the ground, and drew away

Her wearied foot from off the rugged beast,

And while from her soft strain she never ceased,

In the dull folds she hid her silk from sight,

And then, as bending ’neath the burden bright,

Jason drew nigh, joyful, yet still afraid,

She met him, and her wide gray mantle laid

Over the fleece, whispering: “Make no delay;

He sleeps, who never slept by night or day

Till now; nor will his charméd sleep be long.

Light-foot am I, and sure thine arms are strong;

Haste, then! No word! nor turn about to gaze

At me, as he who in the shadowy ways

Turned round to see once more the twice-lost face.”

Then swiftly did they leave the dreadful place,

Turning no look behind, and reached the street,

That with familiar look and kind did greet

Those wanderers, mazed with marvels and with fear.

And so, unchallenged, did they draw anear

The long white quays, and at the street’s end now

Beheld the ships’ masts standing row by row

Stark black against the stars: then cautiously

Peered Jason forth, ere they took heart to try

The open starlit place; but naught he saw

Except the night-wind twitching the loose straw

From half-unloaded keels, and naught he heard

But the strange twittering of a caged green bird

Within an Indian ship, and from the hill

A distant baying: yea, all was so still;

Somewhat they doubted, natheless forth they passed,

And Argo’s painted sides they reached at last.

On whom down-looking, scarce more noise they heard

Than from the other ships, some muttered word,

Some creaking of the timbers, as the tide

Ran gurgling seaward past her shielded side.

Then Jason knelt, and whispered: “Wise be ye,

O fair companions on the pathless sea,

But come, Erginus, Nestor, and ye twain

Of Lacedæmon, to behold my gain;

Take me amongst you, neither be afraid

To take withal this gold, and this fair maid.

Yare!—for the ebb runs strongly towards the sea,

The east-wind drives the rack to Thessaly,

And lightly do such kings as this one sleep

If now and then small watch their servants keep.”

Then saw Medea men like shadows gray

Rise from the darksome decks, who took straightway

With murmured joy, from Jason’s outstretched hands,

The conquered fleece, the wonder of all lands,

While with strong arms he took the royal maid,

And in their hold the precious burthen laid,

And scarce her dainty feet could touch the deck,

Ere down he leapt, and little now did reck

That loudly clanged his armor therewithal.