Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, LILIA'S TRESS, by WILLIAM ROSE BENET



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Classic and Contemporary Poetry

LILIA'S TRESS, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: It failed, past misty distances
Last Line: "a fearsome, weirdsome, faerie tress!"
Subject(s): Hair


It failed, past misty distances,
That last ripe note! He gained the close
And found the bird-soft little tress
Thorned on a dreaming rose.

"Then take my heart, oh amorous eyes,
But wonder not that swift I follow!"
A wing whirred past him to the skies
As dawn waked thrush and swallow.

"Oh bird in flight! ..." The courtyard rang
As, thralled by dream, he stumbled past
The drowsing watch. The great gates clang.
He treads the moor at last.

So say the little elfin men,
Beguiling, slowly-smiling men,
The little leaping, dancing men,
The slyly necromancing men;
So say the little elfin men,
"For dream of Lilia, great distress.
For clasp of Lilia, heathenesse
And Lilia's tress ... no more, no less
Than Lilia's eerie, faerie tress!"

He held the dream before his eyes
And her sweet language to his breast.
"They lie! The token tracks the prize.
Doth its discovery not attest
That I should follow and be wise?

"Suddenly by my couch I saw
Her stand ... or was it some dear dream?
So real did the vision seem
I shook 'twixt ecstasy and awe!

"Then peaceful arms of soft delight
One moment clasped me. Eyes of dawn
Drank of my soul.... I woke -- to night,
To naught but night -- and found you gone!

"Mountains are naught for me to scale
Like as I climbed from casement-ledge
And found -- this sign you will not fail --
Sweet gage, thorned to the rose's edge!

"I follow! Be it night or morn
I know not -- but I track my prize!"
All for a tress the fairies mourn,
All for two deep, unmortal eyes!

All for a tress the fairies claim,
Dogging the dreamer o'er the rim
Of wastes where sound without a name
Draws him through echoes of laughter dim:

"Mate with your princess, crown her queen!
Lilia, once by mortal men
Hotly wooed and scorned, again
Comes to harry chastest men,
Break a heart as hers broke then,
Giving ecstatic arms and lips
To insure hope's dark eclipse,
To insure all joy's eclipse!
Hate for your Princess -- dule and teen!"

The days and nights were not. His brain
Whirled on ward 'round one dim refrain,
"Will you not love me?" What now were
Earth, Heaven, Hell, withouten her?
Earth, Heaven, Hell but deserts bare
Of one vast, voiceless, blank despair!
Oh, blessed lightnings! Sheol rare!

Chuckle the little elfin men,
Deriding, woe-betiding men,
The little finger-nosing men,
The prophecy-unclosing men!
Thus mock the little elfin men,
"For dream of Lilia, great distress.
For clasp of Lilia, desp' rateness.
Give us the tress -- we crave no less!
Ah, fool! beguiled by Lilia's tress."

And so at last the world's edge came
Upon him like a sword of flame.
Far down the cloud-abyss below
Cold, mocking laughter seemed to go.
He saw white arms, a laughing eye,
Two rose-leaf lips all pursed awry
In an ill-willing, chilling cry.
She vanished.... and he could not die!

He cast the tress -- took paces three --
And saw it vanish utterly.

Still do they point the blasted tree,
That fallen oak upon the lea,
That he uprooted frenziedly.
And they will show the rocks he brake,
The fissures that his heels did make,
The stones he crumbled, flake by flake.

That morning by the lapping moat
They found him mumbling things by rote.
He flew at his betrothed's throat.
So say the little elfin men,
Beguiling, slowly-smiling men,
The little leaping, dancing men,
The slyly necromancing men;
So say the little elfin men,
"For dream of Lilia, great distress.
For clasp of Lilia, heathenesse.
For Lilia's tress -- Hell-fire, we guess!
A fearsome, weirdsome, faerie tress!"





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