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The Two Swans: A Fairy Tale
by [?]


I.

Immortal Imogen, crown’d queen above
The lilies of thy sex, vouchsafe to hear
A fairy dream in honor of true love–
True above ills, and frailty, and all fear,–
Perchance a shadow of his own career
Whose youth was darkly prison’d and long-twined
By serpent-sorrow, till white Love drew near,
And sweetly sang him free, and round his mind
A bright horizon threw, wherein no grief may wind.

II.

I saw a tower builded on a lake,
Mock’d by its inverse shadow, dark and deep–
That seem’d a still intenser night to make,
Wherein the quiet waters sank to sleep,–
And, whatso’er was prison’d in that keep,
A monstrous Snake was warden:–round and round
In sable ringlets I beheld him creep
Blackest amid black shadows to the ground,
Whilst his enormous head, the topmost turret crown’d.

III.

From whence he shot fierce light against the stars,
Making the pale moon paler with affright;
And with his ruby eye out-threaten’d Mars–
That blaz’d in the mid-heavens, hot and bright–
Nor slept, nor wink’d, but with a steadfast spite
Watch’d their wan looks and tremblings in the skies;
And that he might not slumber in the night,
The curtain-lids were pluck’d from his large eyes,
So he might never drowse, but watch his secret prize.

IV.

Prince or princess in dismal durance pent,
Victims of old Enchantment’s love or hate,
Their lives must all in painful sighs be spent,
Watching the lonely waters soon and late,
And clouds that pass and leave them to their fate,
Or company their grief with heavy tears:–
Meanwhile that Hope can spy no golden gate
For sweet escapement, but in darksome fears
They weep and pine away as if immortal years.

V.

No gentle bird with gold upon its wing
Will perch upon the grate–the gentle bird
Is safe in leafy dell, and will not bring
Freedom’s sweet key-note and commission-word
Learn’d of a fairy’s lips, for pity stirr’d–
Lest while he trembling sings, untimely guest!
Watch’d by that cruel Snake and darkly heard,
He leave a widow on her lonely nest,
To press in silent grief the darlings of her breast.

VI.

No gallant knight, adventurous, in his bark,
Will seek the fruitful perils of the place,
To rouse with dipping oar the waters dark
That bear that serpent image on their face.
And Love, brave Love! though he attempt the base,
Nerved to his loyal death, he may not win
His captive lady from the strict embrace
Of that foul Serpent, clasping her within
His sable folds–like Eve enthrall’d by the old Sin.

VII.

But there is none–no knight in panoply,
Nor Love, intrench’d in his strong steely coat:
No little speck–no sail–no helper nigh,
No sign–no whispering–no plash of boat:–
The distant shores show dimly and remote,
Made of a deeper mist,–serene and gray,–
And slow and mute the cloudy shadows float
Over the gloomy wave, and pass away,
Chased by the silver beams that on their marges play.

VIII.

And bright and silvery the willows sleep
Over the shady verge–no mad winds tease
Their hoary heads; but quietly they weep
Their sprinkling leaves–half fountains and half trees:
Their lilies be–and fairer than all these,
A solitary Swan her breast of snow
Launches against the wave that seems to freeze
Into a chaste reflection, still below
Twin shadow of herself wherever she may go.

IX.

And forth she paddles in the very noon
Of solemn midnight like an elfin thing,
Charm’d into being by the argent moon–
Whose silver light for love of her fair wing
Goes with her in the shade, still worshipping
Her dainty plumage:–all around her grew
A radiant circlet, like a fairy ring;
And all behind, a tiny little clue
Of light, to guide her back across the waters blue.