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Life’s Hebe

BY JAMES THOMSON

IN the early morning-shine
Of a certain day divine,
I beheld a Maiden stand
With a pitcher in her hand;
Whence she poured into a cup
Until it was half filled up
Nectar that was golden light
In the cup of crystal bright.

And the first who took the cup
With pure water filled it up;
As he drank then, it was more
Ruddy golden than before:
And he leapt and danced and sang
As to Bacchic cymbals’ clang.

But the next who took the cup
With the red wine filled it up;
What he drank then was in hue
Of a heavy sombre blue:
First he reeled and then he crept,
Then lay faint but never slept.

And the next who took the cup
With the white milk filled it up;
What he drank at first seemed blood,
Then turned thick and brown as mud:
And he moved away as slow
As a weary ox may go.

But the next who took the cup
With sweet honey filled it up;
Nathless that which he did drink
Was thin fluid black as ink:
As he went he stumbled, soon,
And lay still in deathlike swoon.

She the while without a word
Unto all the cup preferred;
Blandly smiled and sweetly laughed
As each mingled his own draught.

And the next who took the cup
To the sunshine held it up,
Gave it back and did not taste;
It was empty when replaced:
First he bowed a reverent bow,
Then he kissed her on the brow.

But the next who took the cup
Without mixture drank it up;
When she took it back from him
It was full unto the brim:
He with a right bold embrace
Kissed her sweet lips face to face.

Then she sang with blithest cheer:
Who has thirst, come here, come here!
Nectar that is golden light
In the cup of crystal bright,
Nectar that is sunny fire
Warm as warmest heart’s desire:
Pitcher never lacketh more,
Arm is never tired to pour:
Honey, water, milk, or wine
Mingle with the draught divine,
Drink it pure, or drink it not;
Each is free to choose his lot:
Am I old? or am I cold?
Only two have kissed me bold!

She was young and fair and gay
As that young and glorious day.

1866

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