Poems, now first collected/La Source

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LA SOURCE

(PORT-AU-PRINCE)

A haunt the mountain roadside near,
Wherefrom the cliff that rose behind
Kept back, through all the tropic year,
The sundrouth and the whirling wind:
These here could never entrance find;
Perpetual summer balm it knew;
And skyward, thick-set boughs entwined
Their coil, where birds made sweet ado,
And heaven through glossy leaves was deepest blue.


Twin relics of some forest grim,
The last of their primeval race
Left scatheless, knit them limb with limb
Above the reaches of that place;
Time's hand against their high embrace
For seeming centuries had striven,
But yet they grappled face to face,
Still from their olden guard undriven
Though at their feet the cliff itself was riven.


And from the rift a stream outflowed,
The fountain of that cloven grot,—
La Source! Along the downward road
It speeded, pitying the lot
Of dwellers in each hot-roofed spot
Which fiery noonday held in rule,—
Yet at the start neglected not
To broaden into one deep pool
Beneath those trees its staunchless waters cool.


Near the green edge of this recess
We made our halt, and marvelled, more
Than at its sudden loveliness,
To find reborn that life of yore
When ocean to Nausicaa bore
The wanderer from Calypso strayed,—
For here swart dames, and beldames hoar,
With many a round-limbed supple maid,
Plashed in the pool and eyed us unafraid.


The simple, shameless washers there,
Dusk children of the Haitian sun,
Bent to the work their bodies, bare
And brown, nor thought our gaze to shun,—
Save that an elfish withered one,
Scolding the white-toothed girls, set free
Her tongue, and bade them now have done
With saucy pranks, nor wanton be
Before us stranger folk from over sea.


But on the sward one rose full length
From her sole covering, and stood
Defiant in the beauteous strength
Of nature unabashed: a nude
And wilding slip of womanhood.
Now for the master-hand, that shaped
The Indian Hunter in his wood,
To mould that lissome form undraped
Ere from its grace the sure young lines escaped!


Straight as the aloe's crested shoot
That blooms a golden month and dies,
She stayed an instant, with one foot
On tiptoe, poising statue-wise,
And stared, and mocked us with her eyes,—
While rippling to her hip's firm swell
The mestee hair, that so outvies
Europe's soft mesh, and holds right well
The Afric sheen, in one dark torrent fell.


Fi, Angélique! we heard them scream,—
What, could that child, in twice her years,
Change to their like from this fair dream!
Fi donc!—But she, as one who hears
And cares not, at her leisure nears
The pool, and toward her mates at play
Plunges,—and laughter filled our ears
As from La Source we turned away
And rode again into the glare of day.