The Nymph

By Nora May French

From forest paths we turned us, nymphs, new made,
   And, lifting eyes abashed with great desire
Before high Jove, the gift of souls we prayed.

Whereat he said: "0 perfect as new leaves
   Now glossed and veined with blood of perfect days
And stirred to murmured speech in fragrant eves,

"Still ask ye souls? Behold, I give instead
   Into each breast a bird with fettered wings,
A bird fast holden with a silken thread:

"To fall from trial of flight with strength swift spent,
   To sing of mating and the brooding grass,
To turn thy being earthward to content."

Within me sudden wrath and terror strove,
   And, casting forth his gift I cried aloud:
"I pray thee for a soul in truth, great Jove!"

Then smiled he slowly, lifting to my look
   A fabric where the rippled lustre played
And shifted like the humor of a brook—

All prism-hued, as upward eyes may see
   The sun through dazzled lashes. Straight I cried:
"I know not this!" "Thy soul," he answered me.

But when my joy had seized it, "Nay," he said,
   And cast it gleaming to the scattering wind—
Hues green and golden, blue and fervent red.

Within his hand the brightest shred of all—
   The very heart and secret of the web—
That held he fast and loosed he not at all;

But to me said: "O thou who scorned the dole
   That gave thee peace of days and long content,
Do now my will. Go forth and find thy soul."

To earth we went, nor knew I from that hour
   My sister's joy or pain; but on great morns
When low light slept above a world in flower,

Through drowsing noons where heat and color lie
   In ever wavering tides of airy seas,
Winged by the darting ships of dragon-flies—

Through these and twilight peace I went, and rid
   My steps of comrades. Lonely must I find
The silent places where my soul was hid.

In sheltered ways with summer showers sweet
   I wandered on a day, and singing found
The very green I sought beneath my feet.

In leafing forests when the year was new,
   And heaven ribboned in the crossing boughs,
I gathered marvelous strip on strip of blue.

When on a stream the moon was bright,
   A Naiad from her treasure plucked me forth
Such gold as bound my web with threads of light.

And red. Ah, love! thou knowest how I came
   Unto thy fluting in the breathless eve,
And burned my heart's pale flower to scarlet flame!

One morn I found within a drop of dew
   My very soul: a crystal world it was
Wherein the varied earth and heaven's blue

And myself gazing glassed in perfect sphere—
   But long above it was my wonder bent,
And lo! It dried more swiftly than a tear.

Now is this truth, O Jove, that I have won
   And worn all the shreds thou gav'st the wind?
But how, I pray thee, can my task be done

Unless thou ope thine hand, unless thou loose
   The very heart and secret of the web
Where every thread may end and know its use?

Joy hast thou not withheld, nor love denied
   Nor any beauty dimmed on earth or sky,
Yet by thy will I roam unsatisfied.

But couldst thou hear again that earliest plea,
   Again my choice would flout the lesser gift,
And willing take this task thou grantest me—

To search the heart and secret of the whole,
   To twine the eager hues of varied days,
And to its bright perfection weave a soul.