The heavy air hangs faint
And tangled ; so no bird complaint
Athwarts it; songs of beetles swoon
Upon the heavy afternoon.
Leda, for greed of shade,
And eager faltering through the glade
Of stammering, pleading feet, lets fall
The fetter of her purple pall ;
And, folding her bright hair
Within the twin frail fillet, bare
Lays all the treasure of her neck,
Adorned with one blue jewel fleck
Hung to a tender cord,
The circling crease, which doth afford
Steadfast, exact similitude :
The ring of Venus and her brood.
The gleaming grass lies prone :
The yews seem bronze, the poplars stone.
The very flowers at Leda’s feet
Distil a desolating heat.
Refreshing shade is not.
The darkness of the mossy plot
The willows shelter, doth oppress
The air with added heaviness.
All palpitant and dazed,
Across the lawn doth Leda haste,
To where the dreaming water lies ;
Therein to cool her mirrored eyes.
A bubbly fount makes wet
The low contiguous parapet ;
Recumbent in a wealth of green,
Against the same doth Leda lean.
The fountain’s splash beyond,
In stiller reaches of the pond,
Where weakest ripples spend their strength,
Despairing to attain its length,
The awful heavens burn
Repeated in the hollows ; yearn
With ruddier purpose, to unfold
The swelling destiny they hold.
And, in a certain place,
Suspended on the water’s face,
The doubled swans sit motionless,
For ease against the summer stress.
Yet, lo, why stoop their crests
Contritely to their fluttering breasts,
Which hurrying wavelets break upon ?
Hush, Leda, whence this goodly swan,
This new majestic third,
Unmated, as becomes a bird
So proud imperious ? (For so fair
A fowl were matchless anywhere.)
Of breast, and red-billed royal frown,
And gradual wings outspread to fold,
And back most lustrous to behold,
Are but the little part
Of his enticement, which doth start
From jocund curl of every plume,
A stalwart song, a cool perfume.
THE SWAN :
Though grasses deep
Contrive to keep
Whole for memory, and cherish
The print thy form
Leave deep and warm,
Leda, lady, grasses perish.
Essay the pool,
Leda, for a softer cushion ;
About thy throat,
Pillow fair, thy hair’s profusion.
Thine arm let deck
My willing neck,
Naught let trouble or afear thee ;
So on the tide
Against his side
Haughtily thy swan shall bear thee
Into a nook
Of gorgeous look,
Gay with strange and varied shadow,
Whereof the floor
Is even more
Flowered than the Elysian meadow.
With which the swan floats near ;
And bidding Leda not to fear
Adventure with him, by the beck
Of his keen eyes and writhing neck,
Enticeth till her breast
Beyond the parapet doth rest ;
Until a timid hand leans out
And folds his downy breast about.
Over the margin slips
The lithe blithe line of Leda’s hips ;
And straightway hence the swan doth speed,
Exultant for his rapturous deed,
The glory of their course :
Whence his quick gesture and his force
Excite the like in Leda’s limbs,
Who, like a sturdy swimmer, swims
Beside her feathered lord,
And swift assistance doth afford.
Athwart where pendant vines above
Curtain a shallow water grove,
The swan and Leda break
Triumphant from the spreading lake ;
And pause beneath acacias’ shade,
Which drops perfume, a sheer cascade.
Till sudden lightnings split
The burning sky, and empty it ;
And raucously as eagles cry
An eagle screamed across the sky.
Gray, John. “Leda.” The Dial, vol. 5, 1897, pp. 13-15. Dial Digital Edition, edited by Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, 2019-2020. Yellow Nineties 2.0, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2020. https://1890s.ca/dialv5-gray-leda/