The Poetry Corner

The Dancing Elf*

By Victoria Mary Sackville-West

I woke to daylight, and to find A wreath of fading vine-leaves, rough entwined, Lying, as dropped in hasty flight, upon my floor. Dropped from thy head, sweet Spirit of the night, Who cam'st, with footstep light, Blown in by the soft breeze, as thistledown, In through my open door. Whence? From the woodland, from the fields of corn, From flirting airily with the bright moon, Playing throughout the hours that go too soon, Ready to fly at the approach of morn, Thou cam'st, Bent on the curious quest To see what mortal guest Dwelt in the one-roomed cottage built to face the dawn. Thou didst pause Shy, timid, on the threshold, though there laughed The mischief in thy roguish eyes, then soft, Thou crosst the room on tiptoe to my bed, One finger on thy lip, Cautious to make no slip, I saw the wreath of vine-leaves on thy head. Then with a twirl Thinking I slept, And a joyous whirl, Into a dance leapt The careless spirit too long restrained; The purest dancing, Feet sometimes chancing To touch the ground; Then starting up with a fresh high bound, To hang for a moment poised in the air, And a glimpse of white teeth glancing And a laughing face beneath tossing hair; An orgy, a revel, a living joy, Embodied in one slim woodland boy, Dancing forward, backward, now here, now there, Swaying to every impulse unconstrained. Thou wert too pure for Bacchus, and too young for Pan. What wert thou? In the daytime dost thou sleep In a cave Like a grave, Till the moon calls thee, in the sleep of man, To thy light revels through the sombre deep Wood's shadows to a space among the trees, Where the breeze Makes music through the branches for thy dance, And the large-eyed and silent deer stand round Peeping through tree-trunks, and each forest sound The trickling stream's Murmur in its dreams, The shepherd's pipe, far-echoing by chance,, Melt all for thee To one soft harmony, While for the lighting of thy mossy slope The moon thy lover sheds an opal glow, Pale silver-green, the colour of the leaves Of olive-trees, The limelight on the stage for Youth and Joy and Hope? And at the first rose menace of the dawn Must thou go, Fly to thy cave, thou little pagan Faun? The fount of joy was bubbling in thine eyes, Dancing was in thy feet, And on thy lips a laugh that never dies, Unutterably sweet. Dance on! for ever young, for ever fair, Lightfooted as a frightened bounding deer, Thy wreath of vine-leaves twisted in thy hair, Through all the changing seasons of the year, And tread, to Autumn's gorgeous hymn of praise, And to the happy Spring's light lilt of pleasure, And to the dirgeful chant of Winter's days, And ever varying, ever suited measure; And in the Summer, when the reeking earth Swings a vast censer, as it is most meet, Praise thou for lavish gifts, new hopes, new birth, Praise with the dancing of thy tireless feet! I woke to daylight, and to find A wreath of fading vine-leaves, rough entwined, Lying, as dropped in hasty flight, upon my floor.