Verse > Anthologies > T. H. Ward, ed. > The English Poets > Vol. IV. Wordsworth to Rossetti
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Thomas Humphry Ward, ed.  The English Poets.  1880–1918.
Vol. IV. The Nineteenth Century: Wordsworth to Rossetti
 
Extract from Thalaba
By Robert Southey (1774–1843)
 
    HE found a Woman in the cave,
          A solitary Woman,
      Who by the fire was spinning,
        And singing as she spun.
The pine boughs were cheerfully blazing,        5
And her face was bright with the flame;
    Her face was as a Damsel’s face,
      And yet her hair was grey.
    She bade him welcome with a smile,
      And still continued spinning,        10
      And singing as she spun….
 
The thread she spun it gleam’d like gold
    In the light of the odorous fire,
    Yet was it so wonderously thin,
  That, save when it shone in the light,        15
  You might look for it closely in vain.
      The youth sate watching it,
    And she observed his wonder,
      And then again she spake,
    And still her speech was song;        20
‘Now twine it round thy hands I say,
Now twine it round thy hands I pray;
My thread is small, my thread is fine,
          But he must be
        A stronger than thee,        25
Who can break this thread of mine!’
 
And up she raised her bright blue eyes,
    And sweetly she smiled on him,
        And he conceived no ill;
  And round and round his right hand,        30
      And round and round his left,
      He wound the thread so fine.
  And then again the Woman spake,
    And still her speech was song,
‘Now thy strength, O Stranger, strain!        35
  Now then break the slender chain.’
 
    Thalaba strove, but the thread
      By magic hands was spun,
  And in his cheek the flush of shame
      Arose, commixt with fear.        40
    She beheld and laugh’d at him,
      And then again she sung,
‘My thread is small, my thread is fine,
          But he must be
        A stronger than thee,        45
Who can break this thread of mine!’
 
And up she raised her bright blue eyes,
    And fiercely she smiled on him;
‘I thank thee, I thank thee, Hodeirah’s son!
I thank thee for doing what can’t be undone,        50
For binding thyself in the chain I have spun!’
      Then from his head she wrench’d
          A lock of his raven hair,
          And cast it in the fire,
        And cried aloud as it burnt,        55
      ‘Sister! Sister! hear my voice!
      Sister! Sister! come and rejoice!
            The thread is spun,
            The prize is won,
            The work is done,        60
For I have made captive Hodeirah’s Son.’
 
 
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