The Nine Bathers

‘I would like to bathe in milk,’
Said little Agnes, fresh and fair,
With her taper fingers smooth as silk,
Her cherry cheeks, and nut-brown hair—
‘In a bath of ivory, filled to the brim,
I would love to lie and swim,
And float like a strawberry plucked at dawn
In the lily-white waves of milk new drawn.’

‘And I,’ said Rose, with her eyes divine,
‘Would love to bathe in the ruddy wine,
Trailing my long and coal-black locks
In purple claret and amber hocks;
And I would have a fountain play
So that the wine might fall in spray,
And I might stand in the sparkling rain,
Statue-like, in perfect rest;—
And if the droplets left a stain,
I'd have a fountain of champagne
To wash the purple from my breast,
And troops of slaves, in rich attire,
Should scatter myrrh and incense sweet
And bring me, should my looks desire,
A golden ewer to wash my feet.
I'd tread on carpets of velvet woof,
My mirrors should reach from floor to roof,
And every slave should envy me
My loveliness and luxury.’

‘And I,’ said Jane, with her eyes' dark glances
Radiant with untold romances,
‘Would choose a milder bath than thine,
Nor crumple my curls with fiery wine.
In a bath of alabaster bright,
In a marble-floored and lofty hall,
Transplendent with the regal light
Of a thousand lamps from roof and wall.
Amid exotics rich and rare
Filling with odors all the air,
In clear rose-water I would lie,
Like a lily on a lake serene,
Or move my limbs to the harmony
Of an orchestra unseen,
Placed in a chamber far remote,
And floating sing, and singing float.’

‘Sweet bath,’ said the calm, fair Margaret;
‘But the bath I'd choose is sweeter yet.
I'd have it in a rich saloon
Open to the breeze of noon,
With marble columns smooth and high,
And crimson damask drapery,
Filled with statues chaste and rare
Of nymphs and gods divinely fair.
Of jet-black marble the bath should be,
With no white speck on its purity;
It should not flow with milk or wine,
With scented waters or with brine;
It should be filled with meadow dew,
Gathered at morning in the grass,
'Mid harebell cups and violets blue,
And my bath should be my looking-glass;
And I would have a score of maids
Glowing with beauty, each and all,
To twist my locks in graceful braids,
And dress me for a festival.’

‘And I,’ said Lilias, raising her eyes
Clear as morn, of passion full,
‘Would love to bathe under Eastern skies,
In the palace gardens of Istamboul,
In the hanging groves of Babylon,
Or Bagdad, city of the sun,
'Mid orange, date, and trailing vine,
Palm, and myrtle, and eglantine;
I would have fifty fountains fair,
'Mid bowers of roses and evergreens,
And bathing in the odorous air,
I would be waited on by queens.’

‘And I,’ said Ann, with her drooping tresses,
And eyes as full of love's caresses
As the morning is of day,
And mouth so ripe and kindly smiling
'T was never made to answer ‘Nay,’
‘I would bathe in the fresh blue sea
With the wild waves sporting over me;
I would toy with the harmless foam,
Passing my fingers like a comb
Through the crest of each wave that reared
Its spray, as white as Neptune's beard;—
With a fresh wind blowing across the reach,
I would dive and float again and again,
And dress myself on the bare sea-beach,
In a nook invisible to men.’

‘And I,’ said Laura, ‘would choose my bath
Where a river took its lonely path
On round smooth shingle, clear in its flow,
Showing the pebbles that slept below,
Through a flowery lawn well shaven and soft
And cool to the feet. I would not care
For bands of music, if larks aloft
Filled with their songs the sunny air;
I would not ask for lustres bright,
If the clear morning shed its light;
Not for marble statue of youth and maid,
If oaks and poplars lent their shade;
Nor for exotics of choice perfume,
If the meadow-sweet were fresh in bloom;
I would but ask for a summer day,
And nearest eyes ten miles away.’

‘And I,’ said tuneful Isabel,
With her soft blue eyes and cheek vermeil,
With her witching smile and modest blush,
And voice to make the blackbird hush,
‘I would not bathe by the sea-beach cold,
Nor river running through open wold;
I would not bathe in halls of state,
In wine, or milk, or honey-dew;
On me should no serving maidens wait,
Nor luxury my senses woo.
I would bathe far up in a Highland burn,
Hidden from sight in its every turn,
Deep embowered 'mid pendent larch,
And silver birches poised on high,
With nothing alive to cross my path
But the bright incurious butterfly;
In a limpid basin of the rocks
I would unbind my flaxen locks,
And lay my clothes on the mossy stone,
Happy—happy—and all alone.’

‘And I,’ said Geraldine, smoothing back,
From her stately brow, her tresses black,
A blush, like morning over the isles,
Dawning upon her cheeks, and smiles
Flashing about her lips and eyes,
Full of meanings and mysteries,
‘I would love to bathe in a quiet mere,
As a mirror smooth, as a dew-drop clear,
So still that my floating limbs should make
The only ripples upon the lake;
I'd have it fringed with fruits and flowers,
Forests and orchards, groves and bowers,
That whenever I bathed in the noons of spring
I might pluck laburnums blossoming,
Or shake, as I floated, the lilac blooms,
Or chestnut cones with their rich perfumes,
Over my glancing neck and shoulders,
Concealed in the leaves from all beholders,
Except from the ring-dove—too intent
On her own pleasures to look at mine;
And if I bathed when the flowers were spent,
And peaches blushed in the autumn shine,
I would choose a solitary nook,
By the confluence of a brook,
Where the apples were ripe, and the jet-black cherries,
And the juicy luscious dark mulberries,
Or jargonelles of a ruddy gold,
And nectarines as sweet to taste
As the kisses of urchins three years old,
Grew within reach, that stretching in haste
My hand to the boughs as I floated near,
Or stood knee-deep in the lucid mere,
I might rustle and shake the pulpy treasure
Into the water for my pleasure,
Catching an apple as it fell,
Or diving for a jargonelle.’


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