A Damsel in Distress

The Rock of Doom by Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones, 1888
This archetypal painting is by Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones, and shows Perseus rescuing Andromeda. The lines below are from William Morris’s “The Doom of King Acrisius,” The Earthly Paradise (1896), I:269-270.

“Now hovering there, he seemed to hear a sound
Unlike the sea-bird’s cry, and looking round,
He saw a figure standing motionless
Beneath the cliff, midway ‘twixt ness and ness,
And as the wind lull’d heard that cry again,
That sounded like the wail of one in pain;
Wondering thereat, and seeking marvels new
He lighted down, and toward the place he drew,
And made invisible by Pallas’ aid,
He came within the scarped cliff’s purple shade,
And found a woman standing lonely there,
Naked, except for tresses of her hair
That o’er her white limbs by the breeze were wound,
And brazen chains her weary arms that bound
Unto the sea-beat overhanging rock,
As though her golden-crowned head to mock.
But nigh her feet upon the sand there lay
Rich raiment that had covered her that day,
Worthy to be the ransom of a king,
Unworthy round such loveliness to cling.

Alas, alas! no bridal play this was,
The tremors that throughout her limbs did pass,
Her restless eyes, the catching of her breath,
Were but the work of the cold hand of death,
She waited for, midst untold miseries,
As, now with head cast back, and close-shut eyes,
She wailed aloud, and now all spent with woe
Stared out across the rising sea, as though
She deemed each minute brought the end anigh
For which in her despair she needs must cry.

Then unseen Perseus stole anigh the maid,
And love upon his heart a soft hand laid,
And tender pity rent it for her pain;
Not yet an eager cry could he refrain,
As now, transformed by that piteous sight,
Grown like unto a God for pride and might,
Down on the sand the mystic cap he cast
And stood before her with flushed face at last,
And grey eyes glittering with his great desire
Beneath his hair, that like a harmless fire
Blown by the wind shone in her hopeless eyes.

But she, all rigid with her first surprise,
Ceasing her wailing as she heard his cry,
Stared at him, dumb with fear and misery,
Shrunk closer yet unto the rocky place
And writhed her bound hands as to hide her face;
But sudden love his heart did so constrain,
With open mouth he strove to speak in vain
And from his heart the hot tears ‘gan to rise;
But she midst fear beheld his kind grey eyes,
and then, as hope came glimmering through her dread,
In a weak voice he scarce could hear she said,
‘O Death! If though hast risen from the sea,
Sent by the gods to end this misery,
I thank them that thou comest in this form,
Who rather thought to see a hideous worm
Come trailing up the sands from out the deep.
Or suddenly swing over from the steep
To lap me in his folds, and bone by bone
Crush all my body : come then, with no moan,
Will I make ready now to leave the light.'”


About lostdelights

An old gamer flying his freak flag, I've been playing table-top role-playing games since 1978. I've been building my own system (Journeyman) since 1981.
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