The lamp that saw the lovers side by side
In furtive clasp; the swimmer bold o' nights;
The close embrace Aurora never spied,
Sing Muse! and Sestos, nest of their delights,
Where Hero watched, and Eros had his rites
Duly performed. My song is of Leander,
And lovingly the beacon-lamp requites,
Which lured him o'er the ocean's back to wander,
Sweet Hero's message-light, love's harbinger and pandar.
Zeus should have placed that signal-light above,
(Their love-race ended) 'mid the constellations,
And called its name the bridal star of love,
As minister of rapture's keen sensations,
The cresset, by whose aid they found occasions
Of sleepless nights—till blew the fatal blast.
Come, Muse! and join with me in lamentations
For that clear night, by which love's bidding past,
And for Leander's life, extinguished both at last.
Sestos is opposite Abydos, near
And neighbour cities—parted by the sea:
Love with one arrow scorched a virgin there,
And here a youth; the fairest Hero she,
The handsome bachelor, Leander, he.
Stars of their cities, but resembling each
The other. Sestos keeps her memory
Where Hero's lamp was wont his way to teach,
And for Leander moans Abydos' sullen beach.
Whence grew Leander's passion? Whence again
Did the same fire sweet Hero's heart devour?
Priestess of Cypris, and of noble strain,
Untaught in Hymen's rites, and of love's power
Unconscious, Hero in a sea-side tower,
An ancient and ancestral pile, was dwelling,—
Another Cypris, but a virgin flower,
In sensitive white purity excelling,
The slander and the touch of license rude repelling.
She went not where the light-foot choir assembled,
Shunned ribalds, and the breath that Envy blew,
(The fair hate those are fairer,) and she trembled
At thought of young Love's quiver,—for she knew
His mother favoured every shaft he drew;
Prayers to the mother, and with girlish art
Cates to the son she offered: nathless flew
From the sly urchin's bow the fire-plumed dart
Straight to its destined mark, the maiden's trembling heart.
What time came round the Sestian festival,
Sacred to Cypris, and her Syrian fere,
All who inhabited the coronal
Of sparkling isles their way to Sestos steer;
Some from Emonia gather far and near;
Others from Cyprus; in Cythera now
No woman stays; in Sestos now appear
The Phrygian, and the dancer on the brow
Of spicy Lebanon, as thereto bound by vow.
Thither the virgin-hunters thick repair,
As is their wont; a rash and reckless race,
Whose prayers are only offered to the fair.
There moved our Hero with majestic pace;
A star-like glory scattered from her face
Sparkles of light, as when the moon discloses
Among the stars her cheek's clear-shining grace;
Like a twin-rose, one white, one red, reposes
On either snow-white cheek the blushing bloom of roses.
You'd say her limbs were rose-buds; for a light
Of rose-like hues fell from them; you might see
The rose-blush on her feet and ankles white;
And from her limbs with every movement free
Flowed many graces: they who feigned them three
Said falsely, for in Hero's laughing eyes
A thousand graces budded. Such was she—
Fit priestess of the beauty of the skies,
For without question hers was mortal beauty's prize.
Into the young men's minds her beauty entered:
Who wished not loveliest Hero for his wife?
Where'er she paced the temple, still she centred
All eyes, hearts, wishes. "I have seen the strife
For beauty's prize in Lacedemon, rife
With virgins radiant, with love's dazzling splendour;
But never there, nor elsewhere in my life,
Saw I a girl so dignified, yet tender;
She surely is a Grace: Oh, would Queen Cypris lend her—
"Or give her me! I've tired, not filled mine eye
With gazing. Let me press her dainty side,
And die! A god's life on Olympus high
Would I refuse, had I that girl for bride:
But, since to me thy priestess is denied,
Queen! let my home with such a one be gladdened."
Thus spake one bachelor; another tried
To smile and mock, as tho' he were not saddened,
Hiding the secret wound, which all the time him maddened.
But thou, Leander, wouldst not hide the wound,
And vex thy secret soul; but when Desire
Surprised thee looking on the maid renowned,
Tamed by the sudden darts of arrowy fire,
Thou wouldst not live without her; fiercer, higher,
Flamed love's hot torch, and pierced into thy marrow,
Fed by her eye-beams. Loveliness, entire
And blameless, sharper is than any arrow,
Reaching the heart of man thro' channel sure tho' narrow.
The liquid fire from hers to his eye glides,
Thence passing inward, dives into his breast:
A sudden whirl of thoughts his mind divides;
Amazement at her loveliness confest;
Shame at himself soon caught; fear, love's unrest,
And hope, impatient for love's recompense;
But love to this delirious whirl gave zest,
And furnished him with resolute impudence
To venture, and outface that glorious innocence.
He turned on her askant his guileful eye,
With speechless nods the damsel's mind assailing:
She gladly saw his love, and silently
Her sweet face ever and anon was veiling,
And then with furtive nods her lover hailing,
Bowed to him in return. He with delight
Observed she saw, nor scorned his love. Then, trailing
His robe of beams, the Day departed quite,
(Leander watched the hour,) and rose the star of night.
Nor, when he saw the dark-robed mist, he lingered,
But hastened boldly to the maid beloved,
And with a sigh her rosy palm he fingered.
But, drawing back her hand, the virgin moved
In silence from th' intruder; unreproved,
For he had seen her nods, and they were kind,
He pulled her broidered robe, and, as behoved,
He drew her gently to the gloom behind:
She slowly followed him, as if against her mind.
And then with art and language feminine
She threatened him:—"Why pullest me, lewd ranger?
Pursue thy way, I beg, and leave me mine.
To touch a priestess is a deed of danger;
A virgin's bed is not for any stranger."
She spake as virgins should; and yet she missed
To frighten him, who reckoned soon to change her,
When he her chiding heard; for well he wist
That women chide the most when they would fain be kissed.
Kissing her polished, fragrant neck, he cries:
"After the fairest Cytherea, fair!
And after the most wise Athena, wise!
For with Jove's daughters thee will I compare,
And not with any dames that mortal are;
Happy thy father! happy she who bore thee!
But hear, and pardon, and accept my prayer;
I come for love; for love I now implore thee;
Perform love's ministry with me, for I adore thee.
"A virgin priestess to the Cyprian Queen!
No grace in virgins Cytherea trows;
To marriage only point her rites, I ween;
Then if to her thy heart true service vows,
Accept me for thy lover and thy spouse,
Whom Eros hunted as a spoil for thee.
As Hermes of the gold-wand (Fame allows)
Led Hercules to serve Queen Omphale,
So Cytherea now, not Hermes, leadeth me.
"The tale of Atalantis too is known,
Who fled the couch of Prince Milanion,
To keep her virgin flower; but wrath was shewn
By Cypris, who, for scorn to marriage done,
Him once she loved not, made her dote upon:
Beware lest thou too anger her." Commenting
Thus cunningly, the maiden's ear he won,
And willing mind, to dulcet words consenting,
To love's soft eloquence, that genders love, relenting.
In silence on the ground she fixed her eyes,
And gently turned aside her glowing cheek,
And shuffled her small feet, and modest-wise
Drew round her graceful neck, and bosom sleek,
Her robe yet closer. These are signs that speak;
A virgin's silence ever means consent;
The bitter-sweet of love was hers, and eke
The glow of heart, hopeful, but not content,
While yet the thoughts are lost in love's first wonderment.
This for Leander gentle Hero felt;
But, while she downward looked, his greedy eyes
Fed on her neck. With words that dew-like melt,
While blossom on her cheek the moist red dies
Of modesty, she says: "Such power there lies
In thy sweet eloquence, that it might move
The flinty rock; who taught the harmonies
Of such enticing words? What impulse drove
Thee hither? Who thy guide? Oh was it, was it Love?
"Perchance thou mockest me; but how canst thou,
A stranger and unknown, my love enjoy?
I never can be thine by open vow;
My parents shut me up. Can we employ
Art for our secret, love? Oh, men destroy
Who trust them! ever babbling in the street
Of what they do in secret. Wilt decoy
A trusting heart to ruin? yet, as meet,
Speak truth; thy fatherland and name to me repeat.
"My name is Hero; my abode is lonely,
A tower that lifts its echoes to the sky,
For so my parents will; one handmaid only
Dwells with me there; no choirs e'er court mine eye,
Nor friends of equal years. The shores close by
Rebellow; night and day the roaring tide
Rings in mine ears, and eke the clanging cry
Of the sea-winds." She spake, and sought to hide,
Shamefaced, her rosy cheek, her words to chide.
Leander then did with himself advise,
How in love's contest he might best contend;
For wily Love, though wont to tyrannise,
Heals whom he wounds, and ever loves to lend
His subjects wit, their counsellor and friend.
He helped Leander, then, who deeply sighed,
And said: "Dear virgin! for our wished-for end
I dauntless on the rugged surge will ride,
Tho' in it ships be whelmed, and o'er it lightnings glide.
"Seeking thy bed, I tremble not, nor cower
At ocean's angry roar and frightful front:
A dripping bed-mate, nightly to thy tower
Will I swim o'er the rapid Hellespont;
Abydos is not far from Hero's haunt.
But promise me to shew a lamp, to be
My nightly star; and it shall be my wont,
E'en like a ship, to swim across the sea,
Thy lamp the blessed star that guides my course to thee.
"And, watching it, I ne'er will turn mine eye on
Setting Bo÷tes, nor th' unwetted Wain,
Nor on the sworded, storm-engirt Orion,
But, guided by the lamp, I soon shall gain
Safe anchorage and sweet. Strict guard maintain
Against the blasts, for fear my safety-light
They rudely quench, and in the howling main
I perish so. Leander am I hight,
And Hero's happy spouse." Thus they their love-vows plight.
She from her tower to shew a lamp agrees,
And he from the swelling waves at night to cleave:
Then to her tower the anxious maiden flees,
While he must in a pinnace Sestos leave,
And in Abydos wait till he receive
The promised signal, his appointed guide,
When he must swim, not sail. Till they achieve
Love's celebration, rest is them denied.
Haste, Night! and canopy the bridegroom and the bride.
In veil of darkness Night ran up the sky,
Bringing on sleep, but not for Hero's lover;
He, where the swelling waves roared mightily,
For by the shore, stood waiting to discover
The lamentable lamp that lured him over—
To death at last. But Hero, seaward turning,
Perceived the gloom, and for her ocean-rover
Kindled the signal; but on his discerning
Its promised flame, he burned with love, as that was burning.
At first he trembled at the ringing roar
Of the mad surge, but with the soothing spell
Of hopeful words took courage; "What is more
Cruel than love, or more implacable
Than ocean? in moist ruin this doth swell;
That in the heart, a burning furnace, raves.
Fear not, my soul! why shouldst thou fear the hell
Of waters? Aphrodite from the waves
Sprung, and rules over them, sways our love pains and saves."
He then put off his vest with playful glee,
And twined it round his head; and from the shore
Plunged fearlessly into the surf o' the sea;
And where the signal shone, he hastened o'er,
Ship, sail, and oars himself. But yet before
He reached his port, how oft the Sestian flower
Kept off the breezes with the robe she wore
From the trimmed lamp! It is her nuptial hour—
Leander comes at last, and now ascends her tower.
With a mute clasp she welcomed to her home
The panting youth, and to her chamber led,
While from his hair fast dropt the salt sea-foam:
She rubbed his limbs with rose-oil, and then led
Her lover to her virgin couch, and said,
Embracing him the while, and softly willing
"Enough of brine and odours which bred:
No bridegroom but thyself was ever willing
To run such risk, such toil none else but thou fulfilling.
"No longer lies our joy and us between
That envious sea—now lay thee down to rest."
Silence was there, and Night drew round her screen;
Their nuptial troth was by no minstrel blest;
The bridal pair were in no hymn addrest;
No choir danced round them; and no torches lightened
About the genial bed; no marriage guest
Led the gay dance; nor hymeneal heightened
The joy, approving it; no parent's smile there brightened.
Silence arranged the couch, and Darkness drew
The curtains; paranymph and bridemaid none
Had they beside. Aurora ne'er did view
Leander lying, when the night was done,
In Hero's arms. He was already gone,—
Already wishing for the night again.
The wife at night, by day a virgin shone.
As thought her parents wise; while she was fain,
Of night, to welcome him who made their wisdom vain.
Thus they enjoyed awhile their furtive pleasure,
He to his bed-mate nightly swimming o'er;
But soon their life's bloom fell, and scant their measure
Of bridal hours. When came the winter frore,
And brought the cold blast and the whirlwind's roar,
Sharp gusts the bottom of the deep confounding,
And lashing up the main from shore to shore,
Whirling and rushing, roaring and rebounding,
The watery paths above and shaken depths astounding—
What time a desperate pilot, who no more
Amid the waters wild his course could hold,
Had run his ship upon a fork o' the shore;
Not then the tempest checked Leander bold,
For Hero's signal-light her summons told.
Oh! cruel, faithless light of love! to scout him
On such a night! to plunge him in the cold
And hissing waves, that rudely toss and flout him!
Why could not Hero sleep, while winter raged, without him?
But love and fate compelled her; light of love,
Drawn by desire, she shewed not, but the black
Torch-gloom of fate. The winds collected drove
Volumes of gusty darts upon the track
Of the sea-broken shore; but on the back
Of raving ocean lost Leander went.
The water stood in heaps; with fearful crack
The winds ran counter, and were madly blent,
Rushing from every side, in wildest minglement.
Wave upon wave! ocean with ether mixt!
Mighty the crash! How could Leander ride on
The monstrous whirl? Sore tost, he one while fixt
In prayer on Cypris, then on King Poseidon,
And e'en the fierce and frantic Boreas cried on,
Who then forgot his Atthis. Lover lorn!
None helped him, none! Love, whom he most relied on,
Averted not his fate; tost, tumbled, torn,
By every counter wave he was at random borne.
He can no longer ply his hands or feet;
Drench'd with the brine, his strength is failing fast;
On him the cruel waves remorseless beat;
The lamp is now extinguished by the blast,
And with it his young life and love at last:
But while the waves his lifeless body drove,
How many a glance poor Hero seaward cast!
In vain into the gloom her glances rove;
Her anxious thoughts a pool of spectred troubles move.
The morning came, nor yet Leander came!
Upon the sea's broad back her glance was thrown,
If haply, missing that unfaithful flame,
He wandered there; but soon she spied him strown
A mangled corse below. She tore her gown,
And shrieked, and for Leander madly cried,
And from the tower fell whizzing headlong down.
Thus, on her husband dead sweet Hero died,
And who were joined in life, then death did not divide.