Hero And Leander. The Sixth Sestiad
No longer could the Day nor Destinies
Delay the Night, who now did frowning rise
Into her throne; and at her humorous breasts
Visions and Dreams lay sucking: all men's rests
Fell like the mists of death upon their eyes,
Day's too-long darts so kill'd their faculties.
The Winds yet, like the flowers, to cease began;
For bright Leucote, Venus' whitest swan,
That held sweet Hero dear, spread her fair wings,
Like to a field of snow, and message brings
From Venus to the Fates, t'entreat them lay
Their charge upon the Winds their rage to stay,
That the stern battle of the seas might cease,
And guard Leander to his love in peace.
The Fates consent;--ay me, dissembling Fates!
They showed their favours to conceal their hates,
And draw Leander on, lest seas too high
Should stay his too obsequious destiny:
Who like a fleering slavish parasite,
In warping profit or a traitorous sleight,
Hoops round his rotten body with devotes,
And pricks his descant face full of false notes;
Praising with open throat, and oaths as foul
As his false heart, the beauty of an owl;
Kissing his skipping hand with charmed skips,
That cannot leave, but leaps upon his lips
Like a cock-sparrow, or a shameless quean
Sharp at a red-lipp'd youth, and naught doth mean
Of all his antic shows, but doth repair
More tender fawns, and takes a scatter'd hair
From his tame subject's shoulder; whips and calls
For everything he lacks; creeps 'gainst the walls
With backward humbless, to give needless way:
Thus his false fate did with Leander play.
First to black Eurus flies the white Leucote
(Born 'mongst the negroes in the Levant sea,
On whose curl'd heads the glowing sun doth rise),
And shows the sovereign will of Destinies,
To have him cease his blasts; and down he lies.
Next, to the fenny Notus course she holds,
And found him leaning, with his arms in folds,
Upon a rock, his white hair full of showers;
And him she chargeth by the fatal powers,
To hold in his wet cheeks his cloudy voice.
To Zephyr then that doth in flowers rejoice:
To snake-foot Boreas next she did remove,
And found him tossing of his ravished love,
To heat his frosty bosom hid in snow;
Who with Leucote's sight did cease to blow.
Thus all were still to Hero's heart's desire;
Who with all speed did consecrate a fire
Of flaming gums and comfortable spice,
To light her torch, which in such curious price
She held, being object to Leander's sight,
That naught but fires perfumed must give it light.
She loved it so, she griev'd to see it burn,
Since it would waste, and soon to ashes turn:
Yet, if it burned not, 'twere not worth her eyes;
What made it nothing, gave it all the prize.
Sweet torch, true glass of our society!
What man does good, but he consumes thereby?
But thou wert loved for good, held high, given show;
Poor virtue loathed for good, obscured, held low:
Do good, be pined,--be deedless good, disgraced;
Unless we feed on men, we let them fast.
Yet Hero with these thoughts her torch did spend:
When bees make wax, Nature doth not intend
It should be made a torch; but we, that know
The proper virtue of it, make it so,
And, when 'tis made, we light it: nor did Nature
Propose one life to maids; but each such creature
Makes by her soul the best of her free state,
Which without love is rude, disconsolate,
And wants love's fire to make it mild and bright,
Till when, maids are but torches wanting light.
Thus 'gainst our grief, not cause of grief, we fight:
The right of naught is glean'd, but the delight.
Up went she: but to tell how she descended,
Would God she were dead, or my verse ended!
She was the rule of wishes, sum, and end,
For all the parts that did on love depend:
Yet cast the torch his brightness further forth;
But what shines nearest best, holds truest worth.
Leander did not through such tempests swim
To kiss the torch, although it lighted him:
But all his powers in her desires awaked,
Her love and virtues clothed him richly naked.
Men kiss but fire that only shows pursue;
Her torch and Hero, figure show and virtue.
Now at opposed Abydos naught was heard
But bleating flocks, and many a bellowing herd,
Slain for the nuptials; cracks of falling woods;
Blows of broad axes; pourings out of floods.
The guilty Hellespont was mix'd and stained
With bloody torrents that the shambles rained;
Not arguments of feast, but shows that bled,
Foretelling that red night that followed.
More blood was spilt, more honours were addrest,
Than could have graced any happy feast;
Rich banquets, triumphs, every pomp employs
His sumptuous hand; no miser's nuptial joys.
Air felt continual thunder with the noise
Made in the general marriage-violence;
And no man knew the cause of this expense,
But the two hapless lords, Leander's sire,
And poor Leander, poorest where the fire
Of credulous love made him most rich surmis'd:
As short was he of that himself he prized,
As is an empty gallant full of form,
That thinks each look an act, each drop a storm,
That falls from his brave breathings; most brought up
In our metropolis, and hath his cup
Brought after him to feasts; and much palm bears
For his rare judgment in th' attire he wears;
Hath seen the hot Low-Countries, not their heat,
Observes their rampires and their buildings yet;
And, for your sweet discourse with mouths, is heard
Giving instructions with his very beard;
Hath gone with an ambassador, and been
A great man's mate in travelling, even to Rhene;
And then puts all his worth in such a face
As he saw brave men make, and strives for grace
To get his news forth: as when you descry
A ship, with all her sail contends to fly
Out of the narrow Thames with winds unapt,
Now crosseth here, then there, then this way rapt,
And then hath one point reach'd, then alters all,
And to another crooked reach doth fall
Of half a bird-bolt's shoot, keeping more coil
Than if she danc'd upon the ocean's toil;
So serious is his trifling company,
In all his swelling ship of vacantry
And so short of himself in his high thought
Was our Leander in his fortunes brought,
And in his fort of love that he thought won;
But otherwise he scorns comparison.
O sweet Leander, thy large worth I hide
In a short grave! ill-favour'd storms must chide
Thy sacred favour; I in floods of ink
Must drown thy graces, which white papers drink,
Even as thy beauties did the foul black seas;
I must describe the hell of thy decease,
That heaven did merit: yet I needs must see
Our painted fools and cockhorse peasantry
Still, still usurp, with long lives, loves, and lust,
The seats of Virtue, cutting short as dust
Her dear-bought issue: ill to worse converts,
And tramples in the blood of all deserts.
Night close and silent now goes fast before
The captains and the soldiers to the shore,
On whom attended the appointed fleet
At Sestos' bay, that should Leander meet,
Who feigned he in another ship would pass:
Which must not be, for no one mean there was
To get his love home, but the course he took.
Forth did his beauty for his beauty look,
And saw her through her torch, as you behold
Sometimes within the sun a face of gold,
Formed in strong thoughts, by that tradition's force
That says a god sits there and guides his course.
His sister was with him; to whom he show'd
His guide by sea, and said, 'Oft have you view'd
In one heaven many stars, but never yet
In one star many heavens till now were met.
See, lovely sister! see, now Hero shines,
No heaven but her appears; each star repines,
And all are clad in clouds, as if they mourned
To be by influence of earth out-burned.
Yet doth she shine, and teacheth Virtue's train
Still to be constant in hell's blackest reign,
Though even the gods themselves do so entreat them
As they did hate, and earth as she would eat them.'
Off went his silken robe, and in he leapt,
Whom the kind waves so licorously cleapt,
Thickening for haste, one in another, so,
To kiss his skin, that he might almost go
To Hero's tower, had that kind minute lasted.
But now the cruel Fates with Ate hasted
To all the winds, and made them battle fight
Upon the Hellespont, for either's right
Pretended to the windy monarchy;
And forth they brake, the seas mixed with the sky,
And tossed distressed Leander, being in hell,
As high as heaven: bliss not in height doth dwell.
The Destinies sate dancing on the waves,
To see the glorious Winds with mutual braves
Consume each other: O, true glass, to see
How ruinous ambitious statists be
To their own glories! Poor Leander cried
For help to sea-born Venus she denied;
To Boreas, that, for his Atthaea's sake
He would some pity on his Hero take,
And for his own love's sake, on his desires;
But Glory never blows cold Pity's fires.
Then call'd he Neptune, who, through all the noise,
Knew with affright his wreck'd Leander's voice,
And up he rose; for haste his forehead hit
'Gainst heaven's hard crystal; his proud waves he smit
With his forked sceptre, that could not obey;
Much greater powers than Neptune's gave them sway.
They loved Leander so, in groans they brake
When they came near him; and such space did take
'Twixt one another, loath to issue on,
That in their shallow furrows earth was shown,
And the poor lover took a little breath:
But the curst Fates sate spinning of his death
On every wave, and with the servile Winds
Tumbled them on him. And now Hero finds,
By that she felt, her dear Leander's state:
She wept, and prayed for him to every Fate;
And every Wind that whipped her with her hair
About the face, she kissed and spake it fair,
Kneeled to it, gave it drink out of her eyes
To quench his thirst: but still their cruelties
Even her poor torch envied, and rudely beat
The baiting flame from that dear food it eat;
Dear, for it nourish'd her Leander's life;
Which with her robe she rescued from their strife;
But silk too soft was such hard hearts to break;
And she, dear soul, even as her silk, faint, weak,
Could not preserve it; out, O, out it went!
Leander still call'd Neptune, that now rent
His brackish curls, and tore his wrinkled face,
Where tears in billows did each other chase;
And, burst with ruth, he hurl'd his marble mace
At the stern Fates: it wounded Lachesis
That drew Leander's thread, and could not miss
The thread itself, as it her hand did hit,
But smote it full, and quite did sunder it.
The more kind Neptune raged, the more he razed
His love's life's fort, and kill'd as he embraced:
Anger doth still his own mishap increase;
If any comfort live, it is in peace.
O thievish Fates, to let blood, flesh, and sense,
Build two fair temples for their excellence,
To robe it with a poisoned influence!
Though souls' gifts starve, the bodies are held dear
In ugliest things; sense-sport preserves a bear:
But here naught serves our turns: O heaven and earth,
How most-most wretched is our human birth!
And now did all the tyrannous crew depart,
Knowing there was a storm in Hero's heart,
Greater than they could make, and scorn'd their smart.
She bow'd herself so low out of her tower,
That wonder 'twas she fell not ere her hour,
With searching the lamenting waves for him:
Like a poor snail, her gentle supple limb
Hung on her turret's top, so most downright,
As she would dive beneath the darkness quite,
To find her jewel;--jewel!--her Leander,
A name of all earth's jewels pleas'd not her
Like his dear name: 'Leander, still my choice,
Come naught but my Leander! O my voice,
Turn to Leander! henceforth be all sounds,
Accents and phrases, that show all griefs' wounds,
Analyzed in Leander! O black change!
Trumpets, do you, with thunder of your clange,
Drive out this change's horror! My voice faints:
Where all joy was, now shriek out all complaints!'
Thus cried she; for her mixed soul could tell
Her love was dead: and when the Morning fell
Prostrate upon the weeping earth for woe,
Blushes, that bled out of her cheeks, did show
Leander brought by Neptune, bruis'd and torn
With cities' ruins he to rocks had worn,
To filthy usuring rocks, that would have blood,
Though they could get of him no other good.
She saw him, and the sight was much-much more
Than might have serv'd to kill her: should her store
Of giant sorrows speak?--Burst,--die,--bleed,
And leave poor plaints to us that shall succeed.
She fell on her love's bosom, hugged it fast,
And with Leander's name she breathed her last.
Neptune for pity in his arms did take them,
Flung them into the air, and did awake them
Like two sweet birds, surnam'd th' Acanthides,
Which we call Thistle-warps, that near no seas
Dare ever come, but still in couples fly,
And feed on thistle-tops, to testify
The hardness of their first life in their last;
The first, in thorns of love, that sorrows past:
And so most beautiful their colours show,
As none (so little) like them; her sad brow
A sable velvet feather covers quite,
Even like the forehead-cloth that, in the night,
Or when they sorrow, ladies use to wear:
Their wings, blue, red, and yellow, mixed appear:
Colours that, as we construe colours, paint
Their states to life;--the yellow shows their saint,
The dainty Venus, left them; blue their truth;
The red and black, ensigns of death and ruth.
And this true honour from their love-death sprung,--
They were the first that ever poet sung.
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(4 April 1928 - 28 May 2014)
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Edgar Allan Poe
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