Hero to Leander
COME, my Leander, that I may really enjoy that welfare which you so kindly wish me in your letter. Every delay that stands in the way of our happiness seems doubly tedious. Pardon the confession; but I love not according to the common measure. We glow with an equal flame; but my strength is unequal to yours; for I imagine that men are endued with more steady and resolute souls. In women the mind is weak, as well as the body. Delay a little longer, and I sink under the weight of your absence. You can elude the tedious hours, by differently dividing your time; sometimes intent upon hunting, sometimes employed in cultivating the prolific earth. The forum perhaps may interpose,
or the inviting honors of the palæstra: perhaps you are busy in forming the generous steed, and teaching him to obey the rein. Now snares are laid for the feathered tribe; now hooks are baited for the finny prey; and the lingering hours of night are lost in copious goblets of wine. As for me, to whom all these reliefs are denied, what remains, were I even less the slave of a headstrong passion, but to love and endure? It is so: I indulge this sole relief, and love you, O my only happiness, above expression or return. Either I engage with my faithful nurse in silent discourse about you, and wonder what cause can so long delay your coming; or, casting a look upon the sea, I chide, almost in your own words, the waves tossed by spiteful winds: or, when the angry sea remits a little of its rage, I complain that you might, but have no desire to come. Amidst these complaints, the tears flow in streams from my love-sick eyes, and are wiped away by the trembling hand of my aged nurse. I often search if I can find the prints of your feet upon the shore, as if sand could retain the deepening mark. Eager to hear of you, or write to
you, I am always enquiring whether any one has arrived from Abydos, or who thinks of going thither. Why should I mention the many kisses I lavish upon the clothes you put off, when about to plunge into the waters of the Hellespont? But when light vanishes, and the more friendly hour of night, in chasing away the day, exhibits the sparkling stars; forthwith we plant the watchful light upon the tower's top, the known guide and mark of your watery way; and, lengthening by the swiftly-turning spindle the twisted threads, elude the tedious hours in feminine employment. Perhaps you may enquire what I am talking all this while. No name but that of Leander is in your Hero's mouth. "What do you say, my nurse; do you think that my only hope has yet left his father's house? or are all awake, and is he afraid of being observed by his parents? Do you think that he is now pulling the clothes from his shoulders, and anointing his limbs with oil?" She gives a nod of assent; not that she is moved by my embraces, but sleep, gently stealing upon her, shakes her aged head.
Then, after a short delay, I say, "It is certain now that he swims, and tosses his pliant arms amidst the yielding waves." Then, after finishing a few treads, in letting the winding spindle touch the ground, I ask whether you may have yet reached the middle of the streight. Sometimes I look wishfully forward; sometimes I pray with a faltering voice, that propitious gales may give you an easy run. I greedily catch at every sound, and fondly imagine I hear the noise of your approach. When thus the greater part of the eluded night is past, sleep insensibly steals upon my wearied eyes.
Then in dreams I find you by my side, and perhaps much against your will, you are induced to come. For sometimes I seem to behold you swimming near the shore, sometimes you recline your humid arms upon my shoulders: now I reach you the robe to
throw round your yet moist limbs; anon I clasp you shivering to my panting breast; with much more besides, not fit to be mentioned by a modest pen; what in doing may give great pleasure, but which when done delicacy forbids me to name. Unhappy wretch! it is but a short and fleeting pleasure; for you always vanish with my dream. Grant, Heaven, that such ardent lovers may at length be joined together by surer bonds, nor let our enjoyments be destitute of a firm basis. Why have I passed cold and comfortless so many solitary nights? Why, my dear swimmer, are you so slow; why so often absent from me? The sea, I own, is rough and intractable; but last night it blew a gentler gale. Why was that opportunity lost? why did you not dread that following storms might hinder you? why was so fair an offer suffered to escape, and no attempt made? Should a like opportunity of crossing with case invite you, yet the other, as first in time, was far the best. Soon, it is true, was the face of the
troubled deep changed: but, when eager, you have hastened across it in a shorter time. If you are detained here by storms, ought this to make you complain? No tempestuous sea can hurt you when locked in my embraces. I could then calmly listen to the loud threatening winds, nor fatigue Heaven with prayers to smooth the swelling deep. But what has lately happended to cause this unusual dread of the sea? why do you tremble at those waves you formerly despised? For I remember your coming when the sea was no less obstinate and threatening, or at least not much less so. Then I conjured you to be wisely daring, that I might not have cause to lament the fatal effects of your boldness. Whence arises this new fear? Whither has your former courage fled? where is that illustrious swimmer, who nobly despised the threatening waves? Yet rather continue thus, than again expose yourself to former hazards, and
plunge secure into a calm inviting sea; provided only you are unalterably the same, provided you love with the same ardor with which you write, and this noble flame never changes into cold lifeless ashes. I am not so much afraid of the winds that disappoint my earnest wishes, as of your love, that it may prove, like the wind, changeable and inconstant. I fear the not being held in the same esteem; that the dangers may be thought greater than the reward, or that I am accounted too mean a recompence of your toil. Sometimes I am uneasy, from an idea that my country may detract from me, and that a Thracian girl may seem an unequal match for a citizen of Abydos. Yet I can patiently bear any affliction whatever, sooner than the apprehension of your being detained by another flame. Ah! let me rather perish, than suffer under so cruel a distress; may fate end my days before I hear of the dreadful crime!
Nor do I mention this from any reason you give me to suspect approaching grief, or because I am alarmed by some new spreading rumor. But I am subject to every fear; (for when did love yet settle in a quiet mind?) distance and absence feed my anxious thoughts. Happy they, who, always together, know at once what they have to fear, nor feel the piercing grief of false alarms. We are as much disturbed by unjust fears, as ignorant of real injuries; and each error begets equal anxiety.
Oh how I wish that you were here, that either the winds or your parents, and no rival fair, may be the cause of your long stay! For, believe me, to hear of a rival would kill me with grief; and it is now long that you have been in fault, if you thus aim at my destruction. But you are not in fault: these my terrors I know are groundless; the envious winds alone oppose your desired approach. Dreadful! how the shores are lashed by the vast billows! How the day is hidden by gathering clouds! Perhaps
the disconsolate mother of Helle hovers over the deep, and her unhappy daughter is lamented in distilling drops. Or does her step-mother, changed into a sea-goddess, deform the channel that bears the hated name of her daughter-in-law? This sea, such as it is now, is far from being propitious to tender maids. Here Helle perished: I also am crossed by these obstinate waves. But you surely, Neptune, if you call to mind your many flames, can never be an enemy to gentle love; if neither Amymone, nor Tyro of exquisite form, are vain rumours of your guilt; if fair Alcyone, Circe, and the daughter of Alymone;
Medusa (her hair not yet wreathed with serpents), blooming Laodice, and Celæno ranked among the stars, with many other names I remember to have read, were ever dear to you.
These, Neptune, with many more, are sung by the poets to have lain in your embraces. Why then, having yourself so often felt the power of love, do you shut up the accustomed way by rough whirlwinds? Be mild, stern father, and reserve your tumults for the wide ocean. This is merely an arm of the sea, that disjoins two neighbouring tracts. It is yours, triumphant, to toss the vast bulk of ships, or sternly boisterous disperse whole fleets. It is below the God of the ocean to terrify an adventurous youth; a praise unworthy the boast of the meanest lake. He indeed is the noble offspring of an illustrious line, but derives not his pedigree from Ulysses of hated memory. Permit him then to come, and save the life of two. He only, it is true, swims;
but my hope hangs upon the same waves with Leander. Hark! the taper crackles; for it burns beside me as I write: it crackles, and gives propitious signs. See, my nurse pours wine upon flames that yield a favorable omen: she cries, To-morrow we shall be more,
and bears the goblet to her mouth. O Leander, whose image only fills my heart, strive to surmount the dividing waves, and add in yourself another to our number. Return to your own camp, thou deserter of social love. Why are my limbs single in the midst of the bed? Nor is there any ground of fear: Venus herself will favour the attempt; and, sprung from the sea, will smooth the sea-green way. I have oft myself resolved to plunge amidst the waves; but this stormy streight is more favorable to the other sex. For why, when attempted by Phryxus and his sister, did she only give name to this vast bulk of water? Perhaps you fear there will be no opportunity of returning, or you cannot bear a weight of double toil.
Let us then, setting out from opposite shores, meet in the midst of the sea, and
snatch the mutual kisses upon the surface of the waves. Let us then each return home; a small enjoyment indeed, but still better than none! How could I wish that powerful shame, which obliges us thus to conceal our love, would yield to desire, or trembling love give way to the dictates of fame! Honor and passion (things alas! incompatible) combat each other. Which shall I follow, or where end my suspense? On one side is decency, on the other pleasure. Jason of Thessaly, soon after entering Colchis, bore away Medea in his nimble bark. When the faithless Trojan had once arrived at Lacedæmon, he quickly returned triumphant with his prey. As often as you grasp the object of your love, you abandon her; and swim even then when it is dangerous for ships to cut the liquid way. But yet remember, O daring youth, who have so often braved the swelling waves, that you so despise the threatening deep, as not to venture rashly in times of danger. Ships, formed with exquisite art, are often mastered by the foaming sea: can your feeble arms cut the deep like laboring oars? You, Leander, fondly spring forward to swim, an attempt that startles
the daring mariner; this is their last resource when compelled by shipwreck. Alas, how unhappy! I want to dissuade you from what I yet carnestly wish, and pray you may be bolder than my own admonitions allow: yet so that you may still come safe, and clasp my exulting shoulders with your wearied arms, often plunged in the foaming waves. But as often as I turn my eyes towards the blue extent of the sea, I know not what coldness spreads over my panting breast. Nor am I less disturbed by the vision of last night, although expiated by many sacred rites. For about the approach of morning, when the taper gave a faint and glimmering light (at the time when dreams are usually accounted true), my fingers, deadened with sleep, had dropped the lengthening threads, and my neck was gently reclined on the barren ridge. Here I espied a dolphin glide through the raging waves: I saw it a real spectre, and no deluding phantom; which, after being dashed by the waves upon the bubbling sand, was at once abandoned byits element and life. Whatever it may portend, I am full of fears. Despise not the ominous dream, nor trust your limbs but to a calm unruffled sea. If you are regardless of yourself, yet think of
your dearer half, who will never be able to survive your untimely fate. But I hope for a sudden calm to the troubled waves; then plunge with safety, and glide along the level tides. Meantime, as the threatening waves forbid your desired course, let this epistle soften the hated delays.