Leander to Hero
LEANDER of Abydos sends, to his girl of Sestos, those wishes for her health, which he would rather bring himself, if the rage of the sea should abate. If the Gods are favorable, and wish well to my love, you will run over this with discontented eyes. But they, alas! are far from being favorable. Why else are my hopes deferred? why am I forbidden to swim over the known seas? You
see that the heavens are dark as pitch; the billows swell with the wind, too fierce to be stemmed by the hollow ships. One mariner, more daring than the rest, who brings you this epistle, ventured to leave the harbour. Here I intended to embark, if, when he weighed anchor, all Abydos had not viewed us from the eminences. I could not, as before, have dissembled with my parents, and that love, which prudence requires us to conceal, would no longer have been unknown. Writing being now my only relief, I wrote: Go,
said I, happy epistle! Soon, with a graceful smile, will she extend to thee her fair hand. Perhaps too thou mayest be pressed to her ruby lips, as with her ivory teeth she eagerly breaks the seals.
After muttering this in gentle whispers, my ready right-hand quickly marked down the rest. How much would I rather it should dash through the swelling flood, than thus in languishing accents write my complaints! How much rather it should bear me sedulous though the well-known waves! Far better does it indeed serve to lash the foamming deep; yet it is no unfit minister of my warmest thoughts and wishes. It is now the seventh night (a space to me more tedious than a year) that the raging sea has tossed her
sounding billows. May the angry sea prolong her rage with ten-fold heat, if in all these lingering nights my distracted breast has tasted the sweets of soothing rest! Mounted on some rocky cliff, I pensive view the beloved shore, and am carried in thought whither I cannot convey myself in person. My eyes too behold, or seem to behold, upon the tower's top, the watchful light that is to guide my course. Thrice I stripped, and laid my clothes upon the dry sand; thrice I attempted, naked, the threatening watery way. But the swelling sea opposed my bold youthful attempts, and, as I swam, overwhelmed me with adverse waves. But you, North, the most inexorable of all the raging winds, why do you obstinately raise up against me a malicious opposition? If you are not already aware, know, that It is against me, and not the seas, that you thus terribly rage. What would you do, were you wholly a stranger to love? Cold as you are, perverse Boreas, you cannot deny that you were once warmed by Actæan fires. When keen to snatch the joys of love, had any one shut up the aërial way, how would you have taken it? Pity me then for heaven's sake, and blow more mildly the gentle gales: so may Æolus lay no harsh commands
upon you. In vain I beg: he murmurs and rages at my petitions, nor offers to smoothe the billows which he has so violently agitated. Oh that Dædalus would gift me with daring wings! the Icarian shore so near, causes no terror in me.
I will boldly venture, whatever be the issue; let me only mount my body aloft in air, as it has often hovered upon uncertain waves. Meantime, while the winds and waves thus cross all my hopes, I revolve in my mind the first moments of our stolen delights.
Night was coming on, (for there is a pleasure in calling to remembrance past enjoyments,) when, full of love, I left the gates of my father's house. Then without delay pulling off my clothes, and casting away at the same time all fear, I with pliant arms cut the yielding tide. The Moon, like a faithful attendant to direct my way, furnished a trembling light as I traversed the flood. Regarding her with a wishful look, "Bright Goddess," I said, "favor my design, and call to mind the happy Latmian cliffs. Endymion
cannot allow that you should
be of an unrelenting mind; favor therefore with a friendly look these my stolen delights. You, though a Goddess, left heaven in quest of a mortal: Why should I not speak the truth? she whom I pursue is a very Goddess. For, not to mention her manners, the truest tokens of a heavenly mind, a beauty so exquisite can only fall to the share of a Goddess. No face, Venus and you excepted, can equal hers: nor trust entirely to my words, but view her yourself. As all the stars of heaven disappear before your superior brightness, when you shine out in the full splendor of your silver rays; in like manner when she approaches, all other beauties are overlooked. To doubt of this, Cynthia, would be owning yourself destitute of sight." Having addressed her thus, or in words to the like purport, I in the silent night bore through the yielding waves. The surface of the deep shone with the reflection of the moon's rays, and in the dead of night was a light clear as that at mid-day. No voice, no sound reached my ears, but the deep murmurs of the broken waves. The king-fishers alone, mind-
ful of the once dearly-loved Ceyx, uttered, in the softest strains, I know not what moving complaints. And now my arms from each shoulder being spent with toil, I raise myself high upon the surface of the waves; and discerning at some distance a light, "My flame (cried I) is there; these shores point out the darling light." Swift as though, my wearied arms feel the returning vigor; and the billows seem to bear me up more gently than before. The love that warms my panting breast, prevents me from feeling the coldness of the briny sea. The more I advance, the nearer I come to the wished-for shore: in fine, as the distance lessens, I feel my strength greater to proceed. But no sooner had I come within sight, than, observing you a spectator from the top of your tower, I felt a new accession of spirits, and a fresh tide of vigor, flowing in upon me. I study to please my mistress, by shewing a dexterity in swimming, and toss my arms graceful in her sight. Scarcely was your tender nurse able to restrain you from rushing into the sea. I saw this also; nor was it an artifice to deceive me. Even all her endeavours could not wholly keep you back: you pressed forward to meet me, till your ancles were covered by the dashing waves. You received
me into your embraces, and almost smothered me with fragrant kisses; kisses, (great Gods!) more than a full reward for the dangers of crossing the sea. You gave me the robes which you had taken from your own shoulders, and smoothed my locks wet with briny dew. Ourselves, the night, the tower, and that shining light which guided my way through the uncertain deep, were conscious of the rest. The joys of that happy night are no more to be numbered, than the sea-weed cast upon the shore by the raging waves of the Hellespont. The less the time allowed us for these stolen pleasures, the greater was our care that not a moment should be lost.
And now, the wife of Tithonus preparing to drive away the night, Lucifer, the fore-runner of Aurora, rose above the earth. We rushed into each other's arms, and mutually snatched the ardent kisses; we complained of the night, that her stay was so short. At length, after many admonitions from your rigid nurse, and as many delays, I left the tower, and
took my way to the cold beach. We parted in sadness: I entered the virginsea, often looking back, while my mistress remained in view. If any credit is due to truth, when making for your coast I swim with cease, but, as I return, am threatened to be overwhelmed. Believe me farther when I tell you, that the way to my Hero is by a gently declining path; but in leaving you I seem to climb an immoveable mountain of waves. Who can believe it? I return to my native country with reluctance: it is now against my will that I remain in my own city. Alas! why, when thus conjoined in inclination, are we separated by the waves? Why, as we have the same mind, do we not inhabit the same soil? Let me either dwell in your Sestos, or you in my Abydos; for the earth which you tread is as dear to me, as that which I tread is to you. Why am I thus troubled as often as the sea is disturbed by storms? Why are the winds an unstable cause of anxiety to me/ The bending dolphins are now conscious of out tender loves; nor are the fishes of the sea strangers to my flame. The course of the well-known waves is now distinctly marked, like a high-way paved by the frequent attrition of the chariot-wheel. I have often complained that there was no way given but this: but now I complain that this also is shut up by the cruel winds. The streights of the Hellespont foam by the breaking of
the enormous waves; nor are the ships secure even within their harbours. Such, I imagine, was this raging sea, when it first bore the name of the unhappy virgin. This spot is already too infamous by the fate of Helle; and, though I am spared, the name will be a monument of its crime. I envy Phryxus, who safely crossed those stormy seas upon the ram that yielded the golden fleece. Nor do I yet require the aid of ram or bark; let me have only a smooth sea, that with nimble joints I may plough the yielding deep I depend upon no art; let me only have leave to swim; I will at once be ship, mariner, and pilot. I mind not Helice and Arctos, the constellations that guide the Tyrian mariner. A love like mine asks no aid of vulgar stars. Let others
observe Andromeda, or the bright diadem of Ariadne, and the Arcadian Bear that sines from the frozen pole. Nymphs loved by Perseus, Jupiter, and Becchus, are by no means wanted to guide my uncertain paths. I trust to another light, whose directions are much safer: while this points out the way, my love can never wander in darkness. By observing this, I may sail to the Colchian realm, the remotest regions of Pontus, and all the coasts visited by the famed Thessalian ship. In swimming, I would bear away the prize from young Palæmon, and from Glaucus, who was suddenly transformed by powerful herbs
into a sea-God. My arms often languish through the continued agitation; and, nearly exhausted with toil, are scarcely able to bear me over the wide sea. But when I tell them, You shall soon receive the glorious reward of your labor, and encircle the snowy neck of your amiable mistress,
instantly they gather strength, and eagerly strive to obtain their reward, as when a fleet horse starts from the Elean lists.
It is mine, therefore, to observe the flames that glow within my breast, and follow you, my charming fair, who better deserve a place among the stars. You merit indeed to be translated into heaven: yet leave not these earthly abodes; or teach me in what manner I also may be exalted among the Gods. You are still here, and yet how seldom in the embraces of your wretched lover! The seas and my mind are in equal disorder. What avails it that I am not separated from you by a vast ocean? Does this narrow streight less oppose our coming together? I doubt whether it would not be better, that, divided from you by earth's whole extent, I might be equally removed from hope and
my mistress. The nearer you are, the more violent is the flame that rages within me; and though the object of my hope is often absent, yet hope itself never ceases to haunt me. I almost touch with my hand (so near our abodes) the darling of my soul. But alas! this almost
often fills my eyes with sorrowing tears. Wherein loes this differ from catching at the flying apples, or following after the deceitful flood? Shall I then never hold you in my arms, but when the unstable waves permit? Must storms ever be a bar to my happiness? and while nothing is more uncertain than the winds and waves, must my happiness ever depend upon the winds and waves? It is now too the warm season: what am I to expect when the Pleiades, Arctophylax, and the Goat, deform
the sea? Either I mistake in judging of the rash attempts of Love, or even then, thoughtless, he will urge me to plunge into the waves. Nor imagine that I promise this because the time is distant; you shall soon have a proof of the reality of my design. Let the sea continue to rage for a few nights longer: I will again attempt to force my way through the opposing billows. Either, happily daring, I shall safely reach your beloved shore, or a speedy death will put an end to all my anxieties. Yet I could wish to be cast where my Hero lives, and that my shipwrecked limbs might be borne into your ports. You will mourn my fate, and honor my breathless body with a last embrace; then sighing, say, "Alas! I have been the cause of his death." Perhaps you will be offended with this threatening omen of a sudden fate, or alarmed by the suspicions which my letter betrays. But I desist: dispel therefore your fears, and join your prayers with mine, that the rage of the sea may abate. It is requisite that it should be
calm for a time, till I convey myself to yonder shore: when once I have reached the coast of my Hero, let the storm return in all its violence. There, is the fittest asylum for my shattered bark; there, my ship may with the greatest security ride at anchor. Let the North-wind shut me up there, where delay is sweet. Then, if ever, I shall be averse to swimming, and cautiously avoid danger. No reproaches will be thrown out against the unrelenting waves; no complaints made, that the sea forbids a return to my native shore. Let me be alike detained by the winds and your folding arms: let both these causes conspire to prolong the sweet delay. When the storm abates, my arms shall cut the liquid way: only remember always to place in view the guiding torch. Till then, let this epistle supply my place; and heaven grant that I may follow it without delay.