Christopher Marlowe


Hero and Leander


Hero and Leander

Marlowe’s epillyon or ‘brief epic’ was notpublished until 1598 and appears unfinished. He wrote the first two books (orsestiads) and George Chapman completed these with another four, overtlymoralising the work. Marlowe adopted mythology and sexual iconoclasm from theRoman poet Ovid to produce a learned, erotic verse popular in the Renaissance.

    On Hellespont guilty of true love’s blood,
    In view and opposite two cities stood,
    Sea-borderers, disjoin’d by Neptune’s might:
    The one Abydos, the other Sestos hight.
5   At Sestos Hero dwelt; Hero the fair,
    Whom young Apollo courted for her hair,
    And offer’d as a dower his burning throne,
    Where she should sit for men to gaze upon.
    The outside of her garments were of lawn,
10   The lining purple silk, with gilt stars drawn;
    Her wide sleeves green, and border’d with a grove,
    Where Venus in her naked glory strove
    To please the careless and disdainful eyes
    Of proud Adonis that before her lies.
15   Her kirtle blue, whereon was many a stain,
    Made with the blood of wretched lovers slain.
    Upon her head she ware a myrtle wreath,
    From whence her veil reach’d to the ground beneath.
    Her veil was artificial flowers and leaves,
20   Whose workmanship both man and beast deceives.
    Many would praise the sweet smell as she pass’d,
    When ’twas the odour which her breath forth cast;
    And there for honey bees have sought in vain,
    And beat from thence, have lighted there again.
25   About her neck hung chains of pebble-stone,
    Which lighten’d by her neck, like diamonds shone.
    She ware no gloves, for neither sun nor wind
    Would burn or parch her hands, but to her mind
    Or warm or cool them, for they took delight
30   To play upon those hands, they were so white.
    Buskins of shells all silver’d used she,
    And branch’d with blushing coral to the knee,
    Where sparrows perch’d, of hollow pearl and gold,
    Such as the world would wonder to behold:
35   Those with sweet water oft her handmaid fills,
    Which as she went would chirrup through the bills.
    Some say, for her the fairest Cupid pin’d,
    And looking in her face, was strooken blind.
    But this is true, so like was one the other,
40   As he imagin’d Hero was his mother;
    And oftentimes into her bosom flew,
    About her naked neck his bare arms threw,
    And laid his childish head upon her breast,
    And with still panting rock’d, there took his rest.
45   So lovely fair was Hero, Venus’ nun,
    As Nature wept, thinking she was undone,
    Because she took more from her than she left,
    And of such wondrous beauty her bereft:
    Therefore in sign her treasure suffer’d wrack,
50   Since Hero’s time hath half the world been black.
    Amorous Leander, beautiful and young,
    (Whose tragedy divine Musæus sung)
    Dwelt at Abydos; since him dwelt there none,
    For whom succeeding times make greater moan.
55   His dangling tresses that were never shorn,
    Had they been cut, and unto Colchos borne,
    Would have allur’d the vent’rous youth of Greece
    To hazard more than for the Golden Fleece.
    Fair Cynthia wish’d his arms might be her sphere;
60   Grief makes her pale, because she moves not there.
    His body was as straight as Circe’s wand;
    Jove might have sipp’d out nectar from his hand.
    Even as delicious meat is to the taste,
    So was his neck in touching, and surpass’d
65   The white of Pelops’ shoulder, I could tell ye
    How smooth his breast was, and how white his belly,
    And whose immortal fingers did imprint
    That heavenly path with many a curious dint,
    That runs along his back, but my rude pen
70   Can hardly blazon forth the loves of men,
    Much less of powerful gods, let it suffice
    That my slack muse sings of Leander’s eyes,
    Those orient cheeks and lips, exceeding his
    That leapt into the water for a kiss
75   Of his own shadow, and despising many,
    Died ere he could enjoy the love of any.
    Had wild Hippolytus Leander seen,
    Enamour’d of his beauty had he been,
    His presence made the rudest peasant melt,
80   That in the vast uplandish country dwelt,
    The barbarous Thracian soldier, mov’d with nought,
    Was mov’d with him, and for his favour sought.
    Some swore he was a maid in man’s attire,
    For in his looks were all that men desire,
85   A pleasant smiling cheek, a speaking eye,
    A brow for love to banquet royally;
    And such as knew he was a man would say,
    Leander, thou art made for amorous play:
    Why art thou not in love, and lov’d of all ?
90   Though thou be fair, yet be not thine own thrall.
       The men of wealthy Sestos, every year,
    For his sake whom their goddess held so dear,
    Rose-cheek’d Adonis, kept a solemn feast.
    Thither resorted many a wand’ring guest
95   To meet their loves; such as had none at all
    Came lovers home from this great festival.
    For every street like to a firmament
    Glistered with breathing stars, who where they went
    Frighted the melancholy earth, which deem’d
100   Eternal heaven to burn, for so it seem’d,
    As if another Phaethon had got
    The guidance of the sun’s rich chariot.
    But far above the loveliest Hero shin’d,
    And stole away th’ enchanted gazer’s mind;
105   For like sea-nymphs’ inveigling harmony,
    So was her beauty to the standers by.
    Nor that night-wand’ring, pale and watery star
    (When yawning dragons draw her thirling car
    From Latmus’ mount up to the gloomy sky,
110   Where crown’d with blazing light and majesty,
    She proudly sits) more over rules the flood
    Than she the hearts of those that near her stood.
    Even as, when gaudy nymphs pursue the chase,
    Wretched Ixion’s shaggy-footed race,
115   Incens’d with savage heat, gallop amain
    From steep pine-bearing mountains to the plain:
    So ran the people forth to gaze upon her,
    And all that view’d her were enamour’d on her.
    And as in fury of a dreadful fight,
120   Their fellows being slain or put to flight,
    Poor soldiers stand with fear of death dead-strooken,
    So at her presence all surpris’d and tooken
    Await the sentence of her scornful eyes:
    He whom she favours lives, the other dies.
125   There might you see one sigh, another rage,
    And some (their violent passions to assuage)
    Compile sharp satires, but alas too late,
    For faithful love will never turn to hate.
    And many seeing great princes were denied,
130   Pin’d as they went, and thinking on her died.
    On this feast day, O cursed day and hour,
    Went Hero thorough Sestos, from her tower
    To Venus’ temple, where unhappily,
    As after chanc’d, they did each other spy.
135   So fair a church as this, had Venus none:
    The walls were of discolour’d jasper stone,
    Wherein was Proteus carv’d, and o’erhead
    A lively vine of green sea agate spread;
    Where by one hand, light-headed Bacchus hung,
140   And with the other, wine from grapes outwrung.
    Of crystal shining fair the pavement was,
    The town of Sestos call’d it Venus’ glass.
    There might you see the gods in sundry shapes,
    Committing heady riots, incest, rapes:
145   For know, that underneath this radiant floor
    Was Danae’s statue in a brazen tower,
    Jove slyly stealing from his sister’s bed,
    To dally with Idalian Ganymede,
    Or for his love Europa bellowing loud,
150   Or tumbling with the Rainbow in a cloud;
    Blood-quaffing Mars, heaving the iron net
    Which limping Vulcan and his Cyclops set;
    Love kindling fire, to burn such towns as Troy;
    Sylvanus weeping for the lovely boy
155   That now is turn’d into a cypress tree,
    Under whose shade the wood-gods love to be.
    And in the midst a silver altar stood;
    There Hero sacrificing turtles’ blood,
    Vail’d to the ground, vailing her eyelids close,
160   And modestly they open’d as she rose:
    Thence flew Love’s arrow with the golden head,
    And thus Leander was enamoured.
    Stone still he stood, and evermore he gazed,
    Till with the fire that from his count’nance blazed
165   Relenting Hero’s gentle heart was strook:
    Such force and virtue hath an amorous look.
    Sestiad 1 ll.1–166.
       With that, Leander stoop’d, to have embrac’d her,
    But from his spreading arms away she cast her,
    And thus bespake him: ‘Gentle youth, forbear
    To touch the sacred garments which I wear.
345   Upon a rock, and underneath a hill,
    Far from the town (where all is whist and still,
    Save that the sea playing on yellow sand,
    Sends forth a rattling murmur to the land,
    Whose sound allures the golden Morpheus
350   In silence of the night to visit us)
    My turret stands, and there God knows I play
    With Venus’ swans and sparrows all the day,
    A dwarfish beldam bears me company,
    That hops about the chamber where I lie,
355   And spends the night (that might be better spent)
    In vain discourse and apish merriment.
    Come thither.’ As she spake this, her tongue tripp’d,
    For unawares ‘Come thither’ from her slipp’d,
    And suddenly her former colour chang’d,
360   And here and there her eyes through anger rang’d.
    And like a planet, moving several ways
    At one self instant, she poor soul assays,
    Loving, not to love at all, and every part
    Strove to resist the motions of her heart.
365   And hands so pure, so innocent, nay such
    As might have made heaven stoop to have a touch,
    Did she uphold to Venus, and again
    Vow’d spotless chastity, but all in vain.
    Cupid beats down her prayers with his wings,
370   Her vows above the empty air he flings;
    All deep enrag’d, his sinewy bow he bent,
    And shot a shaft that burning from him went,
    Wherewith she strooken, look’d so dolefully,
    As made Love sigh, to see his tyranny.
375   And as she wept, her tears to pearl he turn’d,
    And wound them on his arm, and for her mourn’d.
    Then towards the palace of the Destinies
    Laden with languishment and grief he flies,
    And to those stern nymphs humbly made request,
380   Both might enjoy each other, and be blest.
    But with a ghastly dreadful countenance,
    Threat’ning a thousand deaths at every glance,
    They answer’d Love, nor would vouchsafe so much
    As one poor word, their hate to him was such.
    Sestiad 1 ll.341–84.
       By this, sad Hero, with love unacquainted,
    Viewing Leander’s face, fell down and fainted.
    He kiss’d her, and breath’d life into her lips,
    Wherewith as one displeas’d, away she trips.
5   Yet as she went, full often look’d behind,
    And many poor excuses did she find
    To linger by the way, and once she stay’d,
    And would have turn’d again, but was afraid,
    In offering parley, to be counted light.
10   So on she goes, and in her idle flight,
    Her painted fan of curled plumes let fall,
    Thinking to train Leander therewithal.
    He being a novice, knew not what she meant,
    But stay’d, and after her a letter sent,
15   Which joyful Hero answer’d in such sort,
    As he had hope to scale the beauteous fort
    Wherein the liberal Graces lock’d their wealth,
    And therefore to her tower he got by stealth.
    Wide open stood the door, he need not climb,
20   And she herself before the pointed time
    Had spread the board, with roses strew’d the room,
    And oft look’d out, and mus’d he did not come.
    At last he came, O who can tell the greeting
    These greedy lovers had at their first meeting?
25   He ask’d, she gave, and nothing was denied,
    Both to each other quickly were affied.
    Look how their hands, so were their hearts united
    And what he did she willingly requited.
    (Sweet are the kisses, the embracements sweet,
30   When like desires and affections meet,
    For from the earth to heaven is Cupid rais’d,
    Where fancy is in equal balance pais’d.)
    Yet she this rashness suddenly repented,
    And turn’d aside, and to herself lamented,
35   As if her name and honour had been wrong’d
    By being possess’d of him for whom she long’d;
    Ay, and she wish’d, albeit not from her heart,
    That he would leave her turret and depart.
    The mirthful god of amorous pleasure smil’d
40   To see how he this captive nymph beguil’d.
    For hitherto he did but fan the fire,
    And kept it down that it might mount the higher.
    Now wax’d she jealous, lest his love abated,
    Fearing her own thoughts made her to be hated.
45   Therefore unto him hastily she goes,
    And, like light Salmacis, her body throws
    Upon his bosom, where with yielding eyes
    She offers up herself a sacrifice,
    To slake his anger, if he were displeas’d.
50   O what god would not therewith be appeas’d?
    Like Aesop’s cock, this jewel he enjoyed,
    And as a brother with his sister toyed,
    Supposing nothing else was to be done,
    Now he her favour and good will had won.
55   But know you not that creatures wanting sense
    By nature have a mutual appetence,
    And wanting organs to advance a step,
    Mov’d by love’s force, unto each other leap?
    Much more in subjects having intellect,
60   Some hidden influence breeds like effect.
    Albeit Leander, rude in love and raw,
    Long dallying with Hero, nothing saw
    That might delight him more, yet he suspected
    Some amorous rites or other were neglected.
65   Therefore unto his body hers he clung,
    She, fearing on the rushes to be flung,
    Striv’d with redoubled strength; the more she strived,
    The more a gentle pleasing heat revived,
    Which taught him all that elder lovers know,
70   And now the same gan so to scorch and glow,
    As in plain terms (yet cunningly) he crav’d it;
    Love always makes those eloquent that have it.
    She, with a kind of granting, put him by it,
    And ever as he thought himself most nigh it,
75   Like to the tree of Tantalus she fled,
    And, seeming lavish, sav’d her maidenhead.
    Ne’er king more sought to keep his diadem,
    Than Hero this inestimable gem.
    Above our life we love a steadfast friend,
80   Yet when a token of great worth we send,
    We often kiss it, often look thereon,
    And stay the messenger that would be gone:
    No marvel then, though Hero would not yield
    So soon to part from that she dearly held.
85   Jewels being lost are found again, this never,
    ’Tis lost but once, and once lost, lost for ever.
       Now had the Morn espied her lover’s steeds,
    Whereat she starts, puts on her purple weeds,
    And red for anger that he stay’d so long,
90   All headlong throws herself the clouds among.
    And now Leander, fearing to be miss’d,
    Embrac’d her suddenly, took leave, and kiss’d,
    Long was he taking leave, and loth to go,
    And kiss’d again, as lovers use to do.
95   Sad Hero wrung him by the hand, and wept,
    Saying, ‘Let your vows and promises be kept.’
    Then standing at the door, she turn’d about,
    As loth to see Leander going out.
    And now the sun, that through th’ horizon peeps,
100   As pitying these lovers, downward creeps,
    So that in silence of the cloudy night,
    Though it was morning, did he take his flight.
    But what the secret trusty night conceal’d,
    Leander’s amorous habit soon reveal’d:
105   With Cupid’s myrtle was his bonnet crown’d,
    About his arms the purple riband wound,
    Wherewith she wreath’d her largely spreading hair,
    Nor could the youth abstain, but he must wear
    The sacred ring wherewith she was endow’d
110   When first religious chastity she vow’d;
    Which made his love through Sestos to be known
    And thence unto Abydos sooner blown
    Than he could sail; for incorporeal Fame,
    Whose weight consists in nothing but her name,
115   Is swifter than the wind, whose tardy plumes
    Are reeking water, and dull earthly fumes.
    Home when he came, he seem’d not to be there,
    But like exiled air thrust from his sphere,
    Set in a foreign place; and straight from thence,
120   Alcides like, by mighty violence,
    He would have chas’d away the swelling main,
    That him from her unjustly did detain.
    Like as the sun in a diameter
    Fires and inflames objects removed far
125   And heateth kindly, shining lat’rally,
    So beauty sweetly quickens when ’tis nigh,
    But being separated and removed,
    Burns where it cherish’d, murders where it loved.
    Therefore even as an index to a book,
130   So to his mind was young Leander’s look.
    O none but gods have power their love to hide,
    Affection by the count’nance is descried.
    The light of hidden fire itself discovers,
    And love that is conceal’d betrays poor lovers.
135   His secret flame apparently was seen,
    Leander’s father knew where he had been,
    And for the same mildly rebuk’d his son,
    Thinking to quench the sparkles new begun.
    But love resisted once, grows passionate,
140   And nothing more than counsel lovers hate.
    For as a hot proud horse highly disdains
    To have his head controll’d, but breaks the reins,
    Spits forth the ringled bit, and with his hooves
    Checks the submissive ground: so he that loves,
145   The more he is restrain’d, the worse he fares,
    What is it now, but mad Leander dares?
    ‘O Hero, Hero,’ thus he cried full oft,
    And then he got him to a rock aloft,
    Where having spied her tower, long star’d he on’t,
150   And pray’d the narrow toiling Hellespont
    To part in twain, that he might come and go,
    But still the rising billows answer’d ‘No.’
    With that he stripp’d him to the ivory skin,
    And crying, ‘Love, I come,’ leapt lively in.
155   Whereat the sapphire visag’d god grew proud,
    And made his capering Triton sound aloud,
    Imagining that Ganymede displeas’d,
    Had left the heavens, therefore on him he seiz’d.
    Leander striv’d, the waves about him wound,
160   And pull’d him to the bottom, where the ground
    Was strew’d with pearl, and in low coral groves
    Sweet singing mermaids sported with their loves
    On heaps of heavy gold, and took great pleasure
    To spurn in careless sort the shipwrack treasure.
165   For here the stately azure palace stood
    Where kingly Neptune and his train abode.
    The lusty god embrac’d him, call’d him love,
    And swore he never should return to Jove.
    But when he knew it was not Ganymede,
170   For under water he was almost dead,
    He heav’d him up, and looking on his face,
    Beat down the bold waves with his triple mace,
    Which mounted up, intending to have kiss’d him,
    And fell in drops like tears because they miss’d him.
175   Leander being up, began to swim,
    And, looking back, saw Neptune follow him;
    Whereat aghast, the poor soul gan to cry,
    ‘O let me visit Hero ere I die.’
    The god put Helle’s bracelet on his arm,
180   And swore the sea should never do him harm.
    He clapp’d his plump cheeks, with his tresses play’d,
    And smiling wantonly, his love bewray’d.
    He watch’d his arms, and as they open’d wide
    At every stroke, betwixt them would he slide
185   And steal a kiss, and then run out and dance,
    And as he turn’d, cast many a lustful glance,
    And threw him gaudy toys to please his eye,
    And dive into the water, and there pry
    Upon his breast, his thighs, and every limb,
190   And up again, and close beside him swim,
    And talk of love. Leander made reply,
    ‘You are deceiv’d, I am no woman, I.’
    Thereat smil’d Neptune, and then told a tale,
    How that a shepherd, sitting in a vale,
195   Play’d with a boy so fair and kind,
    As for his love both earth and heaven pin’d,
    That of the cooling river durst not drink,
    Lest water-nymphs should pull him from the brink,
    And when he sported in the fragrant lawns,
200   Goat-footed satyrs and up-staring fawns
    Would steal him thence. Ere half this tale was done,
    ‘Aye me,’ Leander cried, ‘th’enamour’d sun,
    That now should shine on Thetis’ glassy bower,
    Descends upon my radiant Hero’s tower.
205   O that these tardy arms of mine were wings’
    And as he spake, upon the waves he springs.
    Neptune was angry that he gave no ear,
    And in his heart revenging malice bare:
    He flung at him his mace, but as it went,
210   He call’d it in, for love made him repent.
    The mace returning back, his own hand hit,
    As meaning to be veng’d for darting it.
    When this fresh bleeding wound Leander view’d,
    His colour went and came, as if he rued
215   The grief which Neptune felt. In gentle breasts
    Relenting thoughts, remorse and pity rests.
    And who have hard hearts and obdurate minds,
    But vicious, harebrain’d, and illit’rate hinds?
    The god, seeing him with pity to be moved,
220   Thereon concluded that he was beloved.
    (Love is too full of faith, too credulous,
    With folly and false hope deluding us.)
    Wherefore Leander’s fancy to surprise,
    To the rich Ocean for gifts he flies.
225   ’Tis wisdom to give much, a gift prevails,
    When deep persuading oratory fails.
       By this Leander being near the land,
    Cast down his weary feet, and felt the sand.
    Breathless albeit he were, he rested not
230   Till to the solitary tower he got,
    And knock’d, and call’d, at which celestial noise
    The longing heart of Hero much more joys
    Than nymphs and shepherds when the timbrel rings,
    Or crooked dolphin when the sailor sings.
235   She stay’d not for her robes but straight arose,
    And drunk with gladness to the door she goes,
    Where seeing a naked man she screech’d for fear,
    Such sights as this to tender maids are rare,
    And ran into the dark herself to hide,
240   Rich jewels in the dark are soonest spied.
    Unto her was he led or rather drawn,
    By those white limbs which sparkled through the lawn;
    The nearer that he came, the more she fled,
    And seeking refuge, slipp’d into her bed.
245   Whereon Leander sitting, thus began,
    Through numbing cold, all feeble, faint and wan:
       ‘If not for love, yet love, for pity sake,
    Me in thy bed and maiden bosom take,
    At least vouchsafe these arms some little room,
250   Who hoping to embrace thee, cheerly swum.
    This head was beat with many a churlish billow,
    And therefore let it rest upon thy pillow.’
    Herewith affrighted Hero shrunk away,
    And in her lukewarm place Leander lay,
255   Whose lively heat, like fire from heaven fet,
    Would animate gross clay, and higher set
    The drooping thoughts of base declining souls,
    Than dreary Mars carousing nectar bowls.
    His hands he cast upon her like a snare,
260   She overcome with shame and sallow fear,
    Like chaste Diana when Actaeon spied her,
    Being suddenly betray’d, div’d down to hide
    And as her silver body downward went,
    With both her hands she made the bed a tent,
265   And in her own mind thought herself secure,
    O’ercast with dim and darksome coverture.
    And now she lets him whisper in her ear,
    Flatter, entreat, promise, protest and swear,
    Yet ever as he greedily assay’d
270   To touch those dainties, she the Harpy play’d,
    And every limb did as a soldier stout
    Defend the fort, and keep the foeman out.
    For though the rising ivory mount he scal’d,
    Which is with azure circling lines empal’d,
275   Much like a globe (a globe may I term this,
    By which love sails to regions full of bliss),
    Yet there with Sisyphus he toil’d in vain,
    Till gentle parley did the truce obtain.
    Wherein Leander on her quivering breast,
280   Breathless spoke something, and sigh’d out the rest;
    Which so prevail’d, as he with small ado
    Enclos’d her in his arms and kiss’d her too;
    And every kiss to her was as a charm,
    And to Leander as a fresh alarm,
285   So that the truce was broke, and she alas
    (Poor silly maiden) at his mercy was.
    Love is not full of pity (as men say)
    But deaf and cruel where he means to prey.
    Even as a bird, which in our hands we wring,
290   Forth plungeth, and oft flutters with her wing,
    She trembling strove; this strife of hers (like that
    Which made the world) another world begat
    Of unknown joy. Treason was in her thought,
    And cunningly to yield herself she sought.
295   Seeming not won, yet won she was at length,
    In such wars women use but half their strength.
    Leander now, like Theban Hercules
    Enter’d the orchard of th’ Hesperides,
    Whose fruit none rightly can describe but he
300   That pulls or shakes it from the golden tree.
    And now she wish’d this night were never done,
    And sigh’d to think upon th’ approaching sun,
    For much it griev’d her that the bright daylight
    Should know the pleasure of this blessed night,
305   And them like Mars and Erycine display’d,
    Both in each other’s arms chain’d as they lay’d.
    Again she knew not how to frame her look,
    Or speak to him who in a moment took
    That which so long, so charily she kept,
310   And fain by stealth away she would have crept,
    And to some corner secretly have gone,
    Leaving Leander in the bed alone.
    But as her naked feet were whipping out,
    He on the sudden cling’d her so about
315   That mermaid-like unto the floor she slid;
    One half appear’d, the other half was hid.
    Thus near the bed she blushing stood upright,
    And from her countenance behold ye might
    A kind of twilight break, which through the hair,
320   As from an orient cloud, glims here and there.
    And round about the chamber this false morn
    Brought forth the day before the day was born.
    So Hero’s ruddy cheek Hero betray’d,
    And her all naked to his sight display’d,
325   Whence his admiring eyes more pleasure took
    Than Dis, on heaps of gold fixing his look.
    By this Apollo’s golden harp began
    To sound forth music to the ocean,
    Which watchful Hesperus no sooner heard,
330   But he the day’s bright-bearing car prepar’d,
    And ran before, as harbinger of light,
    And with his flaring beams mock’d ugly Night,
    Till she, o’ercome with anguish, shame, and rage,
    Dang’d down to hell her loathsome carriage.
    Desunt nonnulla.
    Sestiad 2 ll.1–335.

Contributed by Robert Clark.