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Poem by Thomas Hood

Hero and Leander


It is not with a hope my feeble praise
Can add one moment's honor to thy own,
That with thy mighty name I grace these lays;
I seek to glorify myself alone:
For that some precious favor thou hast shown
To my endeavor in a bygone time,
And by this token I would have it known
Thou art my friend, and friendly to my rhyme!
It is my dear ambition now to climb
Still higher in thy thought,--if my bold pen
May thrust on contemplations more sublime.--
But I am thirsty for thy praise, for when
We gain applauses from the great in name,
We seem to be partakers of _their_ fame.


Oh Bards of old! What sorrows have ye sung,
And tragic stories, chronicled in stone,--
Sad Philomel restored her ravish'd tongue,
And transform'd Niobe in dumbness shown;
Sweet Sappho on her love forever calls,
And Hero on the drown'd Leander falls!


Was it that spectacles of sadder plights
Should make our blisses relish the more high?
Then all fair dames, and maidens, and true knights,
Whose flourish'd fortunes prosper in Love's eye,
Weep here, unto a tale of ancient grief,
Traced from the course of an old bas-relief.


There stands Abydos!--here is Sestos' steep,
Hard by the gusty margin of the sea,
Where sprinkling waves continually do leap;
And that is where those famous lovers be,
A builded gloom shot up into the gray,
As if the first tall watch-tow'r of the day.


Lo! how the lark soars upward and is gone;
Turning a spirit as he nears the sky,
His voice is heard, though body there is none,
And rain-like music scatters from on high;
But Love would follow with a falcon spite,
To pluck the minstrel from his dewy height.


For Love hath framed a ditty of regrets,
Tuned to the hollow sobbings on the shore,
A vexing sense, that with like music frets,
And chimes this dismal burthen o'er and o'er,
Saying, Leander's joys are past and spent,
Like stars extinguish'd in the firmament.


For ere the golden crevices of morn
Let in those regal luxuries of light,
Which all the variable east adorn,
And hang rich fringes on the skirts of night,
Leander, weaning from sweet Hero's side,
Must leave a widow where he found a bride.


Hark! how the billows beat upon the sand!
Like pawing steeds impatient of delay;
Meanwhile their rider, ling'ring on the land,
Dallies with love, and holds farewell at bay
A too short span.--How tedious slow is grief!
But parting renders time both sad and brief.


"Alas!" (he sigh'd), "that this first glimpsing light,
Which makes the wide world tenderly appear,
Should be the burning signal for my flight
From all the world's best image, which is here;
Whose very shadow, in my fond compare,
Shines far more bright than Beauty's self elsewhere."


Their cheeks are white as blossoms of the dark,
Whose leaves close up and show the outward pale,
And those fair mirrors where their joys did spark,
All dim and tarnish'd with a dreary veil,
No more to kindle till the night's return,
Like stars replenish'd at Joy's golden urn.


Ev'n thus they creep into the spectral gray,
That cramps the landscape in its narrow brim,
As when two shadows by old Lethe stray,
He clasping her, and she entwining him;
Like trees, wind-parted, that embrace anon,--
True love so often goes before 'tis gone.


For what rich merchant but will pause in fear,
To trust his wealth to the unsafe abyss?
So Hero dotes upon her treasure here,
And sums the loss with many an anxious kiss,
Whilst her fond eyes grow dizzy in her head,
Fear aggravating fear with shows of dread.


She thinks how many have been sunk and drown'd,
And spies their snow-white bones below the deep,
Then calls huge congregated monsters round,
And plants a rock wherever he would leap;
Anon she dwells on a fantastic dream,
Which she interprets of that fatal stream.


Saying, "That honied fly I saw was thee,
Which lighted on a water-lily's cup,
When, lo! the flower, enamor'd of my bee,
Closed on him suddenly and lock'd him up,
And he was smother'd in her drenching dew;
Therefore this day thy drowning I shall rue."


But next, remembering her virgin fame,
She clips him in her arms and bids him go,
But seeing him break loose, repents her shame,
And plucks him back upon her bosom's snow;
And tears unfix her iced resolve again,
As steadfast frosts are thaw'd by show'rs of rain.


O for a type of parting!--Love to love
Is like the fond attraction of two spheres,
Which needs a godlike effort to remove,
And then sink down their sunny atmospheres,
In rain and darkness on each ruin'd heart,
Nor yet their melodies will sound apart.


So brave Leander sunders from his bride;
The wrenching pang disparts his soul in twain;
Half stays with her, half goes towards the tide,--
And life must ache, until they join again.
Now wouldst thou know the wideness of the wound?--
Mete every step he takes upon the ground.


And for the agony and bosom-throe,
Let it be measured by the wide vast air,
For that is infinite, and so is woe,
Since parted lovers breathe it everywhere.
Look how it heaves Leander's laboring chest,
Panting, at poise, upon a rocky crest!


From which he leaps into the scooping brine,
That shocks his bosom with a double chill;
Because, all hours, till the slow sun's decline,
That cold divorcer will be 'twixt them still;
Wherefore he likens it to Styx' foul tide,
Where life grows death upon the other side.


Then sadly he confronts his twofold toil
Against rude waves and an unwilling mind,
Wishing, alas! with the stout rower's toil,
That like a rower he might gaze behind,
And watch that lonely statue he hath left,
On her bleak summit, weeping and bereft!


Yet turning oft, he sees her troubled locks
Pursue him still the furthest that they may;
Her marble arms that overstretch the rocks,
And her pale passion'd hands that seem to pray
In dumb petition to the gods above:
Love prays devoutly when it prays for love!


Then with deep sighs he blows away the wave,
That hangs superfluous tears upon his cheek,
And bans his labor like a hopeless slave,
That, chain'd in hostile galley, faint and weak,
Plies on despairing through the restless foam,
Thoughtful of his lost love, and far-off home.


The drowsy mist before him chill and dank,
Like a dull lethargy o'erleans the sea,
When he rows on against the utter blank,
Steering as if to dim eternity,--
Like Love's frail ghost departing with the dawn;
A failing shadow in the twilight drawn.


And soon is gone,--or nothing but a faint
And failing image in the eye of thought,
That mocks his model with an after-paint,
And stains an atom like the shape she sought;
Then with her earnest vows she hopes to fee
The old and hoary majesty of sea.


"O King of waves, and brother of high Jove,
Preserve my sumless venture there afloat;
A woman's heart, and its whole wealth of love,
Are all embark'd upon that little boat;
Nay!--but two loves, two lives, a double fate,--
A perilous voyage for so dear a freight."


"If impious mariners be stain'd with crime,
Shake not in awful rage thy hoary locks;
Lay by thy storms until another time,
Lest my frail bark be dash'd against the rocks:
O rather smooth thy deeps, that he may fly
Like Love himself, upon a seeming sky!"


"Let all thy herded monsters sleep beneath,
Nor gore him with crook'd tusks, or wreathëd horns;
Let no fierce sharks destroy him with their teeth,
Nor spine-fish wound him with their venom'd thorns;
But if he faint, and timely succor lack,
Let ruthful dolphins rest him on their back."


"Let no false dimpling whirlpools suck him in,
Nor slimy quicksands smother his sweet breath;
Let no jagg'd corals tear his tender skin,
Nor mountain billows bury him in death";--
And with that thought forestalling her own fears,
She drowned his painted image in her tears.


By this, the climbing Sun, with rest repair'd,
Look'd through the gold embrasures of the sky,
And ask'd the drowsy world how she had fared;--
The drowsy world shone brighten'd in reply;
And smiling off her fogs, his slanting beam
Spied young Leander in the middle stream.


His face was pallid, but the hectic morn
Had hung a lying crimson on his cheeks,
And slanderous sparkles in his eyes forlorn;
So death lies ambush'd in consumptive streaks;
But inward grief was writhing o'er its task,
As heart-sick jesters weep behind the mask.


He thought of Hero and the lost delight,
Her last embracings, and the space between;
He thought of Hero and the future night,
Her speechless rapture and enamor'd mien,
When, lo! before him, scarce two galleys' space,
His thoughts confronted with another face!


Her aspect's like a moon, divinely fair,
But makes the midnight darker that it lies on;
'Tis so beclouded with her coal-black hair
That densely skirts her luminous horizon,
Making her doubly fair, thus darkly set,
As marble lies advantaged upon jet.


She's all too bright, too argent, and too pale,
To be a woman;--but a woman's double,
Reflected, on the wave so faint and frail,
She tops the billows like an air-blown bubble;
Or dim creation of a morning dream,
Fair as the wave-bleached lily of the stream.


The very rumor strikes his seeing dead:
Great beauty like great fear first stuns the sense:
He knows not if her lips be blue or red,
Nor of her eyes can give true evidence:
Like murder's witness swooning in the court,
His sight falls senseless by its own report.


Anon resuming, it declares her eyes
Are tint with azure, like two crystal wells
That drink the blue complexion of the skies,
Or pearls outpeeping from their silvery shells:
Her polish'd brow, it is an ample plain,
To lodge vast contemplations of the main.


Her lips might corals seem, but corals near
Stray through her hair like blossoms on a bower;
And o'er the weaker red still domineer,
And make it pale by tribute to more power;
Her rounded cheeks are of still paler hue,
Touch'd by the bloom of water, tender blue.


Thus he beholds her rocking on the water,
Under the glossy umbrage of her hair,
Like pearly Amphitrite's fairest daughter,
Naiad, or Nereid,--or Syren fair,
Mislodging music in her pitiless breast,
A nightingale within a falcon's nest.


They say there be such maidens in the deep,
Charming poor mariners, that all too near
By mortal lullabies fall dead asleep,
As drowsy men are poison'd through the ear;
Therefore Leander's fears begin to urge,
This snowy swan is come to sing his dirge.


At which he falls into a deadly chill,
And strains his eyes upon her lips apart;
Fearing each breath to feel that prelude shrill,
Pierce through his marrow, like a breath-blown dart
Shot sudden from an Indian's hollow cane,
With mortal venom fraught, and fiery pain.


Here then, poor wretch, how he begins to crowd
A thousand thoughts within a pulse's space;
There seem'd so brief a pause of life allow'd,
His mind stretch'd universal, to embrace
The whole wide world, in an extreme farewell,--
A moment's musing--but an age to tell.


For there stood Hero, widow'd at a glance,
The foreseen sum of many a tedious fact,
Pale cheeks, dim eyes, and wither'd countenance,
A wasted ruin that no wasting lack'd;
Time's tragic consequents ere time began,
A world of sorrow in a tear-drop's span.


A moment's thinking is an hour in words,--
An hour of words is little for some woes;
Too little breathing a long life affords
For love to paint itself by perfect shows;
Then let his love and grief unwrong'd lie dumb,
Whilst Fear, and that it fears, together come.


As when the crew, hard by some jutty cape,
Struck pale and panick'd by the billow's roar,
Lay by all timely measures of escape,
And let their bark go driving on the shore;
So fray'd Leander, drifting to his wreck,
Gazing on Scylla, falls upon her neck.


For he hath all forgot the swimmer's art,
The rower's cunning, and the pilot's skill,
Letting his arms fall down in languid part,
Sway'd by the waves, and nothing by his will,
Till soon he jars against that glossy skin,
Solid like glass, though seemingly as thin.


Lo! how she startles at the warning shock,
And straightway girds him to her radiant breast,
More like his safe smooth harbor than his rock;
Poor wretch, he is so faint and toil-opprest,
He cannot loose him from his grappling foe,
Whether for love or hate, she lets not go.


His eyes are blinded with the sleety brine,
His ears are deafen'd with the wildering noise;
He asks the purpose of her fell design,
But foamy waves choke up his struggling voice;
Under the ponderous sea his body dips,
And Hero's name dies bubbling on his lips.


Look how a man is lower'd to his grave,--
A yearning hollow in the green earth's lap;
So he is sunk into the yawning wave,--
The plunging sea fills up the watery gap;
Anon he is all gone, and nothing seen
But likeness of green turf and hillocks green.


And where he swam, the constant sun lies sleeping,
Over the verdant plain that makes his bed;
And all the noisy waves go freshly leaping.
Like gamesome boys over the churchyard dead;
The light in vain keeps looking for his face:--
Now screaming sea-fowl settle in his place.


Yet weep and watch for him, though all in vain!
Ye moaning billows, seek him as ye wander!
Ye gazing sunbeams, look for him again!
Ye winds, grow hoarse with asking for Leander!
Ye did but spare him for more cruel rape,
Sea-storm and ruin in a female shape!


She says 'tis love hath bribed her to this deed,
The glancing of his eyes did so bewitch her.
O bootless theft! unprofitable meed!
Love's treasury is sack'd, but she no richer;
The sparkles of his eyes are cold and dead,
And all his golden looks are turn'd to lead!


She holds the casket, but her simple hand
Hath spill'd its dearest jewel by the way;
She hath life's empty garment at command,
But her own death lies covert in the prey;
As if a thief should steal a tainted vest,
Some dead man's spoil, and sicken of his pest.


Now she compels him to her deeps below,
Hiding his face beneath her plenteous hair,
Which jealously she shakes all round her brow,
For dread of envy, though no eyes are there
But seals', and all brute tenants of the deep,
Which heedless through the wave their journeys keep.


Down and still downward through the dusky green
She bore him, murmuring with joyous haste
In too rash ignorance, as he had been
Born to the texture of that watery waste;
That which she breathed and sigh'd, the emerald wave,
How could her pleasant home become his grave!


Down and still downward through the dusky green
She bore her treasure, with a face too nigh
To mark how life was alter'd in its mien,
Or how the light grew torpid in his eye,
Or how his pearly breath, unprison'd there,
Flew up to join the universal air.


She could not miss the throbbings of his heart,
Whilst her own pulse so wanton'd in its joy;
She could not guess he struggled to depart,
And when he strove no more, the hapless boy!
She read his mortal stillness for content,
Feeling no fear where only love was meant.


Soon she alights upon her ocean-floor,
And straight unyokes her arms from her fair prize;
Then on his lovely face begins to pore,
As if to glut her soul;--her hungry eyes
Have grown so jealous of her arms' delight;
It seems she hath no other sense but sight.


But O sad marvel! O most bitter strange!
What dismal magic makes his cheek so pale?
Why will he not embrace,--why not exchange
Her kindly kisses;--wherefore not exhale
Some odorous message from life's ruby gates,
Where she his first sweet embassy awaits?


Her eyes, poor watchers, fix'd upon his looks,
Are grappled with a wonder near to grief,
As one, who pores on undecipher'd books,
Strains vain surmise, and dodges with belief;
So she keeps gazing with a mazy thought,
Framing a thousand doubts that end in nought.


Too stern inscription for a page so young,
The dark translation of his look was death!
But death was written in an alien tongue,
And learning was not by to give it breath;
So one deep woe sleeps buried in its seal,
Which Time, untimely, hasteth to reveal.


Meanwhile she sits unconscious of her hap,
Nursing Death's marble effigy, which there
With heavy head lies pillow'd in her lap,
And elbows all unhinged;--his sleeking hair
Creeps o'er her knees, and settles where his hand
Leans with lax fingers crook'd against the sand;


And there lies spread in many an oozy trail,
Like glossy weeds hung from a chalky base,
That shows no whiter than his brow is pale;
So soon the wintry death had bleach'd his face
Into cold marble,--with blue chilly shades,
Showing wherein the freezy blood pervades.


And o'er his steadfast cheek a furrow'd pain
Hath set, and stiffened like a storm in ice,
Showing by drooping lines the deadly strain
Of mortal anguish;--yet you might gaze twice
Ere Death it seem'd, and not his cousin, Sleep,
That through those creviced lids did underpeep.


But all that tender bloom about his eyes,
Is Death's own violets, which his utmost rite
It is to scatter when the red rose dies;
For blue is chilly, and akin to white:
Also he leaves some tinges on his lips,
Which he hath kiss'd with such cold frosty nips.


"Surely," quoth she, "he sleeps, the senseless thing,
Oppress'd and faint with toiling in the stream!"
Therefore she will not mar his rest, but sing
So low, her tune shall mingle with his dream;
Meanwhile, her lily fingers task to twine
His uncrispt locks uncurling in the brine.


"O lovely boy!"--thus she attuned her voice,--
"Welcome, thrice welcome, to a sea-maid's home,
My love-mate thou shalt be, and true heart's choice;
How have I long'd such a twin-self should come,--
A lonely thing, till this sweet chance befell,
My heart kept sighing like a hollow shell."


"Here thou shalt live, beneath this secret dome,
An ocean-bow'r, defended by the shade
Of quiet waters, a cool emerald gloom
To lap thee all about. Nay, be not fray'd,
Those are but shady fishes that sail by
Like antic clouds across my liquid sky!"


"Look how the sunbeam burns upon their scales,
And shows rich glimpses of their Tyrian skins;
They flash small lightnings from their vigorous tails,
And winking stars are kindled at their fins;
These shall divert thee in thy weariest mood,
And seek thy hand for gamesomeness and food."


"Lo! those green pretty leaves with tassel bells,
My flow'rets those, that never pine for drouth;
Myself did plant them in the dappled shells,
That drink the wave with such a rosy mouth,--
Pearls wouldst thou have beside? crystals to shine?
I had such treasures once,--now they are thine."


"Now, lay thine ear against this golden sand,
And thou shalt hear the music of the sea,
Those hollow tunes it plays against the land,--
Is't not a rich and wondrous melody?
I have lain hours, and fancied in its tone
I heard the languages of ages gone!"


"I too can sing when it shall please thy choice,
And breathe soft tunes through a melodious shell,
Though heretofore I have but set my voice
To some long sighs, grief-harmonized, to tell
How desolate I fared;--but this sweet change
Will add new notes of gladness to my range!"


"Or bid me speak, and I will tell thee tales,
Which I have framed out of the noise of waves;
Ere now I have communed with senseless gales,
And held vain colloquies with barren caves;
But I could talk to thee whole days and days,
Only to word my love a thousand ways."


"But if thy lips will bless me with their speech,
Then ope, sweet oracles! and I'll be mute;
I was born ignorant for thee to teach,
Nay all love's lore to thy dear looks impute;
Then ope thine eyes, fair teachers, by whose light
I saw to give away my heart aright!"


But cold and deaf the sullen creature lies
Over her knees, and with concealing clay,
Like hoarding Avarice, locks up his eyes,
And leaves her world impoverish'd of day;
Then at his cruel lips she bends to plead,
But there the door is closed against her need.


Surely he sleeps,--so her false wits infer!
Alas! poor sluggard, ne'er to wake again!
Surely he sleeps, yet without any stir
That might denote a vision in his brain;
Or if he does not sleep, he feigns too long,
Twice she hath reach'd the ending of her song.


Therefore 'tis time she tells him to uncover
Those radiant jesters, and disperse her fears,
Whereby her April face is shaded over,
Like rainy clouds just ripe for showering tears;
Nay, if he will not wake, so poor she gets,
Herself must open those lock'd-up cabinets.


With that she stoops above his brow, and bids
Her busy hands forsake his tangled hair,
And tenderly lift up those coffer-lids,
That she may gaze upon the jewels there,
Like babes that pluck an early bud apart,
To know the dainty color of its heart.


Now, picture one, soft creeping to a bed,
Who slowly parts the fringe-hung canopies,
And then starts back to find the sleeper dead;
So she looks in on his uncover'd eyes,
And seeing all within so drear and dark,
Her own bright soul dies in her like a spark.


Backward she falls, like a pale prophetess,
Under the swoon of holy divination:
And what had all surpass'd her simple guess,
She now resolves in this dark revelation;
Death's very mystery,--oblivious death;--
Long sleep,--deep night, and an entranced breath.


Yet life, though wounded sore, not wholly slain,
Merely obscured, and not extinguish'd, lies;
Her breath that stood at ebb, soon flows again,
Heaving her hollow breast with heavy sighs,
And light comes in and kindles up the gloom,
To light her spirit from its transient tomb.


Then like the sun, awaken'd at new dawn,
With pale bewilder'd face she peers about,
And spies blurr'd images obscurely drawn,
Uncertain shadows in a haze of doubt;
But her true grief grows shapely by degrees,--
A perish'd creature lying on her knees.


And now she knows how that old Murther preys,
Whose quarry on her lap lies newly slain:
How he roams all abroad and grimly slays,
Like a lean tiger in Love's own domain;
Parting fond mates,--and oft in flowery lawns
Bereaves mild mothers of their milky fawns.


O too dear knowledge! O pernicious earning!
Foul curse engraven upon beauty's page!
Ev'n now the sorrow of that deadly learning
Ploughs up her brow, like an untimely age,
And on her cheek stamps verdict of death's truth
By canker blights upon the bud of youth!


For as unwholesome winds decay the leaf,
So her cheeks' rose is perish'd by her sighs,
And withers in the sickly breath of grief;
Whilst unacquainted rheum bedims her eyes,
Tears, virgin tears, the first that ever leapt
From those young lids, now plentifully wept.


Whence being shed, the liquid crystalline
Drops straightway down, refusing to partake
In gross admixture with the baser brine,
But shrinks and hardens into pearls opaque,
Hereafter to be worn on arms and ears;
So one maid's trophy is another's tears!


"O foul Arch-Shadow, thou old cloud of Night,"
(Thus in her frenzy she began to wail,)
"Thou blank Oblivion--blotter-out of light,
Life's ruthless murderer, and dear love's bale!
Why hast thou left thy havoc incomplete,
Leaving me here, and slaying the more sweet?"


"Lo! what a lovely ruin thou hast made!
Alas! alas! thou hast no eye to see,
And blindly slew'st him in misguided shade.
Would I had lent my doting sense to thee!
But now I turn to thee, a willing mark,
Thine arrows miss me in the aimless dark!"


"O doubly cruel!--twice misdoing spite,
But I will guide thee with my helping eyes,
Or--walk the wide world through, devoid of sight,--
Yet thou shalt know me by my many sighs.
Nay, then thou should'st have spared my roses, false Death,
And known Love's flow'r by smelling his sweet breath;"


"Or, when thy furious rage was round him dealing,
Love should have grown from touching of his skin;
But like cold marble thou art all unfeeling.
And hast no ruddy springs of warmth within,
And being but a shape of freezing bone,
Thy touching only turn'd my love to stone!"


"And here, alas! he lies across my knees,
With cheeks still colder than the stilly wave.
The light beneath his eyelids seems to freeze;
Here then, since Love is dead and lacks a grave,
O come and dig it in my sad heart's core--
That wound will bring a balsam for its sore!"


"For art thou not a sleep where sense of ill
Lies stingless, like a sense benumb'd with cold,
Healing all hurts only with sleep's good-will?
So shall I slumber, and perchance behold
My living love in dreams,--O happy night,
That lets me company his banish'd spright!"


"O poppy Death!--sweet poisoner of sleep;
Where shall I seek for thee, oblivious drug,
That I may steep thee in my drink, and creep
Out of life's coil? Look, Idol! how I hug
Thy dainty image in this strict embrace,
And kiss this clay-cold model of thy face!"


"Put out, put out these sun-consuming lamps,
I do but read my sorrows by their shine;
O come and quench them with thy oozy damps,
And let my darkness intermix with thine;
Since love is blinded, wherefore should I see?
Now love is death,--death will be love to me!"


"Away, away, this vain complaining breath,
It does but stir the troubles that I weep;
Let it be hush'd and quieted, sweet Death;
The wind must settle ere the wave can sleep,--
Since love is silent, I would fain be mute;
O death, be gracious to my dying suit!"


Thus far she pleads, but pleading nought avails her,
For Death, her sullen burthen, deigns no heed;
Then with dumb craving arms, since darkness fails her,
She prays to heaven's fair light, as if her need
Inspired her there were Gods to pity pain,
Or end it,--but she lifts her arms in vain!


Poor gilded Grief! the subtle light by this
With mazy gold creeps through her watery mine,
And, diving downward through the green abyss,
Lights up her palace with an amber shine;
There, falling on her arms,--the crystal skin
Reveals the ruby tide that fares within.


Look how the fulsome beam would hang a glory
On her dark hair, but the dark hairs repel it;
Look how the perjured glow suborns a story
On her pale lips, but lips refuse to tell it;
Grief will not swerve from grief, however told
On coral lips, or character'd in gold;


Or else, thou maid! safe anchor'd on Love's neck,
Listing the hapless doom of young Leander,
Thou would'st not shed a tear for that old wreck,
Sitting secure where no wild surges wander;
Whereas the woe moves on with tragic pace,
And shows its sad reflection in thy face.


Thus having travell'd on, and track'd the tale,
Like the due course of an old bas-relief,
Where Tragedy pursues her progress pale,
Brood here awhile upon that sea-maid's grief,
And take a deeper imprint from the frieze
Of that young Fate, with Death upon her knees.


Then whilst the melancholy Muse withal
Resumes her music in a sadder tone,
Meanwhile the sunbeam strikes upon the wall,
Conceive that lovely siren to live on,
Ev'n as Hope whisper'd, the Promethean light
Would kindle up the dead Leander's spright.


"'Tis light," she says, "that feeds the glittering stars,
And those were stars set in his heavenly brow;
But this salt cloud, this cold sea-vapor, mars
Their radiant breathing, and obscures them now;
Therefore I'll lay him in the clear blue air,
And see how these dull orbs will kindle there."


Swiftly as dolphins glide, or swifter yet,
With dead Leander in her fond arms' fold,
She cleaves the meshes of that radiant net
The sun hath twined above of liquid gold,
Nor slacks till on the margin of the land
She lays his body on the glowing sand.


There, like a pearly waif, just past the reach
Of foamy billows he lies cast. Just then,
Some listless fishers, straying down the beach,
Spy out this wonder. Thence the curious men,
Low crouching, creep into a thicket brake,
And watch her doings till their rude hearts ache.


First she begins to chafe him till she faints,
Then falls upon his mouth with kisses many,
And sometimes pauses in her own complaints
To list his breathing, but there is not any,--
Then looks into his eyes where no light dwells;
Light makes no pictures in such muddy wells.


The hot sun parches his discover'd eyes,
The hot sun beats on his discolor'd limbs,
The sand is oozy whereupon he lies,
Soiling his fairness;--then away she swims,
Meaning to gather him a daintier bed,
Plucking the cool fresh weeds, brown, green, and red.


But, simple-witted thief, while she dives under,
Another robs her of her amorous theft;
The ambush'd fishermen creep forth to plunder,
And steal the unwatch'd treasure she has left;
Only his void impression dints the sands;
Leander is purloin'd by stealthy hands!


Lo! how she shudders off the beaded wave,
Like Grief all over tears, and senseless falls,--
His void imprint seems hollow'd for her grave;
Then, rising on her knees, looks round and calls
On "Hero! Hero!" having learn'd this name
Of his last breath, she calls him by the same.


Then with her frantic hands she rends her hairs,
And casts them forth, sad keepsakes to the wind,
As if in plucking those she plucked her cares;
But grief lies deeper, and remains behind
Like a barb'd arrow, rankling in her brain,
Turning her very thoughts to throbs of pain.


Anon her tangled locks are left alone,
And down upon the sand she meekly sits,
Hard by the foam, as humble as a stone,
Like an enchanted maid beside her wits,
That ponders with a look serene and tragic,
Stunn'd by the mighty mystery of magic.


Or think of Ariadne's utter trance,
Crazed by the flight of that disloyal traitor,
Who left her gazing on the green expanse
That swallowed up his track,--yet this would mate her,
Ev'n in the cloudy summit of her woe,
When o'er the far sea-brim she saw him go.


For even so she bows, and bends her gaze
O'er the eternal waste, as if to sum
Its waves by weary thousands all her days,
Dismally doom'd! meanwhile the billows come,
And coldly dabble with her quiet feet,
Like any bleaching stones they wont to greet.


And thence into her lap have boldly sprung,
Washing her weedy tresses to and fro,
That round her crouching knees have darkly hung;
But she sits careless of waves' ebb and flow,
Like a lone beacon on a desert coast,
Showing where all her hope was wreck'd and lost.


Yet whether in the sea or vaulted sky,
She knoweth not her lover's abrupt resort,
So like a shape of dreams he left her eye,
Winking with doubt. Meanwhile, the churls' report
Has throng'd the beach with many a curious face,
That peeps upon her from its hiding place.


And here a head, and there a brow half seen,
Dodges behind a rock. Here on his hands
A mariner his crumpled cheeks doth lean
Over a rugged crest. Another stands,
Holding his harmful arrow at the head,
Still check'd by human caution and strange dread.


One stops his ears,--another close beholder
Whispers unto the next his grave surmise;
This crouches down,--and just above his shoulder,
A woman's pity saddens in her eyes,
And prompts her to befriend that lonely grief,
With all sweet helps of sisterly relief.


And down the sunny beach she paces slowly,
With many doubtful pauses by the way;
Grief hath an influence so hush'd and holy,--
Making her twice attempt, ere she can lay
Her hand upon that sea-maid's shoulder white,
Which makes her startle up in wild affright.


And, like a seal, she leaps into the wave
That drowns the shrill remainder of her scream;
Anon the sea fills up the watery cave,
And seals her exit with a foamy seam,--
Leaving those baffled gazers on the beach,
Turning in uncouth wonder each to each.


Some watch, some call, some see her head emerge,
Wherever a brown weed falls through the foam;
Some point to white eruptions of the surge:--
But she is vanish'd to her shady home,
Under the deep, inscrutable,--and there
Weeps in a midnight made of her own hair.


Now here, the sighing winds, before unheard,
Forth from their cloudy caves begin to blow,
Till all the surface of the deep is stirr'd,
Like to the panting grief it hides below;
And heaven is cover'd with a stormy rack,
Soiling the waters with its inky black.


The screaming fowl resigns her finny prey,
And labors shoreward with a bending wing,
Rowing against the wind her toilsome way;
Meanwhile, the curling billows chafe, and fling
Their dewy frost still further on the stones,
That answer to the wind with hollow groans.


And here and there a fisher's far-off bark
Flies with the sun's last glimpse upon its sail,
Like a bright flame amid the waters dark,
Watch'd with the hope and fear of maidens pale;
And anxious mothers that upturn their brows,
Freighting the gusty wind with frequent vows,


For that the horrid deep has no sure path
To guide Love safe into his homely haven.
And lo! the storm grows blacker in its wrath,
O'er the dark billow brooding like a raven,
That bodes of death and widow's sorrowing,
Under the dusky covert of his wing.


And so day ended. But no vesper spark
Hung forth its heavenly sign; but sheets of flame
Play'd round the savage features of the dark,
Making night horrible. That night, there came
A weeping maiden to high Sestos' steep,
And tore her hair and gazed upon the deep.


And waved aloft her bright and ruddy torch,
Whose flame the boastful wind so rudely fann'd,
That oft it would recoil, and basely scorch
The tender covert of her sheltering hand;
Which yet, for Love's dear sake, disdain'd retire,
And, like a glorying martyr, braved the fire.


For that was love's own sign and beacon guide
Across the Hellespont's wide weary space,
Wherein he nightly struggled with the tide:--
Look what a red it forges on her face,
As if she blush'd at holding sucha light,
Ev'n in the unseen presence of the night!


Whereas her tragic cheek is truly pale,
And colder than the rude and ruffian air
That howls into her ear a horrid tale
Of storm and wreck, and uttermost despair,
Saying, "Leander floats amid the surge,
And those are dismal waves that sing his dirge."


And hark!--a grieving voice, trembling and faint,
Blends with the hollow sobbings of the sea;
Like the sad music of a siren's plaint,
But shriller than Leander's voice should be,
Unless the wintry death had changed its tone,--
Wherefore she thinks she hears his spirit moan.


For now, upon each brief and breathless pause,
Made by the raging winds, it plainly calls
On "Hero! Hero!"--whereupon she draws
Close to the dizzy brink, that ne'er appals
Her brave and constant spirit to recoil,
However the wild billows toss and toil.


"Oh! dost thou live under the deep deep sea?
I thought such love as thine could never die;
If thou hast gain'd an immortality
From the kind pitying sea-god, so will I;
And this false cruel tide that used to sever
Our hearts, shall be our common home forever!"


"There we will sit and sport upon one billow,
And sing our ocean ditties all the day,
And lie together on the same green pillow,
That curls above us with its dewy spray;
And ever in one presence live and dwell,
Like two twin pearls within the selfsame shell!"


One moment then, upon the dizzy verge
She stands;--with face upturn'd against the sky;
A moment more, upon the foamy surge
She gazes, with a calm despairing eye;
Feeling that awful pause of blood and breath,
Which life endures when it confronts with death;--


Then from the giddy steep she madly springs,
Grasping her maiden robes, that vainly kept
Panting abroad, like unavailing wings,
To save her from her death.--The sea-maid wept
And in a crystal cave her corse enshrined;
No meaner sepulchre should Hero find!

Thomas Hood

Thomas Hood's other poems:
  1. Written in Keats' УEndymionФ
  2. The Two Peacocks of Bedfont
  3. Song (The stars are with the voyager)
  4. Ode on a Distant Prospect of Clapham Academy
  5. Ballad (She's up and gone, the graceless girl)

Poems of the other poets with the same name:

  • Christopher Marlowe Hero and Leander ("It lies not in our power to love or hate")

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