Verse > Anthologies > T. H. Ward, ed. > The English Poets > Vol. I. Chaucer to Donne
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Thomas Humphry Ward, ed.  The English Poets.  1880–1918.
Vol. I. Early Poetry: Chaucer to Donne
 
Extracts from the First Sestiad of Hero and Leander
By Christopher Marlowe (1564–1593)
 
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.
At Sestos Hero dwelt; Hero the fair,        5
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,
The lining purple silk, with gilt stars drawn;        10
Her wide sleeves green, and bordered with a grove,
Where Venus in her naked glory strove
To please the careless and disdainful eyes
Of proud Adonis, that before her lies;
Her kirtle blue, whereon was many a stain,        15
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,
Whose workmanship both man and beast deceives:        20
Many would praise the sweet smell as she past,
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.
About her neck hung chains of pebble-stone,        25
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
To play upon those hands, they were so white.        30
Buskins of shells, all silver’d, usèd 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:
Those with sweet water oft her handmaid fills,        35
Which as she went, would cherup through their 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,
As he imagined Hero was his mother;        40
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 rockt, there took his rest.
*        *        *        *        *
On this feast-day,—O cursèd day and hour!—        45
Went Hero thorough Sestos, from her tower
To Venus’ temple, where unhappily,
As after chanc’d, they did each other spy.
So fair a church as this had Venus none:
The walls were of discolour’d 1 jasper-stone,        50
Wherein was Proteus carved; and over-head
A lively vine of green sea-agate spread,
Where by one hand light-headed Bacchus hung,
And with the other wine from grapes out-wrung.
Of crystal shining fair the pavement was;        55
The town of Sestos call’d it Venus’ glass:
*        *        *        *        *
For know, that underneath this radiant flour
Was Danäe’s statue in a brazen tower;
Jove slyly stealing from his sister’s bed,
To dally with Idalian Ganymed,        60
And for his love Europa bellowing loud,
And 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;        65
Silvanus weeping for the lovely boy
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 turtle’s blood,        70
Vail’d to the ground, veiling her eyelids close;
And modestly they open’d as she rose:
Thence flew Love’s arrow with the golden head;
And thus Leander was enamourèd.
Stone-still he stood, and evermore he gaz’d,        75
Till with the fire, that from his countenance blaz’d,
Relenting Hero’s gentle heart was strook:
Such force and virtue hath an amorous look.
  It lies not in our power to love or hate,
For will in us is over-rul’d by fate.        80
When two are stript long e’er the course begin,
We wish that one should lose, the other win;
And one especially do we affect
Of two gold ingots, like in each respect:
The reason no man knows; let it suffice,        85
What we behold is censur’d by our eyes.
Where both deliberate, the love is slight:
Who ever lov’d, that lov’d not at first sight?
  He kneel’d; but unto her devoutly pray’d:
Chaste Hero to herself thus softly said,        90
‘Were I the saint he worships, I would hear him’;
And, as she spake those words, came somewhat near him.
He started up; she blush’d as one asham’d;
Wherewith Leander much more was inflam’d.
He touch’d her hand; in touching it she trembled:        95
Love deeply grounded, hardly is dissembled.
These lovers parled by the touch of hands:
True love is mute, and oft amazèd stands.
Thus while dumb signs their yielding hearts entangled,
The air with sparks of living fire was spangled;        100
And night, deep-drench’d in misty Acheron,
Heav’d up her head, and half the world upon
Breath’d darkness forth (dark night is Cupid’s day):
And now begins Leander to display
Love’s holy fire, with words, with sighs, and tears;        105
Which, like sweet music, enter’d Hero’s ears;
And yet at every word she turn’d aside,
And always cut him off, as he replied.
*        *        *        *        *
These arguments he us’d, and many more;
Wherewith she yielded, that was won before.        110
Hero’s looks yielded, but her words made war:
Women are won when they begin to jar.
Thus having swallow’d Cupid’s golden hook,
The more she striv’d, the deeper was she strook:
Yet, evilly feigning anger, strove she still,        115
And would be thought to grant against her will.
So having paus’d awhile, at last she said,
‘Who taught thee rhetoric to deceive a maid?
Ay me! such words as these should I abhor,
And yet I like them for the orator.’        120
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.
Upon a rock, and underneath a hill,        125
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
In silence of the night to visit us,)        130
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,
And spends the night, that might be better spent,        135
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,
And here and there her eyes through anger rang’d;        140
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:
And hands so pure, so innocent, nay, such        145
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;
Her vows about the empty air he flings:        150
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;
And, as she wept, her tears to pearl he turn’d,        155
And wound them on his arm, and for her mourn’d.
 
Note 1. vari-coloured. [back]
 
 
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