Hero And Leander. The Fourth Sestiad
Now from Leander's place she rose, and found
Her hair and rent robe scatter'd on the ground;
Which taking up, she every piece did lay
Upon an altar, where in youth of day
She us'd t' exhibit private sacrifice:
Those would she offer to the deities
Of her fair goddess and her powerful son,
As relics of her late-felt passion;
And in that holy sort she vow'd to end them,
In hope her violent fancies, that did rend them,
Would as quite fade in her love's holy fire,
As they should in the flames she meant t' inspire.
Then put she on all her religious weeds,
That decked her in her secret sacred deeds;
A crown of icicles, that sun nor fire
Could ever melt, and figur'd chaste desire;
A golden star shined in her naked breast,
In honour of the queen-light of the east.
In her right hand she held a silver wand,
On whose bright top Peristera did stand.
Who was a nymph, but now transformed a dove,
And in her life was dear in Venus' love;
And for her sake she ever since that time
Choosed doves to draw her coach through heaven's blue clime.
Her plenteous hair in curled billows swims
On her bright shoulder: her harmonious limbs
Sustained no more but a most subtile veil,
That hung on them, as it durst not assail
Their different concord; for the weakest air
Could raise it swelling from her beauties fair;
Nor did it cover, but adumbrate only
Her most heart-piercing parts, that a blest eye
Might see, as it did shadow, fearfully,
All that all-love-deserving paradise:
It was as blue as the most freezing skies;
Near the sea's hue, for thence her goddess came:
On it a scarf she wore of wondrous frame;
In midst whereof she wrought a virgin's face,
From whose each cheek a fiery blush did chase
Two crimson flames, that did two ways extend,
Spreading the ample scarf to either end;
Which figur'd the division of her mind,
Whiles yet she rested bashfully inclin'd,
And stood not resolute to wed Leander;
This serv'd her white neck for a purple sphere,
And cast itself at full breadth down her back:
There, since the first breath that begun the wrack
Of her free quiet from Leander's lips,
She wrought a sea, in one flame, full of ships;
But that one ship where all her wealth did pass,
Like simple merchants' goods, Leander was;
For in that sea she naked figured him;
Her diving needle taught him how to swim,
And to each thread did such resemblance give,
For joy to be so like him it did live:
Things senseless live by art, and rational die
By rude contempt of art and industry.
Scarce could she work, but, in her strength of thought,
She fear'd she prick'd Leander as she wrought,
And oft would shriek so, that her guardian, frighted,
Would startling haste, as with some mischief cited:
They double life that dead things' griefs sustain;
They kill that feel not their friends' living pain.
Sometimes she fear'd he sought her infamy;
And then, as she was working of his eye,
She thought to prick it out to quench her ill;
But, as she prick'd, it grew more perfect still:
Trifling attempts no serious acts advance;
The fire of love is blown by dalliance.
In working his fair neck she did so grace it,
She still was working her own arms t' embrace it:
That, and his shoulders, and his hands were seen
Above the stream; and with a pure sea-green
She did so quaintly shadow every limb,
All might be seen beneath the waves to swim.
In this conceited scarf she wrought beside
A moon in change, and shooting stars did glide
In number after her with bloody beams;
Which figur'd her affects in their extremes,
Pursuing nature in her Cynthian body,
And did her thoughts running on change imply;
For maids take more delight, when they prepare,
And think of wives' states, than when wives they are.
Beneath all these she wrought a fisherman,
Drawing his nets from forth the ocean;
Who drew so hard, ye might discover well
The toughen'd sinews in his neck did swell:
His inward strains drave out his blood-shot eyes,
And springs of sweat did in his forehead rise;
Yet was of naught but of a serpent sped,
That in his bosom flew and stung him dead:
And this by Fate into her mind was sent,
Not wrought by mere instinct of her intent.
At the scarf's other end her hand did frame,
Near the fork'd point of the divided flame,
A country virgin keeping of a vine,
Who did of hollow bulrushes combine
Snares for the stubble-loving grasshopper,
And by her lay her scrip that nourish'd her.
Within a myrtle shade she sate and sung;
And tufts of waving reeds above her sprung,
Where lurked two foxes, that, while she applied
Her trifling snares, their thieveries did divide,
One to the vine, another to her scrip,
That she did negligently overslip;
By which her fruitful vine and wholesome fare
She suffered spoiled to make a childish snare.
These ominous fancies did her soul express,
And every finger made a prophetess,
To show what death was hid in love's disguise,
And make her judgment conquer Destinies.
O, what sweet forms fair ladies' souls do shroud,
Were they made seen and forced through their blood;
If through their beauties, like rich work through lawn,
They would set forth their minds with virtues drawn,
In letting graces from their fingers fly,
To still their eyas thoughts with industry;
That their plied wits in numbered silks might sing
Passion's huge conquest, and their needles leading
Affection prisoner through their own-built cities,
Pinioned with stones and Arachnean ditties.
Proceed we now with Hero's sacrifice:
She odours burned, and from their smoke did rise
Unsavoury fumes, that air with plagues inspired;
And then the consecrated sticks she fired.
On whose pale flames an angry spirit flew,
And beat it down still as it upward grew;
The virgin tapers that on th' altar stood,
When she inflam'd them, burned as red as blood;
All sad ostents of that too near success,
That made such moving beauties motionless.
Then Hero wept; but her affrighted eyes
She quickly wrested from the sacrifice,
Shut them, and inwards for Leander looked,
Search'd her soft bosom, and from thence she plucked
His lovely picture; which when she had viewed,
Her beauties were with all love's joys renewed;
The odours sweeten'd, and the fires burned clear,
Leander's form left no ill object there:
Such was his beauty, that the force of light,
Whose knowledge teacheth wonders infinite,
The strength of number and proportion,
Nature had placed in it to make it known,
Art was her daughter, and what human wits
For study lost, entombed in drossy spirits.
After this accident (which for her glory
Hero could not but make a history),
Th' inhabitants of Sestos and Abydos
Did every year, with feasts propitious,
To fair Leander's picture sacrifice:
And they were persons of especial price
That were allowed it, as an ornament
T' enrich their houses, for the continent
Of the strange virtues all approved it held;
For even the very look of it repelled
All blastings, witchcrafts, and the strifes of nature
In those diseases that no herbs could cure;
The wolfy sting of avarice it would pull,
And make the rankest miser bountiful;
It kill'd the fear of thunder and of death;
The discords that conceit engendereth
'Twixt man and wife, it for the time would cease;
The flames of love it quench'd, and would increase;
Held in a prince's hand, it would put out
The dreadful'st comet; it would ease all doubt
Of threaten'd mischiefs; it would bring asleep
Such as were mad; it would enforce to weep
Most barbarous eyes; and many more effects
This picture wrought, and sprung Leandrian sects;
Of which was Hero first; for he whose form,
Held in her hand, clear'd such a fatal storm,
From hell she thought his person would defend her,
Which night and Hellespont would quickly send her.
With this confirm'd, she vow'd to banish quite
All thought of any check to her delight;
And, in contempt of silly bashfulness,
She would the faith of her desires profess,
Where her religion should be policy,
To follow love with zeal her piety;
Her chamber her cathedral-church should be,
And her Leander her chief deity;
For in her love these did the gods forego;
And though her knowledge did not teach her so,
Yet did it teach her this, that what her heart
Did greatest hold in her self-greatest part,
That she did make her god; and 'twas less naught
To leave gods in profession and in thought,
Than in her love and life; for therein lies
Most of her duties and their dignities;
And, rail the brain-bald world at what it will,
That's the grand atheism that reigns in it still.
Yet singularity she would use no more,
For she was singular too much before;
But she would please the world with fair pretext:
Love would not leave her conscience perplext:
Great men that will have less do for them, still
Must bear them out, though th' acts be ne'er so ill;
Meanness must pander be to Excellence;
Pleasure atones Falsehood and Conscience:
Dissembling was the worst, thought Hero then,
And that was best, now she must live with men.
O virtuous love, that taught her to do best
When she did worst, and when she thought it least!
Thus would she still proceed in works divine,
And in her sacred state of priesthood shine,
Handling the holy rites with hands as bold,
As if therein she did Jove's thunder hold,
And need not fear those menaces of error,
Which she at others threw with greatest terror.
O lovely Hero, nothing is thy sin,
Weigh'd with those foul faults other priests are in!
That having neither faiths, nor works, nor beauties,
T' engender any 'scuse for slubbered duties,
With as much countenance fill their holy chairs,
And sweat denouncements 'gainst profane affairs,
As if their lives were cut out by their places,
And they the only fathers of the graces.
Now, as with settled mind she did repair
Her thoughts to sacrifice her ravished hair
And her torn robe, which on the altar lay,
And only for religion's fire did stay,
She heard a thunder by the Cyclops beaten,
In such a volley as the world did threaten,
Given Venus as she parted th' airy sphere,
Descending now to chide with Hero here:
When suddenly the goddess' waggoners,
The swans and turtles that, in coupled pheres,
Through all worlds' bosoms draw her influence,
Lighted in Hero's window, and from thence
To her fair shoulders flew the gentle doves,--
Graceful _AEdone_ that sweet pleasure loves,
And ruff-foot Chreste with the tufted crown;
Both which did kiss her, though their goddess frown.
The swans did in the solid flood, her glass,
Proin their fair plumes; of which the fairest was
Jove-lov'd Leucote, that pure brightness is;
The other bounty-loving Dapsilis.
All were in heaven, now they with Hero were:
But Venus' looks brought wrath, and urged fear.
Her robe was scarlet; black her head's attire:
And through her naked breast shin'd streams of fire,
As when the rarified air is driven
In flashing streams, and opes the darken'd heaven.
In her white hand a wreath of yew she bore;
And, breaking th' icy wreath sweet Hero wore,
She forc'd about her brows her wreath of yew,
And said, 'Now, minion, to thy fate be true,
Though not to me; endure what this portends:
Begin where lightness will, in shame it ends.
Love makes thee cunning; thou art current now,
By being counterfeit: thy broken vow
Deceit with her pied garters must rejoin,
And with her stamp thou countenances must coin;
Coyness, and pure deceits, for purities,
And still a maid wilt seem in cozen'd eyes,
And have an antic face to laugh within,
While thy smooth looks make men digest thy sin.
But since thy lips (least thought forsworn) forswore,
Be never virgin's vow worth trusting more!'
When Beauty's dearest did her goddess hear
Breathe such rebukes 'gainst that she could not clear,
Dumb sorrow spake aloud in tears and blood,
That from her grief-burst veins, in piteous flood,
From the sweet conduits of her favour fell.
The gentle turtles did with moans make swell
Their shining gorges; the while black-ey'd swans
Did sing as woful epicedians,
As they would straightways die: when Pity's queen,
The goddess Ecte, that had ever been
Hid in a watery cloud near Hero's cries,
Since the first instant of her broken eyes,
Gave bright Leucote voice, and made her speak,
To ease her anguish, whose swoln breast did break
With anger at her goddess, that did touch
Hero so near for that she us'd so much;
And, thrusting her white neck at Venus, said:
'Why may not amorous Hero seem a maid,
Though she be none, as well as you suppress
In modest cheeks your inward wantonness?
How often have we drawn you from above,
T' exchange with mortals rites for rites in love!
Why in your priest, then, call you that offence,
That shines in you, and is your influence?'
With this, the Furies stopp'd Leucote's lips,
Enjoin'd by Venus; who with rosy whips
Beat the kind bird. Fierce lightning from her eyes
Did set on fire fair Hero's sacrifice,
Which was her torn robe and enforced hair;
And the bright flame became a maid most fair
For her aspect: her tresses were of wire,
Knit like a net, where hearts set all on fire,
Struggled in pants, and could not get releast;
Her arms were all with golden pincers drest,
And twenty-fashioned knots, pulleys, and brakes,
And all her body girt with painted snakes;
Her down-parts in a scorpion's tail combined,
Freckled with twenty colours; pied wings shined
Out of her shoulders; cloth had never dye,
Nor sweeter colours never viewed eye,
In scorching Turkey, Cares, Tartary,
Than shined about this spirit notorious;
Nor was Arachne's web so glorious.
Of lightning and of shreds she was begot;
More hold in base dissemblers is there not.
Her name was Eronusis. Venus flew
From Hero's sight, and at her chariot drew
This wondrous creature to so steep a height,
That all the world she might command with sleight
Of her gay wings; and then she bade her haste,--
Since Hero had dissembled, and disgraced
Her rites so much,--and every breast infect
With her deceits: she made her architect
Of all dissimulation; and since then
Never was any trust in maids or men.
O, it spited
Fair Venus' heart to see her most delighted,
And one she choos'd, for temper of her mind
To be the only ruler of her kind,
So soon to let her virgin race be ended!
Not simply for the fault a whit offended,
But that in strife for chasteness with the Moon,
Spiteful Diana bade her show but one
That was her servant vow'd, and liv'd a maid;
And, now she thought to answer that upbraid,
Hero had lost her answer: who knows not
Venus would seem as far from any spot
Of light demeanour, as the very skin
'Twixt Cynthia's brows? sin is asham'd of sin.
Up Venus flew, and scarce durst up for fear
Of Phoebe's laughter, when she pass'd her sphere:
And so most ugly-clouded was the light,
That day was hid in day; night came ere night;
And Venus could not through the thick air pierce,
Till the day's king, god of undaunted verse,
Because she was so plentiful a theme
To such as wore his laurel anademe.
Like to a fiery bullet made descent,
And from her passage those fat vapours rent,
That being not throughly rarified to rain,
Melted like pitch, as blue as any vein;
And scalding tempests made the earth to shrink
Under their fervour, and the world did think
In every drop a torturing spirit flew,
It pierc'd so deeply, and it burn'd so blue.
Betwixt all this and Hero, Hero held
Leander's picture, as a Persian shield;
And she was free from fear of worst success:
The more ill threats us, we suspect the less:
As we grow hapless, violence subtle grows,
Dumb, deaf, and blind, and comes when no man knows.