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HERO AND LEANDER:
A STORY IN TWO CANTOS.
Old is the tale I tell, and yet as young And warm with life as ever minstrel sung : Two lovers fill it, — two fair shapes — two souls Sweet as the last, for whom the death bell tolls ; What matters it how long ago, or where They liv’d, or whether their young locks of hair, Like English hyacinths, or Greek, were curled ? We hurt the stories of the antique world By thinking of our school-books, and the wrongs Done them by pedants and fantastic songs, Or sculptures, which from Roman “studios” thrown Turn back Deucalion's flesh and blood to stone. Truth is for ever truth, and love is love; The bird of Venus is the living dove. Sweet Hero's eyes, three thousand years ago, Were made precisely like the best we know,
Look'd the same looks, and spoke no other Greek
Beneath the sun which shines this very hour, There stood of yore- behold it now — a tow'r, Half set in trees and leafy luxury, And through them look'd a window on the sea. The tow'r is old, but guards a beauteous scene Of bow'rs, 'twixt purple hills, a gulf of green, Whose farthest side, from out a lifted grove, Shews a white temple to the Queen of Love. Fair is the morn, the soft trees kiss and breathe; Calm, blue, and glittering is the sea beneath ; And by the window a sweet maiden sits, Grave with glad thoughts, and watching it by fits, For o'er that sea, drawn to her with delight, Her love Leander is to come at night; To come, not sailing, or with help of oar, But with his own warm heart and arms — no more — A naked bridegroom, bound from shore to shore.
A priestess Hero is, an orphan dove, Lodg'd in that turret of the Queen of Love; A youth Leander, born across the strait, Whose wealthy kin deny him his sweet mate, Beset with spies, and dogg'd with daily spite; But he has made high compact with delight, And found a wondrous passage through the weltering
So sat she fix'd all day, or now was fain To rise and move, then sighs, then sits again ; Then tries some work, forgets it, and thinks on, Wishing with perfect love the time were gone, And lost to the green trees with their sweet singers, Taps on the casement's ledge with idle fingers.
An aged nurse had Hero in the place, An under priestess of an humbler race, Who partly serv’d, partly kept watch and ward Over the rest, but no good love debarr’d. The temple’s faith, though serious, never cross'd Engagements, miss'd to their exchequer's cost ; And though this present knot was to remain Unknown awhile, 'twas bless'd within the fane, And much good thanks expected in the end From the dear married daughter, and the wealthy
friend. Poor Hero look'd for no such thanks. Her hand, But to be held in his, would have giv'n sea and land.
The reverend crone accordingly took care To do her duty to a time so fair, Saw all things right, secured her own small pay, (Which brought her luxuries to her dying day,) And finishing a talk, which with surprise She saw made grave e'en those goodhumor'd eyes, Laid up, tow'rds night, her service on the shelf, And left her nicer mistress to herself.
Hesper meanwhile, the star with amorous eye,' Shot his fine sparkle from the deep blue sky. A depth of night succeeded, dark, but clear, Such as presents the hollow starry sphere Like a high gulf to heaven ; and all above Seems waking to a fervid work of love. A nightingale, in transport, seemed to fling His warble out, and then sit listening : And ever and anon, amidst the flush Of the thick leaves, there ran a breezy gush: And then, from dewy myrtles lately bloomed, An odor small, in at the window, fumed.
At last, with twinkle o’er a distant tower,