Works of Annie Fields
THE LANTERN OF SESTOS.
By Annie Fields
[ Notes ]
WATERS of song, ever flowing, that whisper of truth and fulfillment,
Solemn your voices, yet sweet, fountains of healing to men.
Old is the legend of lovers the world is forever repeating,
Old as the years and yet young, glad as the vision of dawn;
Old as the temples of Kypris, whose fragments of beauty we worship,
Young as the blood that now leaps fresh with the fountains of June.
Virgil hath sung of the story, recounted by Ovid and Statius,
Musæcus, sweetest of all, sad as the autumn's decay;
Carven by him it remains who hath used fair Greek words for his chisel,
Like to a cameo-shell clasping the robe of a nymph.
Burdened with lustre and loss, the tale as by Marlowe repeated;
Thus is it age by age caught to the heart of mankind.
Lovers whose glances now meet and now bend to the page ye are reading,
Are there no billows outstretched between ye and your love?
Happy are ye and good then pitiful are ye to others,
Swept by adversity's wave far from the feet they adore.
High was the tower and windy where Hero lonely abiding
Fed the desires of a maid, whispering her heart unto none;
There on the verge of the ocean she watched from her height for the morning,
Where the motionless waves lay unstirred, fired by no dart of the sun,
Till, wakened at last and pierced by his flames, she beheld like a blossom
Dawn lying rosy and soft rocked on the breast of the sea.
When the day broadened she sought with her handmaid the temple of Kypris,
Praying the goddess of love safely her servant to keep;
Ended her orison, straight she returned to her chamber of silence,
Far from the dance, and shut far from the music of youth.
Now the glad season approached, the yearly feast of Adonis,
When women to worship went forth, and youths to gaze on the maids.
There in the temple's most holy recesses Hero long lingered,
Hidden from thoughts of the world, seen by no eye of the crowd.
Soft fell the lawn of her robe round the grace of her limbs low declining,
Her veil, half forgotten, slipped down from her ivory throat,
Lost in the shadowy shrine while her spirit arose in petition,
Lover she knew not, nor one clothed there in beauty and strength.
He had seen her and followed her hither with eyes full of ardor,
Noble and pure, audacious to die or to win.
Lingered he there impatient, till all her devotions were ended,
Hoping to hear but her voice, longing to touch but her hand.
Ardent and strong and beautiful was he far above others,
Daring far above all, he who drew near to her shrine.
Speaking now he addressed her, "Abydos, home of my fathers,
Stands divided from thee; only by ships may we come,
Yet there dwells not in Abydos, nor in the wide region of Sestos,
One who moveth my heart save when it dwelleth with thee.
Hear ye the words I would speak, nor fear a foe in thy lover,
One who before thy Queen, Kypris the goddess, now prays
Permission to touch and to kiss but thy rosy-tipped fingers,
Gaze in thine eyes, and perchance whisper the accents of love."
Downcast her vision became, and the blood her bright shoulder suffusing,
Told all the tale of her thought, ere her slow lips gave response;
Gently she turned her aside, nor answered his tender assurance,
Left not the shade nor the shrine, gave not her hand unto him.
But swift is the arrow of Love, and his missive ethereal speeding
Straight from the young man's heart entered the breast of the maid.
Then he prayed her again to tell him her name and her story.
Asking, "Where is thy home, where may I seek thee, my love?"
"I am Hero," she said, "and my home is washed by the ocean.
Left in yon tower alone, save for one handmaid now old;
Music is none for me if no voice of the sea-bird be calling,
Dance there is none, but the dance led by the waves on the strand.
High is my chamber and silent, the pathway unknown unto any
Save to the jewels of the air borne on their pinions of flame,
Flitting and stirring with kisses the jars of alyssum and lilies
Bowering my casement and breathing of valleys and rills."
Pausing again, while the blood all her throat and her forehead was staining:
"Why do I say this to thee? I but a stranger, a maid!"
Then he returned: "Nay rather to me may my words be forgiven,
Heated with fires of the heart, heated with flames of desire!
Here in this sacred enclosure, by the mother of love thus protected,
Nought can betray or alarm, nothing can lead thee astray.
Turn not aside, nor hide thus from me thy face and its meaning,
Give me at least thy hand, visible token of peace."
Shyly she gave him her hand, and swiftly his kisses descended,
Rained down over it, lo! till it blushed in return.
"Wilt thou not yield, then," he cried, "yield thyself unto my honor,
Beautiful maiden of Sestos, thou, the fairest of all?
Wilt thou not bid me to come unto thy window forsaken,
Bid me to comfort thee there, nevermore lonely or sad?
Hither the goddess hath led me that I henceforth may protect thee,
Thee, the chosen of gods, light of my life and my bride."
Turning her glances upon him, while she stood there in maiden confusion,
Seeing his beauty and grace, seeing his honor and truth,
"Tell me," she answered, "the name thou dost bear and the name of thy parents;
Tell me thy story of life, tell me the feats thou hast done;
Thou hast told me already thy home is afar in Abydos,
How canst thou meet me unseen, borne by no white-winged ship?"
"I am Leander,"' he said, "the love-crowned husband of Hero!
These strong limbs be my ship! Lamp of my life, be my star!
Now are the nights of May, and the soft-veiled skies of the spring-time
Such as lovers must love, shadows of night and the shrine.
Late when the fires of the town are extinguished, thy lamp for my beacon,
Swiftly these limbs shall cleave waters blue as the sky."
"See where, already!" she cried, "are the feet of my handmaid approaching,
Long are the hours we must wait, brief are the moments of love!"
Drooping she turned unto him and extended her arms in acceptance,
Sinking with senses half drowned, lost in that one short embrace.
"Farewell!" he murmured, "farewell, till the moon of May hath turned from us,
Hanging, a fragment of mist, faint on the forehead of day.
Goddess, and mother of love, whose recesses have given us shelter,
Bring me to answer her signal, bring me to find her, my bride!"
Slowly the mantle of night was spread o'er the face of Abydos,
Slowly shone out the stars swung in the purple expanse,
Still down the west the heavens were stained with remembering crimson,
Lonely the lover remained pacing the picturing sands.
One by one from afar the watch-towers caught and were kindled,
Ghost-like sails faded out, lost in the moonless expanse;
Slowly, more slowly, now were the fires of Sestos extinguished,
Night, like a motionless veil, hid all the rim of the earth.
Restless the waves as his spirit with their wayward glances inviting,
White-lipped, even in peace, noisy and strong at their play;
"Come! They ever are calling, Come! to our caverns unsounded,
Beautiful harbors of peace, strange and untrodden by man."
Heeded he not their vain music, dreamed he of nought save her beacon;
Star which should rise sole for him, lit in the heart of his love.
"True is my darling, most true! yet hath she the signal forgotten!"
Hardly the words were said when her lamp shot a flame from afar;
Swiftly his mantle he seized, and swift round his forehead he bound it,
Then in the waters he plunged, white as the shafts of her shrine.
Down from the height of her chamber noiselessly Hero descended,
Stepped from the postern door out to the feet of the sea;
There in her arms she received her love, the voyager, wave-stained,
Led him within, and his limbs washed and anointed with oil.
Bride and bridegroom were there, but where was the feast of the bridal!
Wedding was there, yet where, guest of the wedding, wert thou!
Bliss of marriage was there, but absent the blessing of parents!
Silent the halls, and the hollows of the night were grown still.
Many and many the hours through the too brief midnights of summer,
Waiting the signal he stood, then plunged through seas to his bride.
Thus lived Hero, a wife by night, and by day but a maiden,
Till the flowers were faded and harvests ripened and billows were cold.
Then followed the season of tempests, when gloomily shadowed
Evening fell black, and the breeze died, and the waves were aflame;
Noiselessly crept a deluge that whispered low to the ocean,
Waking the winds in their wrath, sweeping the land with their might.
Long that night waited Leander, but only the waves' wild blue lustre
Lightened the awful dark shining in blackness profound.
Twice had the morning arisen ere the force of the tempest was broken.
Then came winter abroad, calling to land and to sea.
Burnished like steel was the ocean's face, and the unmeasured forests
Shook their long locks to the wind, sweeping the sky with their hair.
Glad was the spirit of Hero, and spring was chaunting within her,
Surely to-night shall the lamp lead her beloved to his own.
High was the wind and mighty the sea, but desire was grown stronger,
Silencing one and soothing the other to her mind.
Clear-eyed and angry and strong was the sun in his early declining,
Hungry and angry the waves drew themselves back from the shore;
Angrily answered the wind-blast from each lofty coigne of her casement,
Tenderly, patiently there, Hero awaited her love.
Busily first from the height her lantern she bravely suspended,
Then she folded her hands, nought was there left to be done.
Midnight, with clangorous voices, to earth's bosom dark hath spoken,
Hero, listening, descends, seeking the dark postern door;
Rudely and fiercely the wind repels her, disputing her passage,
Firmly, nay sternly, she urgeth and holdeth her ground.
Ragged and rent are the clouds, by the might of Æolus driven,
High are the waves that wash over the rocks to her feet,
Dark is the sea, and dark is the vault where her heaven is hidden,
Dark is her lamp! but alas! nought of that night can she know.
Beaten by surges and beaten by wind, still alone doth she linger,
Then, when he comes not, returns laden with grief to her place.
Now beholdeth she first her lantern by storm blasts extinguished,
There in the dark must she sit, waiting till morning appear.
How could she tell if the treacherous beacon had led him to venture,
Bid him to try the deep, then had forsaken the trust.
Slow are the hours, grief-weighted and heavy the tread of their footfall,
Laden with pain they approach, fearful the greeting at last.
Thus the slow feet of the dawn through the dim waste of darkness approached her,
Heavily treading, as tread burdened bearers of woe.
When with the earliest glimmer she leaned through the storm-shattered casement,
There she sees, at the tower-foot, his fair form that she loves;
There she finds in the dawn that the lamp indeed is extinguished,
Flame of a candle and lamp life-lighted, both as if one.
None may hear, there are none to call, there are none who can succor!
Down she casts herself, down she falls, on all that she loves.
What were her life without him! And what worth were the days thus divided!
Whither the unseen leads there will she follow his feet.
Wrapt in the silence of sorrow, here endeth the tender Greek story.
But thus the legend continues: There by the shore in high noon
Multitudes gathered together and saw the glad sunshine adorning
Whiteness of marble and limbs pressed closely each unto each.
Absent were voices of hatred, and absent the censure of lovers,
Youth was there, beauty and truth, -- death was there, welcome for love!
Those who were standing by and who knew both the pain and the passion
Uttered no word, nor did they who knew not the ashes nor flame.
Speechless they entered the tower, and found there the lantern extinguished,
Bore it away to Anteros and hung o'er his shrine.
"Come ye," they cried, "O ye lovers, whose love knoweth nought but good fortune,
Kindle this lantern afresh, here on the fane of the god."
Loud was the voice of the people, on high was the beacon erected,
But there forever unlighted through time it remains.
Still, O thou treacherous lamp, thou dost hang in the eyes of all lovers;
Still do they laugh with the spring, glad in a joy that dies not,
Long the procession enamored in passing has given it homage,
Yet do they linger not fearing lest joy shall take wing.
Better a sorrow for love, they say, and the voices departed,
Better than revelry, lamps relumed, and hearts that forget.
Grief who sittest unchanging beside the shrine of these lovers,
Sit ye by hearts that are true; whispering of love that dies not!
What can be sorrow to these but a mantle a sign, a possession,
Folding them ever enwrapt, blest as Elisha of old!
Clad not in raiments of darkness, nor shrouded in doubt and despondence,
Rather a lamp in themselves, beacons of light unto men.
Ye are but shadows to them who possess the passion immortal,
Lantern forever unlit! Night with thy silence and stars!
Take, ye devouring days! the gold of youth, the desired things:
Leave ye but sorrow white-robed here by the feet dearly loved.
She, the priestess, shall lead us, companion of evening and morning,
Till the one morning awake, knowing not shadow or night.
Notes by Annie Fields
[ Page number from print edition of Under the Olive.]
THE LANTERN OF SESTOS. (Page 43.)
"Among the Ionians of Asia Minor was developed the pathetic melody of the Elegiac metre, which first was apparently used to express the emotions of love and sorrow, and afterwards (see Goethe) 'came to be the vehicle of moral sentiment and all strong feeling.'" J. A. SYMONDS, Studies of the Greek Poets.
"The idea that Spirit is immortal involves this, that the human individual inherently possesses infinite value. The merely Natural appears limited, absolutely dependent. upon something other than itself, and has its existence in that other; but immortality involves the inherent infinitude of Spirit." -- HEGEL'S Philosophy of History.
"When Leander was drowned, the inhabitants of Sestos consecrated Hero's lanterne to Anteros; Anteroti sacrum; and he that had good successe in his love, should light the candle; but never any man was found to light it. -- BURTON'S Anatomy of Melancholy.
Works of Annie Fields