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Ovid, Heroides XIX

Introduction and Synopsis

Hero to Leander

So that I can have in fact, Leander, 
The greeting that you sent in words--come!
All delay is long to me, which postpones our joys.
Forgive my words--I can not love patiently.
We burn with equal fires, but I am not equal to you in strength:
I think the nature of men is stronger.
Just as the body, the mind of delicate girls is weak;
Add a delay of a little more time, and I shall fail!

You men, now hunting, now cultivating a pleasant farm,
Put in long hours in various ways.
Either the marketplace holds you, or the rewards of the oiled wrestling-ground,
Or you turn the neck of the following horse with the reins;
Now you draw in a bird with a snare, now a fish with a hook,
And you dilute the wine set before you in the later hours.
For me, who am denied these things, even if I were less fiercely aflame,
There is nothing left to do but love.
What is left, I do; and you, oh my only pleasure,
I love even more than could be given back to me.
Either I whisper about you with my old nurse,
And marvel at the cause that delays your journey;
Or, looking out over the sea, I rebuke the waves
Stirred up by the hateful wind, in words that are almost yours;
Or, when the heavy wave has eased its fury a little,
I complain that you could come, but do not wish to.
And while I complain, tears flow from my loving eyes,
Which the old woman who shares my knowledge dries with a shaking hand.
Often I look to see if your footsteps are on the shore,
As if the sand would keep the signs impressed on it.
And, so that I might ask about you and write to you, I inquire
If anyone has come from Abydos, or if anyone is going to Abydos.
Why should I say how many times I have given kisses to the clothes that  you
Laid aside when going into the waters of the Hellespont?

Thus, when the light is spent, and the friendlier hour of night,
Having driven out the day, shows forth the brilliant stars,
Immediately I place the watchful lights in the height of the tower,
The sign and mark of your accustomed path.
Then, drawing the twisted thread from the turning spindle,
We beguile the slow time of waiting with woman's art.

What, meanwhile, do I say through so long a time, you ask?
Nothing but Leander's name is in my mouth.
"Do you think my joy has already left his home, nurse,
Or is everyone awake, and he is afraid of his family?
Do you think he is already putting off the clothes from his shoulders,
Already wetting his limbs with the rich oil?"
She nods, usually; not because she cares for my kisses,
But sleep, stealing upon her, moves the old head.
After the slightest pause, "Now certainly he is underway," I say,
And he moves his supple arms through the parted waters.
And while the few strands I have finished touch the floor,
I ask whether you could be in the middle of the strait.
And now I look out, and now I pray in a timid voice
That a favorable breeze will give you an easy course.
I seize at uncertain voices with my ears, 
And I believe every noise to be your arrival.

When the greatest part of the night has gone by for me with such deceptions,
Sleep comes stealthily over my weary eyes.
Perhaps, nevertheless, you sleep with me unwillingly, false one,
And, even though you do not wish to come, you come.
For now I seem to see you already swimming close,
To bear your wet arms now around my shoulders.
Now I give the garments that I am accustomed to for your wet limbs,
Now with hearts joined, warm our breasts.
Many things beyond this should be left unsaid by the modest tongue,
Which it enjoys doing, but having done them is ashamed to speak of.
Miserable me!  Brief are these pleasures, and not true,
For you are always accustomed to depart when sleep does.
Oh, may our eager loves be joined more strongly,
Nor may our joys lack true faith.
Why have I, cold, gone through so many lonely nights?
Why, slow delayer, are you so often away from me?
The sea, I admit, is not now suitable for swimming;
But last night the breeze was gentler.
Why should it have passed by?  Why did you fear that which did not come?
Why did so good a time go to waste, and you did not seize the path?
Granted that many similar opportunities may be given to you afterwards,
Surely this one, which was before, was better.

But the shape of the peaceful deep is changed quickly.
When you hurry, often you come in less time.
Caught here, I think, you would have nothing which you would complain about,
And no storm would harm you in my embrace.
Indeed, then I would hear the sounding winds with joy,
And would pray for the sea never to be calm.
But what has happened?  Why are you more fearful of the waves,
And now fear the sea that you despised before?
For I remember your coming when the sea was not less
Savage and threatening, or not much less;
When I cried out to you, "Thus you should be so rash,
Lest I, miserable, should weep for your courage."
Whence this new fear, and where has that boldness fled?
Where is that great swimmer who despised the waters?

Nevertheless, be as you are, rather than as you were accustomed to be before
And, safe, make your journey through a calm sea--
So long as you are the same; so long as we love thus, as you write,
And that flame not become cold ash.
I do not so much fear the wind delaying my vows,
As that, like the wind, your love may wander,
That I may not be worth so much, and the dangers may surpass their cause,
And that I may seem smaller pay than the labor.

Sometimes I fear that my homeland does me harm, and that I, a Thracian girl,
May be called no match for an Abydosian marriage-bed.
Nevertheless I could bear all things with greater patience, except if
You spend your leisure, a captive, with some mistress,
If other arms come around your neck,
And a new love put an end to our love.
Ah!  Rather may I perish than be wounded by such a crime,
And my fates come before your sin.
Not because you have given me signs that such grief will come,
Do I say these things, or because of some new troubling rumor.
But I fear everything!  Indeed, whoever loved without anxiousness?
And the place gathers more things to fear for those who are absent.
Happy are those whose own presence bids them to know
The true accusation, and forbids them to fear the false.
While groundless wrongs move me, real ones are concealed from me.
And each error rouses equal pain.
Oh would that you would come!  Or let the wind or your father--
And no woman--truly be the cause of your delay.
If I should know that thing, believe me, I should die grieving.
Sin immediately if you seek my death.

But you will not sin, and I fear these things without reason;
Also you do not come because an envious storm assails you.
Ah miserable me!  With what great waves the shores are beaten,
And the day lies hidden in dark, concealing clouds.
Perhaps the dutiful mother of Helle has come to the sea,
And weeps for her drowned daughter with dripping waters.
Or is the stepmother, turned into a goddess of the sea, harassing
The sea that is called by the hated name of her stepdaughter?
This place, as it is now, does not favor tender girls;
by these waters Helle died; by them I am wounded.
But if you remembered your own flames, Neptune,
No love should be impeded by the winds--
If neither Amymone nor Tyro, most highly praised beauty, 
Is an idle tale charged to you,
And shining Alcyone, and Calyce, Hecataeon's daughter,
And Medusa, her hair not yet entwined with snakes,
And fair-haired Laodice, and Celaeno, who was received by the sky,
And those of whose names I remember having read.
These, certainly, and many more, Neptune, the poets sing,
Have brought their soft sides together with yours.
Why, then, having so often experienced the force of love,
Do you close off to us with storms the accustomed journey?
Spare us, wild one, and mix your battles on the broad sea;
This narrow sea separates two lands.
It befits you, great one, either to toss about great ships,
Or even to be fierce with whole fleets;
It is shameful for a god of the open sea to terrify a swimming youth,
And that glory is less than some pond.
He is indeed noble, and of illustrious birth, but 
He does not draw his family from the Ulysses who is mistrusted by you.
Give grace and save both of us.  He swims, but 
The body of Leander and my hope hang upon the same waters.

See, the light sputters--for I am writing where it is placed--
It sputters and gives us a favorable sign.
Behold, the nurse drips wine into the auspicious fires,
"Tomorrow," she says, "We will be more," and she herself drinks.
Make us more, gliding through the conquered seas,
Oh one whom I have received deep inside my whole heart!
Return to your camp, deserter of your ally love;
Why should I lay my limbs in the middle of the bed?
What you fear, is not!  Venus herself will favor your daring,
And born of the sea, she will make the paths of the sea calm.
Often I wish to go through the middle of the waves myself,
But it is customary for this strait to be safer for males.
For why, with Phrixus and Phrixus' sister born across this,
Did the woman alone give her name to the vast waters?

Perhaps you fear that the time will fall short for your return,
Or you may be unable to bear the burden of the double labor.
Then let us, turned in different directions, come together in the middle of the sea
And, meeting, give kisses on the crest of the water,
And so each of us return again to his own city;
That will be little, but more than nothing.
Would that either this shame, which forces us to love in secret,
Or this love which is fearful of rumor would cease.
Now two things which are badly joined, passion and fearful respect, are in conflict.
Which I will follow is in doubt; one is fitting--the other delights.
Thus Pegasaean Jason once entered Colchis,
And he bore off the Phasian girl that he had placed in his swift ship;
Thus the Idaean adulterer once came from Lacedaemon,
And he immediately returned with his prize.
But you, as often as you seek what you love, so often you leave it behind,
And as often as it would be hard to go by ship, you swim.

Thus nevertheless, oh youth, conqueror of the swollen seas,
Thus you scorn what the strait may do, although you fear it.
Ships built with art are drowned by the sea,;
Do you believe your arms are capable of more than oars?
What do you wish for, Leander?  Sailors fear to swim--
That is the usual result of wrecked ships.
Miserable me!  I wish not to persuade you to that which I urge;
Be stronger, I pray, than my warnings,
So long as you come, and cast your tired arms,
Often beaten by the waves, about my shoulders.

Yet whenever I turn toward the deep-blue waves,
Some trembling chill holds my breast.
Nor am I less troubled by a dream from last night,
Even though it has been propitiated by my sacrifices.
For just before dawn, with my lamp already dying down,
At that time when it is customary to find true dreams,
The threads had fallen from my fingers, relaxed by sleep,
And I gave my neck to be supported by the pillow.
There I saw a dolphin swimming through the windy waves,
Without doubt a true vision:
After the surges had dashed it against the thirsty sands,
The waves and life deserted the wretched thing at the same time.
Whatever it is, I fear; neither laugh at my dream,
Nor trust your arms to anything but a calm sea.
If you will not spare yourself, spare the girl who is loved by you,
Who will never be safe unless you are safe.
There is hope nevertheless that peace is near in the broken waves;
Let you split their placid paths with all your strength.
Meanwhile, since the straits are not passable to a swimmer,
Let the letter I send ease the hated delay.
















































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Last updated 06/23/2013