Heaven * George Herbert * The echo poem

wood_nymphs_by_adysmithO who will show me those delights on high?
Echo.         I.
Thou Echo, thou art mortall, all men know.
Echo.         No.
Wert thou not born among the trees and leaves?
Echo.         Leaves.
And are there any leaves, that still abide?
Echo.         Bide.
What leaves are they? impart the matter wholly.
Echo.         Holy.
Are holy leaves the Echo then of blisse?
Echo.         Yes.
Then tell me, what is that supreme delight?
Echo.         Light.
Light to the minde : what shall the will enjoy?
Echo.         Joy.
But are there cares and businesse with the pleasure?
Echo.         Leisure.
Light, joy, and leisure ; but shall they persever?
Echo.         Ever.

In Metamorphoses, the poet Ovid tells of Juno (Hera in Greek mythology) and the jealousy she felt towards her husband Jupiter (Zeus in Greek mythology) for his many affairs. Though vigilant, whenever she was about to catch him, Echo distracted her with lengthy conversations. When at last Juno realized the truth, she cursed Echo. From that moment on, the once loquacious nymph could only repeat the most recently spoken words of another person.

Sometime after being cursed, Echo spied a young man, Narcissus, while he was out hunting deer with his companions. She immediately fell in love with him and, infatuated, followed quietly. The more she looked at the young man, the more she longed for him. Though she wished with all her heart to call out to Narcissus, Juno’s curse prevented her

During the hunt, Narcissus became separated from his companions and called out, ‘is anyone there’, and heard the nymph repeat his words. Startled Narcissus answered the voice, ‘come here’, only to be told the same. When Narcissus saw that nobody had emerged from the glade he concluded that the owner of the voice must be running away from him and called out again. Finally he shouted, “This way, we must come together.” Taking this to be a reciprocation of her love, Echo concurred ecstatically, “We must come together!”

In her delight, Echo rushed to Narcissus ready to throw her arms around her beloved. Narcissus, however, was appalled and, spurning her, exclaimed, ‘Hands off! May I die before you enjoy my body.’ All Echo could whisper in reply was, ‘enjoy my body’ and having done so she fled, scorned, humiliated, and shamed.

Despite the harshness of her rejection, Echo’s love for Narcissus only grew. When Narcissus died, wasting away before his own reflection, consumed by a love that could not be, Echo mourned over his body. When Narcissus, looking one last time into the pool uttered, “Oh marvellous boy, I loved you in vain, farewell“, Echo too chorused, “Farewell.”

Eventually, Echo, too, began to waste away. Her beauty faded, her skin shriveled, and her bones turned to stone. Today, all that remains of Echo is the sound of her voice.

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