Sonnet XXIX by Garcilaso de la Vega


Born in Toledo in 1501, de la Vega was one of the first Spanish poets to introduce Italian verse forms and techniques to Spain.  Mastering five languages as well as having a good aptitude for music, de la Vega eventually joined the Spanish military and died at 35 years old from a wound sustained in battle in Nice, France.  His poetry has been fortunate to be consistently popular during his life and up until present times.

In Sonnet XXIX, de la Vega explores the Greek myth of Hero (Ὴρὠ) and Leander (Λὲανδρος).  Each night Leander swam the Hellespont (the modern Dardanelles) to be with his lovely Hero, who lived in a tower in Sestos by the sea.  She would hang a lamp for him in her high tower to guide his path, however, on a particularly stormy night, the waves buffeted Leander, the wind blew out Hero's lamp, and brave Leander tragically drowned in the raging waters.  Bereft, Hero threw herself from her tower into the pitiless sea, which joined them in death, as it had kept them apart in life.


Hero and Leander (1828)
William Etty
source Wikimedia Commons


Sonnet XXIX
   Garcilaso de la Vega
    Brave Leander, dauntless, crossing the sea,
on fire with the lazing flames of love,
when winds blew strong and waters rose and swirled
with frenzied rage and driving, crashing swells.
    Vanquished by struggle, nearly overcome,
he could no longer battle with the waves,
and dying because of the love he’d lose
and not because his own life ebbed away,
    he raised his weary voice and faintly called,
speaking his final words to roiling waves,
but they ne’er heard his voice, his lover’s plea:
    “Waves, I know I cannot escape death,
but let me swim across; when I return
you can vent your wrathful surge upon my life.”
translation: Edith Grossman
Hero and Leander (1621/22)
Domenico Fetti
source Wikimedia Commons
Original Spanish: 
    Pasando el mar Leandro el animoso,
en amoroso fuego todo ardiendo
esforzó el viento, y fuése embraveciendo
el agua con un impetus furioso.
    Vencido del trabajo presuroso,
contrastar a las ondas no pudiendo,
y más del bien que allí perdía muriendo
que de su propia visa congojoso
    como pudo esforzó su voz cansada
y a las ondas habló desta manera,
mas nunca fuéla voz dellas oída:
    --- Ondas, pues no se escusa que yo muera,
dejadme allá llegar, es y a la tornada
vuestro furor esecutá en mi vida. ----






Hero finding Leander (c. 1932)
Ferdinand Keller
source Wikimedia Commons