Blazon (blason) A poetic catalogue of a woman's admirable physical features, common in Elizabethan lyric poetry: an extended example is Sidney's ‘What tongue can her perfections tell?’ The Petrarchan conventions of the blazon include a listing of parts from the hair down, and the use of hyperbole and simile in describing lips like coral, teeth like pearls, and so on. These conventions are mocked in Shakespeare's famous sonnet, ‘My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun’.
Here are full texts of the two sets of conventions noted in the definition:
Sir Philip Sidney's "What tongue can her perfections tell?" from The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia
What tongue can her perfections tell
In whose each part all pens may dwell?
Her hair fine threads of finest gold
In curled knots man's thought to hold;
But that her forehead says, 'in me
A whiter beauty you may see."
Whiter indeed; more white than snow
Which on cold winter's face doth grow.
That doth present those even brows,
Whose equal lines their angles bows,
Like to the moon when after change
Her horned head abroad doth range;
And arches be to heav'nly lids,
Whose wink each bold attempt forbids.
For the black stars those spheres contain,
The matchless pair, e'en praise doth stain.
No lamp whose light by art is got,
No sun which shines, and seeth not,
Can liken them without all peer,
Save one as much as other clear;
Which only thus unhappy be
Because themselves they cannot see.
Her cheeks with kindly claret spread,
Aurora-like new out of bed,
Or like the fresh queen-apple's side,
Blushing at sight of Phoebus' pride.
Her nose, her chin, pure ivory wears,
No purer than the pretty ears,
Save that therein appears some blood,
Like wine and milk that mingled stood.
In whose incirclets if you gaze
Your eyes may tread a lover's maze,
But with such turns the voice to stray,
No talk untaught can find the way.
The tip no jewel needs to wear;
The tip is jewel of the ear.
But who those ruddy lips can miss,
Which blessed still themselves do kiss?
Rubies, cherries, and roses new,
In worth, in taste, in perfect hue,
Which never part but that they show
Of precious pearl the double row,
The second sweetly-fenced ward
Her heav'nly-dewed tongue to guard,
Whence never word in vain did flow.
Fair under these doth stately grow
The handle of this pleasant work,
The neck, in which strange graces lurk.
Such be, I think, the sumptuous towers
Which skill doth make in princes' bowers.
So good a say invites the eye
A little downward to espy
The lovely clusters of her breasts,
Of Venus' babe the wanton nests,
Like pommels round of marble clear,
Where azured veins well mixed appear,
With dearest tops of porphyry.
Betwixt these two a way doth lie,
A way more worthy beauty's fame
Than that which bears the milken name.
This leads unto the joyous field
Which only still doth lilies yield'
But lilies such whose native smell
The Indian odours doth excel.
Waist it is called, for it doth waste
Men's lives until it be embraced.
There may one see, and yet not see,
Her ribs in white well armed be,
More white than Neptune's foamy face
When struggling rocks he would embrace.
In these delights the wand'ring thought
Might of each side astray be brought,
But that her navel doth unite
In curious circle busy sight,
A dainty seal of virgin wax
Where nothing but impression lacks.
Her belly there glad sight doth fill,
Justly entitled Cupid's hill;
A hill most fit for such a master,
A spotless mine of alabaster,
Like alabaster fair and sleek,
But soft and supple, satin-like,
In that sweet seat the boy doth sport.
Loath, I must leave his chief resort;
For such an use the world hath gotten,
The best things still must be forgotten.
Yet never shall my song omit
Those thighs (for Ovid's song more fit)
Which, flanked with two sugared flanks,
Lift up their stately swelling banks
That Albion cliffs in whiteness pass,
with haunches smooth as looking glass.
But bow all knees, now of her knees
My tongue doth tell what fancy sees:
The knots of joy, the gems of love,
Whose motion makes all graces move;
Whose bought incaved doth yield such sight,
Like cunning painter shadowing white.
The gart'ring place with childlike sing
Shows easy print in metal fine.
But there again the flesh doth rise
In her brave calves like crystal skies,
Whose Atlas is a smallest small,
More white than whitest bone of whale.
There oft steals out that round clean foot,
This noble cedar's precious root;
In show and scent pale violets,
Whose step on earth all beauty sets.
But back unto her back, my muse,
Where Leda's swan his feathers mews,
Along whose ridge such bones are met,
Like comfits round in marchpane set.
Her shoulders be like two white doves,
Perching within square royal rooves,
Which leaded are with silver skin,
Passing the hate-spot ermelin.
And thence those arms derived are;
The phoenix's wings be not so rare
For faultless length and stainless hue.
Ah, woe is me, my owes renew!
Now course doth lead me to her hand,
Of my first love the fatal band,
Where whiteness doth for ever sit;
Nature herself enamelled it.
For there with strange compact doth lie
Warm snow, moist pearl, soft ivory.
There fall those sapphire-coloured brooks,
Which conduit-like, with curious crooks,
Sweet islands make in that sweet land.
As for the fingers of the hand,
The bloody shafts of Cupid's war,
With amethysts they headed are.
Thus hath each part his beauty's part;
But how the Graces do impart
To all her limbs a special grace,
Becoming every time and place,
Which doth e'en beauty beautify,
And most bewitch the wretched eye!
How all this is but a fair inn
Of fairer guest which dwells within,
Of whose high praise, and praiseful bliss,
Goodness the pen, heav'n paper is;
The ink immortal fame doth lend.
As I began, so must I end:
No tongue can her perfections tell
In whose each part all pens may dwell.
Shakespeare Sonnet 130
My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips; red;
If snow be white, why then her breats are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damasked, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground.
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare.
"Blazons" in Hero and Leander
Hero: Lines 5-36
Leander: Lines 51-90
epyllion (plural -llia ) A miniature epic poem, resembling an epic in metre and/or style but not in length. The term dates from the 19th century, when it was applied to certain shorter narrative poems in Greek and Latin, usually dealing with a mythological love story in an elaborately digressive and allusive manner, as in Catullus' poem on Peleus and Thetis. The nearest equivalents in English poetry are the Elizabethan erotic narratives such as Marlowe's Hero and Leander ( 1598 ) and Shakespeare's Venus and Adonis ( 1593 ), although the term has also been applied to later non-erotic works including Arnold's Sohrab and Rustum ( 1853 ).
"epyllion" The Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms. Chris Baldick. Oxford University Press, 2008. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press. University of Warwick. 27 April 2010 http://www.oxfordreference.com/views/ENTRY.html?subview=Main&entry=t56.e412
Ben Jonson's Bartholomew Fair, whose penultimate scene features a puppet show pastiching the story.
LEATHERHEAD (the puppeteer)
This while young Leander with fair Hero is drinking,
And Hero grown drunk, to any man's thinking!
Yet was it not three pints of Sherry could flaw her,
Till Cupid, distinguished like Jonas the drawer,
From under his apron, where his lechery lurks,
put loue in his sack. Now mark how it workes.
O Leander, Leander, my dear, my dear Leander,
I'll forever be thy goose, so thou'lt be my gander.
And sweetest of geese, before I go to bed,
I'll swim o'er the Thames, my goose, thee to tread.
But lest the Thames should be dark, my goose, my dear friend,
Let thy window be provided of a candle's end.
Fear not my gander, I protest I should handle
My matters very ill, if I had not a whole candle.
Well then, look to't, and kiss me to boot.
Shakespeare's As You Like It, with several references to both Marlowe and his poem
Dead shepherd, now I find thy saw of might:
"Who ever lov'd that lov'd not at first sight?" (III.v.80-1) (Marlowe was often referred to as a shepherd)
When a man's verses cannot be understood, nor a man's good wit seconded with the forward child, understanding, it strikes a man more dead than a great reckoning in a little room. (III.iii.7-9) (widely interpreted as a reference to Marlowe's murder)
Leander, he would have lived many a fair year though Hero had turned nun, it if had not been for a hot midsummer night, for, good youth, he went but forth to wash hiim in the Hellespont and being taken with the cramp was drowned. And the foolish chroniclers of that age found it was 'Hero of Sestos'. (IV.i.68-72)