Verse > Anthologies > Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. > Poems of Places > Italy
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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed.  Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Italy: Vols. XI–XIII.  1876–79.
 
Scylla and Charybdis, the Rocks
Scylla and Charybdis
Homer (fl. 850 B.C.)
 
(From The Odyssey, Book XII)
Translated by W. C. Bryant

                        THERE is a pile
Of beetling rocks, where roars the mighty surge
Of dark-eyed Amphitrité; these are called
The Wanderers by the blessed gods. No birds
Can pass them safe, not even the timid doves,        5
Which bear ambrosia to our father Jove,
But ever doth the slippery rock take off
Some one, whose loss the god at once supplies,
To keep their number full. To these no bark
Guided by man has ever come, and left        10
The spot unwrecked; the billows of the deep
And storms of fire in air have scattered wide
Timbers of ships and bodies of drowned men.
One only of the barks that plough the deep
Has passed them safely,—Argo, known to all        15
By fame, when coming from Ææta home,—
And her the billows would have dashed against
The enormous rocks, if Juno, for the sake
Of Jason, had not come to guide it through.
  “Two are the rocks; one lifts to the broad heaven        20
Its pointed summit, where a dark gray cloud
Broods, and withdraws not; never is the sky
Clear o’er that peak, not even in summer days
Or autumn; nor can man ascend its steeps,
Or venture down,—so smooth the sides, as if        25
Man’s art had polished them. There in the midst
Upon the western side toward Erebus
There yawns a shadowy cavern; thither thou,
Noble Ulysses, steer thy bark, yet keep
So far aloof that, standing on the deck,        30
A youth might send an arrow from a bow
Just to the cavern’s mouth. There Scylla dwells,
And fills the air with fearful yells; her voice
The cry of whelps just littered, but herself
A frightful prodigy,—a sight which none        35
Would care to look on, though he were a god.
Twelve feet are hers, all shapeless; six long necks,
A hideous head on each, and triple rows
Of teeth, close-set and many, threatening death.
And half her form is in the cavern’s womb,        40
And forth from that dark gulf her heads are thrust,
To look abroad upon the rocks for prey,—
Dolphin, or dogfish, or the mightier whale,
Such as the murmuring Amphitrité breeds
In multitudes. No mariner can boast        45
That he has passed by Scylla with a crew
Unharmed; she snatches from the deck, and bears
Away in each grim mouth, a living man.
  “Another rock, Ulysses, thou wilt see,
Of lower height, so near her that a spear,        50
Cast by the hand, might reach it. On it grows
A huge wild fig-tree with luxuriant leaves.
Below, Charybdis, of immortal birth,
Draws the dark water down; for thrice a day
She gives it forth, and thrice with fearful whirl        55
She draws it in. O, be it not thy lot
To come while the dark water rushes down!
Even Neptune could not then deliver thee.
Then turn thy course with speed toward Scylla’s rock,
And pass that way; ’t were better far that six        60
Should perish from the ship than all be lost.”
 
 
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