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
The Diver
Friedrich von Schiller (1759–1805)
 
Translated by J. C. Mangan

“BARON or vassal, is any so bold
  As to plunge in yon gulf and follow
Through chamber and cave this beaker of gold,
  Which already the waters whirlingly swallow?
Who retrieves the prize from the horrid abyss        5
Shall keep it: the gold and the glory be his!”
 
So spake the King, and incontinent flung
  From the cliff that, gigantic and steep,
High over Charybdis’s whirlpool hung,
  A glittering winecup down in the deep;        10
And again he asked, “Is there one so brave
As to plunge for the gold in the dangerous wave?”
 
And the knights and the knaves all answerless hear
  The challenging words of the speaker;
And some glance downwards with looks of fear,        15
  And none are ambitious of winning the beaker.
And a third time the King his question urges,—
“Dares none, then, breast the menacing surges?”
 
But the silence lasts unbroken and long;
  When a Page, fair-featured and soft,        20
Steps forth from the shuddering vassal-throng,
  And his mantle and girdle already are doffed,
And the groups of nobles and damosels nigh,
Envisage the youth with a wondering eye.
 
He dreadlessly moves to the gaunt crag’s brow,        25
  And measures the drear depth under;
But the waters Charybdis had swallowed she now
  Regurgitates bellowing back in thunder,
And the foam, with a stunning and horrible sound,
Breaks its hoar way through the waves around.        30
 
And it seethes and roars, it welters and boils,
  As when water is showered upon fire;
And skyward the spray agonizingly toils,
  And flood over flood sweeps higher and higher,
Upheaving, downrolling, tumultuously,        35
As though the abyss would bring forth a young sea.
 
But the terrible turmoil at last is over;
  And down through the whirlpool’s well
A yawning blackness ye may discover,
  Profound as the passage to central Hell;        40
And the waves, under many a struggle and spasm,
Are sucked in afresh by the gorge of the chasm.
 
And now, ere the din re-thunders, the youth
  Invokes the great name of God;
And blended shrieks of horror and ruth        45
  Burst forth as he plunges headlong unawed:
And down he descends through the watery bed,
And the waves boom over his sinking head.
 
But though for a while they have ceased their swell,
  They roar in the hollows beneath,        50
And from mouth to mouth goes round the farewell,—
  “Brave-spirited youth, good night in death!”
And louder and louder the roarings grow,
While with trembling all eyes are directed below.
 
Now, wert thou even, O monarch! to fling        55
  Thy crown in the angry abyss,
And exclaim, “Who recovers the crown shall be king!”
  The guerdon were powerless to tempt me, I wis;
For what in Charybdis’s caverns dwells
No chronicle penned of mortal tells.        60
 
Full many a vessel beyond repeal
  Lies low in that gulf to-day,
And the shattered masts and the drifting keel
  Alone tell the tale of the swooper’s prey.
But hark!—with a noise like the howling of storms,        65
Again the wild water the surface deforms!
 
And it hisses and rages, it welters and boils,
  As when water is spurted on fire,
And skyward the spray agonizingly toils,
  And wave over wave beats higher and higher,        70
While the foam, with a stunning and horrible sound,
Breaks its white way through the waters around.
 
When lo! ere as yet the billowy war
  Loud raging beneath is o’er,
An arm and a neck are distinguished afar,        75
  And a swimmer is seen to make for the shore,
And hardily buffeting surge and breaker,
He springs upon land with the golden beaker.
 
And lengthened and deep is the breath he draws
  As he hails the bright face of the sun;        80
And a murmur goes round of delight and applause,—
  He lives!—he is safe!—he has conquered and won!
He has mastered Charybdis’s perilous wave!
He has rescued his life and his prize from the grave!
 
Now, bearing the booty triumphantly,        85
  At the foot of the throne he falls,
And he proffers his trophy on bended knee;
  And the King to his beautiful daughter calls,
Who fills with red wine the golden cup,
While the gallant stripling again stands up.        90
 
“All hail to the King! Rejoice, ye who breathe
  Wheresoever Earth’s gales are driven!
For ghastly and drear is the region beneath;
  And let man beware how he tempts high Heaven!
Let him never essay to uncurtain to light        95
What destiny shrouds in horror and night!
 
“The maelstrom dragged me down in its course;
  When, forth from the cleft of a rock,
A torrent outrushed with tremendous force,
  And met me anew with deadening shock;        100
And I felt my brain swim and my senses reel
As the double-flood whirled me round like a wheel.
 
“But the God I had cried to answered me
  When my destiny darkliest frowned,
And he showed me a reef of rocks in the sea,        105
  Whereunto I clung, and there I found
On a coral jag the goblet of gold,
Which else to the lowermost crypt had rolled.
 
“And the gloom through measureless toises under
  Was all as a purple haze;        110
And though sound was none in these realms of wonder,
  I shuddered when under my shrinking gaze
That wilderness lay developed where wander
The dragon and dog-fish and sea-salamander.
 
“And I saw the huge kraken and magnified snake        115
  And the thornback and ravening shark
Their way through the dismal waters take,
  While the hammer-fish wallowed below in the dark,
And the river-horse rose from his lair beneath,
And grinned through the grate of his spiky teeth.        120
 
“And there I hung, aghast and dismayed,
  Among skeleton larvæ, the only
Soul conscious of life—despairing of aid
  In that vastness untrodden and lonely.
Not a human voice,—not an earthly sound,—        125
But silence, and water, and monsters around.
 
“Soon one of these monsters approached me, and plied
  His hundred feelers to drag
Me down through the darkness; when, springing aside,
  I abandoned my hold of the coral crag,        130
And the maelstrom grasped me with arms of strength,
And upwhirled and upbore me to daylight at length.”
 
Then spake to the Page the marvelling King,
  “The golden cup is thine own,
But—I promise thee further this jewelled ring        135
  That beams with a priceless hyacinth-stone,
Shouldst thou dive once more and discover for me
The mysteries shrined in the cells of the sea.”
 
Now the King’s fair daughter was touched and grieved,
  And she fell at her father’s feet,—        140
“O father, enough what the youth has achieved!
  Expose not his life anew, I entreat!
If this your heart’s longing you cannot well tame,
There are surely knights here who will rival his fame.”
 
But the King hurled downwards the golden cup,        145
  And he spake, as it sank in the wave,
“Now, shouldst thou a second time bring it me up,
  As my knight, and the bravest of all my brave,
Thou shall sit at my nuptial banquet, and she
Who pleads for thee thus thy wedded shall be!”        150
 
Then the blood to the youth’s hot temples rushes,
  And his eyes on the maiden are cast,
And he sees her at first overspread with blushes,
  And then growing pale and sinking aghast.
So, vowing to win so glorious a crown,        155
For Life or for Death he again plunges down.
 
The far-sounding din returns amain,
  And the foam is alive as before,
And all eyes are bent downward. In vain, in vain,—
  The billows indeed re-dash and re-roar.        160
But while ages shall roll and those billows shall thunder,
That youth shall sleep under!
 
 
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