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.
 
Sorrento
Islands of the Sirens
Homer (fl. 850 B.C.)
 
(From Odyssey, Book XII)
Translated by W. C. Bryant

SHE spake; the Morning on her golden throne
Looked forth; the glorious goddess went her way
Into the isle, I to my ship, and bade
The men embark and cast the hawsers loose.
And straight they went on board, and duly manned        5
The benches, smiting as they sat with oars
The hoary waters. Circè, amber-haired,
The mighty goddess of the musical voice,
Sent a fair wind behind our dark-prowed ship
That gayly bore us company, and filled        10
The sails. When we had fairly ordered all
On board our galley, we sat down, and left
The favoring wind and helm to bear us on,
And thus in sadness I bespake the crew:—
  “My friends! it were not well that one or two        15
Alone should know the oracles I heard
From Circè, great among the goddesses;
And now will I disclose them, that ye all,
Whether we are to die or to escape
The doom of death, may be forewarned. And first        20
Against the wicked Sirens and their song
And flowery bank she warns us. I alone
May hear their voice, but ye must bind me first
With bands too strong to break, that I may stand
Upright against the mast; and let the cords        25
Be fastened round it. If I then entreat
And bid you loose me, make the bands more strong.”
  Thus to my crew I spake, and told them all
That they should know, while our good ship drew near
The island of the Sirens, prosperous gales        30
Wafting it gently onward. Then the breeze
Sank to a breathless calm; some deity
Had hushed the winds to slumber. Straightway rose
The men and furled the sails and laid them down
Within the ship, and sat and made the sea        35
White with the beating of their polished blades,
Made of the fir-tree. Then I took a mass
Of wax and cut it into many parts,
And kneaded each with a strong hand. It grew
Warm with the pressure, and the beams of him        40
Who journeys round the earth, the monarch Sun.
With this I filled the ears of all my men
From first to last. They bound me, in their turn,
Upright against the mast-tree, hand and foot,
And tied the cords around it. Then again        45
They sat and threshed with oars the hoary deep.
And when, in running rapidly, we came
So near the Sirens as to hear a voice
From where they sat, our galley flew not by
Unseen by them, and sweetly thus they sang:—        50
  “O world-renowned Ulysses! thou who art
The glory of the Achaians, turn thy bark
Landward, that thou mayst listen to our lay.
No man has passed us in his galley yet,
Ere he has heard our warbled melodies.        55
He goes delighted hence a wiser man;
For all that in the spacious realm of Troy
The Greeks and Trojans by the will of Heaven
Endured we know, and all that comes to pass
In all the nations of the fruitful earth.”        60
  ’T was thus they sang, and sweet the strain. I longed
To listen, and with nods I gave the sign
To set me free; they only plied their oars
The faster. Then upsprang Eurylochus
And Perimedes, and with added chords        65
Bound me, and drew the others still more tight.
And when we now had passed the spot, and heard
No more the melody the Sirens sang,
My comrades hastened from their ears to take
The wax, and loosed the cords and set me free.        70
 
 
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