Verse > Anthologies > Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. > Poems of Places > Asia
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed.  Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Asia: Vols. XXI–XXIII.  1876–79.
Asia Minor: Scamander (Xanthus), the River
Homer (fl. 850 B.C.)
(From The Iliad, Book XXI)
Translated by W. C. Bryant

AND then Achilles, mighty with the spear,
From the steep bank leaped into the mid-stream,
While, foul with ooze, the angry River raised
His waves and pushed along the heaps of dead
Slain by Achilles. These, with mighty roar,        5
As of a bellowing ox, Scamander cast
Aground; the living with his whirling gulfs
He hid, and saved them in his friendly streams.
In tumult terribly the surges rose
Around Achilles, beating on his shield,        10
And made his feet to stagger, till he grasped
A tall, fair-growing elm upon the bank.
Down came the tree, and in its loosened roots
Brought the earth with it; the fair stream was checked
By the thick branches, and the prostrate trunk        15
Bridged it from side to side. Achilles sprang
From the deep pool, and fled with rapid feet
Across the plain in terror. Nor did then
The mighty river-god refrain, but rose
Against him with a darker crest, to drive        20
The noble son of Peleus from the field,
And so deliver Troy. Pelides sprang
A spear’s cast backward,—sprang with all the speed
Of the black eagle’s wing, the hunter-bird,
Fleetest and strongest of the fowls of air.        25
Like him he darted; clashing round his breast,
The brazen mail rang fearfully. Askance
He fled; the water with a mighty roar
Followed him close. As, when a husbandman
Leads forth, from some dark spring of earth, a rill        30
Among his planted garden-beds, and clears
Its channel, spade in hand, the pebbles there
Move with the current, which runs murmuring down
The sloping surface and outstrips its guide,—
So rushed the waves where’er Achilles ran,        35
Swift as he was; for mightier are the gods
Than men. As often as the noble son
Of Peleus made a stand in hope to know
Whether the deathless gods of the great heaven
Conspired to make him flee, so often came        40
A mighty billow of the Jove-born stream
And drenched his shoulders. Then again he sprang
Away; the rapid torrent made his knees
To tremble, while it swept, where’er he trod,
The earth from underneath his feet. He looked        45
To the broad heaven above him, and complained:
  “Will not some god, O Father Jove, put forth
His power to save me in my hour of need
From this fierce river? Any fate but this
I am resigned to suffer. None of all        50
The immortal ones is more in fault than she
To whom I owe my birth; her treacherous words
Deluded me to think that I should fall
Beneath the walls of Troy by the swift shafts
Of Phœbus. Would that Hector, the most brave        55
Of warriors reared upon the Trojan soil,
Had slain me; he had slain a brave man then,
And a brave man had stripped me of my arms.
But now it is my fate to perish, caught
In this great river, like a swineherd’s boy,        60
Who in the time of rains attempts to pass
A torrent, and is overwhelmed and drowned.”
  He spake, and Neptune and Minerva came
Quickly and stood beside him. In the form
Of men they came, and took his hand, and cheered        65
His spirit with their words. And thus the god
Neptune, who makes the earth to tremble, said:
  “Fear not, Pelides, neither let thy heart
Be troubled, since thou hast among the gods,
By Jove’s consent, auxiliars such as I        70
And Pallas. It is not thy doom to be
Thus vanquished by a river. Soon its rage
Will cease, as thou shalt see. Meantime we give
This counsel; heed it well: let not thy hand
Refrain from slaughter till the Trojan host        75
Are all shut up—all that escape thy arm—
Within the lofty walls of Troy. Then take
The life of Hector, and return on board
Thy galleys; we will make that glory thine.”
  Thus having spoken, they withdrew and joined        80
The immortals, while Achilles hastened on,
Encouraged by the mandate of the gods,
Across the plain. The plain was overflowed
With water; sumptuous arms were floating round,
And bodies of slain youths. Achilles leaped,        85
And stemmed with powerful limbs the stream, and still
Went forward; for Minerva mightily
Had strengthened him. Nor did Scamander fail
To put forth all his power, enraged the more
Against the son of Peleus; higher still        90
His torrent swelled and tossed with all its waves,
And thus he called to Simoïs with a shout:
  “O brother, join with me to hold in check
This man, who threatens soon to overthrow
King Priam’s noble city; for no more        95
The Trojan host resist him. Come at once
And aid me; fill thy channel from its springs,
And summon all thy brooks, and lift on high
A mighty wave, and roll along thy bed,
Mingled in one great torrent, trees and stones,        100
That we may tame this savage man, who now
In triumph walks the field, and bears himself
As if he were a god. His strength, I deem,
Will not avail him, nor his noble form,
Nor those resplendent arms, which yet shall lie        105
Scattered along the bottom of my gulfs,
And foul with ooze. Himself, too, I shall wrap
In sand, and pile the rubbish of my bed
In heaps around him. Never shall the Greeks
Know where to gather up his bones, o’erspread        110
By me with river-slime, for there shall be
His burial-place; no other tomb the Greeks
Will need when they perform his funeral rites.
  He spake, and wrathfully he rose against
Achilles,—rose with turbid waves, and noise,        115
And foam, and blood and bodies of the dead.
One purple billow of the Jove-born stream
Swelled high and whelmed Achilles. Juno saw,
And trembled lest the hero should be whirled
Downward by the great river, and in haste        120
She called to Vulcan, her beloved son:
  “Vulcan, my son, arise! We deemed that thou
And eddying Xanthus were of equal might
In battle. Come with instant aid, and bring
Thy vast array of flames, while from the deep        125
I call a tempest of the winds,—the West,
And the swift South,—and they shall sweep along
A fiery torrent to consume the foe,
Warriors and weapons. Thou meantime lay waste
The groves along the Xanthus; hurl at him        130
Thy fires, nor let him with soft words or threats
Avert thy fury. Pause not from the work
Of ruin till I shout and give the sign,
And then shalt thou restrain thy restless fires.”
  She spake, and Vulcan at her word sent forth        135
His fierce, devouring flames. Upon the plain
They first were kindled, and consumed the dead
That strewed it, where Achilles struck them down.
The ground was dried; the glimmering flood was stayed.
As when the autumnal north-wind, breathing o’er        140
A newly watered garden, quickly dries
The clammy mould, and makes the tiller glad,
So did the spacious plain grow dry on which
The dead were turned to ashes. Then the god
Seized on the river with his glittering fires.        145
The elms, the willows, and the tamarisks
Fell, scorched to cinders, and the lotus-herbs,
Rushes and reeds that richly fringed the banks
Of that fair-flowing current were consumed.

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