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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Italy: Vols. XI–XIII. 1876–79.


Islands of the Sirens

By 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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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:—

“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.

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.”

’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

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.