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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Greece and Turkey in Europe: Vol. XIX. 1876–79.

Greece: Corinth

The Cranes of Ibycus

By Friedrich von Schiller (1759–1805)

Translated by C. T. Brooks

WHEN chariot-race and feast and song

Bade sons of Greece in joyful throng

To Corinth’s narrow isthmus wend,

Old Ibycus, of gods the friend,

Filled with Apollo’s sacred fire,

Sweet master of the immortal lay,

With trusty staff and tuneful lyre,

From Rhegium took his wonted way.

Already, from its distant height

The Acropolis greets the wanderer’s sight,

And with awed step and reverent brow

He enters Neptune’s pine-grove now.

Naught stirs around him, save a throng

Of friendly cranes that southward fly;

To warmer climes they wheel along

In darkening squadrons through the sky.

“Thanks, friendly bands! thrice blest be ye,

My fellow-wanderers to the sea!

I read in you a favoring sign;

For, lo! your destiny is mine.

From distant climes long way we come,

And seek a kindly shelter here;

Soon may the stranger find a home

His head to shield, his heart to cheer!”

With lighter heart and tread more gay

On through the woods he speeds his way;

When, lo! before his startled eyes,

From ambush close two murderers rise.

Now he must meet the fight alone;

But soon he faints before the foe;

His hand the sweet-stringed lyre hath known,

But never bent the stubborn bow.

He calls on men; to heaven he cries;

There comes no help from earth or skies;

Far as his voice can reach appears

No living thing,—no sound he hears.

“And must I here forsaken die?

Die, all unwept, in foreign land,

And sink, where no avenger ’s nigh,

Beneath the murderer’s barbarous hand?”

Wounded and spent, he sinks to die;

When, lo! with rustling wings on high,

He hears—for he can see no more—

The cawing cranes fly thickly o’er.

“Ye cranes, that sweep through upper air,

Though hushed be every human breath,

The tidings of my murder bear,”

He cried, and closed his lips in death.

Erelong the naked corpse is found;

And soon, though marred by many a wound,

His Corinth kinsman well can trace

The features of that long-loved face.

“And is it thus I find thee now,—

I, that had fondly hoped to twine

Around thy glory-gilded brow

The garland of triumphal pine?”

And all the guests, from far and near,

With sinking heart the tidings hear;

Through wide-spread Greece the pang is borne;

From every soul a friend is torn.

Tumultuous to the judgment hall

The people pour in one wide flood;

For vengeance, vengeance loud they call;

They murmur for the murderer’s blood.

But how, amid the billowy throng,

That rolls through Corinth’s streets along

To feast and song and chariot-race,—

How the dark murderer shall we trace?

Say, was the horrid outrage done

By cowardly robber, jealous foe?

None knoweth, save the eternal Sun,

Whose eye surveys all things below.

Haply he walks abroad e’en now

In the great crowd with brazen brow,

And where the blood of vengeance boils,

Bears round with him his guilty spoils.

Perchance e’en at their temple’s door,

Scorning the gods, he may be found,

Or mingling with the crowds that pour

To swell the theatre’s ample bound.

For there, close crowded row on row,

Till the vast pillars groan below,

Borne thitherward from far and near,

The multitudes of Greece appear.

Wild murmuring, like the billowy deep,

Bank above rank, the nations rise,

In wider, loftier circles sweep,

And soar into the broad blue skies.

Who can recount, what tongue can name,

The tribes of guests that hither came?

From Theseus’ city, Aulis’ strand,

From Phocis, from the Spartan land,

From all the islands, far and near,

From Asia’s distant shores they throng,

And bend down o’er the stage, to hear

The chorus chant their awful song.

Forth came, with slow and measured tread,

The ancient chorus, solemn, dread,

And through the theatre’s ample bound

Stately they took their wonted round.

Not thus do mortal women move!

No human dwelling gave these birth!

Their giant bodies tower above

The loftiest breathing forms of earth.

Black mantles round their loins they wear,

And in their skinny hands they bear

Torches of ruddy, ghastly glow;

And in their cheeks no blood doth flow;

And where o’er human brows the hair

In peaceful ringlets loves to bend,

Fell hissing asps and adders there

Their poisonous, bloated forms extend.

These, gliding round with awful tread,

Begin the hymn, whose tones so dread

Run with a chill through mortal veins,

And round the sinner weave dark chains.

In tones that every sense confound,

The Furies’ dismal chorus rings,

Curdling each hearer’s blood with sound

That scorns the lyre’s majestic strings.

“Well, well with him, who, free from sin,

A child’s pure spirit bears within!

From him the avenging demons flee;

He treads life’s pathway fearlessly.

But woe to him whose heart conceals

The murderous deed from mortal sight;

We follow hard upon his heels,

Dread children of the gloomy night.

“Dreams he by flight to escape our wrath,

Swift-pinioned we pursue his path,

With snaky coil his feet surround,

And bind him trembling to the ground.

Thus we pursue him, dark and dread,—

Not e’en remorse can yield him peace,—

Down to the regions of the dead,

Nor there, e’en there his soul release.”

So sing they, dancing round and round,

And through the theatre’s ample bound

A deathlike stillness holds the air,

As though a deity were there.

Once more the chorus, solemn, dread,

Through the vast theatre glide around;

They pass with slow and measured tread,

And vanish in the depths profound.

And now all hearts are heard to beat,

Fluttering ’twixt truth and dark deceit,

Awed by the sense of that dread might,

Which, veiled in everlasting night,

Bids destiny’s stern wheels move round,

As the swift moments glide away,

Is felt in the heart’s depths profound,

But flees before the light of day.

When all at once, far up on high,

Is heard a wild and startled cry:

“See there! see there, Timotheus!

The cranes! the cranes of Ibycus!”—

And, lo! a gloom o’erspreads the sky,

And, hovering o’er that mighty throng,

A swarm of cranes, thick rustling by,

In darkening squadrons wheel along.

“Of Ibycus!”—That precious name

Wakes in each heart sad memory’s flame,

And swift, as deep to deep replies,

From mouth to mouth the question flies:

“Of Ibycus, our dear lost friend,

By bloody murderer’s hand laid low?

And what of him may this portend?

This flight of cranes, what may it show?”

And louder now the questions rise,

And, lightning-like, the omen flies

Through every heart. “Give ear, give ear!

The Furies’ power is witnessed here!

The prayers of vengeance now are heard;

The murderer has his guilt confessed;

Hold fast the man who spoke that word,

And him to whom it was addressed.”

But he, whose lips that word had passed,—

Ah, fain would he yet hold it fast:

In vain; those lips, with terror pale,

Tell to each eye their guilty tale.

Trembling before the judge they stand;

The stage is now a judgment throne,

And, struck by Heaven’s avenging hand,

Their horrid crime the murderers own.