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

By 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

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;

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,

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,

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,

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.

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,

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;

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

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,

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

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.

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,

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,

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,

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;

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,

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.

“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

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;

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,

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;

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

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.

“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,—

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,

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

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,—

“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,

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!”

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,

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.

But while ages shall roll and those billows shall thunder,

That youth shall sleep under!