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


The Siren’s Cave at Tivoli

By Frances Anne Kemble (1809–1893)

AS o’er the chasm I breathless hung,

Thus from the depths the Siren sung:

“Down, down into the womb,

Of earth, the daylight’s tomb,

Where the sun’s eyes

Never may shine,

Nor fair moon rise

With smile divine;

Where caverns yawn

Black as despair,

Fatally drawn

I plunge down there;

And with the bound

The rocks resound,

And round and round

My waves are wound

Into the gaping rifts of the mid earth:

O for the sunny springs where I took birth!

The gentle rills,

The tiny brimming fountain,

That, scooped in the warm bosom of the mountain,

Each May shower overfills!

Whence I and my fair sister came; and she

Rolls her smooth silver flood along the way,

That princes made for her, so royally,

Piercing the rock to give her ample sway.

Down the bright sunny steep

Her waters leap,

Myrtle and bay and laurel and wild vine,

A garland for her flowing tresses twine!

The green moss stars the rocks whereon she leaps,

Over her breast the fragrant locust weeps;

The air resounds with her wild shouts of laughter,

The echoes of the hills in chorus after

Repeat the sound, and in her silvery spray

Rainbows are woven by the light of day!

Down in the valley she springs

And sings,

And the sky bends over

Her, like a lover;

And glittering and sparkling her waters run,

A bright sea of snow in the summer sun!

Darkness broods over me the while;

Grim rocks that sweat

With my cold clammy spray,

As down the hopeless way

In one wild jet

My tortured billows lash and leap and boil;

So deep my bed of darkness lies,

That scarce the voice of my great agony

Reaches the skies,

And all ye see

With fearful eyes

Who question me,

Is the gray whirling mist that covers all

As with a pall.

Light! light upon the rocks! sudden and fierce

The sharp flames pierce;

Glaring upon my water

Like the blood-hue of slaughter

A red torch flashes;

As down my wild flood dashes

Wide flaring brightness streams upon my foam,

And flaming fire-wreaths come

Hissing into my waves to find their doom

In the same blackness that devours me.

The huge rocks grin, as with a sudden glee,

At this strange visitation of the light,

And they are made not beautiful, but bright,

As all their horrid piles and masses show,

Hanging above, and heaped below,

Searched by the ruddy glow.

O, let me still in darkness dwell!

Not in this hell

Of lurid light,

That scares the night,

Hence with the leaping glare,

Whose fiery stare

Reveals the secrets of my dismal bed;

Hence with the voices that profane the dread

Of my dark chambers!”—thus the Siren cried,

As o’er the rocky chasm’s black, hideous side

I hung entranced with terror and dismay;

And at that piteous cry I fled away.