Verse > Anthologies > Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. > Poems of Places > Italy
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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed.  Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Italy: Vols. XI–XIII.  1876–79.
 
Tivoli
The Siren’s Cave at Tivoli
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        5
    Never may shine,
    Nor fair moon rise
    With smile divine;
    Where caverns yawn
    Black as despair,        10
    Fatally drawn
    I plunge down there;
    And with the bound
    The rocks resound,
    And round and round        15
    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,        20
    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,        25
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!        30
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        35
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;        40
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,        45
    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        50
        Reaches the skies,
        And all ye see
        With fearful eyes
        Who question me,
Is the gray whirling mist that covers all        55
        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        60
    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        65
    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,        70
        Hanging above, and heaped below,
        Searched by the ruddy glow.
O, let me still in darkness dwell!
        Not in this hell
        Of lurid light,        75
        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        80
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.
 
 
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