Verse > Anthologies > The World’s Best Poetry > Vol. IX. Tragedy: Humor
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Bliss Carman, et al., eds.  The World’s Best Poetry.
Volume IX. Tragedy: Humor.  1904.
 
Poems of Tragedy: IV. Germany
The Diver
Friedrich von Schiller (1759–1805)
 
From the German by Lord Edward Bulwer-Lytton

“OH, where is the knight or the squire so bold,
  As to dive to the howling charybdis below?—
I cast into the whirlpool a goblet of gold,
  And o’er it already the dark waters flow:
Whoever to me may the goblet bring,        5
Shall have for his guerdon that gift of his king.”
 
He spoke, and the cup from the terrible steep,
  That rugged and hoary, hung over the verge
Of the endless and measureless world of the deep,
  Swirled into the maelstrom that maddened the surge.        10
“And where is the diver so stout to go—
I ask ye again—to the deep below?”
 
And the knights and the squires that gathered around,
  Stood silent—and fixed on the ocean their eyes;
They looked on the dismal and savage profound,        15
  And the peril chilled back every thought of the prize.
And thrice spoke the monarch—“The cup to win,
Is there never a wight who will venture in?”
 
And all as before heard in silence the king—
  Till a youth, with an aspect unfearing but gentle,        20
’Mid the tremulous squires, stept out from the ring,
  Unbuckling his girdle, and doffing his mantle;
And the murmuring crowd, as they parted asunder,
On the stately boy cast their looks of wonder.
 
As he strode to the marge of the summit, and gave        25
  One glance on the gulf of that merciless main;
Lo! the wave that for ever devours the wave,
  Casts roaringly up the charybdis again;
And, as with the swell of the far thunder-boom,
Rushes foamingly forth from the heart of the gloom.        30
 
And it bubbles and seethes, and it hisses and roars,
  As when fire is with water commixed and contending;
And the spray of its wrath to the welkin up-soars,
  And flood upon flood hurries on, never ending.
And it never will rest, nor from travail be free,        35
Like a sea that is laboring the birth of a sea.
 
And at last there lay open the desolate realm!
  Through the breakers that whitened the waste of the swell,
Dark—dark yawned a cleft in the midst of the whelm,
  The path to the heart of that fathomless hell.        40
Round and round whirled the waves—deep and deeper still driven,
Like a gorge thro’ the mountainous main thunder-riven.
 
The youth gave his trust to his Maker! Before
  That path through the riven abyss closed again—
Hark! a shriek from the crowd rang aloft from the shore,        45
  And, behold! he is whirled in the grasp of the main!
And o’er him the breakers mysteriously rolled,
And the giant-mouth closed on the swimmer so bold.
 
O’er the surface grim silence lay dark and profound,
  But the deep from below murmured hollow and fell;        50
And the crowd, as it shuddered, lamented aloud—
  “Gallant youth—noble heart—fare-thee-well, fare-thee-well!”
And still ever deepening that wail as of woe,
More hollow the gulf sent its howl from below.
 
If thou should’st in those waters thy diadem fling,        55
  And cry, “Who may find it shall win it, and wear;”
God’s wot, though the prize were the crown of a king—
  A crown at such hazard were valued too dear.
For never did lips of the living reveal,
What the deeps that howl yonder in terror conceal.        60
 
Oh many a ship, to that breast grappled fast,
  Has gone down to the fearful and fathomless grave;
Again crashed together, the keel and the mast,
  To be seen, tossed aloft in the glee of the wave.—
Like the growth of a storm ever louder and clearer,        65
Grows the roar of the gulf rising nearer and nearer.
 
And it bubbles and seethes, and it hisses and roars,
  As when fire is with water commixed and contending;
And the spray of its wrath to the welkin up-soars,
  And flood upon flood hurries on, never ending,        70
And, as with the swell of the far thunder-boom,
Rushes roaringly forth from the heart of the gloom.
 
And lo! from the heart of that far-floating gloom,
  What gleams on the darkness so swanlike and white?
Lo! an arm and a neck, glancing up from the tomb!—        75
  They battle—the Man with the Element’s might.
It is he—it is he!—In his left hand behold,
As a sign—as a joy! shines the goblet of gold!
 
And he breathèd deep, and he breathèd long,
  And he greeted the heavenly delight of the day.        80
They gaze on each other—they shout as they throng—
  “He lives—lo, the ocean has rendered its prey!
And out of the grave where the Hell began,
His valor has rescued the living man!”
 
And he comes with the crowd in their clamor and glee,        85
  And the goblet his daring has won from the water,
He lifts to the king as he sinks on his knee;
  And the king from her maidens has beckoned his daughter,
And he bade her the wine to his cup-bearer bring,
And thus spake the Diver—“Long life to the king!        90
 
“Happy they whom the rose-hues of daylight rejoice,
  The air and the sky that to mortals are given!
May the horror below never more find a voice—
  Nor Man stretch too far the wide mercy of Heaven!
Never more—never more may he lift from the mirror,        95
The Veil which is woven with Night and with Terror!
 
“Quick-brightening like lightning—it tore me along,
  Down, down, till the gush of a torrent at play
In the rocks of its wilderness caught me—and strong
  As the wings of an eagle, it whirled me away.        100
Vain, vain were my struggles—the circle had won me,
Round and round in its dance the wild element spun me.
 
“And I called on my God, and my God heard my prayer,
  In the strength of my need, in the gasp of my breath—
And showed me a crag that rose up from the lair,        105
  And I clung to it, trembling—and baffled the death.
And, safe in the perils around me, behold
On the spikes of the coral the goblet of gold!
 
“Below, at the foot of that precipice drear,
  Spread the gloomy, and purple, and pathless obscure!        110
A silence of horror that slept on the ear,
  That the eye more appalled might the horror endure!
Salamander—snake—dragon—vast reptiles that dwell
In the deep—coiled about the grim jaws of their hell!
 
“Dark-crawled—glided dark the unspeakable swarms,        115
  Like masses unshapen, made life hideously;
Here clung and here bristled the fashionless forms,
  Here the Hammer-fish darkened the dark of the sea,
And with teeth grinning white, and a menacing motion,
Went the terrible Shark—the hyena of Ocean.        120
 
“There I hung, and the awe gathered icily o’er me,
  So far from the earth where man’s help there was none!
The one Human Thing, with the Goblins before me—
  Alone—in a loneness so ghastly—ALONE!
Fathom-deep from man’s eye in the speechless profound,        125
With the death of the main and the monsters around.
 
“Methought, as I gazed through the darkness, that now
  A hundred-limbed creature caught sight of its prey,
And darted.—O God! from the far-flaming bough
  Of the coral, I swept on the horrible way;        130
And it seized me, the wave with its wrath and its roar,
It seized me to save—King, the danger is o’er!”
 
On the youth gazed the monarch, and marvelled—quoth he,
  “Bold Diver, the goblet I promised is thine,
And this ring will I give, a fresh guerdon to thee,        135
  Never jewels more precious shone up from the mine;
If thou ’ll bring me fresh tidings, and venture again,
To say what lies hid in the innermost main!”
 
Then outspake the daughter in tender emotion,
  “Ah! father, my father, what more can there rest?        140
Enough of this sport with the pitiless ocean—
  He has served thee as none would, thyself hast confest.
If nothing can slake thy wild thirst of desire,
Be your knights not, at least, put to shame by the squire!”
 
The king seized the goblet—he swung it on high,        145
  And whirling, it fell in the roar of the tide;
“But bring back that goblet again to my eye,
  And I ’ll hold thee the dearest that rides by my side,
And thine arms shall embrace as thy bride, I decree,
The maiden whose pity now pleadeth for thee.”        150
 
In his heart, as he listened, there leapt the wild joy—
  And the hope and the love through his eyes spoke in fire,
On that bloom, on that blush, gazed, delighted, the boy;
  The maiden she faints at the feet of her sire!
Here the guerdon divine; there the danger beneath;        155
He resolves!—To the strife with the life and the death!
 
They hear the loud surges sweep back in their swell;
  Their coming the thunder-sound heralds along!
Fond eyes yet are tracking the spot where he fell—
  They come, the wild waters, in tumult and throng,        160
Rearing up to the cliff—roaring back as before;
But no wave ever brought the lost youth to the shore.
 
 
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