The Diver

Friedrich Schiller

"What knight or what vassal will be so bold
As to plunge in the gulf below?
See! I hurl in its depths a goblet of gold,
Already the waters over it flow.
The man who can bring hack the goblet to me,
May keep it henceforward, - his own it shall be."

Thus speaks the king, and he hurls from the height
Of the cliffs that, rugged and steep,
Hang over the boundless sea, with strong might,
The goblet afar, in the bellowing deep.
"And who'll be so daring, - I ask it once more,
As to plunge in these billows that wildly roar?"

And the vassals and knights of high degree
Hear his words, but silent remain.
They cast their eyes on the raging sea,
And none will attempt the goblet to gain.
And a third time the question is asked by the king:
"Is there none that will dare in the gulf now to spring?"

Yet all as before in silence stand,
When a page, with a modest pride,
Steps out of the timorous squirely band,
And his girdle and mantle soon throws aside,
And all the knights, and the ladies too,
The noble stripling with wonderment view.

And when he draws nigh to the rocky brow,
And looks in the gulf so black,
The waters that she had swallowed but now,
The howling Charybdis is giving back;
And, with the distant thunder's dull sound
From her gloomy womb they all-foaming rebound

And it boils and it roars, and it hisses and seethes.
As when water and fire first blend;
To the sky spurts the foam in steam-laden wreaths,
And wave presses hard upon wave without end.
And the ocean will never exhausted be,
As if striving to bring forth another sea.

But at length the wild tumult seems pacified,
And blackly amid the white swell
A gaping chasm its jaws opens wide,
As if leading down to the depths of hell:
And the howling billows are seen by each eye
Down the whirling funnel all madly to fly

Then quickly, before the breakers rebound,
The stripling commends him to Heaven,
And - a scream of horror is heard around, -
And now by the whirlpool away he is driven,
And secretly over the swimmer brave
Close the jaws, and he vanishes 'neath the dark wave.

O'er the watery gulf dread silence now lies,
But the deep sends up a dull yell,
And from mouth to mouth thus trembling it flies:
"Courageous stripling, oh, fare thee well!"
And duller and duller the howls recommence,
While they pause in anxious and fearful suspense.

"If even thy crown in the gulf thou shouldst fling,
And shouldst say, ' He who brings it to me
Shall wear it henceforward, and be the king,'
Thou couldst tempt me not e'en with that precious fee;
What under the howling deep is concealed
To no happy living soul is revealed! "

Full many a ship, by the whirlpool held fast,
Shoots straightway beneath the mad wave,
And, dashed to pieces, the hull and the mast
Emerge from the all-devouring gave. -
And the roaring approaches still nearer and nearer,
Like the howl of the tempest, still clearer and clearer.

And it boils and it roars, and it hisses and seethes,
As when water and fire first blend;
To the sky spurts the foam in steam-laden wreaths,
And wave passes hard upon wave without end.
And, with the distant thunder's dull sound,
From the ocean-womb they all-bellowing bound.

And lo! from the darkly flowing tide
Comes a vision white as a swan,
And an arm and a glistening neck are descried,
With might and with active zeal steering on;
And 'tis he, and behold! his left hand on high
Waves the goblet, while beaming with joy is his eye.

Then breathes he deeply, then breathes he long,
And blesses the light of the day;
While gladly exclaim to each other the throng:
"He lives! he is here! he is not the sea's prey!
From the tomb, from the eddying waters' control,
The brave one has rescued his living soul!"

And he comes, and they joyously round him stand;
At the feet of the monarch he falls, -
The goblet he, kneeling, puts in his hand,
And the king to his beauteous daughter calls,
Who fills it with sparkling wine to the brim;
The youth turns to the monarch, and speaks thus to him:

"Long life to the king! Let all those be glad
Who breathe in the light of the sky!
For below all is fearful, of moment sad;
Let not man to tempt the immortals e'er try,
Let him never desire the thing to see
That with terror and night they veil graciously.

"I was torn below with the speed of light,
When out of a cavern of rock
Rushed towards me a spring with furious might;
I was seized by the twofold torrent's wild shock,
And like a top, with a whirl and a bound,
Despite all resistance, was whirled around.

"Then God pointed out, - for to Him I cried
In that terrible moment of need, -
A craggy reef in the gulf's dark side;
I seized it in haste, and from death was then freed.
And there, on sharp corals, was hanging the cup, -
The fathomless pit had else swallowed it up.

"For under me lay it, still mountain-deep,
In a darkness of purple-tinged dye,
And though to the ear all might seem then asleep
With shuddering awe 'twas seen by the eye
How the salamanders' and dragons' dread forms
Filled those terrible jaws of hell with their swarms.

"There crowded, in union fearful and black,
In a horrible mass entwined,
The rock-fish, the ray with the thorny back,
And the hammer-fish's misshapen kind,
And the shark, the hyena dread of the sea,
With his angry teeth, grinned fiercely on me.

"There hung I, by fulness of terror possessed,
Where all human aid was unknown,
Amongst phantoms, the only sensitive breast,
In that fearful solitude all alone,
Where the voice of mankind could not reach to mine ear,
'Mid the monsters foul of that wilderness drear.

"Thus shuddering methought - when a something crawled near,
And a hundred limbs it out-flung,
And at me it snapped; - in my mortal fear,
I left hold of the coral to which I had clung;
Then the whirlpool seized on me with maddened roar,
Yet 'twas well, for it brought me to light once more."

The story in wonderment hears the king,
And he says, "The cup is thine own,
And I purpose also to give thee this ring,
Adorned with a costly , a priceless stone,
If thou'lt try once again, and bring word to me
What thou saw'st in the nethermost depths of sea.''

His daughter hears this with emotions soft,
And with flattering accent prays she:
"That fearful sport, father, attempt not too oft!
What none other would dare, he hath ventured for thee;
If thy heart's wild longings thou canst not tame,
Let the knights, if they can, put the squire to shame."

The king then seizes the goblet in haste,
In the gulf he hurls it with might:
"When the goblet once more in my hands thou hast placed,
Thou shalt rank at my court as the noblest knight,
And her as a bride thou shalt clasp e'en today
Who for thee with tender compassion cloth pray."

Then a force, as from Heaven, descends on him there,
And lightning gleams in his eye,
And blushes he sees on her features so fair,
And be sees her turn pale, and swooning lie;
Then eager the precious guerdon to win,
For life or for death, lo! he plunges him in!

The breakers they hear, and the breakers return,
Proclaimed by a thundering sound;
They bend o'er the gulf with glances that yearn
And the waters are pouring in fast around;
Though upwards and downwards they rush and they rave,
The youth is brought back by no kindly wave.

1797, translation anonymous, 1902       

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© 1994-1999 Robert Godwin-Jones
Virginia Commonwealth University