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The Diver (1797) by Friedrich Schiller

November 30, 2018

 

"Who dares enter this chasm of water,

Is there some brave knight or valiant youth?

Let him who can vanquish the frothing water

Bring me back my chalice as his proof.

As a prize I'll happily grant this golden goblet

To he who accepts this perilous gauntlet."

 

The king speaks, and hurls it from the height

Of the rising and dizzying cliffs.

Lying over the dark rolling sea,

The goblet flies to the mouth of Charybdis.

“Find one who is brave enough, who will

Fetch me that goblet, from the depths below.”

 

Knights and vassals gather ‘round him,

All carefully listen, but silent remain,

Gazing on the depths of the harrowing

Sea, darkly rolling in the blinding horizon.

Now the king once more his question bares

"Is there some brave knight who to these depths dares?"

 

Each remains as silent as before

The while a noble squire, gentle and bold,

Steps from the clamorous choir to the fore:

Watching him undress, all the crowds behold,

This strange and endearing youth, whose ways command

The gaze and breath of every man.

 

And as he steps towards the craggy cliffs

And looks into the roaring waters below

Ebbing and flowing, they whirl in the abyss

Of Charybdis’ throat, where all things flow;

As with the distant thunder’s roaring

The waters rise from the gulf outsoaring.

 

And it whirls and bubbles and foams and blends

As when water with fire collides;

Steamy sprays reach towards the heavens

As flood after flood unceasingly climbs.

Never draining, never emptying, flowing endlessly

As the sea newborn gives birth to the sea.

 

Finally, the powerful force sinks away

As darkness, out of the foaming fissures,

Gapes wide open, and then makes it hellish foray

To the cold depths of those infernal waters.

While raging ones sees the waves all surge,

Then drown once more in the silent ocean’s dirge.

 

Now fast, ‘ere the dark surge soon returns,

The stripling commends himself to his God,

And – a cry through the air spurns

The crowd, but already the vortex sends

Him away. Then quickly with fervor,

The gaping mouth closes over the swimmer.

 

Now silence sweeps over the liquid surface,

But the depths below they roar and swell,

And shaking one reads the fear on each face

As the word travels ‘round: “Fare thee well!”

One hears the echoes and howls slowly fading

As each moment passes - still ever waiting.   

 

And should one the crown itself throw in

And say: Who ever brings me the crown

He shall wear it and crown himself king -

Such desire is by all surely unfound.

What the howling depths below keep concealed

Should never, to living mortals be revealed.

 

Many vessels stout and sturdy have held fast

Then quickly sped to the bottom of the sea,

While sundered into pieces, keel and mast,

They soon emerged from out their watery grave.

Clearer and clearer like stormy thunder

One can hear the roaring – ever louder.  

 

And it whirls and bubbles and foams and blends

As when water with fire collides,

Steamy sprays reach towards the heavens

As flood after flood unceasingly climbs;

Never draining, never emptying, flowing continuously

As the sea newborn gives birth to the sea.

 

Behold! From the dark gulf’s surge,

One see’s something like a swan appearing:

That glistening neck, those silvery wings emerge

As the choir from the hill stands peering.

It’s him: in his left hand he holds high

The goblet; joyous he waves, joyous they sigh.

 

The young squire takes in the solemn air,

Greeting the heavenly light that shines above.

He watches people embracing everywhere,

"He lives, it is him!" The choir sings with love.

From this dark whirlpool, from this eddying grave,

Despite all elements the youth stood brave.

 

He comes, and approaching, the crowd circles round,

As he walks towards the king, and falls at his feet:

The goblet he offers him newly found,

And the king calls his daughter over to meet

Them, filling the goblet with wine to the brim -

He watches, and as the youth then turns to him:

 

“Long live the king! For happy is he

Who breathes in the rosy hues of light.

While down there one lives terribly,

Let man never tempt the Godly might,

Never longing, and never hoping to see

What Gods veil with fright and terror graciously.

 

“It ripped me to the bottom fast like lightning,

And then it thrust me into craggy recesses,

The while the raging torrents were thrashing,

Seizing everything with myriad currents.

As a top wound about by opposite force,

I could no longer fight its powerful source.

 

"Then God showed me, to whom I cried

In my moment of helpless and dire need:

In the deepness rocky reefs were espied

And I reached for them, as Death did closely heed.

And there hung the goblet on the red coral

Over the fathomless depths of the dark whirlpool.

 

"For beneath me it still deeply lay

In the darkness of those purple hues;

And although to the ear it seems darkened day,

The shuddering scene the eye clearly views:

How salamanders and dragons and monsters

Creep and stir as the floor beneath tremors.

 

"Shadowy creatures filled up the scene,

In hideous clumps all swarmed together:

The rock fish, the ray fish with tenebrous sheen,

The hammerhead with his ghastly limbs,

And with evil grin and beastly elation

Swam the sharks, like hyenas in the ocean.

 

"Helpless, there I hung with terror gripped,

Far from each man, from the human race,

Among larvae the only one who sipped,

From sweet mother's breast where solace

Lay; Far from any man's gentle word,

I lay in that shadowy Netherworld.

 

"And there I saw approaching with horror possessed

Limbs of every sort coming into motion.

Surely they will with ravenous hunger

Devour me, I said, lest I flee from this ocean.

The whirlpool seized me with all its force

And threw me back up from a fate much worse."

 

The king is taken by wonderment

Speaking: “The goblet is truly thine own

To grant thee this ring is now my intent.”

Adorned with the fairest jewels it shone.

“But now one more time I ask you to return,

For more of those tidings from the depths I yearn.”

 

His daughter listens with heartfelt emotion

And then graciously makes her plea

“Father, please, enough with your heartless vocation.

He has done what none would do for thee.

If your heart can’t find contentment,

Then to your brave knights you should lament."

 

The king then seizes the goblet quickly

And then throws it straight into the vortex

“If you return me the goblet safely,

You shall be the knight that I choose next,

And will my beautiful daughter take as wife,

Who is graciously praying for your life.”

 

Then his soul is seized by Heaven's power:

His emboldened eyes begin to shimmer;

And as he beholds that maiden's blushing figure

He see's her fall all pale while the waters glimmer.

Longing for that priceless prize, he crashes

Into the sea as life and death before him flashes.

 

One hears well the waves ebbing and flowing,

Pronounced they are in one thunderous crash  -

Gazes reach below with ardent staring:

All the waves return, all the waves splash;

Rushing on upwards, rushing on down,

In the waves the boy is never found.

 

 

Translation © David B. Gosselin

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