Schiller: “The Diver”

Translated by Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton.




The original of the story on which Schiller has founded this ballad, matchless perhaps for the power and grandeur of its descriptions, is to be found in Kircher. According to the true principles of imitative art, Schiller has preserved all that is striking in the legend, and ennobled all that is common-place. The name of the Diver was Nicholas, surnamed the Fish. The King appears, according to Hoffmeister’s probable conjectures, to have been either Frederic I. or Frederic II., of Sicily. Date from 1295 to 1377.

“Oh, where is the knight or the squire so bold,
As to dive to the howling charybdis below?–
I cast in the whirlpool a goblet of gold,
And o’er it already the dark waters flow;
Whoever to me may the goblet bring,
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,
Swirl’d into the maëlstrom that madden’d the surge.
“And where is the diver so stout to go–
I ask ye again–to the deep below?”
And the knights and the squires that gather’d around,
Stood silent–and fix’d on the ocean their eyes;

They look’d on the dismal and savage Profound,
And the peril chill’d 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,
‘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
One glance on the gulf of that merciless main;
Lo! the wave that forever 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.

And it bubbles and seethes, and it hisses and roars, As when fire is with water commix’d 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,
Like a sea that is laboring the birth of a sea.

Yet, at length, comes a lull O’er the mighty commotion,
As the whirlpool sucks into black smoothness the swell
Of the white-foaming breakers–and cleaves thro’ the ocean
A path that seems winding in darkness to hell.
Round and round whirl’d the waves-deeper 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,
And, behold! he is whirl’d in the grasp of the main!
And o’er him the breakers mysteriously roll’d,
And the giant-mouth closed on the swimmer so bold.

O’er the surface grim silence lay dark; but the crowd
Heard the wail from the deep murmur hollow and fell;
They hearken and shudder, lamenting aloud–
“Gallant youth-noble heart-fare-thee-well, fare-thee-well!”
More hollow and more wails the deep on the ear–
More dread and more dread grows suspense in its fear.

If thou should’st in those waters thy diadem fling,
And cry, “Who may find it shall win it and wear;”
God wot, though the prize were the crown of a king–
A crown at such hazard were valued too dear.
For never shall lips of the living reveal
What the deeps that howl yonder in terror conceal.

Oh, many a bark, to that breast grappled fast,
Has gone down to the fearful and fathomless grave;
Again, crash’d together the keel and the mast,
To be seen, toss’d aloft in the glee of the wave.
Like the growth of a storm, ever louder and clearer,
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 commix’d and contending;
And the spray of its wrath to the welkin up-soars,
And flood upon flood hurries on, never ending;
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!–
They battle–the Man’s 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 breathed deep, and he breathed long,
And he greeted the heavenly delight of the day.
They gaze on each other–they shout, as they throng–
“He lives–lo the ocean has render’d its prey!
And safe from the whirlpool and free from the grave,
Comes back to the daylight the soul of the brave!”

And he comes, with the crowd in their clamor and glee,
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 beckon’d his daughter–
She pours to the boy the bright wine which they bring,
And thus spake the Diver–“Long life to the king!

“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 sight
The veil which is woven with Terror and Night!

“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 whirl’d me away.
Vain, vain was my struggle–the circle had won me,
Round and round in its dance, the wild element spun me.

“And I call’d on my God, and my God heard my prayer
In the strength of my need, in the gasp of my breath–
And show’d me a crag that rose up from the lair,
And I clung to it, nimbly–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 the precipice drear,
Spread the gloomy, and purple, and pathless Obscure!
A silence of Horror that slept on the ear,
That the eye more appall’d might the Horror endure!
Salamander–snake–dragon–vast reptiles that dwell
In the deep-coil’d about the grim jaws of their hell.

“Dark-crawl’d–glided dark the unspeakable swarms,
Clump’d together in masses, misshapen and vast–
Here clung and here bristled the fashionless forms–
Here the dark-moving bulk of the Hammer-fish pass’d–
And with teeth grinning white, and a menacing motion,
Went the terrible Shark–the Hyena of Ocean.

“There I hung, and the awe gather’d 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,
With the death of the Main and the Monsters around.

“Methought, as I gazed through the darkness, that now
IT saw–the dread hundred-limbed creature-its prey!
And darted–O God! from the far flaming-bough
Of the coral, I swept on the horrible way;
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 marvel’d; quoth he,
“Bold Diver, the goblet I promised is thine,
And this ring will I give, a fresh guerdon to thee,
Never jewels more precious shone up from the mine,
If thou’lt bring me fresh tidings, and venture again
To tell what lies hid in the _innermost_ main?”

Then outspake the daughter in tender emotion
“Ah! father, my father, what more can there rest?
Enough of this sport with the pitiless ocean–
He has served thee as none would, thyself has confest.
If nothing can slake thy wild thirst of desire,
Let thy knights put to shame the exploit of the squire!”

The king seized the goblet–he swung it on high,
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.”

In his heart, as he listen’d, 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;
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,
Roaring up to the cliff–roaring back, as before,
But no wave ever brings the lost youth to the shore.