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4
Jun

The Cranes of Ibycus

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The Cranes of Ibycus

Friedrich Schiller


Once to the song and chariot-fight,
Where all the tribes of Greece unite
On Corinth’s isthmus joyously,
The god-loved Ibycus drew nigh.
On him Apollo had bestowed
The gift of song and strains inspired;
So, with light staff, he took his road
From Rhegium, by the godhead fired.
Acrocorinth, on mountain high,
Now burns upon the wanderer’s eye,
And he begins, with pious dread,
Poseidon’s grove of firs to tread.
Naught moves around him, save a swarm
Of cranes, who guide him on his way;
Who from far southern regions warm
Have hither come in squadron gray.

“Thou friendly band, all hail to thee!
Who led’st me safely o’er the sea!
I deem thee as a favoring sign, –
My destiny resembles thine.
Both come from a far distant coast,
Both pray for some kind sheltering place;
Propitious toward us be the host
Who from the stranger wards disgrace! ”

And on he hastes, in joyous wood,
And reaches soon the middle wood
When, on a narrow bridge, by force
Two murderers sudden bar his course.
He must prepare him for the fray,
But soon his wearied hand sinks low;
Inured the gentle lyre to play,
It ne’er has strung the deadly bow.

On gods and men for aid he cries, –
No savior to his prayer replies;
However far his voice he sends,
Naught living to his cry attends.
“And must I in a foreign land,
Unwept, deserted, perish here,
Falling beneath a murderous hand,
Where no avenger can appear?”

Deep-wounded, down he sinks at last,
When, lo! the cranes’ wings rustle past.
He hears, – though he no more can see, –
Their voices screaming fearfully.”
By you, ye cranes, that soar on high,
If not another voice is heard,
Be borne to heaven my murder-cry!”
He speaks, and dies, too, with the word.

The naked corpse, ere long, is found,
And, though defaced by many a wound,
His host in Corinth soon could tell
The features that he loved so well.
“And is it thus I find thee now,
Who hoped the pine’s victorious crown
To place upon the singer’s brow,
Illumined by his bright renown?”

The news is heard with grief by all
Met at Poseidon’s festival;
All Greece is conscious of the smart,
He leaves a void in every heart;
And to the Prytanis swift hie
The people, and they urge him on
The dead man’s manes to pacify
And with the murderer’s blood atone.

But where’s the trace that from the throng
The people’s streaming crowds among,
Allured there by the sports so bright,
Can bring the villain back to light?
By craven robbers was he slain?
Or by some envious hidden foe?
That Helios only can explain,
Whose rays illume all things below.

Perchance, with shameless step and proud,
He threads e’en now the Grecian crowd –
Whilst vengeance follows in pursuit,
Gloats over his transgression’s fruit.
The very gods perchance he braves
Upon the threshold of their fane, –
Joins boldly in the human waves
That haste yon theatre to gain.

For there the Grecian tribes appear,
Fast pouring in from far and near;
On close-packed benches sit they there,
The stage the weight can scarcely bear.
Like ocean-billows’ hollow roar,
The teaming crowds of living man
Toward the cerulean heavens upsoar,
In bow of ever-widening span.

Who knows the nation, who the name,
Of all who there together came?
From Theseus’ town, from Aulis’ strand
From Phocis, from the Spartan land,
From Asia’s distant coast, they wend,
From every island of the sea,
And from the stage they hear ascend
The chorus’s dread melody.

Who, sad and solemn, as of old,
With footsteps measured and controlled,
Advancing from the far background,
Circle the theatre’s wide round.
Thus, mortal women never move!
No mortal home to them gave birth
Their giant-bodies tower above,
High o’er the puny sons of earth.

With loins in mantle black concealed,
Within their fleshless hands they wield
The torch, that with a dull red glows, –
While in their cheek no life-blood flows;
And where the hair is floating wide
And loving, round a mortal brow,
Here snakes and adders are descried,
Whose bellies swell with poison now.

And, standing in a fearful ring,
The dread and solemn chant they sing,
That through the bosom thrilling goes,
And round the sinner fetters throws.
Sense-robbing, of heart-maddening power,
The furies’ strains resound through air
The listener’s marrow they devour, –
The lyre can yield such numbers ne’er.

“Happy the man who, blemish-free,
Preserves a soul of purity!
Near him we ne’er avenging come,
He freely o’er life’s path may roam.
But woe to him who, hid from view,
Hath done the deed of murder base!
Upon his heels we close pursue, –
We, who belong to night’s dark race!”

“And if he thinks to ‘scape by flight,
Winged we appear, our snare of might
Around his flying feet to cast,
So that he needs must fall at last.
Thus we pursue him, tiring ne’er, –
Our wrath repentance cannot quell, –
On to the shadows’ and e’en there
We leave him not in peace to dwell!”

Thus singing, they the dance resume,
And silence, like that of the tomb,
O’er the whole house lies heavily,
As it’ the deity were nigh.
And staid and solemn, as of odd,
Circling the theatre’s wide round,
With footsteps measured and controlled,
They vanish in the far background.

Between deceit and truth each breast.
Now doubting hangs, by awe possessed,
And homage pays to that dread might,
That judges what is hid from sight,
That, fathomless, inscrutable,
The gloomy skein of fate entwines,
That reads the bosom’s depths full well,
Yet flies away where sunlight shines

When sudden, from the tier most high,
A voice is heard by all to cry:
“See there, see there, Timotheus!
Behold the cranes of Ibycus!”
The heavens become as black as night,
And o’er the theatre they see,
Far over-head, a dusky flight
Of cranes, approaching hastily.

“Of Ibycus!” – That name so blest
With new-born sorrow fills each breast.
As waves on waves in ocean rise,
From mouth to mouth it swiftly flies:
“Of Ibycus, whom we lament?
Who fell beneath the murderer’s hand?
What mean those words that from him went?
What means this cranes’ advancing band?”

And louder still become the cries,
And soon this thought foreboding flies
Through every heart, with speed of light –
“Observe in this the furies’ might!
The poets manes are now appeased:
The murderer seeks his own arrest!
Let him who spoke the word be seized,
And him to whom it was addressed! ”

That word he had no sooner spoke,
Than he its sound would fain invoke;
In vain! his mouth, with terror pale,
Tells of his guilt the fearful tale.
Before the judge they drag them now
The scene becomes the tribunal;
Their crimes the villains both avow,
When neath the vengeance-stroke they fall.

1797, translation anonymous, 1902

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