Thursday, May 5, 2016

Odysseus Between Scylla and Charybdis (Henry Fuseli), Sonnet #296

The most treacherous, the fortuitous
Murderers, the spiders -- a whirlpool,
A hanging cliff -- who cannot even hunt,
Must wait the bait, fixed and anonymous,
The passing by of the delicious fool,
Some Odysseus in his pathetic punt.
Homebound, risking the Straits of Messina,
The sailor thought long on stoney Scylla --
Better handsful of mates torn asunder
Than let a rudderless vessel founder.
He straddled the prow with a silver shield
Upraised to fend off raking teeth and claws.
The monsters ignored him and scythed their yield,
Leaving the leader to his selfish cause.

Note: In Greek mythology, Scylla was described as a rock shoal, like a six-headed sea monster, on the Italian side of the Straits of Messina, and Charybdis was a whirlpool off the coast of Sicily. They were regarded as sea hazards so close to each other that they posed an inescapable threat to passing sailors; avoiding Charybdis meant passing too close to Scylla and vice versa.