The Sleep of Palinurus


And now the dewy night had nearly come to its halfway
Mark in the heavens: the mariners, sprawled on the hard benches
Beside their oars, were all relaxed in solacing quiet.
Just then did Sleep come feathering down from the stars above,
Lightly displacing the shadowy air, parting the darkness,
In search of you, Palinurus, carrying death in a dream
To your staunch heart. Now, taking the shape of Phorbas, the Sleep-god
Perched up there in the stern-sheets and rapidly spoke these words–
Palinurus, son of Iasus, the seas are bearing the ships on,
Steadily blows the breeze, and you have a chance to rest.
Lay your head down, and take a nap; your eyes are tired with
Watching. I will stand your trick at the helm for a little.
Palinurus could hardly raise his heavy eyes, but he answered–
Are you asking me to forget what lies behind the pacific
Face of the sea and its sleeping waves? to trust this devil?
What? Shall I leave Aeneas to the mercy of tricky winds–
I who, time and again, have been taken in by a clear sky?
While he spoke, Palinurus kept a good grip on the tiller–
By no means would he release it–and a steadfast gaze on the stars.
But look! Over his temples the god is shaking a bough
That drips with the dew of Lethe, the drowsy spell of Stygian
Waters. And now, though he struggles, his swimming eyes are closing.
As soon as, taken off guard, he was relaxed in unconsciousness,
The god, leaning down over him, hurled him into the sea
Still gripping the tiller; a part of the taffrail was torn away:
As he fell, he kept calling out to his friends, but they did not hear him.
Up and away skywards the Sleep-god now went winging.
Safe as before, the fleet was scudding upon its course–
Nothing to fear, for Neptune had guaranteed a safe passage.
And now, racing on, they were near the rocky place of the Sirens,
Dangerous once for mariners, white with the bones of many;
From afar the rasp of the ceaseless surf on those rocks could be heard.
Just then Aeneas became aware that his ship was yawing
Badly, her helmsman missing; he brought her back on to course
In the night sea, and deeply sighing, stunned by the loss of his friend, said–
O Palinurus, too easily trusting clear sky and calm sea,
You will lie on a foreign strand, mere jetsam, none to bury you.


                                                              --from The Aeneid
                                                                 Latin; trans. C. Day Lewis


Virgil, The Aeneid, Latin, trans. C. Day Lewis, Anchor/Doubleday, 1952.