Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Gods Of Greece

Ye in the age gone by,
Who ruled the world—a world how lovely then!—
And guided still the steps of happy men
 In the light leading-strings of careless joy!
Ah, flourished then your service of delight!
 How different, oh, how different, in the day
When thy sweet fanes with many a wreath were bright,
 O Venus Amathusia!

Then, through a veil of dreams
 Woven by song, truth's youthful beauty glowed,
And life's redundant and rejoicing streams
 Gave to the soulless, soul—where'r they flowed
Man gifted nature with divinity
 To lift and link her to the breast of love;
All things betrayed to the initiate eye
 The track of gods above!

Where lifeless—fixed afar,
 A flaming ball to our dull sense is given,
Phoebus Apollo, in his golden car,
 In silent glory swept the fields of heaven!
On yonder hill the Oread was adored,
 In yonder tree the Dryad held her home;
And from her urn the gentle Naiad poured
 The wavelet's silver foam.

Yon bay, chaste Daphne wreathed,
 Yon stone was mournful Niobe's mute cell,
Low through yon sedges pastoral Syrinx breathed,
 And through those groves wailed the sweet Philomel,
The tears of Ceres swelled in yonder rill—
 Tears shed for Proserpine to Hades borne;
And, for her lost Adonis, yonder hill
 Heard Cytherea mourn!—

Heaven's shapes were charmed unto
 The mortal race of old Deucalion;
Pyrrha's fair daughter, humanly to woo,
 Came down, in shepherd-guise, Latona's son
Between men, heroes, gods, harmonious then
 Love wove sweet links and sympathies divine;
Blest Amathusia, heroes, gods, and men,
 Equals before thy shrine!

Not to that culture gay,
 Stern self-denial, or sharp penance wan!
Well might each heart be happy in that day—
 For gods, the happy ones, were kin to man!
The beautiful alone the holy there!
 No pleasure shamed the gods of that young race;
So that the chaste Camoenae favoring were,
 And the subduing grace!

A palace every shrine;
 Your sports heroic;—yours the crown
Of contests hallowed to a power divine,
 As rushed the chariots thundering to renown.
Fair round the altar where the incense breathed,
 Moved your melodious dance inspired; and fair
Above victorious brows, the garland wreathed
 Sweet leaves round odorous hair!

The lively Thyrsus-swinger,
 And the wild car the exulting panthers bore,
Announced the presence of the rapture-bringer—
 Bounded the Satyr and blithe Faun before;
And Maenads, as the frenzy stung the soul,
 Hymned in their maddening dance, the glorious wine—
As ever beckoned to the lusty bowl
 The ruddy host divine!

Before the bed of death
 No ghastly spectre stood—but from the porch
Of life, the lip—one kiss inhaled the breath,
 And the mute graceful genius lowered a torch.
The judgment-balance of the realms below,
 A judge, himself of mortal lineage, held;
The very furies at the Thracian's woe,
 Were moved and music-spelled.

In the Elysian grove
 The shades renewed the pleasures life held dear:
The faithful spouse rejoined remembered love,
 And rushed along the meads the charioteer;
There Linus poured the old accustomed strain;
 Admetus there Alcestis still could greet; his
Friend there once more Orestes could regain,
 His arrows—Philoctetes!

More glorious than the meeds
 That in their strife with labor nerved the brave,
To the great doer of renowned deeds
 The Hebe and the heaven the Thunderer gave.
Before the rescued rescuer [10] of the dead,
 Bowed down the silent and immortal host;
And the twain stars [11] their guiding lustre shed,
 On the bark tempest-tossed!

Art thou, fair world, no more?
 Return, thou virgin-bloom on Nature's face;
Ah, only on the minstrel's magic shore,
 Can we the footstep of sweet fable trace!
The meadows mourn for the old hallowing life;
 Vainly we search the earth of gods bereft;
Where once the warm and living shapes were rife,
 Shadows alone are left!

Cold, from the north, has gone
 Over the flowers the blast that killed their May;
And, to enrich the worship of the one,
 A universe of gods must pass away!
Mourning, I search on yonder starry steeps,
 But thee no more, Selene, there I see!
And through the woods I call, and o'er the deeps,
 And—Echo answers me!

Deaf to the joys she gives—
 Blind to the pomp of which she is possessed—
Unconscious of the spiritual power that lives
 Around, and rules her—by our bliss unblessed—
Dull to the art that colors or creates,
 Like the dead timepiece, godless nature creeps
Her plodding round, and, by the leaden weights,
 The slavish motion keeps.

To-morrow to receive
 New life, she digs her proper grave to-day;
And icy moons with weary sameness weave
 From their own light their fulness and decay.
Home to the poet's land the gods are flown,
 Light use in them that later world discerns,
Which, the diviner leading-strings outgrown,
 On its own axle turns.

Home! and with them are gone
 The hues they gazed on and the tones they heard;
Life's beauty and life's melody:—alone
 Broods o'er the desolate void, the lifeless word;
Yet rescued from time's deluge, still they throng
 Unseen the Pindus they were wont to cherish:
All, that which gains immortal life in song,
 To mortal life must perish!

Friedrich Schiller


  1. cs: english translation misses this wonderful sentence:Da die Götter menschlicher noch waren,
    waren Menschen göttlicher.

  2. True. A wonderful phrase. For our English speaking readers: Then when the Gods were more like humans, the humans were still more like Gods.