Melancholy ~ to Laura

By Friedrich Schiller (1759-1805)

In this translation, some liberties have been taken with the metric scheme, which is all trochaic in the original, and in some cases with the rhyme pattern, so that Schiller's metaphors can be reproduced with maximum clarity, and so that an attempt may be made to approximate the natural, unforced quality of the original.

Laura - daybreak's fiery blaze
Burns within thy golden gaze,
In these cheeks of thine springs crimson blood,
And thy tears, thy pearls in flood,
Rapture calls them mother, sings their praise -
Whom the lovely drops do thaw,
Who therein a deity saw,
Ah, the lad who, thus rewarded, cries -
Suns for him do paint the skies!

Like the image on the waves, thy soul,
Silver clear and sunbeam bright,
Turns to May the gloomy autumn's dole;
Deserts, in their ghastly blight,
Are transfigured in thy fount of light,
Somber futures, dimly viewed afar,
Grow more golden in thy star.
Dost thou smile upon this harmony?
It brings only tears to me. -

Was not our citadel long undermined
Already by the Realm of Night?
The proud palatial towers of mankind,
Our cities' stately show of might,
All repose on rotting skeletons;
Thy carnations sweetly suck perfume
Out of corruption, so thy wellspring runs,
Weeping from the vessel of - a tomb.

Glance above - the planets shimmering,
Let them, Laura, speak to thee!
Underneath their compassing
A thousand rainbowed springs did flee,
Here a thousand thrones arose,
Howled a thousand times the clash of foes,
Search the iron plains
For what trace remains!
Sooner, later, summoned to the grave,
The planetary gears run down, our brave
Celestial clockwork wanes.

Blink three times - the sun's exalted blaze
Into the sea of night eternal sinks!
Ask me then, whence burn thy rays!
Dost thou boast of thy bright gaze?
Of the lively crimson of thy cheeks,
Borrowed from corruption though it be?
Profit for the Red it lends,
Profit, Maiden, Death demands
A fearful usury!

Speak not, Maiden, with such mockery!
Every blush's rosy stain
Is but a finer throne where Death should reign,
And behind this flowered tapestry
The Spoiler even now doth bend his bow -
Believe it, Laura, from thy devotee:
'Tis but to Death thy yearning glances go,
Every beam that from thine eyes doth rill
Drains thy meagre lamp yet poorer still;
Though my heartbeats, thou dost boast,
Skip yet youthfully at every ray -
Ah! The Tyrant's creatures have enclosed
Us all insidiously with decay.

In an instant's time the Reaper blows
This smile asunder, like the wind
Doth scatter rainbow-colored foam. To find
A vestige, one forever fruitless goes:
Out of springtime, 'tis decreed,
Out of life, as from his infant seed,
None but the eternal slayer grows.

Woe! I see thy roses lorn of petals now,
Thy sweet mouth is faded, bleak,
The graceful curving of thy cheek
Shall by bitter winter storms be plowed,
The somber haze of decades misted o'er
Shall murk the silver springs of youth; hereof
Shall Laura - Laura shall no longer love,
Laura shall be lovable no more.

Maiden - mighty as an oak thy poet stands,
Blunted on my youthful granite might
Doth the javelin of death alight,
Burning are my glances, like the lamps
Of heaven - fierier my spirit, than
The lamps of His eternal heaven bright,
He that in the oceans of His teeming worlds
Mighty crags piles up, then down he hurls.
Boldly through the universe my thoughts do steer,
And naught - except His limits do they fear.

Glowest thou, Laura? Swells thy breast with pride?
Learn it, Maid, this potion of delight,
This chalice, whence Divinity doth waft,
Laura - is a poison draught!
Calamitous! to dare it, O Calamitous!
To strike the spark of Deity from dust!
Ah, the boldest harmony
Shall smash the lyre to sad debris,
And Genius' blazing ether-beam
Is nourished only by Life's flickering gleam -
Cheated of a worldly throne,
Each watchman's lamp serves him alone!

Ah! My spirits, now reduced to brazen flames,
Together swear a pact against my name!
Let fly but two more fleeting springs like this,
And, Laura, as this dwelling of decay
Totters toward the precipice,
Extinguished shall I be in mine own ray. --

Weepest thou, Laura? - teardrops, be denied,
That o'er the impunity of Age are cried,
Away! Ye tears, ye sinners, cease!
Laura wills it, that my strength should shrink,
That, trembling, I beneath this sun should slink,
This sun, that my young eagle-flight did see? -
Wills it that I should condemn,
With frozen heart, the bosom's flame,
That my fairest sins be cursed by me?
No! Ye tears, ye sinners, cease!
Pick the flower in its fairest age,
O weep, thou youngster with the mournful mien,
And let my torch be doused!
As the curtain of the tragic stage
Comes rustling down amidst the fairest scene,
The shadows flee - yet hearkens still the house.

Posted by permission of the translator ~ © 1985

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