Tuesday, July 27, 2010

''Men and Knaves''

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Theodor Körner

The storm is out; the land is roused;
Where is the coward who sits well-housed?
Fie, on thee, boy, disguised in curls,
Behind the stove, 'mong gluttons and girls!
      A graceless, worthless wight thou must be;
      No German maid desires thee,
      No German song inspires thee,
      No German Rhine-wine fires thee.
            Forth in the van,
            Man by man,
      Swing the battle-sword who can!

When we stand watching, the livelong night,
Through piping storms, till morning light,
Thou to thy downy bed canst creep,
And there in dreams of rapture sleep.


When, hoarse and shrill, the trumpet's blast,
Like the thunder of God, makes our hearts beat fast,
Thou in the theatre lov'st to appear,
Where trills and quavers tickle the ear.


When the glare of noonday scorches the brain,
When our parched lips seek water in vain,
Thou canst make the champagne corks fly,
At the groaning tables of luxury.


When we, as we rush to the strangling fight,
Send home to our true loves a long "Good night,"
Thou canst hie thee where love is sold,
And buy thy pleasure with paltry gold.


When lance and bullet come whistling by,
And death in a thousand shapes draws nigh,
Thou canst sit at thy cards, and kill
King, queen, and knave, with thy spadille.


If on the red field our bell should toll,
Then welcome be death to the patriot's soul.
Thy pampered flesh shall quake at its doom,
And crawl in silk to a hopeless tomb.
      A pitiful exit thine shall be;
      No German maid shall weep for thee,
      No German song shall they sing for thee,
      No German goblets shall ring for thee.
            Forth in the van,
            Man for man,
      Swing the battle-sword who can!


-trans. C.T. Brooks
-German title: Männer und Buben.

(Image is Caspar David Friedrich, Graves of Ancient Heroes, 1812, inscribed "To the Youth Fallen for the Fatherland.")

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