Friday, September 3, 2010

''The Pilgrim of St. Just''

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August, Graf von Platen

Pitch-black the night, and loud the tempests roar.
O, Spanish monks, come open me the door.

Here let me rest and let me stay
Till morning bell awakens you to pray.

Prepare for me the raiment that is meet,
A cowl, a mantle and a winding sheet.

Within a narrow cell let me recline.
Once, more than half the world was mine.

The head that many a jewelled crown has worn
Awaits the shears, so let it now be shorn.

To don the cowl this shoulder bends low down
That once has worn a royal ermine gown.

Now before death like a dead man I stand
And fall in ruins like my ancient land.


-German title: Der Pilgrim vor St. Just.

The poem concerns Charles V, who had the misfortune of being the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire at the time of the Protestant Reformation. The emperor proved powerless to halt the schism, and Christendom was sundered in twain. Charles ultimately abdicated the throne and retreated to life inside a convent, this fate being the proximate inspiration for Platen's poem. In German, the final line reads, "Und fall in Trümmer, wie das alte Reich," which literally means, "And fall in ruins like the ancient Empire," meaning the Holy Roman Empire.

(Illustration is Carl Gustav Carus, Heimkehr der Mönche ins Kloster (The Homecoming of the Monks to the Cloister), c.1816-18.)

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