Saturday, August 14, 2010

''Adieu, Heart's Love, Adieu!''

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Clemens Brentano

He built upon the mountain
      That rises in the North;
The tempest roars around him,
      And will not let him forth.
The clouds are full of blackness,
      The path is steep and bare,
O heart's love on the mountain,
      O would with thee I were!

O fair upon the mountain,
      Above the cloud and blast,
Where sky is warm and sunlit,
      And eagles hurry past!
My wings, alas! are broken,
      And lift me not, before
I go unto my heart's love,
      And enter at his door.

That I have built my dwelling
      High on the mountain's crown,
Alas! 'tis all my sorrow,
      No more may I come down.
The bolts and bars are rusted,
      And crumbled is the stair.
O heart's love in the valley,
      O would with thee I were!

O fair within the garden!
      O fair within the grove!
Where birds upon the branches
      Are singing of their love!
No flower have I to garland,
      No song to sing, before
I go unto my heart's love,
      And enter at her door.

And up the steep she presses,
      Nor heeds the bolts and bars,
And now her soul is wingèd,
      And borne up to the stars;
And higher yet, and higher
      To Him up in the blue,
Her faithful heart she carries,--
      Adieu, heart's love, adieu!

And down the steep he presses,
      And through the wood he goes,
And hears the shepherds' music,
      And sees the blowing rose.
And deeper yet, and deeper
      Beneath the grass and dew
His haughty heart reposes,--
      Adieu, heart's love, adieu!

-trans. Richard Garnett
-German title: Am Berge hoch in Lüften.

The poem is told in three voices. The first two stanzas are related in "her" voice, the voice of the beloved; the second two are told in "his" voice, that of the Romantic hero; and the last two in the voice of the omniscient narrator.

(Illustration is Carl Gustav Carus, Memorial Monument to Goethe, 1832.)

Thursday, August 12, 2010

''The Faustian cathedral''

From Spengler, The Decline of the West, Vol. I, 1922:
The character of the Faustian cathedral is that of the forest. The mighty elevation of the nave above the flanking aisles, in contrast to the flat roof of the basilica; the transformation of the columns, which with base and capital had been set as self-contained individuals in space, into pillars and clustered-pillars that grow up out of the earth and spread on high into an infinite subdivision and interlacing of lines and branches; the giant windows by which the wall is dissolved and the interior filled with mysterious light — these are the architectural actualizing of a world-feeling that had found the first of all its symbols in the high forest of the Northern plains, the deciduous forest with its mysterious tracery, its whispering of ever-mobile foliage over men’s heads, its branches straining through the trunks to be free of earth. Think of Romanesque ornamentation and its deep affinity to the sense of the woods. The endless, lonely, twilight wood became and remained the secret wistfulness in all Western building-forms, so that when the form-energy of the style died down — in late Gothic as in closing Baroque — the controlled abstract line-language resolved itself immediately into naturalistic branches, shoots, twigs and leaves.

(Illustration is Carl Blechen, Ruins of a Gothic Church, 1826.)

''The character of Satan''

From Shelley, A Defence of Poetry (1821):
Nothing can exceed the energy and magnificence of the character of Satan as expressed in “Paradise Lost.” It is a mistake to suppose that he could ever have been intended for the popular personification of evil. . . . Milton's Devil as a moral being is as far superior to his God, as one who perseveres in some purpose which he has conceived to be excellent in spite of adversity and torture, is to one who in the cold security of undoubted triumph inflicts the most horrible revenge upon his enemy, not from any mistaken notion of inducing him to repent of a perseverance in enmity, but with the alleged design of exasperating him to deserve new torments. Milton has so far violated the popular creed (if this shall be judged to be a violation) as to have alleged no superiority of moral virtue to his God over his Devil. And this bold neglect of a direct moral purpose is the most decisive proof of the supremacy of Milton's genius.

(Illustration is from Gustave Doré, Paradise Lost, 1866.)

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

''The loneliest heroes in all the cultures''

From Spengler, The Decline of the West, Vol. I, 1922:
Infinite solitude is felt as the home of the Faustian soul. . . . Valhalla is something beyond all sensible actualities floating in remote, dim Faustian regions. Olympus rests on the homely Greek soil, the Paradise of the Fathers is a magic garden somewhere in the Universe, but Valhalla is nowhere. Lost in the limitless, it appears with its inharmonious gods and heroes the supreme symbol of solitude. Siegfried, Parzeval, Tristan, Hamlet, Faust are the loneliest heroes in all the Cultures. Read the wondrous awakening of the inner life in Wolfram’s Parzeval. The longing for the woods, the mysterious compassion, the ineffable sense of forsakenness—it is all Faustian and only Faustian.

-trans. Charles Francis Atkinson

(Illustration is Carl Gustav Carus, Faust in the Mountains, 1821.)

''What is this Death?''

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Lord Byron

Could I remount the river of my years
To the first fountain of our smiles and tears,
I would not trace again the stream of hours
Between their outworn banks of withered flowers,
But bid it flow as now—until it glides
Into the number of the nameless tides.

What is this Death?—a quiet of the heart?
The whole of that of which we are a part?
For Life is but a vision—what I see
Of all which lives alone is Life to me,
And being so—the absent are the dead,
Who haunt us from tranquillity, and spread
A dreary shroud around us, and invest
With sad remembrancers our hours of rest.
      The absent are the dead—for they are cold,
And ne'er can be what once we did behold;
And they are changed, and cheerless,—or if yet
The unforgotten do not all forget,
Since thus divided—equal must it be
If the deep barrier be of earth, or sea;
It may be both—but one day end it must
In the dark union of insensate dust.
      The under-earth inhabitants—are they
But mingled millions decomposed to clay?
The ashes of a thousand ages spread
Wherever Man has trodden or shall tread?
Or do they in their silent cities dwell
Each in his incommunicative cell?
Or have they their own language? and a sense
Of breathless being?—darkened and intense
As Midnight in her solitude?—Oh Earth!
Where are the past?—and wherefore had they birth?
The dead are thy inheritors—and we
But bubbles on thy surface; and the key
Of thy profundity is in the Grave,
The ebon portal of thy peopled cave,
Where I would walk in spirit, and behold
Our elements resolved to things untold,
And fathom hidden wonders, and explore
The essence of great bosoms now no more.

(Illustration is Caspar David Friedrich, Abbey in the Oakwood, 1810.)

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

''The Last Man''

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Thomas Campbell

ALL worldly shapes shall melt in gloom,
      The Sun himself must die,
Before this mortal shall assume
      Its Immortality!
I saw a vision in my sleep
That gave my spirit strength to sweep
      Adown the gulf of Time!
I saw the last of human mould,
That shall Creation's death behold,
      As Adam saw her prime!

The Sun's eye had a sickly glare,
      The Earth with age was wan,
The skeletons of nations were
      Around that lonely man!
Some had expired in fight,--the brands
Still rested in their bony hands;
      In plague and famine some!
Earth's cities had no sound nor tread;
And ships were drifting with the dead
      To shores where all was dumb!

Yet, prophet-like, that lone one stood
      With dauntless words and high,
That shook the sere leaves from the wood
      As if a storm passed by,
Saying, "We are twins in death, proud Sun,
Thy face is cold, thy race is run,
      'Tis Mercy bids thee go.
For thou ten thousand thousand years
Hast seen the tide of human tears,
      That shall no longer flow.

"What though beneath thee man put forth
      His pomp, his pride, his skill;
And arts that made fire, floods, and earth,
      The vassals of his will;--
Yet mourn not I thy parted sway,
Thou dim discrowned king of day:
      For all those trophied arts
And triumphs that beneath thee sprang,
Healed not a passion or a pang
      Entailed on human hearts.

"Go, let oblivion's curtain fall
      Upon the stage of men,
Nor with thy rising beams recall
      Life's tragedy again.
Its piteous pageants bring not back,
Nor waken flesh, upon the rack
      Of pain anew to writhe;
Stretched in disease's shapes abhorred,
Or mown in battle by the sword,
      Like grass beneath the scythe.

"Ee'n I am weary in yon skies
      To watch thy fading fire;
Test of all sumless agonies
      Behold not me expire.
My lips that speak thy dirge of death--
Their rounded gasp and gurgling breath
      To see thou shalt not boast.
The eclipse of Nature spreads my pall,--
The majesty of Darkness shall
      Receive my parting ghost!

"This spirit shall return to Him
      That gave its heavenly spark;
Yet think not, Sun, it shall be dim
      When thou thyself art dark!
No! it shall live again, and shine
In bliss unknown to beams of thine,
      By Him recalled to breath,
Who captive led captivity.
Who robbed the grave of Victory,--
      And took the sting from Death!

"Go, Sun, while Mercy holds me up
      On Nature's awful waste
To drink this last and bitter cup
      Of grief that man shall taste--
Go, tell the night that hides thy face,
Thou saw'st the last of Adam's race,
      On Earth's sepulchral clod,
The darkening universe defy
To quench his Immortality,
      Or shake his trust in God!"

(Illustration is Caspar David Friedrich, Monk by the Sea, 1810.)

Monday, August 9, 2010

The Gothic Castle

From Ann Radcliffe, The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794):
Towards the close of day, the road wound into a deep valley. Mountains, whose shaggy steeps appeared to be inaccessible, almost surrounded it. To the east, a vista opened, that exhibited the Apennines in their darkest horrors; and the long perspective of retiring summits, rising over each other, their ridges clothed with pines, exhibited a stronger image of grandeur, than any that Emily had yet seen. The sun had just sunk below the top of the mountains she was descending, whose long shadow stretched athwart the valley, but his sloping rays, shooting through an opening of the cliffs, touched with a yellow gleam the summits of the forest, that hung upon the opposite steeps, and streamed in full splendour upon the towers and battlements of a castle, that spread its extensive ramparts along the brow of a precipice above. The splendour of these illumined objects was heightened by the contrasted shade, which involved the valley below.

"There," said Montoni, speaking for the first time in several hours, "is Udolpho."

Emily gazed with melancholy awe upon the castle, which she understood to be Montoni's; for, though it was now lighted up by the setting sun, the gothic greatness of its features, and its mouldering walls of dark grey stone, rendered it a gloomy and sublime object. As she gazed, the light died away on its walls, leaving a melancholy purple tint, which spread deeper and deeper, as the thin vapour crept up the mountain, while the battlements above were still tipped with splendour. From those, too, the rays soon faded, and the whole edifice was invested with the solemn duskiness of evening. Silent, lonely, and sublime, it seemed to stand the sovereign of the scene, and to frown defiance on all, who dared to invade its solitary reign. As the twilight deepened, its features became more awful in obscurity, and Emily continued to gaze, till its clustering towers were alone seen, rising over the tops of the woods, beneath whose thick shade the carriages soon after began to ascend.

(Illustration is Karl Friedrich Hampe, Ritterburg im Mondschein, 1817.)

Sunday, August 8, 2010

''Successful beyond hope''

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From Milton, Paradise Lost (1674):
Thrones, Dominations, Princedoms, Virtues, Powers;
For in possession such, not only of right,
I call ye, and declare ye now; return'd
Successful beyond hope, to lead ye forth
Triumphant out of this infernal Pit
Abominable, accurst, the house of woe,
And Dungeon of our Tyrant: Now possess,
As Lords, a spacious World, to our native Heaven
Little inferior, by my adventure hard
With peril great achiev'd. (X.460-69)

(Illustration is John Martin, Satan on His Throne, 1824.)

''Conversation in the Forest''

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Joseph Freiherr von Eichendorff

"It is so late, it grows so cold,
Why ridest thou lonely cross the wold?
The forest is long, thou art alone,
O lovely maid! I'll take thee home!"

"Boundless is men's deceitful lore.
With grief my heart is pierced to the core.
The hunting horn wanders to and fro.
O flee! who I am thou dost not know."

"So richly decked palfrey and maiden slim,
So fair of face, so fair of limb.
I know thee now — may God stand by!
Thou art the witch called Lorelei."

"Thou know'st me well. My castle fine
From highest cliff looks deep in the Rhine.
It is so late, it is so cold,
No more wilt thou escape this wold."

-German title: Waldesgespräch.

(Illustration is Sir Frank Dicksee, La Belle Dame sans Merci, c.1902.)