Friday, August 27, 2010

The Robbers (Die Räuber)

Excerpts from Friedrich von Schiller's Die Räuber (1781):
FRANZ: Might is right, and the limits of our strength our only law.

FRANZ: I will crush everything that stands in the way of my becoming master.

MOOR: The bright spark of Promethean fire is burnt out.

MOOR: The law has cramped the flight of eagles to a snail's pace. The law never yet made a great man, but freedom will breed a giant, a colossus.

MOOR: Oh, if only Arminius's spirit still glowed in the ashes! — Give me an army of fellows like me to command, and I'll turn Germany into a republic that will make Rome and Sparta look like nunneries.

SPIEBELBERG: Necessity brings out the best in us! That's why I shan't be afraid of it comes to the worst. Danger fortifies our courage; our strength grows in adversity.

SPIEGELBERG: Your name shall be written in the stars! What does it matter where your soul goes?

ROLLER: Without Moor we're a body without a soul.

MOOR: See, the scales have fallen from my eyes! What a fool I was, to seek to return to the cage! My spirit thirsts for deeds, my lungs for freedom — murderers, robbers! at that word I trampled the law beneath my feet — men showed me no humanity when to humanity I appealed; so let me forget sympathy and human feeling! I have no father now, I have no love now, and blood and death shall teach me to forget that ever I held anything dear! Oh, my amusement shall be the terror of the dearth — it is agreed, I shall be your captain! and good fortune to the champion among you who lights the fiercest fires, who does the foulest murders, for I say to you he shall have a kingly reward! Gather round me every one, and swear loyalty and obedience till death! Swear by this man's right hand of mine!
ALL: We swear loyalty and obedience to you till death!

AMALIA: Now I am with Karl again — a beggar, did he say? Why then, the world is turned upside-down, beggars are kings and kings are beggars!

FRANZ: But must my plans submit to the iron yoke of mechanical laws? Is my high-flying spirit to be bound to the snail's pace of material necessity?

FRANZ: What can you do to him? How can a rat hurt a lion?

HERRMANN: Sooner may the bullet turn in its flight and tear the marksman's own bowels.

AMALIA: In Heaven's name, that is not Karl. Here, here — The whole, so different. These dull colours cannot reflect the divine spirit that shone in his fiery eye. Away with it! this is a mere man.

FRANZ: I am not one for stroking and fondling. I will set my pointed spurs into your flesh, and see what a keen whip will do.

SPIEGELBERG: Climate makes very little difference, genius will thrive in any soil.

RATZMANN: If he had given the devil his word that he would go to hell, he would never say a prayer, even though he could save himself with half an Our Father.

SCHWEITZER: We'll save him, or if we can't save him, then at least we'll light him a funeral pyre such as no king ever had, one that will burn them black and blue.

SCHWEITZER: By God, before a quarter of an hour was up, the north-east wind came and served us a treat — he must have had his grudge against the town too! — and helped the fire on its way to the topmost gables. And us meanwhile up and down the streets like furies — fire, fire! All through the town — shrieks and howls and rampage — the firebells start to ring, then up goes the powder-magazine in the air, as if the earth was split in two, and heaven burst, and hell sunk ten thousand fathoms deeper.

ROLLER: The hungry ravens croaking, thirty of them perched there on my half-rotten predecessor.

SCHUFTERLE: A baby, lying there as right as rain under the table, and the table just about to catch fire. — Poor little brute! I said, you're freeing! And threw it into the flames.

MOOR: I shall come amongst you, and terrible shall be my judgment upon you.

SCHWEITZER: We shall be upon them like the Flood and rain down on their heads like thunder-bolts.

MOOR: Now, lads! Now is the time! We are lost, or we must fight like wild boars at bay.
SCHWEITZER: Ha! I'll rip their bellies with my tusks till their tripes come bursting out by the yard! Lead on, captain! We will follow you into the jaws of death!
MOOR: Load all weapons. There is no shortage of powder?
SCHWEITZER: No, powder enough to blow the earth sky-high!

PRIEST: Image of that first loathsome rabble-rouser, who stirred up a thousand legions of innocent angels to fiery rebellion, and dragged them down with him to the pit of damnation.

MOOR: Thus says Moor, captain of murderers and incendiaries. It is true. I killed the Count, I plundered the Dominican church and set it alight, I cast firebrands into your city of bigots, I blew up the powder-magazine over the heads of pious Christians — but that is not all.

MOOR: Tell them my trade is retribution — vengeance is my calling.

MOOR: Who will be the first to abandon his captain in his hour of need?'
ROLLER: Not if nine circles of hell surrounded us! Every man who is not a dog, save your captain!
SCHWEITZER: Pardon in our bullets! Away, vermin! tell the magistrates who sent you that in Moor's band you could not find a single traitor. — Save, save the captain!
ALL: Save, save, save the captain!
MOOR: Now we are free — Comrades! I feel an army in my fist — death or liberty! — at least they shall take none of us alive!

AMALIA: Look, villain, what I can do to you now! I am a woman, but a woman in desperation — once dare to lay your lustful hands on my body — this steel shall pierce your loathsome breast, and my uncle's spirit will guide my hand!

AMALIA: I felt I was as strong as a fiery steed, fierce as the tigress pursuing the triumphant robber of her cubs.

MOOR: Why should man succeed where he imitates the ant, when he is thwarted where he is like the gods?

MOOR: And I so hideous in this fair world — and I, a monster on the glorious earth. . . . I alone cast out, I alone set apart from the ranks fo the blessed — not for me the sweet name of child — not for me the lover's melting glance — never, never more the bosom friend's embrace. Set about with murderers, in the midst of hissing vipers — fettered to vice with bands of iron — rocked giddily over the abyss of destruction on the frail reed of vice — I, I alone cast out, a howling Abaddon amidst the fair world's happy blossoms!

KOSINSKY: Men I am seeking, who can look death in the face and let danger play about them like a charmed snake, who value freedom more than life and honour, whose very name, sweet sound to the poor and the oppressed, strokes terror in the valiant and turns the tyrant pale.

KOSINSKY: I have always wished that I could see the man with destruction in his eye, there as he sat upon the ruins of Carthage — now I need wish it no longer.

KOSINSKY: What should I fear, if I do not fear death?

MOOR: Here you step beyond the bounds of humanity — you must either be more than a man, or you are a devil.

SCHWEITZER: Lead us to hell and I will follow you!

MOOR: Soil of my fatherland, I salute you! Sky of my fatherland! Sun of my fatherland! meadows and hills and forests! I salute you, from my heart I salute you all! — how sweet the breezes blow from the mountains of my home! with what joyous balm you greet the poor outcast!

AMALIA: This is the first Count, the founder of the line, who was ennobled by Barbarossa when he served under him against the corsairs.

AMALIA: Flee from my soul, treacherous, godless desires! in the heart where Karl reigns there is no place for mortal man.

MOOR: She knows that I roam an outcast, a wanderer in the desert, and her love flies through exile and desert to be with me.

MOOR: Unhappy because she loves me! Why, what if I were a murderer? What, my lady? What if you lover could count a man killed for each one of your kisses? Alas for my Amalia! she is an unhappy lady.
AMALIA: Ah! and I, I am happy! My only one is like the light of heaven itself, and heaven is grace and mercy! He could not bear to hurt the merest insect — his soul is as far from thoughts of blood as the pole fo day from midnight.

MOOR: Externals are but the varnish upon a man — I am my heaven and my hell.

MOOR: Did you ever dream that you were the arm of a greater majesty? the tangled knot of our destinies is unravelled! Today, today and invisible power has conferred nobility upon our handiwork! Bow down in adoration before him who decreed you this sublime fate, who led you to this place, who deemed you worthy to be the terrible angels of his dark judgment! Uncover your heads! Kneels in the dust, that you may stand up sanctified!

FRANZ: If I smash this Venus to pieces, then symmetry and beauty have ceased to exist.

MOSER: If you still stand firm in death, if your principles do not desert you even then, then the victory is yours.

MOSER: It will be an awakening as of one buried alive in the bowels of the churchyard.

FRANZ: Lord God, I have been no common murderer — Lord God, I have never stooped to trifles —
DANIEL: God have mercy on us, his prayer itself's a sin.

SCHWEITZER: Dead,? What? dead? Without me, dead? It's a lie, I tell you — see how quickly he will jump up! — Hey, you there! There's a father to be murdered.

MOOR: Swoon then, Amalia! — Die, father! Die through me a third time! — These your rescuers are robbers and murderers! Your Karl is their captain!

MOOR: Have I not heard death whistling towards me from more than a thousand musket-barrels, and without yielding a foot, and am I now to learn to quake like a woman? to quake before a woman? — No, no woman shall shake my manhood — Blood! blood! It is only something caught from a woman — give me blood to swill, and it will pass.

AMALIA: Murderer! Devil! Angel — I cannot leave you.

MOOR: Ah, what is this? She does not spit as me, she does not thrust me from her — Amalia! Have you forgotten? do you know who it is you are embracing, Amalia?
AMALIA: My only one, I shall never leave you!
MOOR: She forgives me, she loves me! I am pure as the heavenly aether, she loves me! Tears of gratitude to you, merciful God in Heaven! Peace has returned to my soul, the raging torment is past, hell is no more — See, O see, the children of light weep upon the neck fo the weeping devil.

ROBBER: Shame on your perjury! the spirit of Roller that died for you, Roller whom you summoned from the dead to be your witness, will blush for your cowardice, and rise armoured from his grave to punish you.

(Photograph shows a scene from a performance of Die Räuber at the open-air theatre in Hohenstein in 1931.)

Thursday, August 26, 2010

''The land of honourable death''

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Lord Byron

’TIS time this heart should be unmoved,
    Since others it hath ceased to move:
Yet, though I cannot be beloved,
                Still let me love!

My days are in the yellow leaf;
    The flowers and fruits of love are gone;
The worm, the canker, and the grief
                Are mine alone!

The fire that on my bosom preys
    Is lone as some volcanic isle;
No torch is kindled at its blaze—
                A funeral pile.

The hope, the fear, the jealous care,
    The exalted portion of the pain
And power of love, I cannot share,
                But wear the chain.

But ’tis not thus—and ’tis not here—
    Such thoughts should shake my soul, nor now,
Where glory decks the hero’s bier,
                Or binds his brow.

The sword, the banner, and the field,
    Glory and Greece, around me see!
The Spartan, borne upon his shield,
                Was not more free.

Awake! (not Greece—she is awake!)
    Awake, my spirit! Think through whom
Thy life-blood tracks its parent lake,
                And then strike home!

Tread those reviving passions down,
    Unworthy manhood!—unto thee
Indifferent should the smile or frown
                Of beauty be.

If thou regret’st thy youth, why live?
    The land of honourable death
Is here:—up to the field, and give
                Away thy breath!

Seek out—less often sought than found—
    A soldier’s grave, for thee the best;
Then look around, and choose thy ground,
                And take thy rest.


Lord Byron's death was as noble as that of any of his heroes. He fell in the fight for Greek independence, having personally funded the war effort and participated in the actions. Written in the field of combat, this was his last poem.

(Illustration is Caspar David Friedrich, The Temple of Juno in Agrigento, c.1828-30.)

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

''Ode on Melancholy''

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[An excerpt]

John Keats

Though you should build a bark of dead men's bones,
      And rear a phantom gibbet for a mast,
Stitch creeds together for a sail, with groans
      To fill it out, bloodstained and aghast;
Although your rudder be a Dragon's tail,
      Long sever'd, yet still hard with agony,
            Your cordage large uprootings from the skull
Of bald Medusa; certes you would fail
      To find the Melancholy, whether she
            Dreameth in any isle of Lethe dull.


This is the original first stanza, withheld from publication, of Keats's "Ode on Melancholy" — although in fact it is the most interesting section of the poem. The rest of the ode, as published, can be found here. The poet's theme, that the most acute melancholy is experienced not through horror but thwarted happiness, is irrefutable.

(Illustration is John Martin (1789-1854), Cadmus and the Dragon.)

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Tomb of Arminius

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M.G. Lewis

"Herman, or Arminius, is the favourite hero of Germany, whose liberty he defended against the oppression of Rome: Flavus, his brother, sided with the Romans, and in consequence his memory is as much detested by his countrymen, as that of Arminius is beloved. — I forget where I met with the original of this ballad." [Lewis's note]

- - - -

Where rolls the Weser’s golden sand,
Did erst Sir Hengist’s castle stand,
      A warrior brave and good;
His lands extended far and wide,
Where stream’d full many a plenteous tide,
      Where frown’d full many a wood.

It chanced, that homewards from the chace
Sir Hengist urged his courser’s pace,
      The shadowy dales among,
While all was still, and late the hour,
And far off, in the castle tower,
      The bell of midnight rung.

Sudden, a piercing shriek resounds
Throughout the forest’s ample bounds;
      A wildly dreadful yell;
The dogs, by trembling, own their fear,
As if they scent some bad thing near,
      Some soul enlarged from hell!

"See, father!" cried young Egbert; "see
Beneath the shade of yonder tree
      What fearful form is spread!
How fire around his temples glows!
How from his lance and fingers flows
      The stream of bloody red!"

"Stay here!" said Hengist, then with speed
Towards the stranger spurr’d his steed;
      "What brings thee here, Sir Knight,
Who dar’st in my domains to bear
A lance, and by thy haughty air
      Seem’st to demand the fight?"

"Long has my arm forgot to wield
The sword, and raise the massy shield,"
      Replied the stranger drear:
"Peace to this brown oak’s hallow’d shade!
Peace to the bones which here are laid,
      And which we both revere!

"Know’st thou not Siegmar, Herman’s sire,
That arm of steel, that soul of fire?
      Here is his grave. — My name
Is Flavus — at that sound the woods
With curses ring, and Weser’s floods
      My infamy proclaim!

"For such is vengeful Odin’s will
And doom, that traitor-curses still
      Thick on my head shall be,
Till from the blood of brethren slain,
My gory hands and lance again
      I pure and spotless see.

"Still then, when midnight hours permit
Pale spectres Hela’s realm to quit,
      I seek this hallow’d place;
With tears bedew these crimson blots,
And strive to wash away the spots
      No pains can now efface!"

He ceased; when Odin’s eagle came,
By Odin arm’d with blasting flame,
      And seized the phantom knight:
Loud shrieks the spectre’s pangs reveal’d,
And soon a cloud his form conceal’d
      From awe-struck Hengist’s sight.

"Son!" said the chief, with horror chill’d,
While down his brows cold dews distill’d,
      "Now take your sword in hand,
And swear with me, each drop of gore,
That swells your veins, well pleased to pour
      To guard your native land!"


Lewis's "original" for this ballad from his Tales of Wonder has never been discovered, although the enmity between Arminius and Flavus to which the poem refers is noted by Tacitus.

(Illustration is Caspar David Friedrich, Tomb of Arminius, 1813, which Hugh Honour in Romanticism describes as one of Friedrich's "most moving images, that of a lonely sarcophagus set in a cleft of the living rock of ages at the heart of the German fatherland.")

Monday, August 23, 2010

''The Wanderings of Cain''

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[An excerpt]

Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Cain stopped, and stifling his groans he sank to the earth, and the child Enos stood in the darkness beside him.

And Cain lifted up his voice and cried bitterly, and said, "The Mighty One that persecuteth me is on this side and on that; he pursueth my soul like the wind, like the sand-blast he passeth through me; he is around me even as the air! O that I might be utterly no more! I desire to die—yea, the things that never had life, neither move they upon the earth—behold! they seem precious to mine eyes. O that a man might live without the breath of his nostrils. So I might abide in darkness, and blackness, and an empty space! Yea, I would lie down, I would not rise, neither would I stir my limbs till I became as the rock in the den of the lion, on which the young lion resteth his head whilst he sleepeth. For the torrent that roareth far off hath a voice: and the clouds in heaven look terribly on me; the Mighty One who is against me speaketh in the wind of the cedar grove; and in silence am I dried up."

The mighty limbs of Cain were wasted as by fire; his hair was as the matted curls on the bison's forehead, and so glared his fierce and sullen eye beneath: and the black abundant locks on either side, a rank and tangled mass, were stained and scorched, as though the grasp of a burning iron hand had striven to rend them; and his countenance told in a strange and terrible language of agonies that had been, and were, and were still to continue to be.

The scene around was desolate; as far as the eye could reach it was desolate: the bare rocks faced each other, and left a long and wide interval of thin white sand. You might wander on and look round and round, and peep into the crevices of the rocks and discover nothing that acknowledged the influence of the seasons. There was no spring, no summer, no autumn: and the winter's snow, that would have been lovely, fell not on these hot rocks and scorching sands. Never morning lark had poised himself over this desert; but the huge serpent often hissed there beneath the talons of the vulture, and the vulture screamed, his wings imprisoned within the coils of the serpent. The pointed and shattered summits of the ridges of the rocks made a rude mimicry of human concerns, and seemed to prophesy mutely of things that then were not; steeples, and battlements, and ships with naked masts. As far from the wood as a boy might sling a pebble of the brook, there was one rock by itself at a small distance from the main ridge. It had been precipitated there perhaps by the groan which the Earth uttered when our first father fell.

Ere they had reached the rock they beheld a human shape: his back was towards them, and they were advancing unperceived, when they heard him smite his breast and cry aloud, "Woe is me! woe is me! I must never die again, and yet I am perishing with thirst and hunger."

Enos glided forward, and creeping softly round the base of the rock, stood before the stranger, and looked up into his face. And the Shape shrieked, and turned round, and Cain beheld him, that his limbs and his face were those of his brother Abel whom he had killed! And Cain stood like one who struggles in his sleep because of the exceeding terribleness of a dream.

Thus as he stood in silence and darkness of soul, the Shape fell at his feet, and embraced his knees, and cried out with a bitter outcry, "Thou eldest born of Adam, whom Eve, my mother, brought forth, cease to torment me! I was feeding my flocks in green pastures by the side of quiet rivers, and thou killedst me; and now I am in misery."

Cain raised up the Shape that was like Abel, and said: — "The Creator of our father, who had respect unto thee, and unto thy offering, wherefore hath he forsaken thee? Didst thou not find favour in the sight of the Lord thy God?"

The Shape answered, "The Lord is God of the living only, the dead have another God."

Then the child Enos lifted up his eyes and prayed; but Cain rejoiced secretly in his heart.

"Wretched shall they be all the days of their mortal life," exclaimed the Shape, "who sacrifice worthy and acceptable sacrifices to the God of the dead; but after death their toil ceaseth. Woe is me, for I was well beloved by the God of the living, and cruel wert thou, O my brother, who didst snatch me away from his power and his dominion."

Having uttered these words, he rose suddenly, and fled over the sands: and Cain said in his heart, "The curse of the Lord is on me; but who is the God of the dead?" and he ran after the Shape, and the Shape fled shrieking over the sands, and the sands rose like white mists behind the steps of Cain, but the feet of him that was like Abel disturbed not the sands. He greatly outrun Cain, and turning short, he wheeled round, and came again to the rock where they had been sitting, and where Enos still stood; and the child caught hold of his garment as he passed by, and he fell upon the ground.

Cain once more sate beside him, and said, "Abel, my brother, I would lament for thee, but that the spirit within me is withered, and burnt up with extreme agony. Now, I pray thee, by thy flocks, and by thy pastures, and by the quiet rivers which thou lovedst, that thou tell me all that thou knowest. Who is the God of the dead? where doth he make his dwelling? what sacrifices are acceptable unto him? for I have offered, but have not been received; I have prayed, and have not been heard; and how can I be afflicted more than I already am?" The Shape arose and answered, "O that thou hadst had pity on me as I will have pity on thee. Follow me, Son of Adam! and bring thy child with thee!"

And they three passed over the white sands between the rocks, silent as the shadows.


This text offers a truncation of Coleridge's haunting prose fragment. The complete, unfinished work can be accessed here.

(Illustration is Thomas Cole, Expulsion, Moon, and Firelight, c.1828, which shows the gateway to the Garden of Eden through which Adam and Eve were cast out of Paradise and the wild wastes into which they were banished — a sublime landscape such as that in which Cain and his heirs were condemned to wander, following his great sin.)

Sunday, August 22, 2010

''The Tyger''

THE TYGER (1794)

William Blake

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand dare sieze the fire?

And what shoulder, & what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

When the stars threw down their spears,
And watered heaven with their tears,
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

Click to enlarge

(Photographs are of Antoine-Louis Barye, Tiger Devouring a Crocodile, 1831.)