Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Lines On Seeing Schiller's Skull - Poem by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
WITHIN a gloomy charnel-house one day
I view'd the countless skulls, so strangely mated,
And of old times I thought, that now were grey.
Close pack'd they stand, that once so fiercely hated,
And hardy bones, that to the death contended,
Are lying cross'd,--to lie for ever, fated.
What held those crooked shoulder-blades suspended?
No one now asks; and limbs with vigour fired,
The hand, the foot--their use in life is ended.
Vainly ye sought the tomb for rest when tired;
Peace in the grave may not be yours; ye're driven
Back into daylight by a force inspired;
But none can love the wither'd husk, though even
A glorious noble kernel it contained.
To me, an adept, was the writing given
Which not to all its holy sense explained,
When 'mid the crowd, their icy shadows flinging,
I saw a form, that glorious still remained.
And even there, where mould and damp were clinging,
Gave me a blest, a rapture-fraught emotion,
As though from death a living fount were springing.
What mystic joy I felt! What rapt devotion!
That form, how pregnant with a godlike trace!
A look, how did it whirl me tow'rd that ocean
Whose rolling billows mightier shapes embrace!
Mysterious vessel! Oracle how dear!
Even to grasp thee is my hand too base,
Except to steal thee from thy prison here
With pious purpose, and devoutly go
Back to the air, free thoughts, and sunlight clear.
What greater gain in life can man e'er know
Than when God-Nature will to him explain
How into Spirit steadfastness may flow,
How steadfast, too, the Spirit-Born remain.
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