The Works of J. W. von Goethe/Volume 9/Epilogue to Schiller's "Song of the Bell"


[This fine piece, written originally in 1805, on Schiller's death, was altered and recast by Goethe in 1815, on the occasion of the performance on the stage of the "Song of the Bell." Hence the allusion in the last verse.]

To this city joy reveal it!
Peace as its first signal peal it!
Song of the Bell—concluding lines.

And so it proved! The nation felt, ere long,
That peaceful signal, and, with blessings fraught,
A new-born joy appeared; in gladsome song
To hail the youthful princely pair we sought;
While in the living, ever-swelling throng
Mingled the crowds from every region brought,
And on the stage, in festal pomp arrayed,
The Homage of the Arts[1] we saw displayed.

When, lo! a fearful midnight sound I hear,
That with a dull and mournful echo rings.
And can it be that of our friend so dear
It tells, to whom each wish so fondly clings?
Shall death o'ercome a life that all revere?
How such a loss to all confusion brings!
How such a parting we must ever rue!
The world is weeping—shall not we weep, too?

He was our own! How social, yet how great
Seemed in the light of day his noble mind!
How was his nature, pleasing yet sedate,
Now for glad converse joyously inclined,
Then swiftly changing, spirit-fraught, elate,
Life's plan with deep-felt meaning it designed,
Fruitful alike in counsel and in deed!
This have we proved, this tested, in our need.

He was our own! Oh, may that thought so blest
O'ercome the voice of wailing and of woe!
He might have sought the Lasting, safe at rest
In harbour, when the tempest ceased to blow.
Meanwhile his mighty spirit onward pressed
Where goodness, beauty, truth, for ever grow;
And in his rear, in shadowy outline, lay
The vulgar, which we all, alas, obey!

Now doth he deck the garden-turret fair
Where the stars' language first illumed his soul,
As secretly yet clearly through the air
On the eterne, the living sense it stole;
And to his own, and our great profit, there
Exchangeth to the seasons as they roll;
Thus nobly doth he vanquish, with renown,
The twilight and the night that weigh us down.

Brighter now glowed his cheek, and still more bright,
With that unchanging ever-youthful glow,—
That courage which o'ercomes, in hard-fought fight,
Sooner or later, every earthly foe,—
That faith which, soaring to the realms of light,
Now boldly presseth on, now bendeth low,
So that the good may work, wax, thrive amain.
So that the day the noble may attain.

Yet, though so skilled, of such transcendent worth,
This boarded scaffold doth he not despise;
The fate that on its axis turns the earth
From day to night, here shows he to our eyes,
Raising, through many a work of glorious birth,
Art and the artist's fame up toward the skies.
He fills with blossoms of the noblest strife,
With life, itself, this effigy of life.

His giant-step, as ye full surely know,
Measured the circle of the will and deed,
Each country's changing thoughts and morals, too,
The darksome book with clearness could he read;
Yet how he, breathless 'midst his friends so true,
Despaired in sorrow, scarce from pain was freed,—
All this have we, in sadly happy years,
For he was ours, bewailed with feeling tears.

When from the agonising weight of grief
He raised his eyes upon the world again,
We showed him how his thoughts might find relief
From the uncertain present's heavy chain,
Gave his fresh-kindled mind a respite brief,
With kindly skill beguiling every pain,
And e'en at eve when setting was his sun,
From his wan cheeks a gentle smile we won.

Full early had he read the stern decree.
Sorrow and death to him, alas, were known;
Ofttimes recovering, now departed he,—
Dread tidings, that our hearts had feared to own!
Yet his transfigured being now can see
Itself, e'en here on earth, transfigured grown.
What his own age reproved, and deemed a crime,
Hath been ennobled now by death and time.

And many a soul that with him strove in fight,
And his great merit grudged to recognise,
Now feels the impress of his wondrous might,
And in his magic fetters gladly lies;
E'en to the highest hath he winged his flight,
In close communion linked with all we prize.
Extol him then! What mortals while they live
But half receive, posterity shall give.

Thus is he left us who so long ago,—
Ten years, alas, already!—turned from earth;
We all, to our great joy, his precepts know,
Oh, may the world confess their priceless worth!
In swelling tide toward every region flow
The thoughts that were his own peculiar birth;
He gleams like some departing meteor bright,
Combining, with his own, eternal light.

  1. The title of a lyric piece composed by Schiller in honour of the marriage of the hereditary Prince of Weimar to the Princess Maria of Russia, and performed in 1804.