The Lay of the Bell

The Lay of the Bell
by Friedrich von Schiller, translated by Thomas James Arnold

The Lay of the Bell
Vivos voco – Mortuos plango – Fulgura frango.
(I celebrate the living. I mourn the dead. I break the lightning.)

Firmly walled within the earth,
Burnt of loam, the frame doth stand;
Today the bell must have its birth;
Brisk, my comrades, be at hand!
From the heated brow
Down the sweat must flow,
If praise to the master shall be given;
But the blessing comes from heaven.

An earnest word doth well betide
When we prepare for earnest deeds,
By good discourse accompanied
Then labour cheerfully proceeds.
So let us carefully now scan
Of feeble strength what are the fruits;
One must despise the wretched man,
Who, unreflecting, executes.
For this it is that man doth grace,
Hereto he hath power to understand,
That he, in his heart's core, may trace
The type of his creative hand.

Take ye wood of the pine-stem,
But be sure that 'tis right dry,
That the inward pent-up flame
Through the furnace throat may fly.
Melt the copper down!
Quick! the tin bring on!
That the tough bell metal so
Properly may fuse and flow.

What now with fire's assisting power
In this deep pit we fashion thus,
Loud from the belfry's lofty tower
Shall one day testify of us;
And many a man shall hear its tone,
For it shall last in after-time,
And shall with the afflicted moan,
And with devotion's chorus chime.
Whatever to earth's lowly son
Aye-changing destiny may bring,
Shall strike on its metallic crown,
And edifying thence shall ring.

Lo! I see white bubbles spring!
Good! the mass is fused at last.
Let us in the potash fling,
That will quickly aid the cast.
From scum all pure and free
Must the mixture be;
That from metal clean and round
Clear and full the voice may sound.

For with its joyous festal tone
The dear-loved infant it doth greet,
Life's path when first it enters on,
Lapped in the arms of slumber sweet;
The lot, or dark, or bright, of whom
As yet rests hidden in time's womb.
Maternal love with tender yearning
Is watching o'er his golden morning –
The years fly on as arrows fleet.

From the girl the proud boy rushes forth;
He wildly storms into life's danger;
On wanderer's staff roams o'er the earth –
To his father's home returns, a stranger.
And glorious in the pride of youth,
Even as a form from heaven's height,
Her cheeks deep-dyed with bashful truth,
The virgin stands before his sight.

Then doth a nameless longing seize
His youthful heart; alone he rambles;
The frequent tear breaks from his eye;
He shuns his brethren's noisy gambols;
Blushing, he follows in her track,
And is but by her greeting blest;
And to adorn his love brings back
From flowery meads the loveliest.

O tender yearning! O sweet hope!
Of love the golden age is this;
The eye doth see the heavens ope;
The heart doth revel in deep bliss.
Oh! that it ever green might prove,
That beauteous season of young love.

Already how the pipes are browned!
This little staff I now dip in;
If glazed over it be found,
Then the casting may begin.
Hither, comrades, hie!
Quick the mixture try;
If the pliant with the brittle
Join to make the proper metal.

For then a perfect tone we find,
When soft and hard are well combined,
The mild united with the strong.
Whoe'er would form eternal bonds
Should weigh if heart to heart responds.
Folly is short – repentance long.

Mid the bridal tresses slinging
Plays the virgin garland bright,
When the clear toned church bells ringing
To the festive scene invite.
Ah! Life's fairest festival
Closes also life's young May;
With the girdle, with the veil,
The fine illusion's torn away.

Passion may fly,
Love should endure;
The blossom may die,
The fruit shall mature;
The man must abroad
Into hostile life,
Mid labor and strife,
With craft and with pain,
Must gather and gain,
Must venture and stake,
Good luck to o'ertake.
Then endless wealth rushes in, like a stream,
With costly possessions the granaries teem,
The space is extended – enlarged the abode:
And indoors governs
The modest housewife,
The mother of children,
And wisely doth steer
The domestic sphere;
And schooleth the girls,
And ruleth the boys;
And plies without end
Her diligent hand;
And the stock doth enlarge
By her orderly charge;
And fills with treasures the scent-breathing chests;
And the thread round the whirring spindle she twists;
And the bright polished coffer she storeth full
With snowy white linen, and shimmering wool;
The useful with beauty and brightness investing,
And never resting.

And the father, with cheerful look,
From his home's far-seeing roof,
Reckons o'er his flourishing stock;
The lofty poles of the stacks discerns,
And the well-filled spaces of the barns,
And the treasure-laden granaries,
And the cornfields' waving seas.
Boasting, he gazes round,
"Firm as the very ground,
Spite of misfortune's cross,
Stands the wealth of my house."
But with the powers of destiny
No lasting band may woven be;
And misfortune strideth swift.

Good! the cast may be begun,
Well-jagged doth the breach appear;
Yet, before we let it run,
Breathe ye first a pious pray'r.
Strike the stopper loose!
God preserve the house!
Shooting into the hanger's bow
The fire-brown billows reeking flow.

Beneficent is fire's strong might
When man subdues and watches it;
Whate'er with art or toil he does,
Unto this heavenly power his owes;
But dread this heavenly power grows,
When, breaking from its fetters loose,
On its own track it ranges wild,
Nature's free and daring child.
Woe! when it, from bondage freed,
When nought its increase can withstand,
Through streets alive with crowds doth haste,
Whirling its enormous brand;
For the elements detest
Every work of human hand.
From the cloud
Blessings pour; –
The rain doth shower; –
From the cloud, undistinguishing,
Lightnings spring.
Hark! from the tower that wailing peal!
'Tis the 'larum-bell!
Blood-red, lo!
Are the skies!
That is not the daybreak's glow!
Hark! what noise,
Along the streets!
Smoke waves up!
Fiery columns flickering rise!
Through the streets' long lines it flies,
And with the wind in swiftness vies.
As from furnace jaws out-reeking,
Glows the hot air; beams are creaking,
Windows jarring, pillars sundering,
Children screaming, mothers wandering,
Cattle lowing
'Neath the ruin.
All is hurry, rescue, flight;
Clear as daylight gleams the night;
Thro' the long and emulous band
Of many a hand
Flies the bucket; arching high
Water-streams from engines fly;
Howling, on the storm-blasts hie,
With the roaring flame to meet;
Crackling in the arid wheat
It falleth; in the granary,
In the spars and rafters dry;
And with mighty blast, as though
'Twould tear away, in violent flight,
With itself the earth's own weight,
It into heaven's height doth grow,
In hopeless state,
Man succumbs to strength divine,
And amazed and supine
Sees his handyworks laid low.
Bare and burnt
Is the space,
The wild storms' rough resting-place.
In the desolate window-cells
Horror broods;
And from heaven the lofty clouds
Peer within.

One look – the last –
Tow'rds the tomb
Of his home,
Doth the man behind him cast –
Then cheerful grasps his staff to roam;
Whate'er the fire's rage hath o'erthrown,
One comfort sweet remains unmoved,
He counts the heads of his beloved,
And lo! not one dear head is lost.

'Tis received within the Earth;
The mould it happily doth fill;
Will it issue fairly forth,
To requite our toil and skill?
If the cast should fail –
Should the mould prove frail!
Ah! perhaps while hoping thus
Mischance e'en now hath stricken us.

To the dark womb of holy earth,
Do we our handywork confide;
The sower too confides his seed,
And hopes that it shall yet shoot forth
To bless – if heaven has so decreed.
Far costlier seed do we commit
In sorrow to the earth's dark womb,
And hope that, from the coffin, it
May blossom to a fairer doom.

From the tower
Tolls the bell,
Dull and heavy,
The funeral knell;
Sad its melancholy notes convey
Some poor wand'rer on the long last way.

Ah! it is the wife, the dear one!
Ah! it is the tender mother!
Whom the gloomy Prince of Shades
From her mate's embraces leads;
From the group of children dear,
Which blooming unto him she bare;
Which growing on her faithful breast,
She watched with a mother's interest.

Ah! of home each tender band
Now for evermore is loose;
For she dwells in the shadow-land,
Who was the mother of the house;
Her faithful rule has passed away,
Her care no more shall watchful prove;
In the orphaned place shall sway
Henceforth the stranger, void of love.

While the bell is cooling now,
Rigorous toil may have its rest;
As birds gambol on the bough,
Each may sport as likes him best.
When winking stars appear,
Freed from every care,
The workman hears the vespers toll,
Doubts still vex the master's soul.

In the wild forest's distant gloom,
The wanderer with cheerful steps
Hastes to his dear cottage-home.
Bleating homeward went the flocks;
And the glossy
Broadly-fronted herds of oxen
Come on lowing,
To fill their wonted home-stalls going.
Heavily in
Reels the wagon,
Harvest laden;
Of varied dies
The garland lies
The sheaves upon;
And the youthful band of reapers
To the dance hath flown.
Street and market grow more still;
Round the candle's social flame,
All house-dwellers meet together,
And the town gate closes gnarring.

The earth doth dight
Herself in black;
But the safe burgher at the night
Feels no awe,
Which fearful wakes the guilty wight,
For still watchful is the eye of law.

Holy Order! blissful child
Of Heaven! in union free and mild
And joyous, she hath equals bound;
She the first did cities found;
And therein from the waste plain
Called unsocial, savage man;
Entered in the rugged hut,
Its inmates gentler manners taught,
And wove that best and dearest band,
The vital love of fatherland.

Thousand active hands bestir;
In cheerful league each other aid,
And, in fiery movement, are
All the powers of art displayed.
Man and master calmly rest,
Holy freedom their reliance;
Each in his own place is blest,
To the scorner bids defiance.
Labor is the burgher's pride,
Success, of industry the prize;
The king by pomp is dignified,
Us our hands' work dignifies.

Gentle concord!
Kindly peace!
Ah! tarry, tarry,
Friendly over this our town!
Never may the day appear,
When the hordes of rugged war
Riot thro' this tranquil valley;
When the heavens,
Whence the evening's blushes mild
Lovely beam,
Shall, with conflagration wild
Of towns and hamlets, frightful gleam.

Now the mould we may destroy,
It hath answered its intent;
Let us feast both heart and eye
On our task's accomplishment.
Swing the hammer, swing!
Till the mantle spring!
Ere the bell rise from below,
Must the frame to pieces go.

The master may break up the frame
With prudent hand at fitting hour;
But woe! whene'er, in brooks of flame,
Itself shall free the flowing ore,
Blind-raging, with the crash of thunder,
It springs in air the bursten house;
And, as from hell-jaws wide asunder,
Blazing destruction forth it spews.
Where rude and senseless powers prevail
There form and shape wilt ever fail;
To free themselves when nations strive,
The common weal can never thrive.

Woe! when in cities' womb hath lain
The fuel heaped by slow degrees,
The people, shattering their chain,
At self-relief doth madly seize.

Then at the ropes doth uproar pull,
Till, hallowed but to peaceful chimes,
The bell with hideous clang doth howl,
The signal to revolt and crimes.
"Freedom! Equality!" they call –
The fearful burgher grasps his arms;
The streets are filled, the market-hall –
On all sides prowl the murderous swarms.
Women into hyaenas start,
Disgustingly with horror jest;
With panther-teeth their victims' heart
They tear, yet quivering, from the breast.
Nought holy is there more; all ties
Of pious shame are rent in twain;
The bad of the good the place supplies,
And freely all the vices reign.
To wake the lion is perilous;
Destructive is the tiger's tooth;
But fearfullest of fears to rouse
Is Man in his delirious wrath.
Woe's them, who heaven's torch of light
Unto the ever-blind would trust;
It lights not him; can but ignite,
And lands and cities burns to dust.

Joy unto me God hath given!
See! how like a star of gold,
From its shell, all bright and even,
The metal kernel doth unfold.
From helve to crown, the ray
Like sunny glance doth play:
And the neat armorial shield
Doth credit to the workman yield.

Come in! Come in!
Comrades all, and close the ring,
To aid at the bell's christening;
Concordia is the name we bring.
In union's cordial harmony her summons
Shall oft-times congregate the loving commons.
This office let her hence fulfil,
The purpose of the master's will!
High in the heavens' blue tent away,
Above our lowly earth-life here,
The thunder's neighbor she shall sway,
And border on the starry sphere.
A voice shall she be from above,
Like the bright constellations' throng,
Who praise their maker as they move,
And lead the wreathed year along.
Only to grave and lasting things,
Be consecrate her metal chime;
And hourly with his rapid wings,
Shall she be touched by flying time.
A tongue to destiny shall she lend;
Heartless herself to joy or grief,
Still with her swing let her attend
Upon the changeful game of life.
And as the sounds which forth she casts,
In mighty tones, on the ear decay;
So let her teach that nothing lasts –
That all things earthly die away.

Now, with the power of the rope,
Rock the bell from out the ground;
Into the air let her mount up,
Into the heavenly realm of sound!
Pull ye! pull ye! heave!
She doth move – doth wave!
May she forebode us happiness –
May her first chime utter – peace.
Copyright.svg PD-icon.svg This work is a translation and has a separate copyright status to the applicable copyright protections of the original content.

This work was published before January 1, 1926, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.


This work was published before January 1, 1926, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.