The Soul Of A Century/My shadow


Why must you at my heels forever cling,
And follow like a spy, with stealthy gain,
You empty image, without form or wing,
You, who are less than the breath upon a window pane.
Why do you borrow my own form and shape,
And even dress in garments that I wear?
Why do you parody my looks, why do you ape
And why repeat my every move and stare?

Thus in my thoughts I ask, and look aside
To where my mocking shadow quakes on the wall again,
It seems that even an unkempt lock I spied
As his head bends low over the hand that holds the pen.
Yet, in that outlined head in yonder nook,
My rough sketched image seems to be revealed,
My lips’ ironic play, my eyes’ disdainful look,
It seems I hear a chuckle, ill-concealed.

I even hear the words of subdued strains,
The sound of my own voice I seem to heed,
But fainter than the whisper of far off grains,
Or the buzzing song, heard from a distant mead.
It is more like the language of the soul,
That speaks to us with the fathomed dreams of yore,
Dreams that into a poet’s bosom stole.
When he dipped low into his fancy’s store.

Do not despise me . . . pleads the whispering shade.
Because I lack own substance, form or base,
That only by your limbs each move I make is made,
And that I weave my features on the outline of your face.
Go out, where living din and struggling lords
Or inwardly direct your searching frown,
There you will find the living shadow’s hordes
With shame your pride will bow its guilded crown.

See yonder gallant with the lovely miss
A coupled silhouette of charms’ excess,
Who had borrowed love's contour of age-known bliss
All lovers’ garb and a shadow's tenderness
The fan’s coy play, the smile, the tear-filled eyes,
All this was borrowed from another twain,
Who from another pair had snatched the lies,
With which love shams its joys and griefs in vain.

See yonder man, how dignified his pace,
Upon his noble forehead serene peace is engraved,
Look with what gentle gesture he condescends to grace
The bowing, bending throngs of men enslaved.
That pose is borrowed from some other Great,
That majesty comes from some higher seat,
If you could pierce that hollow shell and plate
You would find only empty, vain conceit.

This one prefers a scholar’s weighty mien
That one a nobleman, a social peer,
Another one would mimic Byron’s sheen,
While one in Rembrandt’s barret would appear.
Thus in a motley semblage all perform
According to a pattern from their birth,
’Tis all you need, the outline of good form
Who asks about your deeper inner worth?

What wealth of living shadows in their clothes
Play in the streets, and in their homes carouse.
Friend welcomes friends, each others hand enfolds
Each would outdo the others courtly bows.
Upon their features, honor and virtue beam
Of which their bosom harbors not a spark.
Believe me, our society’s whole scheme
Is just an endless shadowplay and lark.

Look at some nations! The height of their achievement
To be an image of some other tribe,
To mock its gestures and without concealment
Follow its lead, its customs to inbibe.
Their sparkling trinkets are an imitation,
They blindly copy every single deed,
Without initiative, such hapless nation
Is but a shadow of some foreign breed.

And now, old bard, try your own worth to measure
Look in your bosom, the workshop of your soul!
Perhaps the Gods loaned you a golden treasure,
Where did you leave it, what did you extol?
You forced yourself to fit a patterned image,
A mold that pleased the masses for the while,
Your golden lyre sang a foreign language
You grasped the shadows of some borrowed style.

In trembling fears, distrustful of your moment,
You oft refused to undertake own tasks
And often borrowed for a mere adornment
The sparkle of some borrowed, jeweled masks.
When out the rags you have gathered far and near
You sew your garment like a laughing clown,
Until your inner self must disappear,
Are you not worse than I, the shadow of your frown?

 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, 1928, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was legally published within the United States (or the United Nations Headquarters in New York subject to Section 7 of the United States Headquarters Agreement) between 1928 and 1977 (inclusive) without a copyright notice.

The longest-living author of this work died in 1987, so this work is in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 35 years or less. This work may be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.