Profiles in Poetry: Friedrich Schiller

“Trust me, the fountain of youth, it is no fable. It is running
Truly and always. You ask, where? In poetical art.”

- Friedrich Schiller, The Fountain of Youth

Friedrich Schiller was born on November 10th, 1759 in Marbach, Württemberg. He was without question one of the greatest poets and dramatists to have ever lived. While Schiller is not very well known in the English speaking world today, his influence in the realm of ideas can be seen across history.

Weimar classicism, generally considered the high point of German culture, was in great part a product of Schiller’s genius. Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Brahms all held their cups to the divine springs of Schiller's imagination. Some of the greatest musical settings have been based on Schiller's poems, or on those of poets inspired by Schiller. After all, while perhaps little known today, Schiller’s ‘‘Ode to Joy’’ supplied the lyrics for Beethoven’s 9th symphony:

Joy, thou beauteous godly lightning,
Daughter of Elysium,
Fire drunken we are ent’ring
Heavenly, thy holy home!
Thy enchantments bind together,
What did custom stern divide,
Every man becomes a brother,
Where thy gentle wings abide.


Be embrac’d, ye millions yonder!
Take this kiss throughout the world!
Brothers—o’er the stars unfurl’d
Must reside a loving Father.

Beethoven’s hero and model for the sublime artist was none other than the character of Joan of Arc, found in Schiller's play The Maid of Orleans.

Since part of the barrier to Schiller’s ideas in our modern world has been the lack of authentic translations, The Chained Muse is proud to present a series of original translations. The purpose of producing such translations is not simply that of translating Schiller's poems from German to English, but of presenting his works as new authentic English poems, whereby we might catch a glimpse of the poet’s original voice.

We have selected ten great examples of Schiller’s poetry—each of which presents a different facet of his genius as both poet and universal thinker. In this context, with the publication of these poems, we would add the following prefatory remarks in order to give the reader some potential insights into the nature of Schiller’s mind and his compositional method as he developed it in numerous literary essays and correspondences.

The Sublime

Schiller’s works are populated by the conception of the Sublime. In one of his late essays, “On the Sublime,” he elaborates his ideas in the following manner:

The feeling of the sublime is a mixed feeling. It is a combination of woefulness, which expresses itself in its highest degree as a shudder, and of joyfulness, which can rise up to enrapture, and, although it is not properly pleasure, is yet widely preferred to every pleasure by fine souls. This union of two contradictory sentiments in a single feeling proves our moral independence in an irrefutable manner. For as it is absolutely impossible that the same object stand in two opposite relations to us, so does it follow therefrom, that we ourselves stand in two different relations to the object, so that consequently two opposite natures must be united in us, which are interested in the conception of the same in completely opposite ways. We therefore experience through the feeling of the sublime, that the state of our mind does not necessarily conform to the state of the senses, that the laws of nature are not necessarily also those of ours, and that we have in us an independent principle, which is independent of all sensuous emotions.

Schiller viewed art as the sacred fount, a holy ground, in which man’s true nature could be captured. Despite the vicissitudes of time and worldly folly, man's higher nature was unchanging, and could be rediscovered in beautiful art, at any time, regardless of the tastes of the day and caprice of the times. Schiller never bent under the yoke of "contemporary" thinking, instead he revolutionized it by building on the work of the immortal poets who came before him, especially the Greeks.

In his ninth of his Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Man Schiller wrote the following:

The Artist, it is true, is the son of his age; but pity for him if he is its pupil, or even its favorite! Let some beneficent Divinity snatch him when a suckling from the breast of his mother, and nurse him with the milk of a better time that he may ripen to his full stature beneath a distant Grecian sky. And having grown to manhood, let him return, a foreign shape, into his century; not, however, to delight it by his presence; but terrible, like the son of Agamemnon, to purify it. The matter of his works he will take from the present; but their Form he will derive from a nobler time, nay from beyond all time, from the absolute unchanging unity of his nature. Here from the pure aether of his spiritual essence, flows down the Fountain of Beauty, uncontaminated by the pollutions of ages and generations, which roll to and fro in their turbid vortex far beneath it.

Schiller very consciously crafted his poetry with the humanity's sublime nature in mind. He believed that human beings were creatures of both sense and reason, but that neither were in intrinsic opposition, and that a self-conscious individual could become independent of all the external forces of the world, both natural and arbitrary, in order that he might act as an independent force, were the need to ever be presented.

Thus, further in his essay "On the Sublime" he states:

Does one now remember, what value it must have for a being of reason, to become conscious of his independence of natural laws, so one comprehends how it occurs that men of sublime bent of mind can hold out for compensation, through this idea offered to them of freedom, for every disappointment of cognition? Freedom, with all of its moral contradictions and physical evils, is for noble souls an infinitely more interesting spectacle than prosperity and order without freedom, where the sheep patiently follow the shepherd and the self-commanding will is degraded to the subservient part of a clockwork.

Schiller’s Late Poetry

Schiller believed that every individual has an ideal self within them, and that it is the great task of their existence to realize this ideal and to bring it to its fullest potential in the world. Much of his early poetry was written in the form of philosophical verses, garbed with poetic imagery, in which he developed these initial ideals. Thus, in his second Aesthetical Letter, he stated the following:

Ideal art must abandon reality and elevate itself with sufficient boldness above need, for art is the daughter of freedom, and she receives her rules from the necessity of the spirit, not from the pressing need of matter.

As his poetic faculties developed and the sphere of his experience expanded, this ideal of man and the sublime potential found in each individual took on a much more concrete expression. He even went on to advise some of his contemporaries such as Hölderlin, who reminded him of his younger self, to avoid metaphysical themes and to stay as close as possible to the real (November 24, 1796; Briefe V, 11f.). Reflecting upon even some of his most recognized and inspired works such as the "Ode to Joy," Schiller, from a more critical standpoint remarked that it was a “wretched poem,” which represented the kind of poetry he had to leave behind (October 21, 1800; Briefe, VI, 211). He also expressed dissatisfaction with what is arguably one of his most philosophically dense poems, "The Artists." He spoke of trying to free it, as much as possible, from “certain abstract ideas” (September 3, 1800; Briefe, VI, 195).

Rather than serving a purely abstract ideal, his poetry would go on to express this same quality of sublime, only now it was increasingly presented in a direct interaction with the world at large, and in a struggle with the myriad forces of nature, history and the universe. Thus, Schiller wrote "temper the dreamer’s zeal with worldliness."

Looking at his late poetry, we find the sublime quality in man populating his every piece, but it is now informed with a renewed "wordliness." We see the sublime expressed in all its manifestations, from those instances in which man oversteps the bounds of nature or law, to when he rightly crosses or defies arbitrary laws in favor of a higher natural law. This was in direct relation to his increasing interest in the study of history.

In his inaugural lecture "What is and to What End Do we Study Universal History," as professor of history at the University of Jena, Schiller made the following remarks:

The field of history is fecund and vastly encompassing; in its sphere lies the entire moral world. It accompanies us through all the conditions mankind has experienced, through all the shifting forms of opinion, through his folly and his wisdom, his deterioration and his ennoblement; history must give account of everything man has taken and given. There is none among you to whom history had nothing important to convey.

Schiller also emphasized the need to return to a study of the Greeks, to learn from the naturalness and simplicity of their beauty and pathos. We find much of Schiller’s work hearkening back to the ancients, only now, as a mature poet, dramatist, and historian, no longer in the age of the infancy of mankind, Schiller introduces the moral as a new "natural force" among all men. Thus, we find the sublime in man contending with all the forces of the world: with the forces of nature, history, fate and most of all, as in his epic "The Cranes of Ibycus," with the force of natural law.

With these prefatory remarks, we are proud to present a selection of Schiller’s great poetry in hopes that a new age of timeless poetry might be informed by the greatest bards of the past, upon whose work, a new generation of immortal artists will build.

10. Sehnsucht (Longing)

If I could fly from this dark valley
Where the gloomy vapors creep
And by some wonder swiftly flee,
My soul would blessedly weep.
Gazing upon this pure serene,
Eternal hills rise everywhere;
Had I wings to climb this scene,
My spirit would scale the air.

I hear a melodious strain
Descending in soothing streams,
While the soothing breezes and rain
Carry the heaven’s sweet dreams.
The luscious fruit hangs ripening
On never wilting branches,
The flowers never fear the fangs
Of the winter’s ravishes.

Oh! How sweet it must be to dwell
Under an eternal sun,
How the sanguine airs must softly blow
Through the woods where wild deer run.
But the foaming waters stifle
Even my bravest attempts,
And my frightened soul can but toil
Before the frothing torrents.

Yet see! A lonely bark is rocking
And it seems no helmsman’s there:
Sails are open, waves are foaming,
But should a mortal soul dare?
Then its courage and faith alone
Must direct it—no God’s hand;
Only wonder carries a man
To that magic wonderland.

Translation © David B. Gosselin

9. Pegasus im Joche (Pegasus in Yoke)

In Greek mythology, Pegasus was the creature who stomped his hoof into Mount Helicon and created the Streams of Helicon.

Unto a horse-fair – maybe even travelling
To Haymarket, where other things wind up as wares,
A hungry poet once did bring
The muses’ steed, to sell him there.
So brightly neighed the hippogriff,
And reared up grandly, to the crowd’s acclaim;
The people all called out in disbelief:
The noble, kingly beast! But what a shame,
His slender form’s disfigured by an ugly pair
Of wings! The finest mail train he could ply.

The breed, so say they all, were rare,
But who would travel through the sky?
We’d all think twice before we’d buy.
At last a farmer found his nerve.
Indeed, he says, for wings no use is to be found,
But those could easily be cropped or bound,
For hauling, then, the horse will rightly serve.
So, twenty pounds on this I think I’ll dare;
The seller, highly pleased to so unload his wares,
Cries “Done! You’ll get your money’s worth!”
And with his booty Hans trots briskly forth.
The noble beast is put to yoke,
Yet when it feels the unaccustomed weight,
It runs amok with wild desire for flight
And hurls, by noble wrath provoked,
The cart up to a chasm’s very brink.
All right, thinks Hans. This crazy beast I may not trust
For hauling work. Experience makes one smart.
Tomorrow I have passengers I must
Convey, I’ll put him in the lead to start.
The frisky devil ought to save me two good horses,
His rages soon will run their courses.
At first it went quite well. The horse, so quick and proud,
Picks up the old jade’s pace, the wagon speeds along,
Yet what occurs? His gaze distracted by the clouds,
With hooves for which to tread the earth feels wrong,
He leaves the beaten track the wheels pursue,
And to his stronger nature true,
He runs through hedges, fertile fields, through marsh and fen;
All horses on the team together lurch about,
Despite the bridle and the driver’s shout,
At last they fright the wanderer when
The wagon, battered, bashed and shaken up,
Comes to a halt upon a mountain top.
There’s something very much amiss,
Says Hans with quite an apprehensive look.
We’ll never get things done like this;
Let’s see if meager food and heavy work
Won’t cure his crazed rebelliousness.
He puts it to the test. The lovely beast appears,
Before three days have come and gone,
Diminished to a shadow. Now we’re getting on!
Cries Hans. Now quick, let’s hitch him here
Before the plow, beside my strongest steer!
‘Tis done, a team so ludicrous, and now
One sees the ox and wingéd horse before the plow.
The griffin rears, indignant, and with what strength abides,
He strains his sinews, striving to take flight,
In vain; his neighbor purposefully strides,
And Phoebus’ proud steed must bend before its might.
Now spent at last from opposition’s course,
The strength from all his limbs is lost,
And bowed with grief, the noble, godly horse
Falls to the ground, and thrashes in the dust.
Accurséd beast! The fury comes to boil
As Hans scolds loudly, giving him a beating,
It seems thou art too bad to till the soil,
The rogue that sold thee must be cheating.
But as he in his rage lets fly
The horsewhip, there comes passing by
A merry fellow, brisk and full of cheer.
The zither jingles at his easy hand,
And through his blonde array of hair
There twines a graceful golden band.
Where to, friend, with this quaint, fantastic pair?
He calls out to the farmer down the way.
The bird there with the ox in double file,
You don’t see this team every day!
Wilt thou, for just a little while,
Entrust thy horse for just a trial with me?
Behold, a wonder shalt thou see.
The hippogriff unharnessed stands;
The youngster smiles and mounts his steed. They rise,
And when it feels the master’s steady hand,
It champs upon the bridle band,
And lightning flashes from the horse’s vivid eyes.
No more the former being, like a king,
A ghost, a god, he lets his wings
Unfurl in glory, with the roaring of
A tempest, shooting to the heavens dim,
And ere the eye can follow him,
Has vanished in the blue above.

Translation © Daniel Platt

8. Nänie

Even the beautiful must perish; it sways the gods, and rules mankind!
  Yet it does not move the iron breast of the Stygean Zeus.
Only once did love soften the heart of the ruler of shadows,
  And just on the threshold, he stiffened, and sternly withdrew his gift.
Not for Aphrodite to stanch the wounds of the lovely stripling,
  Torn in his delicate side by the terrible rage of the boar.
No, the immortal mother cannot save her godlike hero
  When he, at the Scaean gate falling, fulfills his unbending fate.
But she rises up out of ocean with all of Nereus’ daughters,
  And raises lament to the heavens for her so exalted son.
See! how the gods are weeping, the goddesses all are crying,
  Because the beautiful passes, because what is perfect, dies.
Even to be a song of sorrow on beloved lips is glorious,
  For the common goes down to Orcus without a single sound.

Translation by Paul Gallagher


The famous composer Brahms set Schiller’s Nänie to music in the form of a wonderful choral piece, his opus 82.

7. Cassandra

In Greek mythology, Cassandra was the daughter of King Priam of Troy. She was given the ability to foresee the future by the god Apollo, but also cursed because the populace would not believe her prophecies, including her warnings about the Trojan Horse and the destruction of Troy. Another daughter of Priam, Polyxena, was to marry the Greek leader Achilles, son of Thetis, which was to be the occasion of a peace treaty between Greece and Troy. Hymen was the god of weddings, Proserpina was the queen of the underworld, and Eris was the goddess of discord and sister of Ares, god of war. Ilion was the ancient name for Troy (as in the Iliad.)

Joy in Trojan congregations
Dwelt, before the fortress fell,
There were hymns of jubilation
Where the golden harp-strings swell.
All the people rested, weary
From the conflict fraught with tears,
Great Achilles sought to marry
Royal Priam’s daughter fair.

And adorned with wreathes of myrtle
They went surging line by line,
To the gods’ exalted temples
And Apollo’s holy shrine.
To the passageways they’d taken
In a writhing bacchanal,
And to sorrow was forsaken
Just the saddest heart of all.

Joyless there amidst joy’s fullness,
All alone she went to rove,
Just Cassandra shared the stillness
Of Apollo’s myrtle grove.
To the forest’s deepest quarter
Did the silent seeress flee,
Flung the headband of her order
To the ground most angrily:

“Everywhere is joy inherent,
Hearts rejoice throughout the lands,
Hope inspires my aging parents
And adorned my sister stands.
I alone must stay with sorrow,
Sweet delusion flies from me,
And approaching on the morrow
Dark disaster I foresee.

There’s a torch that I see glowing,
But it’s not in Hymen’s hand,
Toward the clouds I see it growing
But it lights no wedding band.
Festivals are making ready
Yet my troubled spirit hears
Godly footsteps, swift and steady,
Bringing tragedy and tears.

And they scold my lamentations
And they mock me for my pain,
I must bear my heart’s vexations
On the lonely desert plain,
Happy folk avoid me cooly
And the cheerful call me fraud!
Thou hast burdened me so cruelly,
O Apollo! Wicked god!

So that I might speak thy tidings
I received a prescient mind,
Why then must I be abiding
In the city of the blind?
Why have I prophetic fire
Yet can’t hinder what I fear?
What’s decreed must now transpire,
And the fearsome thing draws near.

When it hides the lurking terror,
Is it wise to lift the veil?
Human lives are only error
And with knowledge, death prevails.
Take away the bloody vision,
Take this wretched clarity,
Terrible! to be the living
Vessel of thy verity.

Give me back my darkened senses,
I’ll be gladly blind by choice,
No sweet song from me commences
Since I first became thy voice.
Thou didst give the Future to me
Yet the Moment now I lack,
I have lost my Present truly,
Take thy false gift – take it back!

Never have I decorated
With the bridal crown my hair,
Since when I was consecrated
At thy doleful altar there.
All my youth was only weeping,
All I knew was bitter smart,
With the loved ones I was keeping,
Every hardship hurt my heart.

All around I see them wheeling,
Youthful playmates I have known,
Living, loving with such feeling,
Troubled heart was mine alone.
Springtime is for me no treasure
That the earth so festive keeps,
Who can live his life with pleasure
After gazing in thy deeps!

Blessings I give Polyxena.
Balmy love writ on her face,
For the greatest Greek she means to
Welcome with a bride’s embrace.
How her breast with pride is swelling,
She can hardly grasp her bliss,
Even Ye, in heaven dwelling,
She doth not count blest like this.

And the suitor who entrances,
Whom I choose most longingly,
He implores with lovely glances
Fired by passion’s fervency.
Visiting his habitation,
Oh, it would be my delight,
Yet a shadow of damnation
Steps between us in the night.

Pallid larvas from down yonder
Proserpina sends to me,
And wherever I may wander
All her spirits I must see.
In my childhood recreations
They would gruesomely intrude,
With such dread abominations
I may have no blithesome mood.

And I see the death-blade gleaming
And the glowing murderer’s eye,
Nowhere, left nor right, ’tis seeming,
May I from this horror fly.
Seeing, knowing, never flinching,
I may not avert my gaze,
Now my fate comes closer inching,
All alone I’ll end my days.”

And as yet her words did echo,
Hark! There comes an eerie sound,
From the portal of the temple,
Thetis’ son, dead on the ground!
Eris shakes her serpent tresses,
All the gods are quickly gone,
And the thunder cloud oppresses
Heavy over Ilion.

Translation © Daniel Platt

6. Hero und Leander (Hero and Leander)

See ye there the ancient graying
Castles, ‘cross the straits surveying,
Sunny gilded citadels,
Where the Hellespont is rolling
Waves between the high patrolling
Portals of the Dardanelles?
Hear ye how the stormy billows
Break upon the cliffs above?
Asia they have torn from Europe,
Yet they do not frighten Love.

Hearts of Hero and Leander,
Made by Cupid’s arrow fonder,
Aching from his holy pow’r.
Hero, fine as Hebe blooming,
He, through mountains gladly roaming,
Hearty in the huntsman’s bow’r.
Yet the fathers’ opposition
Drove apart the couple’s bliss,
And the sweet fruit of affection

Hung upon the precipice.
There, on Sestos’ rocky towers,
Battered by the foaming powers
Of the Hellespont’s mad swells,
Sat the lonely maiden, gazing
Toward Anydos’ coast so pleasing,
Where the hot-belovéd dwells.
Ah, to that most distant shoreline
Doth no humble footbridge sway,
From the strand no craft emerges
And yet Love did find a way.

From the Labyrinth it guides you,
With the thread that it provides you,
Makes the fool a wise man now.
Savage beasts it bends to harness,
Yokes the bull, its breath a furnace,
To the diamond-sparkling plow.
Not the Styx’s nine-fold current
Can prevent all-daring Love;
Pluto forfeits the belovéd,
Stolen to the world above.

Also through the watery surges,
Love, with fiery yearning, urges
on Leander’s courage now.
When the day’s resplendent glimmer
Fades, then the audacious swimmer
Plunges in the flood below,
Parts the waves with arms untiring,
Striving toward that dearest strand,
Where, upon the lofty platform,
Flickers now the burning brand.

In the soft arms of his lover
May the happy one recover
From the journey’s heavy trial,
‘Twas for this that Love should save him,
This reward the gods all gave him
In this blissful domicile,
‘Til the bordering Aurora
Wakes him from his ecstacy,
Frights him from Love’s dreamy bosom
To the cold bed of the sea.

Thirty suns did take their measures
Swiftly, as the stolen pleasures
That the happy pair had seen,
Like the wedding night’s sweet blisses,
Envied by the gods, these kisses,
Ever young and evergreen.
He has never tasted rapture,
He who never, at the verge,
Plucked the pilfered fruit of heaven
From the hellish watery scourge.

Hesper and Aurora taking
Turns, as sundown and day breaking,
Yet the lovers saw it not,
Not the hues of fall appearing,
Not the angry winter nearing
That the icy North begot.
Happily they watched the days grow
Shorter, shorter; for the use
Made of longer, longer nights, they
Offered up their thanks to Zeus.

Soon enough the scales stood even,
Days and nights divided heaven.
Hero stood upon the heights,
Watching as Apollo’s horses
Fled along their solar courses
Where the ocean joins the nights.
And the sea lay still and placid,
Like a mirror, smooth and clean,
Not a breeze’s gentle weaving
Moved the crystal-perfect scene.

Merry dolphin-troops cavorted,
In the silver-clear they sported,
All along the placid coast,
And in grey processions wending,
From the ocean’s floor ascending,
Tethys’ multicolored host.
These and these alone had witnessed
Stolen trysts beside the sea;
Hecate, from out her darkness,
Sealed their lips eternally.

Hero, gladdened by the ocean,
Spoke with coaxing, mild emotion
To the lovely element:
Beauteous god, couldst thou betray me?
No! They lie that do portray thee
Faithless, mean and fraudulent.
False is Man, and cruel a father’s
Heart, that could my love disdain;
Ah, but thou art mild and gracious,
And art moved by lovers’ pain.”

“In these barren walls of sorrows
I should spend my sad tomorrows
Withering amongst these stones;
Yet upon thy back thou bearest
With no bridge nor boat, a dearest
Friend that I may call mine own.
Fearsome are thy depths, thy frightful
Flood of churning waves and foam,
Ah, but Love compels thy mercy,
Thou’rt by courage overcome.”

“And to thee, the god of oceans,
Eros’ bow brought strong emotions,
As when golden Aries flew,
Helle, borne upon her brother,
Bloomed in beauty like no other,
High above thy sea below.
Captured by her charms, thou’st quickly
Snatched the prize that Aries bore,
To thy dark abyss thou’st swept her,
Down upon the ocean floor.”

“Goddess and inamorato
In the deepest water grotto,
Now she lives eternally;
Helpful in her haunted fashion,
Now she tames thy savage passion,
Guides the sailor home from sea.
Lovely Helle, noble goddess,
Blesséd one, may I implore,
Bring my love across the channel,
Lead him safely to my door!”

And then soon the torrent darkened,
From her porch the maiden hearkened
As she lit the signal flare.
With the trusted sign providing
Light through empty realms, and guiding,
It should lead her lover there.
From afar it starts to rustle,
Foam appears upon the sea,
Stars begin to wink and vanish,
Storm approaches, dreadfully.

Night descends upon the surface
Of the vast and roiling Pontus,
Water plunges from the clouds;
From their ghastly, rocky niches
Storms emerge, and lightning twitches
Through the mist that all enshrouds.
Churning, now, the great abysses,
Each more monstrous than before,
Yawning, like a hellish vengeance,
Opens up the ocean’s floor.

Woe is me!” the maid lamented,
“Mercy, Zeus!” and so repented,
“Ah, what have I dared to crave!
If the gods have heard my praying,
If my love the price is paying
In the travails of the waves!”
All the birds that know the ocean
Head for home in hasty flight,
All the tempest-tested vessels
Safer harbors seek tonight.

“Yes, he gave himself to daring,
For it is a proud, unsparing
God that spurs him on to swim.
When he last did stand before me,
Love’s most holy oath he swore me,
Only death releases him.
Now the angry sea surrounds him
With the ocean’s nemesis,
Ah! This very moment, it shall
Hurl him down to the abyss!”

“Pontus, thy deceitful silence
Hid thy treachery and violence,
Like a mirror before mine eyes;
Calm thy ripples, mild thy season,
‘Til he’s captured by thy treason
In thy faithless realm of lies.
In the middle of thy torrent,
Now the pathway back is closed,
Now unto the poor betrayed one
All thy terrors are exposed!”

Furious, the storm is rending,
High as mountaintops ascending
Swells the sea, the billows break
Foaming in the awful suction;
Sturdy ships of oak construction
No such voyage undertake.
And the winds have quenched the beacon
That would guide the swimmer through;
Terror beckons in the waters,
Terror at the landing too.

And she prays to Aphrodite,
Begs her to appease the mighty
Waves, the ocean tempest-torn,
And, to calm the wind’s vexation,
Offers up for immolation
Now, a bull with golden horn.
All the goddesses below us!
All the gods that dwell on high!
Hero bids them, pour some soothing
Oil upon the storming sea.

“Listen to my cry resounding,
Rise up from thy green surroundings,
Blessed Leukothea, please!
When the sailor shakes with fear, then
Oftentimes dost thou appear, and
Save him from the angry seas.
Reach to him thy mystic garment,
Reach to him thy sacred veil,
Lift him, unafflicted, from a
Murky grave beneath the gale!”

And the savage winds are ending,
Eos’ flashing steed ascending
Up the heavens’ thoroughfare.
In its bed, with tranquil motion,
Mirror-smooth becomes the ocean,
Brightly smile the sea and air.
Now the waves are gently breaking
Up against the craggy land,
And the peaceful, playful ripples
Wash a corpse up on the sand.

Yes, ’tis he, though he be broken,
Honored is the vow last spoken!
Swiftly doth she recognize.
Such a silence is she keeping,
No lamenting and no weeping,
Stares with cold, despairing eyes.
Down into the barren depths she
Gazes, in the Aether’s glow,
And a lofty, noble fire
Reddens her pale visage now.

“Yes, I know ye, awful beings!
Stringently your rights decreeing,
Horrifying and malign.
Though my fate, I can’t postpone it,
Happiness supreme, I’ve known it,
And the sweetest lot was mine.
While I lived I served thy temple,
Thine own priestess have I been,
Now I sacrifice me gladly,
Noble Venus, mighty Queen!”

And with all her garments flying,
Hero leaps the tower, hying
Down into the foaming waves.
There resides the ocean god, he
Tumbles high her holy body,
And the sea becomes her grave.
Satisfied with this, his plunder,
Smiling, gladly forth he goes,
Pouring from his endless urn the
Current, that forever flows.

Translation © Daniel Platt

5. Die Ritter von Toggenburg (The Knight at Toggenburg)

Brave knight, I can a sister's love
Happily offer you,
But any other kind of love
Would not be true.
Softly I can appear to you,
And softly you may go,
But weeping eyes with flowery dew—
Those I cannot know.

And this he hears as his heart tears
Open—his heart strings bleed!
He holds her dear, besieged with fears
Then rides upon his steed.
He gathers all his gallant men
In the land of Switzerland:
Towards the holy grave they wend,
Their crosses tightly fastened.

So many deeds have been performed
By the heroic arm;
The noble plumes blown through the storm
Made foes retreat from harm.
And the Toggenburger’s name
Scared every Saracen;
And yet from out his lonely grave,
His heart cannot ascend.

For one long year he’s carried on,
But no more can he strive.
Thus, losing hope he can’t hang on—
To home he must now drive.
A ship he see’s on Jopa’s strand:
Its sails are fiercely swelling.
It takes him back to his dear land
Where his love is dwelling.

At his beloved’s castle gate
He finds himself once more,
But ah! will this wonderous fate
Open her castle door?
“The one you seek now wears the veil,
Her vows were made to heaven;
The celebrations we did hail
Just yesterday at even.”

From father’s castle he departs—
This time forever.
No more to touch a sword or darts,
His beaver's noble feather.
The Toggenburg is faring
Rising all unseen,
Repentant robes he’s wearing,
He cast a mournful sheen.

He set out to erect his shed
Near the old monasteries
Where over each hill were spread
The lovely linden trees.
From when the morning rays first raced
Until at night they flew,
Hope gently lit his youthful face
As he sat there alone.

He gazed upon the convent there,
He looked on it for hours;
Through the window he did stare
In hope of starry showers—
In hope those twinkling eyes appear,
In hope of that fair face,
Ascending from that valley dear,
That look of angel-grace.

He happily laid himself down,
Finally took some rest,
Joyfully again tomorrow
To make once more his test.
And so he sat many a day,
He sat for many years,
Hoping to see that morning gay
When her sweet face appears.

In hope those twinkling eyes appear,
In hope of that fair face,
Ascending from that valley dear,
That look of angel-grace.
And so he lay, a corpse all pale,
Still many mornings there,
Towards that window, now so frail,
With cold and silent stare.

Translation © David B. Gosselin

4. Die Taucher (The Diver)

"Who dares enter this chasm of water—
Is there some brave knight or valiant youth?
Let him who can vanquish the frothing water
Bring me back my chalice as proof.
I'll happily grant this golden goblet
To he who accepts this perilous gauntlet."

The king speaks, then hurls it from the height
Of the rising and dizzying cliffs.
Landing into the dark rolling sea,
It sinks into the mouth of Charybdis.
“Find one who is brave enough, who will
Fetch me my goblet from the depths below.”

Knights and vassals gather ‘round him,
All carefully listen, but silent remain,
Gazing on the depths of the harrowing
Sea, darkly rolling into the twilight horizon.
The king once more his challenge bares
"Is there someone who to these depths dares?"

Each remains as silent as before
But then a noble squire, gentle and bold,
Steps from the clamorous choir to the fore:
Watching him undress, all the crowds behold
This strange and endearing youth whose ways command
The gaze and breath of every man.

The squire steps towards the craggy cliffs
And peers into the waters below:
Ebbing, flowing, they whirl in the abyss
Of Charybdis’ throat, where all things flow.
As with the distant thunder’s roaring,
The water rises from the gulf outsoaring.

It whirls and bubbles and foams and blends
As when water with fire collides;
Steamy sprays reach up towards the heavens
As flood after flood unceasingly climbs—
Never draining, never emptying, flowing endlessly
As the sea newborn gives birth to the sea.

Finally, the powerful force sinks away
As darkness out of the foaming fissures
Gapes wide open, and then makes it hellish foray
To the cold depths of the infernal waters.
Ones sees all the raging waves surge,
Then drown once more in the silent ocean’s dirge.

Now fast, before the dark surge returns,
The boy commends himself to his God.
A cry through the air spurns
The crowd, but already the vortex sucks
The stripling down. Quickly, with fervor,
The sea closes over the swimmer.

Now silence sweeps over the liquid surface,
But the depths below roar and swell,
Shaking, one reads the fear on each one’s face
As the word travels ‘round: “Fare thee well!”
One hears the echoes and howls slowly fading,
As each moment passes, still ever waiting.

And should one the crown itself throw in
And say: Whoever brings me the crown
Shall wear it, and crown himself king—
Such desire would still be unfounded.
What the howling depths below have concealed
Should never to living mortals be revealed.

Many stout and sturdy vessels have held fast,
Then quickly sunk to their watery graves.
But while sundered to pieces, keel and mast,
They soon emerge from the calming waves.
Clearer and clearer, like stormy thunder
One hears the ocean becoming louder.

It whirls and bubbles and foams and blends
As when water with fire collides,
Steamy sprays reach towards the heavens
As flood after flood unceasingly climbs;
Never draining, never emptying, flowing endlessly
As the sea newborn gives birth to the sea.

Behold! From the dark gulf’s surge,
There rises a swan-like appearance:
A glistening neck and silvery wings emerge
As all pray for the boy’s deliverance.
It’s him: in his left hand he holds high
The goblet—joyous he waves, joyous they sigh.

The young squire breathes in the solemn air,
And greets the heavenly light shining above.
He watches people embracing everywhere:
"He lives, it is him!" The choir sings with love.
From the dark whirlpool, from the eddying grave,
Despite all elements the youth stood brave.

He approaches and the crowd circles round;
He walks towards the king,and falls at his feet:
He offers him the goblet, newly found.
The king calls his daughter over to meet
Them; he fills the goblet with wine to the brim—
He watches as the youth speaks and turns to him:

“Long live the king! For happy is he
Who breathes in the rosy hues of light.
While down there one lives terribly,
Let man never tempt the Godly might,
Never longing, and never hoping to see
What Gods veil with fright and terror graciously.

“It pulled me to the bottom fast like lightning,
Then thrust me into craggy recesses,
The while the raging torrents were thrashing,
Seizing everything with myriad currents.
As a top wound about by opposite force,
I could no longer fight its powerful source.

"Then God showed me something as I cried
In my moment of helpless and dire need:
In the deepness rocky reefs were espied
As Death approached me with speed.
And there hung the goblet on the red coral,
Over the fathomless depths of the dark whirlpool.

"For beneath me it still deeply lay
In the darkness of those purple hues;
And although to the ear it seems darkened day,
The shuddering scene the eye clearly views:
How salamanders and dragons and monsters
Creep and stir while the floor beneath tremors.

"Shadowy creatures filled up the scene;
In hideous clumps they swarmed together:
The rock fish, the ray fish with tenebrous sheen,
The hammerhead with his ghastly limbs,
And with evil grin and beastly elation
Swam the sharks, like hyenas in the ocean.

"Helpless, there I hung with terror gripped,
Far from each man, from the human race,
Among larvae the only one who sipped
From sweet mother's breast where solace
Lay—far from any man's gentle word,
I lay in that shadowy Netherworld.

"And there I watch with horror approach
Limbs of all sorts springing to motion.
Surely they will with ravenous hunger
Devour me, I said, lest I flee from this ocean.
The whirlpool seized me with all its force
And threw me back up from a fate much worse."

The king is taken by wonderment
And says: “The goblet is truly thine own
To grant thee this ring is now my intent.”
Adorned with the fairest jewels it shone.
“But now I would like you to dive once more
And bring more tidings from the ocean floor.”

His daughter listens with deep emotion
And then graciously makes her plea:
“Father, please, enough with your heartless vocation.
He has done what none would do for thee.
If your heart can’t find contentment,
Then to your brave knights you should lament."

The king seizes the goblet quickly,
Then throws it in the vortex.
“If you return me the goblet safely,
You shall be the knight that I choose next,
And will my beautiful daughter take as wife,
Who is graciously praying for your life.”

His soul is seized by Heaven's power:
His emboldened eyes shimmer;
And as he beholds that maiden's blushing figure,
He see's her fall all pale while the waters glimmer.
Longing for that priceless prize, he crashes
Into the sea as life and death before him flashes.

One hears the waves ebbing and flowing,
Pronounced in one thunderous crash—
Gazes search below with ardent staring:
All the waves return, all the waves splash;
Rushing on upwards, rushing on down,
In the waves the boy is never found.

Translation © David B. Gosselin

3. The Power of Song

A stream of rain from fissured mountains,
It comes with thunder’s vehemence,
A shattered peak pursues its fountains,
And oaks beneath it tumble hence;
Amazed, with dread anticipation,
The wanderer listens, and he harks,
He hears the roaring inundation,
Yet knows not, whence its rush embarks;
And so a wave of singing courses
From out of ne’er discovered sources.

In league with dreadful beings fabled,
That calmly weave life’s fateful strands,
Who has the singer’s spell disabled,
Who can his melodies withstand?
As if with Hermes’ staff supernal,
So he commands the heart bestirred,
He dips it in the realms infernal,
He lifts it, dazzling, heavenward
And rocks the scale, ‘twixt grave and merry
Where myriad emotions vary.

As if at once, into joy’s sphere, it’s
Gigantic stride comes instantly,
Mysteriously, like to spirits,
Intrudes a monstrous destiny.
Then bow the great ones of all nations
To the stranger from another world,
The din of idle jubilation
Is stilled, away the masks are hurled,
And ‘fore the Truth’s triumphal splendor
There flees each work that Lies engender.

Thus roused from all the empty rigors,
Whene’er the call of Song resounds,
A man becomes a soul transfigured,
And enters into holy grounds;
Unto the gods on high he’s suited,
Naught earthly draws into his pale,
And every other power is muted,
And no misfortune may assail,
Each wrinkle born of worry dwindles,
Where reigns the magic Song enkindles.

And just as after hopeless yearning,
The bitter pain of years apart,
A child with tears remorseful burning
Will fall upon his mother’s heart,
So back to childhood’s habitations,
To innocent felicity,
From foreign ways of distant nations
The singing leads the refugee,
Away from frigid rules he races
To faithful Nature’s warm embraces.

Translation © Daniel Platt

2. Die Bürgschaft (The Pledge)

Upon Dionysus the tyrant
Crept Damon, concealing his dagger;
Soon he found himself in the guard’s tether.
“Had my man been more hesitant
Where would that dagger have been sent?”
Asked the tyrant. “In the heart of the despot!”
Answered Damon. “Then on the cross you’ll rot.”

Damon said: “I am ready to die;
I need no forgiveness, but I make one plea:
Were you to grant me my due mercy
I would ask that you let three days go by
Until I witness my sister tie
The knot. I offer my friend as a pledge,
Were I to flee, you’ll have your revenge."

The king looked on with a wily stare,
But after a moment’s hesitation
Made a tyrant’s declamation:
"I’ll grant you three days, but beware:
After that time, if you are nowhere
Found, your friend will have already perished—
And you will be mercilessly punished."

Damon then looked to his friend: “The king
Has sentenced me to crucifixion
For his attempted assassination,
But he grants me three days for journeying
To attend my young sister’s wedding.
I ask only that you stay in my stead,
As a pledge, until I see her wed.”

He received him with a true friend’s embrace,
Willingly submitted himself to the king.
Then Damon fled, breathlessly running.
Before the sun revealed its glistening face
On that third day, he handed his chaste
Sister to her groom, then hurried home,
Ready to ascend that cloudy dome.

Rains came crashing from each mountain ridge,
The springs came rushing perilously,
The brooks and the streams flowed endlessly;
He arrived with his wanderer’s staff
As whirlpools stole off with the bridge;
The white torrents thrashed deep below,
The skies trembled and the gales blew.

Damon helplessly searched to and fro;
Frightened he ran about shouting—
Alas, his call was never answered.
No boatman dared tempt the torrent’s flow,
Guarding the lands where Damon must go;
The currents quickly rose like an ocean,
His hopes vanished into the horizon.

So he got down on his knees and prayed,
Imploring Zeus for divine mercy:
“Oh let this tempest end finally!
The Hours are rushing and today’s
Dusk marks the third of three days."
To mighty Zeus with outstretched arms,
He implored the Gods to end their storms.

But the force of the water renewed,
Dark wave upon wave was crashing,
Swift hour after hour was fleeting,
Yet little time meant he had to choose:
Fear propelled him, courage lifted him,
So he cut through the stream with the brawn
Of his arms—Jupiter gave mercy.

He vanquished the banks and escaped
The flood—he praised the grace of Zeus.
Just as soon a band of robbers ran loose
From the dark wood, like furious fates:
Impeding his path, as his friend awaits,
The furious robbers snarled with murder,
Threatening him with the clubs they harbored.

“What do you want?” he cried, full of fear,
My life is all I have to render,
Which I to the king must surrender!”
So he grabbed the club from the one most near:
“Death no longer fills me with fear”
He said, and slew three of the thieves
As the others took refuge by the trees.

High above in the skies, the sun smoldered,
Damon knees abandoned all effort:
He drooped to the ground like a rose in the desert.
“You showed such mercy before the robbers,
And you pulled me from rushing waters,
Only now, to let me perish here,
The while my friend is left in helpless fear?’’

Yet listen! There it shines, with a light that’s silvery:
Nearby, he hears sweet trickling whispers;
He listens to what sounds like soft murmurs.
Then see! From the crags, lively, quickly:
A crystal stream flowing swiftly.
He swiftly ran over and bent down
To the stream, washing his weary frown.

Soon the sunlight glared through the forest,
Spilling onto the verdant meadows,
Casting the dark wood’s shadows.
There he saw two hikers rushing past
Him, trekking through hills so fast,
Then heard them speak with exasperation:
“Now, he must receive crucifixion.”

Fear struck new life into his being,
Painful pangs endlessly spurned him on.
A crimson light appeared in the horizon
As the towers of Syracuse were shining;
Philostratus was now approaching,
The kingdom’s honest messenger,
But Damon beheld him with terror.

"Turn back! There is no chance to rescue
Your friend, save your life while you still can!
Then only one must take Death’s hand.
Know from hour to hour his faith was true,
His spirit teemed with pity and rue,
Never abandoning hope for your return,
Never tainting his faith with the tyrant’s scorn."

"Should it be too late, if I can no longer
Offer a saving hand to my friend,
Death shall unite us in the selfsame end,
But that bloodied tyrant will not boast
Of a friend breaking the vow he swore;
Let him slaughter the two of us
And witness something true and honest."

The sun began to set; there he stood
At the gate seeing a cross erected
And a crowd, stunned by a deed so wretched:
Lifted high, his friend was ready to be hung,
But still Damon ran with flailing hands
To the hangman: “Me! Hang me!” he shouts.
“Send me down to Pluto’s mournful house!”

The crowd was gripped with astonishment,
Seeing the friends embrace, despite the king’s ploy;
They watch them crying with pain and joy.
Not one person’s cheek was dry.
The miracle quickly made its way to the tyrant:
The stir of pity was born in his breast.
Soon both friends were brought before the King.

Dionysus looked on in disbelief,
And then he spoke: “congratulations
You have conquered my heart’s emotions—
Truthfulness is not some tale told by a thief.
Please, if you would grant my soul relief,
I would like to be admitted as a new royal
Friend—the third in your loyal circle.’’

Translation © David B. Gosselin

1. Die Kraniche des Ibykus (The Cranes of Ibycus)

The Cranes of Ibycus treats the story of the murder of the ancient Greek poet Ibycus of Samos. He was considered one of the canonical Nine great lyric poets of ancient Greece. Schiller wrote his poem in the year 1797, during his friendly ballad competition with Goethe. It is arguably Schiller's greatest poem.

In this epic ballad, we find a supreme example of Schiller’s genius as a universal poet. He presents the forces of fate, history and above them all, natural law, which must ultimately check those who believe themselves to be above the laws of the universe.

As a historian, Schiller studied the rise and fall of empires, and the folly of great wars. History demonstrated to him that processes such as empires were ultimately self-destructive and could not avoid sowing their own destruction. While in his ‘‘Bürgschaft’’ we saw an example of historical forces prevailing through the Goodness of man, without the intervention of natural law, in the ‘‘Cranes of Ibycus,’’ we see precisely this higher natural law intervening, as it has with all empires and the vast majority of their tyrants. Thus, Schiller presents the forces of history, fate, and natural law all as active principles in the affairs of man, be he aware or not.

Upon reading the poem, Wilhelm von Humboldt, the eminent philologist, classical Greek scholar, educational reformer, and founder of the University of Berlin, said the following:

There is a greatness and a sublimity [in the Cranes], which is again completely their own. Especially from the moment the theater is mentioned, the depiction is godly. The painting of the amphitheater and the congregation is lively, great and clear, already the names of the peoples transpose one to such happier times, that I know of scarcely anything more magnificent for the fantasy. And then the chorus of the Eumenides, as it appears in its frightful greatness, wanders around the theater, and finally disappears, horrible even then. Here the language is at once so uniquely yours, and so appropriate for the task, that I can not deny that I felt, in the chorus, something greater and something even higher than in the Greek of Aeschylus, as closely as you have followed him. Already this language, this verse-style, even the rhyme scheme make that which is otherwise unique to modern works unite with antiquity. The sublimity for fantasy and heart, which is so unique to Greek expression, achieves here, I believe, an increased greatness for the mind.

While The Chained Muse cannot yet offer an original translation of this epic ballad, we do plan on taking up the challenge in the reasonable future. In the meantime, we recommend readers take a look at the Schiller Institute's translation for a first approximation of this monumental work.

David Gosselin is a poet, translator, and linguist based in Montreal. He is the founder of The Chained Muse and New Lyre. His first collection of poems is entitled Modern Dreams.