The Veiled Image at Sais by Friedrich Schiller
Struck by a burning thirst for knowledge, a youth
Travelled to Egyptian lands—to Sais—
To breach the secret knowledge of its priests;
He eagerly made all the needed grades,
But still, relentlessly, kept climbing higher—
The hierophant could barely tame the boy.
“What good is one small part without the whole?”
Exclaimed the eager youth, without a pause.
“For, can the truth be really more or less?
The way you speak of truth is as if it
Were but just some mere earthly sum,
As if a question of just more or less.
Surely, it’s something whole and without parts;
The truth is pure and indivisible!
Remove one note and harmony dissolves,
Remove one color and the rainbow fades,
And nothing will remain, so long as that
One color, or one note, remains still absent.”
While the priest and the boy conversed,
They stood amid the precincts of a temple
Where a colossal statue stood, silent and veiled.
It captured the excited boy’s attention,
And so he turned towards the wise old priest
And asked, “What lies hidden beneath that veil?”
“Truth,” answered the priest. “What!” said the boy,
“The truth alone is all I care about,
And you would think of hiding it from me?”
“Only the Godhead can answer to that,”
Said the Egyptian priest. “And let no man
Reach for that veil,” he said, “Until I do;
For, he who with an impure hand removes
That mystic veil and sacred covering,
‘He’ said the Godhead, will behold the truth.”
“How strange! And have you never tried to lift
The veil yourself, you who worship the truth?”
“I never have, I never felt the need.”
“Could it be that only a thin veil stands
Beneath me and the truth of things?” he asked.
“And a divine decree,” rejoined the priest,
“The weight is heavier than you might think;
Though it may seem light to the hand—heavy—
So heavy can it weigh upon the conscience.”
Lost in his thoughts, the youth made his way home,
But he now burned with a desire to know.
Restless, sleepless, tossing around in bed,
He rolled for hours, until at last the clock
Struck midnight and he rose, and quietly
Made his way, drawn by a powerful impulse.
He climbed the walls, then after one more spring,
He found himself beneath the sacred dome.
Behold! The child in utter solitude,
Stood amid nothing but the deathly silence,
A silence broken only by the echo
Of every step he took across the vault.
And through the aperture of the high dome,
The moon rained down her pale and silvery beams,
Just on the place where shining in the light,
The statue stood, concealed by its long veil.
The boy began to walk towards the form:
Hesitant, he moved his impious hand
Towards the statue, and then suddenly,
A chill ran down his spine and a cold hand
Repulsed the boy, “What do you want,” echoed
A voice within his shaken breast.
Would you dare profane the Holiest One?
‘”It’s true, declared the oracle, none dare
Venture to raise the veil until I do.’
Did he not say the truth as well would rise?
Whatever it may be, I’ll raise the veil.”
And then he said, “I will behold the truth!”
His own words echoed back in mocking tone.
And with that word he cast the veil away.
What form were his eyes met with then,
I do not know, but when the day returned,
The priests found him unconscious and so pale—
Lying before the pedestal of Isis.
He never shared what he had seen that night,
From that day on his happiness had fled;
Deep sorrow brought him to an early grave.
When pressed by questioners, he only said,
“Woe unto him, who comes to truth through guilt:
Delight will forever be lost to him.”
Translation © David B. Gosselin