Littell's Living Age/Volume 154/Issue 1986/"Für die Mouche"

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Littell's Living Age
by Heinrich Heine
translated by Emily Pfeiffer

Volume 154, Issue 1986 : "Für die Mouche"
Originally published in Academy.


(Heine's last poem, written week or two before his death.)

I dreamt a dream upon a summer night,
     Where pale, dissolving in the moon's cold glance,
Lay works of ancient beauty and of might,
     Old ruins from the time of Renaissance.

And here and there in that encumbered place
     Rose some hold Doric column all alone,
And looked the frowning firmament in face,
     As if it could defy the thunderstone.

Prone on the earth lay shattered all about
     Doors, gables, roofs, with sculptures from an æra
When man and beast were mingled in a rout
     Of centaurs, sphinxes, satyrs, and chimæra.

And in an open tomb of marble, fair,
     Whole 'mid the ruin and the carven creatures,
Wrapped in his shroud, but to the night-winds bare,
     A dead man lay, with pale, long-suffering features.

Strong caryatides, with throats upreared,
     Held him aloft as if with might and main
And on the coffer's either side appeared
     In low relief, a wild and motley train.

Here, glorious from Olympus, came the band
     Of heathen gods, all flushed with lawless passion
But Adam and his Eve are close at hand
     In modest aprons of the fig-leaf fashion.

Paris and Helen, Hector too, are here,
     Troy's fall and fire what next we may discern is;
Moses and Aaron also hover near,
     With Esther, Judith, Haman, Holofernes.

Here likewise is the god of Love to see,
     Phoebus Apollo, Vulcan, lady Venus,
Pluto and Proserpine, and Mercury,
     God Bacchus, and Priapus, and Silenus.

Here Balaam and his ass wait further on, —
     The likeness of the ass is really speaking;
And Abraham about to slay his son;
     And Lot for whom his daughters twain are seeking.

Here before Herod sways the nimble child
     Of her to whom the Baptist's head was given;
Here Hell broke loose, and Satan here beguiled;
     Here Peter showed and shook the keys of Heaven.

And further change there was to ponder on,
     When wanton Jove, bent at all costs to win his
Lascivious will, chased Leda as a swan,
     And Danae in a shower of golden guineas.

Here Dian heads herself the eager press
     Of kirtled nymphs, and deep-mouthed hounds intoning
And here sits Hercules in woman's dress.
     The distaff in his hand, the spindle droning.

Here Sanäi his cloudy front uprears,
     There at its foot is Israel with his ox;
And in the Temple here the Lord appears, —
     A child disputing with the orthodox.

The contrasts side by side are sharply set:
     The Greek light-heartedness, the stern God-fearing
Spirit of Judah and the woven net
     Of ivy-tendrils over all careering.

Then, wonderful! The while, as I have said,
     These carven fancies in my dream went by,
Sudden it seemed to come into my head,
     The dead man in the marble tomb was I.

And bending down towards my resting-place
     There stood a flower, — a flower of such strange fashion, —
A flower that had so wild a charm and grace,
     That people call it flower of the Passion.

Purple and sulphur-pale, from out the sod
     Of Calvary, they say this blossom burst
When men had crucified the Son of God,
     And shed His blood to heal the world accurst.

Blood-witness it is named, and you will find
     That every several instrument of malice,
All tools of martyrdom of various kind,
     It carries counterfeited in its chalice.

Each requisite of pain the flower adorns;
     From out its torture-chamber nothing fails
The spittle and the cords, the crown of thorns,
     The cross, the cup, the hammer, and the nails.

And at my grave there stood a flower like this,
     And bent above my corpse so still and cold,
With woman's sorrow, and with woman's kiss,
     Prest hands, brow, cheek, and wept on unconsoled.

Then, sorcery of dreams! this flower of mine —
     This blossom from the heart of passion blown,
Had changed into a woman's likeness, thine,
     Yes thine, my best and dearest, thine, thine own.

Thou wert that flower; yes thou, beloved child, —
     That from thy woman's kisses I was learning, —
No flower had ever lips so soft, so mild,
     And never, never flower had tears so burning!

Closed were mine eyes, and yet with inward gaze
     My soul beheld thee standing still before me,
Ghost-like, illumined with the moon's pale rays,
     A beatific vision bending o'er me.

We did not speak; but ah! I could perceive
     The inmost secret of your spirit clearly;
The spoken word is shameless, may deceive,
     Love's pure unopened flower is silence merely.

Voiceless communing! who could ever deem,
     In tender converse which no ear might hear,
That time could fly as in my happy dream
     That summer night so full of joy and fear?

What we then said, oh ask it of me never!
     Ask of the glow-worm what it says in shining;
Ask what the wavelet whispers to the river;
     Question the west wind of its soft repining.

Ask the carbuncle of its fiery gleam;
     Ask what coy sweets the violet is betraying;
But ask not what beneath the moon's sad beam
     The martyr-flower and her dead are saying!

I have no thought how long I may have known
     The calm refreshment of that marble chest
And happy dream. But oh, the dream was flown,
     And flown the all unwonted boon of rest!

Oh, Death and Silence! bring my soul release,
     Thou, only thou, canst give voluptuous bliss;
The storm of passion, joy that knows no peace,
     When life would give its best, it offers this.

But woe is me! for sudden from without
     Loud cries broke in upon my still delight;
I heard a scolding, stamping, noisy rout,
     And, ah! my flower was trembling in affright.

Yes, just outside my tomb there rose and fell,
     Disputing, swearing, yelping, idly jangling,
Loud voices, some among them known too well, —
     The bas-reliefs upon my tomb were wrangling.

Must lies still haunt the very stones, and can
     These marble shadows fight for outworn gloses?
The startled shriek of the wild wood-god Pan,
     Contending with anathemas of Moses!

Ay, this same battle rages evermore,
     War 'twixt the True and Beautiful has been
And will be, and mankind as heretofore
     Ranged in two camps — Barbarian and Hellene

They shouted, raved, swore, — all the rest of it,
     There was no end of tedious controversy;
But Balaam's ass had still the best of it,
     And brayed down gods and saints, and knew no mercy.

And at this vile eh-aw, which never ceased, —
     This odious discord, truculent, defying,
In desperation at the stupid beast
     I too cried out, and — woke myself with crying.