God (Derzhavin)

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God  (1784) 
by Gavrila Romanovich Derzhavin, translated by John Bowring

O thou eternal One! whose presence bright
All space doth occupy, all motion guide.
Unchanged through time’s all-devastating flight!
Thou only God—there is no God beside!
Being above all beings! Mighty One,
Whom none can comprehend and none explore!
Who fill’st existence with Thyself alone—
Embracing all, supporting, ruling o’er,
Being whom we call God, and know no more!

In its sublime research, philosophy
May measure out the ocean-deep—may count
The sands or the sun’s rays—but, God! for Thee
There is no weight nor measure; none can mount
Up to Thy mysteries; Reason’s brightest spark,
Though kindled by Thy light, in vain would try
To trace Thy counsels, infinite and dark;
And thought is lost ere thought can soar so high,
Even like past moments in eternity.

Thou from primeval nothingness didst call
First chaos, then existence—Lord! in Thee
Eternity had its foundation; all
Sprung forth from Thee—of light, joy, harmony,
Sole Origin—all life, all beauty Thine;
Thy word created all, and doth create;
Thy splendor fills all space with rays divine;
Thou art, and wert, and shall be! Glorious! Great!
Light-giving, life-sustaining potentate!

Thy chains the unmeasured universe surround—
Upheld by Thee, by Thee inspired with breath!
Thou the beginning with the end hast bound,
And beautifully mingled life and death!
As sparks mount upwards from the fiery blaze;
So suns are born, so worlds spring forth from Thee;
And as the spangles in the sunny rays
Shine round the silver snow, the pageantry
Of heaven’s bright army glitters in Thy praise.

A million torches lighted by Thy hand
Wander unwearied through the blue abyss—
They own Thy power, accomplish Thy command,
All gay with life, all eloquent with bliss.
What shall we call them? Piles of crystal light—
A glorious company of golden streams—
Lamps of celestial ether burning bright—
Suns lighting systems with their joyous beams?
But Thou to these art as the noon to night.

Yes! as a drop of water in the sea,
All this magnificence in Thee is lost:—
What are ten thousand worlds compared to Thee?
And what am I then?—Heaven’s unnumbered host,
Though multiplied by myriads, and arrayed
In all the glory of sublimest thought,
Is but an atom in the balance, weighed
Against Thy greatness—is a cipher brought
Against infinity! What am I then? Naught!

Naught! But the effluence of Thy light divine,
Pervading worlds, hath reached my bosom too;
Yes! in my spirit doth Thy spirit shine,
As shines the sunbeam in a drop of dew.
Naught! but I live, and on hope’s pinions fly
Eager towards Thy presence—for in Thee
I live, and breathe, and dwell, aspiring high,
Even to the throne of Thy divinity;
I am, O God! and surely Thou must be!

Thou art!—directing, guiding all—Thou art!
Direct my understanding then to Thee;
Control my spirit, guide my wandering heart;
Though but an atom midst immensity,
Still I am something fashioned by Thy hand!
I hold a middle rank ‘twixt heaven and earth—
On the last verge of mortal being stand,
Close to the realms where angels have their birth,
Just on the boundaries of the spirit land!

The chain of being is complete in me—
In me is matter’s last gradation lost,
And the next step is spirit—Deity!
I can command the lightning and am dust!
A monarch and a slave—a worm, a god!
Whence came I here, and how? so marvellously
Constructed and conceived? unknown! this clod
Lives surely through some higher energy;
For from itself alone it could not be!

Creator, yes! Thy wisdom and Thy word
Created me! Thou source of life and good!
Thou spirit of my spirit, and my Lord!
Thy light, Thy love, in their bright plenitude
Filled me with an immortal soul, to spring
Over the abyss of death; and bade it wear
The garments of eternal day, and wing
Its heavenly flight beyond this little sphere,
Even to its source, to Thee, its author there.

Oh thoughts ineffable! oh visions blest!
Though worthless our conceptions all of Thee.
Yet shall Thy shadowed image fill our breast,
And waft its homage to Thy deity.
God! thus alone my lowly thoughts can soar,
Thus seek Thy presence—Being wise and good!
Midst Thy vast works admire, obey, adore;
And when the tongue is eloquent no more,
The soul shall speak in tears of gratitude.

This work was published before January 1, 1928, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.

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