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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882). Complete Poetical Works. 1893.


II. Unacknowledged and Uncollected Translations. Elegy written in the Ruins of an Old Castle

By Friedrich von Matthisson

SILENT, in the veil of evening twilight,

Rests the plain; the woodland song is still,

Save that here, amid these mouldering ruins,

Chirps a cricket, mournfully and shrill.

Silence sinks from skies without a shadow,

Slowly wind the herds from field and meadow,

And the weary hind to the repose

Of his father’s lowly cottage goes.

Here, upon this hill, by forests bounded,

’Mid the ruins of departed days,

By the awful shapes of Eld surrounded,

Sadness! unto thee my song I raise!

Sadly think I what in gray old ages

Were these wrecks of lordly heritages:

A majestic castle, like a crown,

Placed upon the mountain’s brow of stone.

There, where round the column’s gloomy ruins,

Sadly whispering, clings the ivy green,

And the evening twilight’s mournful shimmer

Blinks the empty window-space between,

Blessed, perhaps, a father’s tearful eye

Once the noblest son of Germany;

One whose heart, with high ambition rife,

Warmly swelled to meet the coming strife.

“Go in peace!” thus spake the hoary warrior,

As he girded on his sword of fame;

“Come not back again, or come as victor:

Oh, be worthy of thy father’s name!”

And the noble youth’s bright eyes were throwing

Deadly flashes forth; his cheeks were glowing,

As with full-blown branches the red rose

In the purple light of morning glows.

Then, a cloud of thunder, flew the champion,

Even as Richard Lion-Heart, to fight;

Like a wood of pines in storm and tempest,

Bowed before his path the hostile might.

Gently, as a brook through flowers descendeth.

Homeward to the castle-crag he wendeth,—

To his father’s glad, yet tearful face,—

To the modest maiden’s chaste embrace.

Oh, with anxious longing, looks the fair one

From her turret down the valley drear!

Shield and breastplate glow in gold of evening,

Steeds fly forward, the beloved draws near!

Him the faithful right-hand mute extending,

Stands she, pallid looks with blushes blending.

Oh, but what that soft, soft eye doth say,

Sings not Petrarch’s, nor e’en Sappho’s lay!

Merrily echoed there the sound of goblets,

Where the rank grass, waving in the gale,

O’er the nests of owls is blackly spreading,

Till the silver glance of stars grew pale.

Tales of hard-won battle fought afar,

Wild adventures in the Holy War,

Wakened in the breast of hardy knight

The remembrance of his fierce delight.

Oh, what changes! Awe and night o’ershadow

Now the scene of all that proud array;

Winds of evening, full of sadness, whisper,

Where the strong ones revelled and were gay;

Thistles lonely nod, in places seated

Where for shield and spear the boy entreated,

When aloud the war-horn’s summons rang,

And to horse in speed the father sprang.

Ashes are the bones of these,—the mighty!

Deep they lie within earth’s gloomy breast;

Hardly the half-sunken funeral tablets

Now point out the places where they rest!

Many to the winds were long since scattered,—

Like their tombs, their memories sunk and shattered

O’er the brilliant deeds of ages gone

Sweep the cloud-folds of Oblivion!

Thus depart life’s pageantry and glory!

Thus flit by the visions of vain might!

Thus sinks, in the rapid lapse of ages,

All that earth doth bear, to empty night!

Laurels, that the victor’s brow encircle,

High deeds, that in brass and marble sparkle,

Urns devoted unto Memory,

And the songs of Immortality!

All, all, that with longing and with rapture

Here on earth a noble heart doth warm,

Vanishes like sunshine in the autumn,

When the horizon’s verge is veiled in storm.

Friends at evening part with warm embraces,—

Morning looks upon the death-pale faces;

Even the joys that Love and Friendship find

Leave on earth no lasting trace behind.

Gentle Love! how all thy fields of roses

Bounded close by thorny deserts lie!

And a sudden tempest’s awful shadow

Oft doth darken Friendship’s brightest sky!

Vain are titles, honor, might, and glory!

On the monarch’s temples proud and hoary,

And the way-worn pilgrim’s trembling head,

Doth the grave one common darkness spread!