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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Germany: Vols. XVII–XVIII. 1876–79.


The Field of Kunersdorf

By Christoph August Tiedge (1752–1841)

Translated by J. C. Mangan

DAY is exiled from the Land of Twilight;

Leaf and flower are drooping in the wood,

And the stars, as in a dark-stained skylight,

Glass their ancient glory in the flood.

Let me here—where night-winds through the yew sing,

Where the moon is chary of her beams—

Consecrate an hour to mournful musing

Over man and man’s delirious dreams.

Pines and yews! envelop me in deeper,

Dunner shadow, sombre as the grave;

While with moans, as of a troubled sleeper,

Gloomily above my head ye wave.

Let mine eye look down from hence on yonder

Battle-plain, which night in pity dulls;

Let my sad imagination ponder

Over Kunersdorf, that place of skulls!

Dost thou reillume these wastes, O Summer?

Hast thou raised anew thy trampled bowers?

Will the wild bee come again a hummer

Here, within the houses of thy flowers?

Can thy sunbeams light, thy wild rains water,

This Aceldama, this human soil,

Since that dark day of redundant slaughter,

When the blood of men flowed here like oil?

Ah, yes! Nature, and thou, God of Nature,

Ye are ever bounteous! man alone,—

Man it is whose frenzies desolate your

World, and make it in sad truth his own.

Here saw Frederick fall his bravest warriors;

Master of thy world, thou wert too great!

Heaven had need to ’stablish curbing-barriers

’Gainst thine inroads on the world of fate.

O, could all thy coronals of splendor

Dupe thy memory of that ghastly day!

Could the Graces, could the Muses, render

Smooth and bright a corse-o’ercovered way!

No! the accusing blood-beads ever trickle

Down each red leaf of thy chaplet-crown:

Men fell here as corn before the sickle,—

Fell to aggrandize thy false renown!

Here the veteran dropped beside the springald,

Here sank strength, and symmetry in line,

Here crushed hope and gasping valor mingled;

And, destroyer, the wild work was thine!

Whence is then this destiny funereal?

What this tide of being’s flow and ebb?

Why rends death at will the fine material

Of existence’s divinest web?

Vainly ask me! Dim age calls to dim age!

Answer, save an echo, cometh none:

Here stands man, of life in death an image,

There, invisibly, the Living One!

Storm-clouds lower and muster in the distance;

Girt with wrecks by sea and wrecks by land,

Time, upon the far shore of existence,

Counts each wave-drop swallowed by the sand.

Generation chases generation,

Down-bowed by the all-worn, unworn yoke:

No cessation, and no explication,—

Birth, life, death!—the silence, flash, and smoke!

Here, then, Frederick, formidable sovereign!

Here, in presence of these whitened bones,

Live as at length to cherish peace, and govern

So that men may learn to reverence thrones!

O, repudiate blood-bought fame, and hearken

To the myriad witness-voiced dead,

Ere the sternness shall lay down, to darken,

In the silentness, thy crownless head!

Shudder at the dire phantasmagory

Of the slain who perished here through thee;

And abhor all future wreaths of glory

Gathered from the baleful cypress-tree!

Lofty souls disdain or dread the laurel;

Hero is a mad exchange for man;

Adders lurk in green spots: such the moral

Taught by history since her schools began.

Cæsar slain, the victim of his trophies,

Bajazet expiring in his cage,

All the Cæsars, all the Sabre-Sophies,

Preach the selfsame homily each age.

One drugged wine-cup dealt with Alexander;

And his satraps scarce had shared afresh

Half the empires of the world-commander,

Ere the charnel-worms had shared his flesh!

Though the rill roll down from life’s green mountain

Bright through festal dells of youthful days,

Soon the water of that glancing fountain

In the vale of years must moult its rays.

There the pilgrim on the bridge that, bounding

Life’s domain, frontiers the wold of death,

Startled for the first time, hears resounding,

From eternity, a voice that saith,—

“All which is not pure shall melt and wither.

Lo! the desolator’s arm is bare,

And where man is, truth shall trace him thither,

Be he curtained round with gloom or glare.”