ON LOOKING AT SCHILLER’S SKULL
by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch
Here in this charnel-house full of bleaching bones,
I see the skulls arranged in strange ordered rows.
Who knows whose owners might have beheaded peers,
packed tightly here
despite once repellent hate?
Here weaponless, they stand, in this gentled state.
These arms and hands, they once were so delicate!
they moved! Ah me!
What athletes once paced about on these padded feet?
Still there’s no hope of rest for you, lost souls!
Deprived of graves,
forced here like slaves
to occupy this overworld, unlamented ghouls!
Now who’s to know who loved one orb here detained?
Except for me;
reader, hear my plea:
I know the grandeur of the mind it contained!
Yes, and I know the impulse true love would stir
here, where I stand
in this alien land
surrounded by these husks, like a treasurer!
Even in this cold,
in this dust and mould
I am startled by an a strange, ancient reverie, …
as if this shrine to death could quicken me!
One shape out of the past keeps calling me
with its mystery!
Still retaining its former angelic grace!
And at that ecstatic sight, I am back at sea ...
Swept by that current to where immortals race.
O secret vessel, you
gave Life its truth.
It falls on me now to recall your expressive face.
I turn away, abashed here by what I see:
this mould was worth
more than all the earth.
Let me breathe fresh air and let my wild thoughts run free!
What is there better in this dark Life than he
who gives us a sense of man’s divinity,
of his place in the universe?
A man who’s both flesh and spirit—living verse!
Keywords/Tags: Goethe, Schiller, skull, bones, charnel, house, grave, souls, ghosts, spirit, flesh, death, shrine, divinity, universe