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A poem by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Roman Elegies

Title:     Roman Elegies
Author: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe [More Titles by Goethe]

[The Roman Elegies were written in the same year as the Venetian Epigrams--viz. 1790.]

SPEAK, ye stones, I entreat! Oh speak, ye palaces lofty!

Utter a word, oh ye streets! Wilt thou not, Genius, awake?
All that thy sacred walls, eternal Rome, hold within them

Teemeth with life; but to me, all is still silent and dead.
Oh, who will whisper unto me,--when shall I see at the casement

That one beauteous form, which, while it scorcheth, revives?
Can I as yet not discern the road, on which I for ever

To her and from her shall go, heeding not time as it flies?
Still do I mark the churches, palaces, ruins, and columns,

As a wise traveller should, would he his journey improve.
Soon all this will be past; and then will there be but one temple,

Amor's temple alone, where the Initiate may go.
Thou art indeed a world, oh Rome; and yet, were Love absent,

Then would the world be no world, then would e'en Rome be no Rome.
Do not repent, mine own love, that thou so soon didst surrender

Trust me, I deem thee not bold! reverence only I feel.
Manifold workings the darts of Amor possess; some but scratching,

Yet with insidious effect, poison the bosom for years.
Others mightily feather'd, with fresh and newly-born sharpness

Pierce to the innermost bone, kindle the blood into flame.
In the heroical times, when loved each god and each goddess,

Longing attended on sight; then with fruition was bless'd.
Think'st thou the goddess had long been thinking of love and its pleasures

When she, in Ida's retreats, own'd to Anchises her flame?
Had but Luna delayd to kiss the beautiful sleeper,

Oh, by Aurora, ere long, he had in envy been rous'd!
Hero Leander espied at the noisy feast, and the lover

Hotly and nimbly, ere long, plunged in the night-cover'd flood.
Rhea Silvia, virgin princess, roam'd near the Tiber,

Seeking there water to draw, when by the god she was seiz'd.
Thus were the sons of Mars begotten! The twins did a she-wolf

Suckle and nurture,--and Rome call'd herself queen of the world,
ALEXANDER, and Caesar, and Henry, and Fred'rick, the mighty,

On me would gladly bestow half of the glory they earn'd,
Could I but grant unto each one night on the couch where I'm lying;

But they, by Orcus's night, sternly, alas! are held down.
Therefore rejoice, oh thou living one, blest in thy love-lighted homestead,

Ere the dark Lethe's sad wave wetteth thy fugitive foot.
THESE few leaves, oh ye Graces, a bard presents, in your honour,

On your altar so pure, adding sweet rosebuds as well,
And he does it with hope. The artist is glad in his workshop,

When a Pantheon it seems round him for ever to bring.
Jupiter knits his godlike brow,--her's, Juno up-lifteth;

Phoebus strides on before, shaking his curly-lock'd head
Calmly and drily Minerva looks down, and Hermes the light one,

Turneth his glances aside, roguish and tender at once.
But tow'rds Bacchus, the yielding, the dreaming, raiseth Cythere

Looks both longing and sweet, e'en in the marble yet moist.
Of his embraces she thinks with delight, and seems to be asking

"Should not our glorious son take up his place by our side?"
AMOR is ever a rogue, and all who believe him are cheated!

To me the hypocrite came: "Trust me, I pray thee, this once.
Honest is now my intent,--with grateful thanks I acknowledge

That thou thy life and thy works hast to my worship ordain'd.
See, I have follow'd thee thither, to Rome, with kindly intention,

Hoping to give thee mine aid, e'en in the foreigner's land.
Every trav'ller complains that the quarters he meets with are wretched

Happily lodged, though, is he, who is by Amor receiv'd.
Thou dost observe the ruins of ancient buildings with wonder,

Thoughtfully wandering on, over each time-hallow'd spot.
Thou dost honour still more the worthy relics created

By the few artists--whom I loved in their studios to seek.
I 'twas fashion'd those forms! thy pardon,--I boast not at present;

Presently thou shalt confess, that what I tell thee is true.
Now that thou serv'st me more idly, where are the beauteous figures,

Where are the colours, the light, which thy creations once fill'd?
Hast thou a mind again to form? The school of the Grecians

Still remains open, my friend; years have not barr'd up its doors.
I, the teacher, am ever young, and love all the youthful,

Love not the subtle and old; Mother, observe what I say!
Still was new the Antique, when yonder blest ones were living;

Happily live,--and, in thee, ages long vanish'd will live!
Food for song, where hop'st thou to find it? I only can give it,

And a more excellent style, love, and love only can teach."
Thus did the Sophist discourse. What mortal, alas! could resist him?

And when a master commands, I have been train'd to obey.
Now he deceitfully keeps his word, gives food for my numbers,

But, while he does so, alas! robs me of time, strength, and mind.
Looks, and pressure of hands, and words of kindness, and kisses,

Syllables teeming with thought, by a fond pair are exchang'd.
Then becomes whispering, talk,--and stamm'ring, a language enchanting;

Free from all prosody's rules, dies such a hymn on the ear.
Thee, Aurora, I used to own as the friend of the Muses;

Hath, then, Amor the rogue cheated, Aurora, e'en thee?
Thou dost appear to me now as his friend, and again dost awake me

Unto a day of delight, while at his altar I kneel.
All her locks I find on my bosom, her head is reposing,

Pressing with softness the arm, which round her neck is entwin'd;
Oh! what a joyous awak'ning, ye hours so peaceful, succeeded,

Monument sweet of the bliss which had first rock'd us to sleep
In her slumber she moves, and sinks, while her face is averted,

Far on the breadth of the couch, leaving her hand still in mine
Heartfelt love unites us for ever, and yearnings unsullied,

And our cravings alone claim for themselves the exchange.
One faint touch of the hand, and her eyes so heavenly see I

Once more open. Ah, no! let me still look on that form!
Closed still remain! Ye make me confused and drunken, ye rob me

Far too soon of the bliss pure contemplation affords.
Mighty, indeed, are these figures! these limbs, how gracefully rounded!

Theseus, could'st thou e'er fly, whilst Ariadne thus slept?
Only one single kiss on these lips! Oh, Theseus, now leave us!

Gaze on her eyes! she awakes--Firmly she holds thee embrac'd

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's poem: Roman Elegies