Monday 17 February 2014

A poem by the Danish writer Johannes Ewald

When I was ill
Beatus ille, qui procul negotiis – Horace:

Happy the man, who far from life’s allure
Is not too rich – and likewise not too poor
Whose soul untroubled then can contemplate,
The being too that it should emulate!
Should fools’ acclaim and glory’s empty shell –
Should heaps of gleaming metal and their spell –
Should golden chains – a slave that has been crowned –
The world – as dear as our own soul be found?
Why did your once strong soul sink helplessly,
You first of men – deep – to inconstancy?
Why did you quail at the Almighty’s hand?
Distraction your wise spirit not withstand?
For all distraction marks the soul’s demise,
At anger’s voice all thoughts are scattered wide
In great confusion they now reel about
Midst things both good and bad weave in and out,
Soul hold to blessedness! – ’tis yours today!
By dust you are from heaven called away!
Chimera swallows all the dust you saw!
Your own thoughts you do not know any more!
Ah! – when devotion – when my prayers are warm,
When I uplifted – high – on mercy’s arm,
Spread God abroad – and feel divinely blessed,
Why does Dorine then come to my breast?
And when I found pure love in its full flush
The fire at which no wise man e’er would blush,
Why does a thought of Homer then wrench free
My soul from that fair Helen whom I see?
Ah! were our thoughts but constant, good and wise
Our soul would find – and stay in paradise!
For blessedness reflection can espy
It feels it but is not attached thereby.
Oh child of Adam! – oh unhappy one!
Why do you seek distraction you should shun?
Why are you faint? – Behold the maelstrom – quake!
Think now! – is not your precious self at stake?
Happy the man who’s not by clink so gay
Of brimful glass – nor by the sirens’ lay
Nor the enslaving voice of gold – nor clash
Of murd’rous steel, nor by some herald brash
Nor false friends’ mocking tones – nor wretches’ tears
The tedium of bores – fools’ counsel’s snares
Nor by foes’ mighty roar – or weak men’s cries,
Deprived of God – joy – sense – himself likewise!
Welcome you poison raging in my breast!
Welcome all pain that has my joy suppressed!
And lack – you who it was took my last friend,
Welcome! – since you gave me myself again.
As my Creator only can know pure delight,
And without others’ help be happy quite,
I will then honour him – my self stay nigh,
Forget all fame – and gold – each roar – and cry!

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