The Gods of Greece by Heinerich Heine

December 14, 2019

 

 

Full-blossoming moon! Here in thy light
Like flowing gold the ocean gleams;
As limpid as day, yet dimly bewitched,
Reposing across the expanse of the strand;
And in the bright blue, starless heavens
Hover the clouds of white,
Like colossal god-tableaus
Of luminous marble.

 

No, nevermore, those are not clouds!
Those are the very same gods of Hellas,
That once commanded the world with such joy,
Yet now, displaced and deceased,
As tremendous ghosts they go riding
Out on the midnight heavens.

Marveling, strangely bedazzled, I gaze on
The aerial pantheon,
The solemnly mute, atrociously moving
Colossal figures.


That one is Kronos' son, the king of heaven,
Snow white are the locks on his head,
Fabled, Olympus-shaking locks.
He holds in his hand now the lightning, extinct,
There on his visage lies hard luck and grief,
And yet there's always the same old pride.
Those were the old, better days, O Zeus,
When thou hast sported celestially
With lads and with nymphs and with hecatombs;
Yet the gods, too, do not govern forever,
The youngsters supplant all the old ones,
As thou thyself hast thy gray-haired father
And then thy Titan-uncles supplanted,
Jupiter Parricida!
I recognize thee, haughty Juno!
Despite all thy jealousy-ridden fears,
Yet has another one taken the scepter,
And thou art no more the queen of the heavens,
And thy mighty eye is grown stiff,
And now thy lily white arms are enfeebled,
And nevermore shall thy rage strike at
The god-impregnated virgin
And the miraculous son of a god.
Also I know thee, Pallas Athene!
With shield and wisdom, wert thou not able
To fend off the godly perdition?
I recognize thee as well, Aphrodite,
Once the golden one! Now the silver one!
Yes, it adorns thee, the allure of love's girdle,
Yet I must shudder before thy beauty,
And thy gracious form, though it ought to delight me,
Like all other heroes, I'd perish from fear,
As goddess-cadaver appear'st thou to me,
Venus Libitina!
No more with love doth he gaze at thee,
There, the terrible Aries.
He looks so doleful, Phoebus Apollo,
The youngling. Now still is his lyre,
That so gladly rang out at the gods' repast,
And sadder still looks Hephaestus,
And truly, the limping one! Nevermore
Falls Hebe's office to him,
To busily pour, amongst the assemblage,
The marvelous nectar -- and long is extinguished
The old unquenchable laughter of deities.

 

I've never loved you at all, ye gods!
For so distasteful are Greeks to me,
Also the Romans, I hate them too.
Yet sacred pity and fright'ning compassion
Stream through my heart,
When now I see you there high above us,
Abandoned gods,
Dead, night-wandering shadows,
Flimsy as mist by the wind affrighted --
And when I consider how windy and craven
The deities are, that conquered you,
The new, commanding, dreary gods,
Who gloat in the sheep's pelt of humbleness --
O, then grips me a gloomy ill will,
And I would break down the modern temples
And battle for you, ye ancient gods,
For you and your good, ambrosian law,
And before your exalted altars,
Restored as they were once, and reeking with sacrifice,
I'd like myself to kneel and pray,
And lift up my arms then, imploring.

 

For after all, ye gods of old,
Though once ye had, in the battles of humans,
Taken the side of victorious parties,
Humans are generous, more so than ye,
And in godly battles I'll take the side
Of the party of vanquished gods.

 

Thus spake I, and visibly reddened
Yonder the pallid cloud formations.
And gazed upon me like dying ones,
Pain-transfigured, and suddenly vanished.
The moon concealed itself
Under the clouds, that dark'ning drew closer;
Loudly murmured the sea,
And conquering, emerged upon the heavens
The stars everlasting.

 

 

Posted by permission of the translator ~ © 2005

 

Visit the Davidsbuendler website and its great selection of original classical translations.

 

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