Squatting on wooden benches, within a tavern bare,
Where daylight's rays but dimly through dirty windows show,
Before a long, stained table, their faces drawn with care,
Wearied out by wandering and doubting's black despair,
These are the wretched sons of poverty and woe.
"Ah friends," said one, "you think man is a light that glows
Upon this earth of sorrowing and misery?
Why, not a spark is there in him that candid shows;
His lamp is dark as is this globe on which he grows,
And over which the lord omnipotent is he.
Tell me then what justice means... The powerful secure
Behind their wealth, within their circling laws conspire
To mass still greater wealth against the needy poor,
Against ourselves, that we shall all the toil endure
Bowed down and bent in labour's yoke our lives entire.
Some pass their time in ceaseless revelry and play;
The hours smile for them, and amber wine they drink;
The winter months in gardens do they wile away,
Coolness of alpine snows the summer fires allay;
They turn the morn to eve, and from the sun's eye shrink.
Virtue for them does not exist, but they will preach
Sacrificing, love and diligence to us.
The heavy car of state must rumble on, and each
Of you must pour his blood into the battle's breach,
That of your endless pain they may grow prosperous.
Countless, mighty hosts, and navies on the sea,
Splendid golden crowns on noble foreheads worn,
Riches from near and far, in thoughtless quantity,
These hold the rich aloft in high sublimely;
While on our aching backs are all the burdens born.
Religion-but a tale, astutely spread abroad
To rivet on your shoulders the heavy harnessed load,
For, had you lost all hope of heavenly reward
After a life on earth with pain and hardship scored,
Would you go on working as an ox beneath the goad?
With what strange phantom shadows are your illusions fed
That make you set your faith in heaven's promised store?
No, when your life is passed, all hope of joy is sped,
And he who dies in misery, in misery is dead;
For those who pass the grave come back again no more.
In lies and windy phrases their state and safety stands,
Their holy law and order is but an empty creed,
To keep their stolen wealth safe from your needy hands,
They arm you to destroy your like on foreign lands,
And you against yourselves triumphantly they lead.
Why should you be slaves of their immoral gold,
You who scarcely live for all your endless toil?
Why should disease and death you in their arms enfold,
While they in plenitude and boundless wealth grow old
Even as though they hoped to cheat death of its spoil?
How do you forget the power that numbers mean?
You could take back today your rights they will not give.
Build no more these walls with which their wealth they screen,
Or which for prisons serve when pressed by torments keen
You dare assert at last the right you have to live.
Every pleasure they enjoy surrounded by their law
And all their careless days in utmost sweetness spend,
In luxury and vice, and drunken wild uproar.
They call your virgins in, blind instruments before
Their old corrupted satyrs who their young beauty rend.
And should you ask yourselves what part is left for you
The drudgery on which is based their happiness,
A lifelong servitude, and crumbs of bread a few.
Robbed of your daughters, and dishonoured too . .
For them the earth and sky, for you naught but distress.
They have no need of rules: virtue is easy when
All that you want you have. Round you their laws are wound,
Their punishments designed to strike you, wretched men
Who date to stretch a hand to ask your own again:
Even your needs become a crime that has no bound.
Hurl to the earth their scheme founded on greed and wrong.
This system that divides, making us rich and poor !
Since there will be no prize in death awaited long,
Demand the rights today that do to you belong,
And let us live in equal brotherhood secure !
Smash down the antique bronze that Venus naked shows;
Let pictures that do wickedly entice be brought to dust,
Snowy limbs that tell of wonders no man knows,
And break in passions rude our maidens soft repose,
And lead them unawares into the claws of lust !
Scatter wide what rouses and sustains perverted mind,
Temple and palace storm that shield disgrace and crime,
Melt the statues tall that of tyranny remind;
Wash from the marble steps the footprints left behind
By those who near the great through lies and pandering climb !
Banish the signs of pomp and false deceiving pride;
O, strip from daily life the granite robe it wears,
Its purple and its gold... its foul and ugly hide;
To make of life a dream, of living purified,
That without passion is and happiness prepares.
Gigantic pyramids from this life's ruins raise,
A memento mori unto the end of time;
To open out our souls that we may justice praise
Unto eternity, not nude and shameful ways,
With harlot soul, and eyes grown wild with lust and crime
Oh, let the deluge loose; you've waited long to know
What recompense your meek humility will get;
The wolf and the hyena do in the courtiers grow,
Their cruelties of old still baser patterns show,
Only the form is changed, the evil lives on yet.
Strike and the golden era will return to us again,
Of which old legends tell us that all was gay and fair;
That happiness in life be equal for all men.
Even the touch of death will not be awful then,
But seem a smiling angel with long and golden hair.
Then you will die contented and not by sorrow wrung,
Your children will be born and in full gladness live.
Even the church will not bewail with iron tongue
The passing of the free to live the blest among:
None will lament the dead who took all life could give.
Thus slowly will grow less the toll of dire disease,
While that alone will flourish which nature did intend,
And all these things will come in gradual degrees,
Till man but leaves the earth when earth no more can please.
The brimming cup of life drained empty to the end."
Along the banks of Seine, drawn in a gala coach
The great king slowly goes, pallid and deep in thought.
Neither the lapping waves, nor rumbling wheels encroach
Upon his brooding mind; before his train's approach
There stands the suffering crowd with suffering distraught.
With ready piercing glance, and subtle smiling air,
He reads the secret thought that fills the people's soul,
The hand that holds the fate of those poor creatures there
Salutes them now with bland, acutely reasoned care
Because his fate and theirs is but one single whole.
Loveless he is, and lone, going so grandly by;
Convinced like all of you that malice, vice and hate
Will always govern all things and under all things lie,
While ever human history its age-old course will ply
As on time's heavy anvil blind hammers heedless fate.
So he whose very person is tyranny's high crest
Nods a gentle greeting to these ragged human things.
If they who are the power on which his glories rest
Would one day raise their heads or challenge his behest,
Low, yes low indeed, would fall the king of kings.
For all your shrewd mistrust, your deeply doubting sense,
Your cold and bitter smile that ne'er to pity woke,
For all your strong belief that law is but pretence,
For all your numbers might, the shade of violence,
'Tis he who holds you dumbly, still toiling in the yoke.
Paris is drowned in fire; the tempest bathes in flame,
Steeples like black torches blaze in the wind away.
Amidst the billowing sea whose waves no power could tame,
Cries and the clash of arms high battle do acclaim.
In very truth in France an age has died today.
Down streets where flaming houses glitter on pikes and sword
Barricades arise from blocks of granite piled;
An army marching forwards, the proletarian horde,
Company on company, that soon the ramparts board
Midst thunderous echoing clang of the alarm bells wild.
With faces pale as marble, as marble too as cold,
Women carrying muskets pass through the ruddy glow.
Their hair hangs o'er their shoulders and does their breasts enfold;
Mad with lifelong suffering and with dark hatred bold,
Black their eyes, yet gleaming with the brightness of despair.
Courage little soldiers wrapped in your tresses long,
Great today has grown the poor abandoned child,
Through the fire and ashes to justice march along,
For all your deeds of horror do to this hour belong;
Not you to blame, but those who your young souls defiled !
And now the ocean shines, as though were on it laid
And slid upon themselves broad plates of crystal bright;
While low above the trees, the secret forest glade,
The lonely yellow moon on azure field displayed
O'er floods the silent world with her triumphal light.
Across the silver swell, with motion smooth and slow
Ocean battered ships draw their old wooden sides;
Like mighty gliding shadows across the sea they go
While through their straining canvass the moonbeams seem to throw
A fiery golden wheel that e'er before them rides.
Upon a cliff corroded by the billows' restless chide,
Beneath a weeping willow, with branches to the ground,
The king of kings is gazing out o'er the falling tide
Where gleaming silver circles midst one another glide,
And where the night breeze wanders with slow and cadenced sound.
And to the king it seemed that through the starlight fair,
Treading the forest trees, and crossing the ocean clear,
With long and snowy beard, and heavy thoughtful air,
A crown of withered grasses caught to his tangled hair
There came the mad King Lear.
With mute astonishment he watched that shadow hang
Against the riven clouds, through which the stars unfurled
Blazed out; and in his head a train of visions sprang..
Till loudly echoing above it all there rang
The people's voices that clothed in fire the stricken world:
"In every man the earth is entirely built once more.
Old Demiurges still strives within each heart in vain,
For every mind puts in questions that all have put before:
Why is the flower that blooms to death inheritor?
Longings strange and sad, that rise in obscure pain.
The seed of a whole world of greatness and desire
At hazard have been sown within the hearts of all;
And when their time is come, their nature does aspire
After a perfect fruit, with all its strength entire;
Yet ere the fruit be ripe, the blossoms often fall.
Thus is the human fruit oft frozen in the bloom;
One man becomes a king, another but a slave,
Covering with chaos their different lots too soon,
Before the morning sun their works like petals strewn;
Yet nature to them all an equal knowledge gave.
Throughout the length of time, different and still the same
Their yearnings and their hopes are of one kind composed,
And though of countless fashions does seem life's secret flame,
All are alike deceived that call upon her name;
While infinite desire is in an atom closed.
When you but recollect that death will end this dream,
That nothing much is changed the day your life is passed,
This struggling desire to right the world will seem
Folly, and you'll grow tired; but one thing true you'll deem:
That life is but the way to endless death at last.
--- Mihai Eminescu. English version by Corneliu M. Popescu
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