ODE to DEATH.
Translated from the FRENCH of the King of PRUSSIA.
1 YET a few years, or days perhaps,
2 Or moments pass with silent lapse,
3 And time to me shall be no more;
4 No more the sun these eyes shall view,
5 Earth o'er these limbs her dust shall strew,
6 And life's fantastic dream be o'er.
7 Alas! I touch the dreadful brink,
8 From nature's verge impell'd I sink,
9 And endless darkness wraps me round!
10 Yes, Death is ever at my hand,
11 Fast by my bed he takes his stand,
12 And constant at my board is found.
13 Earth, air, and fire, and water, join
14 Against this fleeting life of mine,
15 And where for succour can I fly?
16 If art with flatt'ring wiles pretend
17 To shield me like a guardian friend,
18 By Art, ere Nature bids, I die.
19 I see this tyrant of the mind,
20 This idol Flesh to dust consign'd,
21 Once call'd from dust by pow'r divine;
22 Its features change, 'tis pale, 'tis cold —
23 Hence dreadful spectre! to behold
24 Thy aspect, is to make it mine.
25 And can I then with guilty pride,
26 Which fear nor shame can quell or hide,
27 This flesh still pamper and adorn!
28 Thus viewing what I soon shall be,
29 Can what I am demand the knee,
30 Or look on aught around with scorn?
31 But then this spark that warms, that guides,
32 That lives, that thinks, what fate betides?
33 Can this be dust, a kneaded clod!
34 This yield to death! the soul, the mind,
35 That measures heav'n, and mounts the wind,
36 That knows at once itself and God?
37 Great Cause of all, above, below,
38 Who knows thee must for ever know,
39 Immortal and divine!
40 Thy image on my soul imprest,
41 Of endless being is the test,
42 And bids Eternity be mine!
43 Transporting thought! — but am I sure
44 That endless life will joy secure?
45 Joy's only to the just decreed!
46 The guilty wretch expiring, goes
47 Where vengeance endless life bestows,
48 That endless mis'ry may succeed.
49 Great God, how aweful is the scene!
50 A breath, a transient breath between;
51 And can I jest, and laugh, and play!
52 To earth, alas! too firmly bound,
53 Trees deeply rooted in the ground,
54 Are shiver'd when they're torn away.
55 Vain joys, which envy'd greatness gains,
56 How do ye bind with silken chains,
57 Which ask Herculean strength to break!
58 How with new terrors have ye arm'd
59 The pow'r whose slightest glance alarm'd?
60 How many deaths of one ye make!
61 Yet, dumb with wonder, I behold
62 Man's thoughtless race in error bold,
63 Forget or scorn the laws of death;
64 With these no projects coincide,
65 Nor vows, nor toils, nor hopes, they guide,
66 Each thinks he draws immortal breath.
67 Each blind to fate's approaching hour,
68 Intrigues, or fights, for wealth, or pow'r,
69 And slumb'ring dangers dare provoke:
70 And he who tott'ring scarce sustains
71 A century's age, plans future gains,
72 And feels an unexpected stroke.
73 Go on, unbridled desp'rate band,
74 Scorn rocks, gulphs, winds, search sea and land,
75 And spoil new worlds wherever found.
76 Seize, haste to seize the glitt'ring prize,
77 And sighs, and tears, and pray'rs despise,
78 Nor spare the temple's holy ground.
79 They go, succeed, but look again,
80 The desp'rate hand you seek in vain,
81 Now trod in dust the peasant's scorn.
82 But who that saw their treasures swell,
83 That heard th' insatiate vow rebel,
84 Would e'er have thought them mortal born?
85 See the world's victor mount his car,
86 Blood marks his progress wide and far,
87 Sure he shall reign while ages fly;
88 No, vanish'd like a morning cloud,
89 The hero was but just allow'd
90 To fight, to conquer, and to die.
91 And is it true, I ask with dread,
92 That nations heap'd on nations bled
93 Beneath his chariot's fervid wheel,
94 With trophies to adorn the spot,
95 Where his pale corse was left to rot,
96 And doom'd the hungry reptile's meal?
97 Yes, Fortune weary'd with her play,
98 Her toy, this hero, casts away,
99 And scarce the form of man is seen:
100 Awe chills my breast, my eyes o'erflow,
101 Around my brows no roses glow,
102 The cypress mine, funereal green!
103 Yet in this hour of grief and fears,
104 When aweful Truth unveil'd appears,
105 Some pow'r unknown usurps my breast;
106 Back to the world my thoughts are led,
107 My feet in Folly's lab'rynth tread,
108 And fancy dreams that life is blest.
109 How weak an empress is the mind,
110 Whom Pleasure's flow'ry wreaths can bind,
111 And captive to her altars lead!
112 Weak Reason yields to Phrenzy's rage,
113 And all the world is Folly's stage,
114 And all that act are fools indeed.
115 And yet this strange, this sudden flight,
116 From gloomy cares to gay delight,
117 This fickleness, so light and vain,
118 In life's delusive transient dream,
119 Where men nor things are what they seem,
120 Is all the real good we gain.
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About this text
Title (in Source Edition): ODE to DEATH. Translated from the FRENCH of the King of PRUSSIA.
Themes: hopelessness; vanity of life; virtue; vice; death
References: DMI 27545
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The text has been typographically modernized, but without any silent modernization of spelling, capitalization, or punctuation. The source of the text is given and all editorial interventions have been recorded in textual notes. Based on the electronic text originally produced by the ECCO-TCP project, this ECPA text has been edited to conform to the recommendations found in Level 5 of the Best Practices for TEI in Libraries version 3.0.
Other works by Frederick II, King of Prussia
- An EPISTLE from the King of PRUSSIA, to Monsieur VOLTAIRE. 1757. ()
- ODE ON DEATH. WRITTEN IN FRENCH BY HIS MAJESTY THE KING OF PRUSSIA. ()