Thursday, September 03, 2015


The Gods of Ancient Greece

Heinrich Heine (1797-1856), "Die Götter Griechenlands," lines 67-84 (tr. Peter Branscombe, slightly altered; the Greek gods are imagined as clouds seen at night):
But holy compassion and awful pity
flow into my heart
when I see you up there now,
abandoned Gods,        70
dead shades, wandering at night
as insubstantial as mists which the wind disperses —
and when I reflect how cowardly and heedless
the gods are who defeated you,
the new, ruling, sad gods —        75
malicious ones in the sheep's skin of humility —
ah, then dark resentment comes over me,
and I should like to break the new temples
and fight for you, old Gods,
for you and your good, ambrosial rights;        80
and before your high altars,
rebuilt and steaming with sacrificial offerings,
I myself should like to kneel and pray,
and raise my arms in supplication...

Doch heil'ges Erbarmen und schauriges Mitleid
Durchströmt mein Herz,
Wenn ich Euch jetzt da droben schaue,
Verlassene Götter,        70
Todte, nachtwandelnde Schatten,
Nebelschwache, die der Wind verscheucht —
Und wenn ich bedenke, wie feig und windig
Die Götter sind, die Euch besiegten,
Die neuen, herrschenden, tristen Götter,        75
Die schadenfrohen im Schafspelz der Demuth —
O, da faßt mich ein düsterer Groll,
Und brechen möcht' ich die neuen Tempel,
Und kämpfen für Euch, Ihr alten Götter,
Für Euch und Eu'r gutes, ambrosisches Recht,        80
Und vor Euren hohen Altären,
Den wiedergebauten, den opferdampfenden,
Möcht' ich selber knieen und beten,
Und flehend die Arme erheben...
Another translation, by Charles G. Leland:
But holy compassion and shuddering pity
Stream through my soul
As I now gaze upon ye, yonder,
Gods long neglected,        70
Death-like, night-wandering shadows,
Weak and fading, scattered by the wind;
And when I remember how weak and windy
The gods now are who o'er you triumphed, —
The new and the sorrowful gods now ruling,        75
The joy-destroyers in lamb-robes of meekness, —
Then there comes o'er me gloomiest rage;
Fain would I shatter the modern temples,
And battle for ye, ye ancient immortals,
For ye and your good old ambrosial right,        80
And before your lofty altars,
Once more erected, with incense sweet smoking,
Would I once more, kneeling, adoring,
Raise up my arms to you in prayer...

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