Lines On Seeing Schiller's Skull

written by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Lines On Seeing Schiller's Skull

— Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

WITHIN a gloomy charnel-house one day

I view'd the countless skulls, so strangely mated,
And of old times I thought, that now were grey.

Close pack'd they stand, that once so fiercely hated,
And hardy bones, that to the death contended,

Are lying cross'd,--to lie for ever, fated.
What held those crooked shoulder-blades suspended?

No one now asks; and limbs with vigour fired,
The hand, the foot--their use in life is ended.

Vainly ye sought the tomb for rest when tired;
Peace in the grave may not be yours; ye're driven

Back into daylight by a force inspired;
But none can love the wither'd husk, though even

A glorious noble kernel it contained.
To me, an adept, was the writing given

Which not to all its holy sense explained,
When 'mid the crowd, their icy shadows flinging,

I saw a form, that glorious still remained.
And even there, where mould and damp were clinging,

Gave me a blest, a rapture-fraught emotion,
As though from death a living fount were springing.

What mystic joy I felt! What rapt devotion!
That form, how pregnant with a godlike trace!

A look, how did it whirl me tow'rd that ocean
Whose rolling billows mightier shapes embrace!

Mysterious vessel! Oracle how dear!
Even to grasp thee is my hand too base,

Except to steal thee from thy prison here
With pious purpose, and devoutly go

Back to the air, free thoughts, and sunlight clear.
What greater gain in life can man e'er know

Than when God-Nature will to him explain
How into Spirit steadfastness may flow,

How steadfast, too, the Spirit-Born remain.

About the poet


Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was a German writer, pictorial artist, biologist, theoretical physicist, and polymath. He is considered the supreme genius of modern German literature. His works span the fields of poetry, drama, prose, philosophy, and science. His Faust has been called one of the greatest dramatic works of modern European literature. His other well-known literary works include his numerous poems, the Bildungsroman Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship, and the epistolary novel The Sorrows of Young Werther. Goethe was one of the key figures of German literature and the movement of Weimar Classicism in the late 18th and early 19th centuries; this movement coincides with Enlightenment, Sentimentalism (Empfindsamkeit), Sturm und Drang and Romanticism. The author of the scientific text Theory of Colours...

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