By Friedrich Schiller (1759-1805)
April 2010In Greek mythology, Cassandra was the daughter of King Priam of Troy. She was given the ability to foresee the future by the god Apollo, but also cursed because the populace would not believe her prophecies, including her warnings about the Trojan Horse and the destruction of Troy. Another daughter of Priam, Polyxena, was to marry the Greek leader Achilles, son of Thetis, which was to be the occasion of a peace treaty between Greece and Troy. Hymen was the god of weddings, Proserpina was the queen of the underworld, and Eris was the goddess of discord and sister of Ares, god of war. Ilion was the ancient name for Troy (as in the Illiad.)
Translated by Daniel Platt
Dwelt, before the fortress fell,
There were hymns of jubilation
Where the golden harp-strings swell.
All the people rested, weary
From the conflict fraught with tears,
Great Achilles sought to marry
Royal Priam's daughter fair.
And adorned with wreathes of myrtle
They went surging line by line,
To the gods' exalted temples
And Apollo's holy shrine.
To the passageways they'd taken
In a writhing bacchanal,
And to sorrow was forsaken
Just the saddest heart of all.
Joyless there amidst joy's fullness,
All alone she went to rove,
Just Cassandra shared the stillness
Of Apollo's myrtle grove.
To the forest's deepest quarter
Did the silent seeress flee,
Flung the headband of her order
To the ground most angrily:
"Everywhere is joy inherent,
Hearts rejoice throughout the lands,
Hope inspires my aging parents
And adorned my sister stands.
I alone must stay with sorrow,
Sweet delusion flies from me,
And approaching on the morrow
Dark disaster I foresee.
There's a torch that I see glowing,
But it's not in Hymen's hand,
Toward the clouds I see it growing
But it lights no wedding band.
Festivals are making ready
Yet my troubled spirit hears
Godly footsteps, swift and steady,
Bringing tragedy and tears.
And they scold my lamentations
And they mock me for my pain,
I must bear my heart's vexations
On the lonely desert plain,
Happy folk avoid me cooly
And the cheerful call me fraud!
Thou hast burdened me so cruelly,
O Apollo! Wicked god!
So that I might speak thy tidings
I received a prescient mind,
Why then must I be abiding
In the city of the blind?
Why have I prophetic fire
Yet can't hinder what I fear?
What's decreed must now transpire,
And the fearsome thing draws near.
When it hides the lurking terror,
Is it wise to lift the veil?
Human lives are only error
And with knowledge, death prevails.
Take away the bloody vision,
Take this wretched clarity,
Terrible! to be the living
Vessel of thy verity.
Give me back my darkened senses,
I'll be gladly blind by choice,
No sweet song from me commences
Since I first became thy voice.
Thou didst give the Future to me
Yet the Moment now I lack,
I have lost my Present truly,
Take thy false gift - take it back!
Never have I decorated
With the bridal crown my hair,
Since when I was consecrated
At thy doleful altar there.
All my youth was only weeping,
All I knew was bitter smart,
With the loved ones I was keeping,
Every hardship hurt my heart.
All around I see them wheeling,
Youthful playmates I have known,
Living, loving with such feeling,
Troubled heart was mine alone.
Springtime is for me no treasure
That the earth so festive keeps,
Who can live his life with pleasure
After gazing in thy deeps!
Blessings I give Polyxena.
Balmy love writ on her face,
For the greatest Greek she means to
Welcome with a bride's embrace.
How her breast with pride is swelling,
She can hardly grasp her bliss,
Even Ye, in heaven dwelling,
She doth not count blest like this.
And the suitor who entrances,
Whom I choose most longingly,
He implores with lovely glances
Fired by passion's fervency.
Visiting his habitation,
Oh, it would be my delight,
Yet a shadow of damnation
Steps between us in the night.
Pallid larvas from down yonder
Proserpina sends to me,
And wherever I may wander
All her spirits I must see.
In my childhood recreations
They would gruesomely intrude,
With such dread abominations
I may have no blithesome mood.
And I see the death-blade gleaming
And the glowing murderer's eye,
Nowhere, left nor right, 'tis seeming,
May I from this horror fly.
Seeing, knowing, never flinching,
I may not avert my gaze,
Now my fate comes closer inching,
All alone I'll end my days." --
And as yet her words did echo,
Hark! There comes an eerie sound,
From the portal of the temple,
Thetis' son, dead on the ground!
Eris shakes her serpent tresses,
All the gods are quickly gone,
And the thunder cloud oppresses
Heavy over Ilion.