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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Life and Old Age
By Heinrich Heine (1797–1856)
 
From ‘Book Le Grand’: Translation of Charles Godfrey Leland

OTHERS may, if they choose, enjoy the good fortune of having their lady-love adorn their graves with garlands, and water them with the tears of true love. O women! hate me, laugh at me, mitten me, but let me live! Life is all too wondrous sweet, and the world is so beautifully bewildered: it is the dream of an intoxicated divinity who has taken French leave of the tippling multitude of immortals, and has laid down to sleep in a solitary star, and knows not himself that he also creates all that which he dreams; and the dream images form themselves often so fantastically wildly, and often so harmoniously and reasonably. The Iliad, Plato, the battle of Marathon, Moses, the Medicean Venus, the cathedral of Strasburg, the French Revolution, Hegel, and steamboats, etc., etc., are other good thoughts in this divine dream: but it will not last long, and the immortal one awakes and rubs his sleepy eyes, and smiles; and our world has run to nothing—yes, has never been.  1
  No matter—I live! If I am but the shadowy image in a dream, still this is better than the cold black void annihilation of death. Life is the greatest of blessings and death the worst of evils.  2
  And I live! The great pulsation of nature beats too in my breast; and when I carol aloud, I am answered by a thousandfold echo. I hear a thousand nightingales. Spring hath sent them to awaken earth from her morning slumber, and earth trembles with ecstasy; her flowers are hymns, which she sings in inspiration to the sun; the sun moves far too slowly: I would fain lash on his steeds that they might advance more rapidly. But when he sinks hissing in the sea, and the night rises with her great eyes, oh then true pleasure first thrills through me like a new life, the evening breezes lie like flattering maidens on my wild heart, and the stars wink to me, and I rise and sweep over the little earth and the little thoughts of mankind.  3
  But a day must come when the fire of youth will be quenched in my veins, when winter will dwell in my heart, when his snowflakes will whiten my locks and his mists will dim my eyes. Then my friends will lie in their weather-worn tombs, and I alone will remain like a solitary stalk forgotten by the reaper. A new race will have sprung up, with new desires and new ideas; full of wonder, I hear new names and listen to new songs, for the old names are forgotten, and I myself am forgotten, perhaps honored by but few, scorned by many, and loved by none! And then the rosy-cheeked boys will spring around me and place the old harp in my trembling hand, and say laughing, “Thou indolent gray-headed old man, sing us again songs of the dreams of thy youth.”  4
  Then I will grasp the harp, and my old joys and sorrows will awake, the clouds will vanish, tears will again gleam on my pale cheeks. Spring will bloom once more in my breast, sweet tones of woe will tremble on the harp-strings. I shall see once more the blue flood and the marble palaces and the lovely faces of ladies and young girls, and I will sing a song of the flowers of the Brenta.  5
  It will be my last song; the stars will gaze on me as in the nights of my youth, the loving moonlight will once more kiss my cheeks, the spirit chorus of nightingales long dead will sound flute-like from afar, my eyes intoxicated with sleep will softly close, my soul will re-echo with the notes of my harp—perfume breathes from the flowers of the Brenta.  6
  A tree will shadow my grave. I would gladly have it a palm, but that tree will not grow in the North. It will be a linden, and of a summer evening lovers will sit there caressing; the green-finches will be listening silently, and my linden will rustle protectingly over the heads of the happy ones, who will be so happy that they will have no time to read what is written on the white tombstone. But when at a later day the lover has lost his love, then he will come again to the well-known linden, and sigh and weep, and gaze long and oft upon the stone until he reads the inscription, “He loved the flowers of the Brenta.”  7
 
 
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