Reference > Anthologies > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library > Verse

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
From the ‘Tragedy of Man’
By Imre Madách (1823–1864)
Translation of George Alexander Kohut

  Scene:  An open square in Constantinople.  A few citizens lounging about.  In the centre the palace of the Patriarch; to the right a cloister; to the left a grove.  Adam as Tancred, in the prime of life, is seen advancing at the head of returning Crusaders, accompanied by other knights, with colors flying and drums beating; Lucifer as his armor-bearer.  Evening, then night.

FIRST CITIZEN—Behold, there comes another horde of heathen;
Oh, flee and double-bar the doors, lest they
Again the whim to plunder feel!
  Second Citizen—Hide ye the women: but too well
Knows this rebel the joys of the seraglio.        5
  First Citizen—And our wives the rights of the conqueror.
  Adam—Hold! hold! why scatter in such haste?
Do ye not see the holy sign aloft
That makes us brothers in humanity
And companions to one goal?—        10
We bore the light of our faith, the law
Of love, into Asia’s wilds,
That the savage millions there
Where our Savior’s cradle stood
Might share sweet salvation’s boon.        15
Know ye not this brotherly love?
  First Citizen—Full many a time through honeyed words
Swift harm befell our homes.
[They disperse.]
  Adam  [to the knights]—Behold, this is the accursed result
When scheming vagabonds        20
The sacred symbol flaunt,
And flattering the passions of the mob,
Presume unasked to lead.—
Fellow knights! Until our swords
To honor fair, to praise of God,        25
To women’s guard, to bravery,
Be sanctified,—are we in duty bound
This demon foul in constant check to hold,
That in spite of godless inclination,
He great and noble deeds may do.        30
  Lucifer—That sounds well. But, Tancred, what if the people
Do but spurn thy leadership?
  Adam—Where spirit is, is also victory.
I’ll crush them to the earth!
  Lucifer—And should spirit with them alike abide,        35
Wilt thou descend to them?
  Adam—                    Why descend?
Is it not nobler to lift them up to me?
To yield for lack of fighters
The foremost place in battle, were
As unworthy as to reject a comrade        40
In envy of his share of victory.
  Lucifer—Alack! how the grand idea has come to naught
For which the martyrs of the circus fought!
Is this the freedom of equality?
A wondrous brotherhood were that!        45
  Adam—Oh, cease thy scorn! Think not that I misprize
    Christianity’s exalted precepts.
    My being yearns for them alone!
Whoever hath the spark divine may strive;
    And him who upward toils to us        50
    With joy we surely will receive.
    A sword-cut lifts him to our ranks.
But guard we must our ranks with jealous eye
Against the still fermenting chaos here.
Would that our time were already near!        55
For only then can we be quite redeemed
When every barrier falls—when all is pure.
And were he who set this universe in motion
Not himself the great and mighty God,
I must needs doubt the dawn of such a day.        60
Ye have seen, O friends, how we have been received:
Orphaned amidst the tumult of the town,
Naught now remains save in yonder grove
A tent to pitch, as we were wont among the infidels,
Till better times shall come. Go; I follow soon.        65
Every knight stands sponsor for his men.
[The Crusaders pitch their tent.]
  Lucifer—What a pity that thy spirit’s lofty flight
    Even now begets such sorry fruit;
Red without, within already rotten!
  Adam—                        Stop!
Hast thou no longer faith in lofty thought?        70
  Lucifer—      What boots it thee if I believe,
      When thine own race doth doubt?
      This knighthood which thou hast placed
      As lighthouse amid ocean’s waves,
      Will yet die out, or half collapse,        75
And make the sailor’s course even more fearful
Than before, when no light shone before his way.
    What lives to-day and blessing works,
    Dies with time; the spirit takes wing
    And the carcass but remains, to breathe        80
    Murderous miasmas into the fresher life
    Which round him buds. Behold, thus
    Survive from bygone times our old ideals.
  Adam—    Until our ranks dissolve, its sacred teachings
    Will have had effect upon the public mind.        85
    I fear no danger then.
  Lucifer—  The holy teachings! They are your curse indeed,
  When ye approach them unawares,
  For ye turn, sharpen, split, and smooth
  Them o’er so long, till they your phantoms        90
  Or your chains become.
  And though reason cannot grasp exact ideas,
  Yet ye presumptuous men do always seek
  To forge them—to your harm.
Look thou upon this sword! It may by a hair’s-breadth        95
Longer be or shorter, and yet remains the same
In substance. The door is opened thus to endless speculation;
  For where is there limit pre-imposed?
  ’Tis true your feelings soon perceive the right
  When change in greater things sets in.—        100
  But why speak and myself exert? Speech
  Is wearisome. Turn thou, survey the field thyself.
  Adam—  Friends, my troops are tired and shelter crave.
  In the Capital of Christendom they will
  Perchance not crave in vain.        105
  Third Citizen—    The question is, whether as heretics
    Ye’re not worse than infidels!…
  Adam—    I stand aghast! But see—what prince
    Approaches from afar, so haughtily defiant?
  Lucifer—    The Patriarch—successor to the Apostles.        110
  Adam—    And this barefoot, dirty mob
    Which follows with malicious joy
    In the captive’s wake,
    Feigning humility?
  Lucifer—    They are monks, Christian cynics.        115
  Adam—    I saw not such among my native hills.
  Lucifer—    You’ll see them yet. Slowly, slowly
    Spreads the curse of leprosy;
    But beware how you dare insult
    This people, so absolute in virtue and        120
    Hence so hard to reconcile.
  Adam—    What virtue could adorn such folk as this?
  Lucifer—    Their worth is abnegation, poverty,
    As practiced first by the Master on the Cross.
  Adam—    He saved a world by such humility;        125
    While these cowards, like rebels,
    Do but blaspheme the name of God,
    In that they despise his gift.
Who ’gainst gnats the weapons same would draw
That in the bear hunt he is wont to use        130
Is a fool.
  Lucifer—        But if they in pious zeal, perchance,
    Mistake the gnats for monstrous bears,
    Have they then not the right to drive
    To the very gates of hell
    Those who life enjoy?…        135
  Adam  [facing the Patriarch]—Father, we’re battling for the Holy Grave,
And wearied from the way which we have come,
To rest within these walls we are denied.
Thou hast power here: help thou our cause.
  Patriarch—My son, I have just now no time for petty things.        140
God’s glory and my people’s weal
Call higher aims now forth. I must away
To judge the heretics; who, like poisonous weeds,
Do grow and multiply, and whom hell
With force renewed upon us throws,        145
Even though we constant try with fire and sword
To root them out.
But if indeed ye be true Christian knights,
Why seek the Moor so far remote?
Here lurks a yet more dangerous foe.        150
Scale ye their walls, level them to the ground,
And spare ye neither woman, child, nor hoary head.
  Adam—The innocent! O father, this cannot be thy wish!
  Patriarch—Innocent is the serpent, too, while yet of tender growth
            Or after its fangs are shed.        155
            Yet sparest thou the snake?
  Adam—It must, in faith, have been a grievous sin
Which could such wrath from Christian love evoke.
  Patriarch—O my son! not he shows love who feeds the flesh,
But he who leadeth back the erring soul,        160
At point of sword,—or e’en through leaping flames
      If needs must be,—to Him who said:
      Not peace but war do I proclaim!
      That wicked sect interprets false
      The mystic Trinity….        165
  Monks—      Death upon them all!
      There burns the funeral pile.
  Adam—        My friend, give up the iota, pray:
        Your inspired valor in fighting
        For the Savior’s grave will be        170
        More fitting sacrifice than this.
  An Old Heretic—        Satan, tempt us not! We’ll bleed
        For our true faith where God ordains.
  One of the Monks—  Ha, renegade! thou boastest of true faith?…
  Patriarch—Too long have we tarried here: away with them        175
To the funeral pyre, in honor of God!
  The Old Heretic—In honor of God? Thou spakest well, O knave!
In honor of God are we indeed your prey.
Ye are strong, and can enforce your will
As ye may please. But whether ye have acted rightly        180
Heaven alone will judge. Even now is weighed,
At every hour, your vile career of crime.
New champions shall from our blood arise;
The idea lives triumphant on; and coming centuries
Shall the light reflect of flames that blaze to-day.        185
Friends, go we to our glorious martyrdom!
  The Heretics  [chanting in chorus]—    My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?
    Why art thou so far from helping me
    And from the words of my roaring?
    O my God, I cry in the daytime, but thou        190
    Hearest not; and in the night season,
    And am not silent. But thou art holy!  (Psalm xxii.)
  Monks  [breaking in]—Plead my cause, O Lord, with them that strive with me;
Fight against them that fight against me;
Take hold of shield and buckler and stand up for mine help;        195
Draw out also the spear, and stop the way
Against them that persecute me.  (Psalm xxxv.)
[In the interim the Patriarch and the procession go by.  The monks with tracts mingle among the Crusaders.]
  Lucifer—        Why silent thus and horrified?
        Dost hold this to be a tragedy?
Consider it a comedy, and ’twill make thee laugh.        200
  Adam—      Nay, spare thy banter now! Can one
      For a mere iota go firmly thus to death?
      What then is the lofty and sublime?
  Lucifer—      That which to others may seem droll.
      Only a hair divides these two ideas;        205
A voice in the heart alone may judge betwixt them,
      And the mysterious judge is sympathy,
      Which, blindly, at one time deifies,
Then with brutal scorn condemns to death.
  Adam—Why must my eyes be witness of these varied sins?        210
The subtleties of proud science, and of sophistry!
That deadly poison wondrously so sipped
From the sweetest, gayest, freshest flowers?
I knew this flower once in the budding time
Of our oppressed faith. Where is the wanton hand        215
      That ruthlessly destroyed it?
  Lucifer—      The wanton hand is victory,
Which wide-spread once, a thousand wishes wakes,
      Danger allies, and martyrs makes,
      And strength endues;        220
      ’Tis there among the heretics.
  Adam—  Verily, I’d cast away my sword and turn me
  To my northern home, where, in the glades
  Of the shadowy woods primeval,
  Stern manliness, true artlessness yet dwell,        225
  And the rancor of this smooth-tongued age defy.
  I would return but for a voice that lisps
  The constant message in my ears,
  That I alone am called to re-create this world.
  Lucifer—  Love’s labor lost; for unaided thou canst        230
  Ne’er prevail against the ruling spirit of the age.
  The course of time is a mighty stream,—
      It buries thee or bears thee;
      Nor canst thou hope to guide it,
      But only swim adrift the tide.        235
      Who in history immortal shine,
      And wield uncommon power,
  Knew well the time in which they lived,
  Yet did not themselves the thought create.
  Not because the cock crows does day dawn,        240
  But the cock crows with the dawn of day;
  Yonder those who, fettered, fly to face
  The terrors of a death of martyrdom,
      See scarce a step ahead.
  The thought but just conceived dawns in their midst        245
  In the throes of death they hail so joyfully,—
  The thought which by a care-free posterity
  Will be inhaled with the air they breathe.
  But leave thou this theme! Glance toward thy tent:
  What unclean monks stroll about there?        250
  What trade they drive, what speeches make
      And gestures wild, insane?
      Let’s nearer draw, and hearken!
  A Monk in the centre of a crowd of Crusaders—      Buy ye, brave warriors; neglect ye not
      This manual of penance:        255
      ’Twill clear all doubt of conscience;
      You’ll learn therein much weighty mystery:
      How many years in hell will burn
      Each murderer, thief, and ravisher,
      And he who doth our doctrines spurn;        260
      It tells ye what the rich may buy
      For a score or more of solidi;
      And the poor for three alone
      May swift obtain salvation’s boon;
      Whilst even he, to be quite fair,        265
      Who such a sum cannot well spare,
      May for a thousand lashes, mind,
      Salvation bring upon his kind.
      Buy ye, buy ye, this precious book!
  The Crusaders—      Here, father, here, give us a copy too!        270
  Adam—Infamous trader, and still more wicked patrons,
Draw ye the sword and end this foul traffic!
  Lucifer  [confused]—I beg your pardon. This monk has long my partner been.
      Not so deeply do I this world despise;
      When praise of God soared high,        275
      My homage also rose aloft,
      Whilst thine remained becalmed….
  Adam—Help me, O Lucifer! Away, away from here!
      Lead back my future into past,
      That I my fate no longer see,        280
Nor view a fruitless strife. Pray let me think
  If wisdom is to thwart my destiny!
  Lucifer—  Awake then, Adam,—thy dream is o’er.

  Scene:  A garden of palms.  Adam, young again, enters from his bower; still half asleep, he looks about in astonishment.  Lucifer stands in the middle of the scene.  It is a radiant day.

ADAM—      Ye weird scenes and haggard forms,
      How have ye left me lone!        285
      Joys and smiles greet now my path,
As once of yore before my heart was broken.
  Lucifer—O boastful man, is it thy wish, perchance,
That Nature for thy sake her law should change,—
A star appoint to mark thy loss,        290
Or shake the earth because a worm has died?
  Adam—Have I dreamed, or am I dreaming still?
And is our life aught but a dream at last
Which makes an inanimate mass to live
But for a moment, then lets it fade forever?        295
Oh why, why this brief glimpse of consciousness,
Only to view the terrors of annihilation?
  Lucifer—    Thou mournest? Only cowards bend
    Their necks to yoke, and unresisting stand
    When yet the blow may be averted.        300
    But unmurmuring doth the strong man
    Decipher the mystic runes eternal
    Of his destiny, caring but to know
If he himself can thrive beneath their doom.
The might of Fate controls the world’s great course;        305
Thou art but a tool and blindly onward driven.
  Adam—Nay, nay, thou liest! for the will of man is free;
  That at least I’ve well deserved,
  And for it have resigned my Paradise!
  My phantom dreams have taught me much;        310
  Full many a madness have I left behind,
  And now ’tis mine to choose another path.
  Lucifer—  Ay, if forgetting and eternal hope
  Were not to destiny so closely wed.
  The one doth heal thy bleeding wounds,        315
  The other closely screens abysmal depths,
  And gives new courage, saying,—
  Rash hundreds found a grave therein,
  Thou shalt be the first safely to leap it o’er.
  Hast thou not, scholar, full oft beheld        320
  The many freaks and whims among
  The parasites that brood and breed
  In cats and owls only,
  But must pass in mice their earliest stage
  Of slow development?        325
  Not just the one or other mouse
  Predestined is the claw to feel
  Of cat or owl; who cautious is
  May even both avoid, and keep
  In ripe old age his nest and house.        330
  A relentless hand doth yet provide
  Just such a number for his foes
  As its presence here on earth
  Ages hence insures.
  Nor is the human being bound,        335
  And yet the race wears chains.
  Zeal carries thee like a flood along:
  To-day for this, for that to-morrow,
  The funeral pyres will their victims claim,
  And of scoffers there will be no lack;        340
  While he who registers the count
  Will be in wonder lost, that wanton fate
  Should have maintained such rare consistency
  In making, matching, marring,
  In virtue, faith, and sin and death,        345
  In suicide and lunacy.
  Adam—Hold! An inspiration fires my brain;
I may then thee, Almighty God, defy.
Should fate but cry to life a thousand halts,
I’d laugh serene and die, should I so please.        350
Am I not lone and single in this world?
Before me frowns that cliff, beneath whose base
Yawns the dark abysmal gulf.
One leap, the final scene, and I shall cry—
Farewell, the farce at last is ended!        355
[Adam approaches the cliff, as Eve appears.]
  Lucifer—Ended! What simple-minded phrases!
Is not each moment end and
Beginning too? Alas! and but for this
Hast thou surveyed millennial years to come?
  Eve—I pray thee, Adam, why didst steal off from me?        360
  Thy last cold kiss still chills my heart;
  And even now, sorrow or anger sits
  Upon thy brow; I shrink from thee!
  Adam  [going on]—      Why follow me? Why dog my footsteps?
      The ruler of creation, man,        365
      Has weightier things to do
      Than waste in sportive love his days.
      Woman understands not; is a burden only.
      [Softening]—Oh, why didst thou not longer slumber?
      Far harder now the sacrifice will be        370
      That I for future ages offer must.
  Eve—      Shouldst hear me, lord, ’twill easier be:
      What doubtful was, is now assured,—
      The future.
  Adam—                How now?
  Eve—      The hope my lips thus fain would lisp        375
      Will lift the cloud and clear thy brow.
      Come then a little nearer, pray!
      O Adam, hear: I am a mother.
  Adam  [sinking upon his knee]—      Thou hast conquered me, O Lord!
      Behold, in the dust I lie.        380
Without thee as against thee I strive in vain;
Thou mayest raise me up or strike me down,—
I bare my heart and soul before thee.
  God  [appearing, surrounded by angels]—      Adam, rise, and be thou not cast down.
      Behold, I take thee back to me,        385
      Reconciled by my saving grace.
  Lucifer  [aside]—    Family scenes are not my specialty.
    They may affect the heart,
    But the mind shrinks from such monotony;
    Methinks I’ll slink away.  [About to go.]        390
  God—Lucifer! I’ll have a word with thee,—remain!
And thou, my son, confess what troubles thee.
  Adam—  Fearful images haunted me, O Lord,
  And what was true therein I cannot tell;
  Intrust to me, I beg, I supplicate,        395
  The mystery of all my future state.
  Is there naught else besides this narrow life
  Which, becoming clarified like wine,
  Thou mayest spill with every whim of thine,
  And dust may drink it?        400
Or didst thou mean the soul for higher things?
Will further toil and forward stride my kind,
Still growing nobler, till we perfection find
Near thine almighty Throne?
Or drudge to death like some blind treadmill-horse        405
Without the hope of ever changing course?
Doth noble striving meet with just reward,
When he who for ideals gives his blood
  Is mocked at by a soulless throng?
Enlighten me; grateful will I bear my lot:        410
  I can but win by such exchange,
  For this suspense is hell.
  God—  Seek not to solve the mystery
  Which Godly grace and sense benign
  Hath screened from human sight.        415
  If thou couldst see that transient is
  The soul’s sojourn upon this world,
  And that it upward soars
  To life unending, in the great beyond,—
  Sorrow would no virtue be.        420
  If dust absorbed thy soul alike,
  What would spur thee on to thought?
  Who would prompt thee to resign
  Thy grosser joys for virtue fine?
  Whilst now, though burdened with life,        425
  Thy future beckons from afar,
  Shimmering through the clouds
  And lifting thee to higher spheres.
And should, at times, this pride thy heart inflame,
Thy span of life will soon control thy pace,        430
And nobleness and virtue reign supreme.
  Lucifer  [laughing derisively]—Verily, glory floods the paths you tread,
Since greatness, virtue, are to lead thee on.
Two words which only pass in blessed deed
When superstition, ignorance, and prejudice        435
  Keep constant guard and company.—
Why did I ever seek to work out great ideas
Through man, of dust and sunbeams formed,
So dwarfed in knowledge, in blind error so gigantic?
  Adam—Cease thy scorn, O Lucifer! cease thy scorn!        440
I saw full well thy wisdom’s edifice,
  Wherein my heart felt only chilled;
But, gracious God, who shall sustain me now
And lead me onward in the paths of right,
Since thou didst withdraw the hand that guided me,        445
Before I tasted fruit of idle knowledge?
  God—Strong is thine arm, full thy heart of lofty thoughts;
The field is boundless where thou seed shouldst sow.
Give thou but heed! A voice shall ceaseless call thee back.
          Or constant speed thee on:        450
          Follow its lead. And if at times
This heavenly sound be hushed in midst the whirl
    Of thine eventful years, the purer soul
    Of woman, unselfish, pure, and gentle,
Will surely hear it, and thrilled by woman’s love,        455
    Thy soul shall soar in Poetry and Song!
    And by thy side she loyally will watch,
          Mounted on these cherubim,
          In sorrow pale or rosy joy,
          A cheering, soothing genius.        460
      Thou too, O Lucifer, a link but art
      In my wide universe; so labor on!
  Thy frosty knowledge and thy mad denial
  Will cause, like yeast, the mind to effervesce.
  E’en though it turns him from the beaten track,        465
      It matters not. He’ll soon return;
      But endless shall thy penance be,
      Since thou art ever doomed to see
      How beauty buds and virtue sprouts
      From the seed thou wouldst have spoiled.        470
Chorus of Angels
      Choice between the good and evil,
        Wondrous thought, sublime decision!
      Still to know that thou art shielded
        By a gracious God’s provision.
      For the right, then, be thou steadfast,        475
        Though thou labor without meed;
      Thy reward shall be the knowledge
        Thou hast done a noble deed.
      Greatness grows in goodness only;
        Shame will keep the good man just,        480
      And the fear of shame uplifts him,
        While the mean man crawls in dust.
      But when treading paths exalted,
        This blind error cherish not,—
      That the glory thou achievest        485
        Adds to God’s a single jot:
      For he needs not thy assistance
        To accomplish his designs;
      Be thou thankful if he calls thee
        And a task to thee assigns.        490
  Eve—Praise be to God, I understand this song.
  Adam—I divine the message and submit to its decree.
Ah, could I only the distant end foresee!
  God—        I have ordained, O man,—
        Struggle thou and trust!        495

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