Christoph Martin Wieland: “Serafina”

Excerpt, “The Poetry of Germany, Consisting from Upwards of Seventy of the Most Celebrated Poets.”  Translated into English Verse by Alfred Baskerville.  1853.


It was at midnight’s hour.

Gentle slumbers,

Raining down from Heaven,

Veiled the eyes of the Lord’s betrothed;

And a deep, deep silence,

Like the grave’s repose

Brooded o’er the lone deserted cloisters.


All slept

But Serafina – she alone

A gentle maiden,

Formed by thee, O Nature,

For love’s soft raptures,

And for every virtue

Of a mother, but, alas!


By force, by oaths, by walls impassable

From Hymen’s joys for ever sundered;

Condemned in barren solitude to sigh,

Uncomforted, the spring of life away! –


Alone did Serafina, as if tossed

By tempest’s surges, roll upon her couch.

Roses were become

Burning fire-coals beneath her;

For, alas! Love’s pointed shaft had pierced her breast.


She panted for relief,

In vain!  No more,

No more shall we find sweet repose.

She calls, to soothe her sorrow’s pain,

Upon the God of sleep in vain,

And sleeplessly her eyelids close.


She loves, the wretched maiden, yes, she loves.

She saw, she saw the man,

Who, of all men, was but for her created;

One transient glance!  Their breasts with trembling thrilled,

Soul yearned to soul, and in each other beamed.


But what availed it?

Him, too, a holy prison

Encompassioneth, bound indissolubly

By adamantine oaths! –


Unhappy ones, for you there is no hope!

Every comfort of the grief-o’erladen,

Every sweet deception

Of the sick phantasy are ye denied.


Night follows evening, and the long, long night

Is by the morn succeeded, but, nor night,

Nor morning brings you peace;

And Time, physician to the sickly soul,

Hath for your pain

No soothing balm.


“Oh thou,” (cried she aloud, her tear-o’erflowing eyes

Fixed on the moon, who pale and sadly wandered

Amid the sombre clouds),

“Oh thou, whom my whole soul adores,

To whom my looks alone have dared confess

What ne’er my lips, to thine compressed,

O never, never will to thee avow.


Alas! Belov’d one, in this moment, perhaps,

Like me, art thou, too, sleepless, and consumed

By hopeless longings, and, perchance, too, fixest

As I, thy languishing and tearful eyes

Upon this disk of silver.”


“Oh wander not so fleetly past, thou gentle moon,

O linger, grant unto us wretched ones

This only comfort!

If e’er an ear thou lendest,

When love doth thee implore,

O show thee in thy mirror

The image I adore!


And when his eyes, o’erflowing,

Where tenderness enshrined,

Turn to thy orb so fair,

Let him (O to the prayer

Of gentle love be kind!)

Behold my image there!”


Thus spake the fond enthusiast.

But the chaste goddess granted not her prayer.

A veil of cloudy shadows

Withdrew her orb from Serafina’s gaze.


The maiden sighed.  Her wand’ring eyes

To Heaven timidly with anguish turning,

Seeks she comfort,

And finds it not.


“And is there in the boundless sphere

Of all creation none, not one, to listen to my voice?

No being, by my soul’s deep anguish moved,

To look down on me?  Must I, must I perish?

Then die, unhappy one, seek in thy grave

The goal, where ends thy pain!”


“O welcome, death, I’m weary of my life,

An angel thou of peace, who endest strife,

I tremble not at thee.

O welcome, hope, so soon to sink

In the cold grave, the bed of peace,

Where soon the sufferer will cease

The bitter cup of grief to drink.


Do I not see the Seraphim that hold

From out the clouds the palm branch unto me?

Behold I not the crown of victory?

O fall, O fall, thou crumbling earthen mould!


O welcome, hope, so soon to sink

In the cold grave, the bed of peace,

Where soon the sufferer will cease

The bitter cup of grief to drink.”


“Yet how?  O where, deluded one,

Would thy wild phrensy stray?  Dar’st thou of Paradise,

Of angel quires, and victory to dream?

Thou look’st down in the grave, and tremblest not?


Wilt thou, a bride of Heaven, audacious, dare

To show to him a heart enflamed by earthly love,

To him, the God to whom thou art betrothed?

O tremble, sinful one!


For thee is Heaven’s portal closed,

In anger will thy angel turn from thee aside,

O God! A trembling awe doth seize me;

How quake these walls around me!


The earth doth yield, the mighty chasm yawns –

Where shall I flee? – O save, O save,

O all ye angels save me!”


“O wretched maid, in what profound abyss

Of misery thy passion hurls thee!

Consider well!

The fearful images that make thee quail

Are phantoms of thy phrensied brain.”


“O can it be a sin to love, as I now love

To love and know not hope! – Alas!

I ask for nought,

Nor aught expect I from this life,

O first in yonder better truer life –

Where angels love, where angels’ harps

Know only strains of love, O thou my chosen one,

There in love’s paradise,

‘Mong Heaven’s never fading roses,

Alone with thee, with nought but rapture,

With nought but Heaven round about us, –

Shall I first find repose within thy arms.”


“O would that thou couldst close for me mine eye!

O could one burning tear but fall

From out thine eye and my cold cheek bedew,

How gladly would I buy it with each drop of blood

That creepeth still along these veins!”


“If this, the last fond wish of love,

If this be sacrilegious,

O let me, angry Heaven, let me suffer!

Yea! Suffer every pain a loving heart

Beyond the grave to suffer may be able!


I will submit, will bear it patiently,

But that I may prove faithless to my love,

O ask not this!”

“Forgive, forgive the too all-powerful springs

Which move triumphant Nature!

My heart must love him, yes,

Must love him e’er!


Alas!  Without thy love for me

Were Heaven’s self no Heaven more!

No purgatory should I fear with thee,

Through all its flames with double force

Rush on me in resistless course,

“Thy cooling breath would wave them off.”