Elizabeth Kulmann: “The Lightning”

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

Elizabeth Kulmann was born in Petersburg in 1808 and died there in 1825.  She wrote poetry in Russian, German and Italian, and was acquainted with eleven languages, eight of which she spoke.


The Lightning

“Who vies with me in power?”

“I,” said the king of forests,

The oak, so proudly waving.—


The dark clouds rent asunder,

And from their womb the lightning

Rushed like a fiery serpent,

Enraged, asunder snapping

The oak, e’en as the stripling

Thoughtlessly a flower.


“Who vies with me in power?”

“I,” said the tower, whose golden

And lofty summit ofttimes

The wand’ring clouds of heaven

As in a veil envelop.–


The lightning, like a dragon

Huge and fearful, roaring,

Bursts through the clouds and swallows,

Time and space deriding,

The haughty tower’s summit;

Broad streaks, like flaming torrents

Of blackened gold, terrific,

Rush down its wall, resistless.


“With me, none vie in power!”

It cried, and, like a diver,

Swift as an arrow rushing,

Plunged into ocean’s bosom,

Whereupon a warship proudly,

Rode with her sails outspreading.


She burns but for a moment,

Then in a thousand pieces,

With fearful crash exploding

She flies aloft, the fragments

Fall back into the ocean,

And in its chasm vanish;

No trace behind remaineth

Of all the mighty fabric.


Such art thou in thine anger,

Attended by thy brother,

The dread invisible,

Beneath whose steps terrific

The very earth-ball trembles.

Yet not, O lightning, art thou

E’er fearful and destroying.


In glowing nights of summer

We see thee oft illuming

The distant sphere in silence.

O what a glorious vision

The eye of man beholdeth!


Whenever thus thou glowest,

Meseems as if the heavens

Unto mine were opened;

Methinks I stand beholding

The throne of God before me.


Yes, more than once, O lightning,

My mind the thought encompassed,

That what mine eyes delighted

Might be the eye of Godhead,

Unveiled but for a moment.