Joseph Christian Freiherr von Zedlitz: “The Phantom Ship”

Excerpt, “Specimens of the Choicest Lyrical Productions of the Most Celebrated German Poets, from Klopstock to the Present Time.”  With Biographical and Literary Notes translated in English Verse by Mary Anne Burt.  1856.


The Phantom Ship

O’er billows impetuous grey mists arise,

Each star has withdrawn its ray;

A pennon, ’mid night-winds, tempestuous flies,

On a Ship that darts o’er the spray:

That Vessel is steered by a Phantom’s hand,

Midst hurricane fierce, and storm;

She braveth each tempest—each rocky strand;

In that Ship lives no human form.


Afar, where each billow, in silence, lies,

A lonesome Island is found;

There, a rock, toward the Heavens, doth proudly rise,

That rock circling clouds surround.

There springeth no grass—no tree grows there,

No bird doth her offspring rear,

The eagle alone, as he roves through air,

Surveyeth that region drear.


Around the King’s tomb, on the dreary Isle,

Loud whirlwinds impetuous fly;

Sword, helmet, and sceptre old, awhile,

On the Monarch’s coffin lie.

No mortal there dwells: the world’s rushing wave,

On his wearied ear, sounds not;

No tear of affection bedews the grave

Of the Sleeper on that chill spot.


Moons change in the Heavens—as years glide away,

The Dead, immoveably lies;

Yet, annually, on the Fifth of May,

The Shade doth awaken, and rise!

The Spirit that Night, impatient of rest,

Through terrestrial regions doth stray:

On that Night—of vitality possessed,

’Mid earth he directs his way—


Near that Isle is a Ship, winds swell each sail,

For distant realms is she bound;

A Pennon there hovers amid the gale,

Golden Bees on a snow-white ground.

On board, the lone Monarch repairs, in haste,

With an eagle’s impetuous speed,

No helm guides the Ship o’er the dreary waste,

No pilot that Ship doth lead!


The Shade of the Monarch is there alone,

His eye pierces through mists of night;

How heaveth his breast with a heart-felt moan!

His eye darts consuming light,

The Ship steers on—on towards the well-known strand;

Rejoiced, his arm he extends,

With soul enraptured, he views his land,

O’er his Land his glance he bends.


The King leaves the Ship, and his foot doth rest

On that loved, that sunny shore;

How trembles the earth, as glides o’er her breast,

That Star whose light is veiled o’er!

He seeketh his City—’tis vanished now,

His People he seeketh in vain;

When the sun-beams of Glory circled his brow,

They flocked round him like waves of the main!


He seeketh his Throne—in dust is it hurled—

That Throne which aspired so high;

That Throne from which he surveyed the world,

At his feet, as a footstool lie!

The King seeks his heart’s best treasure—his Child,

Whose Heritage was a throne—

That Birthright was scattered by tempests wild,

Where, now, is the Monarch’s son?


“Where art thou, oh Child! Who, in infancy,

With coronets used to play?

On his breast, as a Parent fondled thee,

Bliss terrestrial passed away!

Oh, my cherished Wife! Oh, my offspring dear!

Extinct is the Sovereign’s race!

On the regal throne doth a menial appear,

And the King has a menial’s place!”