The Ideal And The Actual Life
by Friedrich von Schiller
Forever fair, forever calm and bright,
Life flies on plumage, zephyr-light,
For those who on the Olympian hill rejoice
Moons wane, and races wither to the tomb,
And 'mid the universal ruin, bloom
The rosy days of Gods. With man, the choice,
Timid and anxious, hesitates between
The sense's pleasure and the soul's content;
While on celestial brows, aloft and sheen,
The beams of both are blent.
Seekest thou on earth the life of gods to share,
Safe in the realm of death? Beware
To pluck the fruits that glitter to thine eye;
Content thyself with gazing on their glow
Short are the joys possession can bestow,
And in possession sweet desire will die.
'Twas not the ninefold chain of waves that bound
Thy daughter, Ceres, to the Stygian river
She plucked the fruit of the unholy ground,
And so--was hell's forever!
The weavers of the web--the fates--but sway
The matter and the things of clay;
Safe from change that time to matter gives,
Nature's blest playmate, free at will to stray
With gods a god, amidst the fields of day,
The form, the archetype, serenely lives.
Would'st thou soar heavenward on its joyous wing?
Cast from thee, earth, the bitter and the real,
High from this cramped and dungeon being, spring
Into the realm of the ideal!
Here, bathed, perfection, in thy purest ray,
Free from the clogs and taints of clay,
Hovers divine the archetypal man!
Dim as those phantom ghosts of life that gleam
And wander voiceless by the Stygian stream,
Fair as it stands in fields Elysian,
Ere down to flesh the immortal doth descend:
If doubtful ever in the actual life
Each contest here a victory crowns the end
Of every nobler strife.
Not from the strife itself to set thee free,
But more to nerve doth victory
Wave her rich garland from the ideal clime.
Whate'er thy wish, the earth has no repose
Life still must drag thee onward as it flows,
Whirling thee down the dancing surge of time.
But when the courage sinks beneath the dull
Sense of its narrow limits--on the soul,
Bright from the hill-tops of the beautiful,
Bursts the attained goal!
If worth thy while the glory and the strife
Which fire the lists of actual life
The ardent rush to fortune or to fame,
In the hot field where strength and valor are,
And rolls the whirling thunder of the car,
And the world, breathless, eyes the glorious game
Then dare and strive the prize can but belong
To him whose valor o'er his tribe prevails;
In life the victory only crowns the strong
He who is feeble fails.
But life, whose source, by crags around it piled,
Chafed while confined, foams fierce and wild,
Glides soft and smooth when once its streams expand,
When its waves, glassing in their silver play,
Aurora blent with Hesper's milder ray,
Gain the still beautiful that shadow-land!
Here, contest grows but interchange of love,
All curb is but the bondage of the grace;
Gone is each foe, peace folds her wings above
Her native dwelling-place.
When, through dead stone to breathe a soul of light,
With the dull matter to unite
The kindling genius, some great sculptor glows;
Behold him straining, every nerve intent
Behold how, o'er the subject element,
The stately thought its march laborious goes!
For never, save to toil untiring, spoke
The unwilling truth from her mysterious well
The statue only to the chisel's stroke
Wakes from its marble cell.
But onward to the sphere of beauty. Go
Onward, O child of art! and, lo!
Out of the matter which thy pains control
The statue springs! not as with labor wrung
From the hard block, but as from nothing sprung
Airy and light the offspring of the soul!
The pangs, the cares, the weary toils it cost
Leave not a trace when once the work is done
The Artist's human frailty merged and lost
In art's great victory won!
If human sin confronts the rigid law
Of perfect truth and virtue, awe
Seizes and saddens thee to see how far
Beyond thy reach, perfection; if we test
By the ideal of the good, the best,
How mean our efforts and our actions are!
This space between the ideal of man's soul
And man's achievement, who hath ever past?
An ocean spreads between us and that goal,
Where anchor ne'er was cast!
But fly the boundary of the senses live
The ideal life free thought can give;
And, lo, the gulf shall vanish, and the chill
Of the soul's impotent despair be gone!
And with divinity thou sharest the throne,
Let but divinity become thy will!
Scorn not the law--permit its iron band
The sense (it cannot chain the soul) to thrall.
Let man no more the will of Jove withstand,
And Jove the bolt lets fall!
If, in the woes of actual human life
If thou could'st see the serpent strife
Which the Greek art has made divine in stone
Could'st see the writhing limbs, the livid cheek,
Note every pang, and hearken every shriek,
Of some despairing lost Laocoon,
The human nature would thyself subdue
To share the human woe before thine eye
Thy cheek would pale, and all thy soul be true
To man's great sympathy.
But in the ideal realm, aloof and far,
Where the calm art's pure dwellers are,
Lo, the Laocoon writhes, but does not groan.
Here, no sharp grief the high emotion knows
Here, suffering's self is made divine, and shows
The brave resolve of the firm soul alone:
Here, lovely as the rainbow on the dew
Of the spent thunder-cloud, to art is given,
Gleaming through grief's dark veil, the peaceful blue
Of the sweet moral heaven.
So, in the glorious parable, behold
How, bowed to mortal bonds, of old
Life's dreary path divine Alcides trod:
The hydra and the lion were his prey,
And to restore the friend he loved today,
He went undaunted to the black browed god;
And all the torments and the labors sore
Wroth Juno sent the meek majestic one,
With patient spirit and unquailing, bore,
Until the course was run
Until the god cast down his garb of clay,
And rent in hallowing flame away
The mortal part from the divine to soar
To the empyreal air! Behold him spring
Blithe in the pride of the unwonted wing,
And the dull matter that confined before
Sinks downward, downward, downward as a dream!
Olympian hymns receive the escaping soul,
And smiling Hebe, from the ambrosial stream,
Fills for a god the bowl!