Friday, 27 February 2015

The Vigil - Stefan George

Within the chapel quivers candlelight.
And there the page his vigil keeps alone
Before the altar’s threshold all the night.
“I shall partake when morning dawneth bright
Of all that solemn glory yet unknown,

“When by one stroke I shall be dubbed a knight.
My childhood longing hushed, I shall not swerve
From deeds of rigour; with my spurs and might
Devoted in the good war I will serve.

“For this new honour I must now prepare:
The consecration of my sword unstained
Before God’s altar and the symbol there,
The testimony of high worth attained.”

There his forefather’s image gray and old
Reposed and slender vaults rose overhead.
Trustfully clasped, his hands lay stony cold;
Upon his breast there was a banner spread.

His eyes are darkened by the helmet’s shade.
A cherub spreading wide his pinions pale
Holds over him his shield with coat of mail:
Upon an azure field the flaming blade.

The youth is praying to the Lord above
And breaks the narrow bounds of prayer with feeling,
His hands devoutly clasped as he is kneeling.
Then slowly into thoughts of pious love
An earthly image unawares is stealing.

She stood among her garden gilly-flowers,
She was much less a maiden than a child.
Upon her gown were broidered starry showers,
About her golden hair the sun-flecks smiled.

He shudders, and he longs in his dismay
To flee the vision that he deems a snare;
His hands he buries in his curly hair
And makes the sign that lets no evil stay.

The blood is rushing hot into his cheek,
The candle flames shoot lightnings in his face.
But now he sees the Lady Mother meek,
Upon her lap the Saviour giving grace.

“I will forever in Thine army serve
And all my life no other aim will seek,
And from Thy high commandment never swerve.
Forgive if for the last time I was weak.”

Out from the snow-white altar’s covered chest
A swarm of little angels’ faces flew,
And as the organ’s sacred murmur grew,
The Valiant’s innocence, the Dead’s deep rest
With tranquil clearness soared the whole house through.

Stefan George (1868 – 1933)
Translated by Margarete Münsterberg

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