The Ring of Polycrates

Friedrich Schiller

Upon his battlements he stood,
And downward gazed in joyous mood,
On Samos' Isle, that owned his sway.
"All this is subject to my yoke;"
To Egypt's monarch thus he spoke, -
"That I am truly blest, then, say!"

"The immortals' favor thou hast known!
Thy sceptre's might has overthrown
All those who once were like to thee.
Yet to avenge them one lives still;
I cannot call thee blest, until
That dreaded foe has ceased to be."

While to these words the king gave vent,
A herald from Miletus sent,
Appeared before the tyrant there:
"Lord, let thy incense rise to-day,
And with the laurel branches gay
Thou well may'st crown thy festive hair!

"Thy foe has sunk beneath the spear, -
I'm sent to bear the glad news here,
By thy true marshal Polydore."
Then from a basin black he takes -
The fearful sight their terror wakes -
A well-known head besmeared with gore.

The king with horror stepped aside,
And then with anxious look replied:
"Thy bliss to fortune ne'er commit.
On faithless waves, bethink thee how
Thy fleet with doubtful fate swims now -
How soon the storm may scatter it!"

But ere he yet had spoke the word,
A shout of jubilee is heard
Resounding from the distant strand.
With foreign treasures teeming o'er,
The vessels' mast-rich wood once more
Returns home to its native land.

The guest then speaks with startled mind:
"Fortune to-day, in truth, seems kind;
But thou her fickleness shouldst fear:
The Cretan hordes, well skilled in arms,
Now threaten thee with war's alarms;
E'en now they are approaching here."

And, ere the word has 'scaped his lips,
A stir is seen amongst the ships,
And thousand voices" Victory!"cry:
We are delivered from our foe,
The storm has laid the Cretan low,
The war is ended, is gone by!"

The shout with horror hears the guest:
"In truth, I must esteem thee blest!
Yet dread I the decrees of heaven.
The envy of the gods I fear;
To taste of unmixed rapture here
Is never to a mortal given.

"With me, too, everything succeeds;
In all my sovereign acts and deeds
The grace of Heaven is ever by;
And yet I had a well-loved heir -
I paid my debt to fortune there -
God took him hence - I saw him die.

"Wouldst thou from sorrow, then, be free
Pray to each unseen Deity,
For thy well-being, grief to send;
The man on whom the Gods bestow
Their gifts with hands that overflow,
Comes never to a happy end.

"And if the Gods thy prayer resist,
Then to a friend's instruction list, -
Invoke thyself adversity;
And what, of all thy treasures bright,
Gives to thy heart the most delight -
That take and cast thou in the sea!"

Then speaks the other, moved by fear:
"This ring to me is far most dear
Of all this isle within it knows -
I to the furies pledge it now,
If they will happiness allow" -
And in the flood the gem he throws.

And with the morrow's earliest light,
Appeared before the monarch's sight
A fisherman, all joyously;
"Lord, I this fish just now have caught,
No net before e'er held the sort;
And as a gift I bring it thee."

The fish was opened by the cook,
Who suddenly, with wondering look,
Runs up, and utters these glad sounds .
"Within the fish's maw, behold,
I've found, great lord, thy ring of gold!
Thy fortune truly knows no bounds!"

The guest with terror turned away.
"I cannot here, then, longer stay, -
My friend thou canst no longer be!
The gods have willed that thou shouldst die
Lest I, too, perish, I must fly" -
He spoke, - and sailed thence hastily.

1797, translation anonymous, 1902       

Versions --> German - Dual language - German & dictionary

© 1994-1999 Robert Godwin-Jones
Virginia Commonwealth University