The Death of Lincoln

by Henrik Ibsen (1865)

translated by William Schofield (1909)

They fired a shot over you in the West,
  And Europe awakened from sleep;
Lo, 'mongst the courtiers, silken-dressed,
  Deadly alarums creep.
Old Europe, thou with order and law,
  With maxims that never fail,
With a name unstained by blemish or flaw,
With virtuous wrath that holds in awe, —
  Then grewest thou strangely pale!

In mourning is stamped the unicorn,
  The eagle, each nation's seal;
Swift packets over the sea are borne;
  Despatches the truth reveal.
The cotton-monarchs, men of fame,
  In hosts from the land of lies,
The branch of peace to gather, came —
With a single pistol's crack and flame
  He falls — the One Man dies!

And so ye sages of Europe took fright!
  Why at this grieve ye the more?
A Prussian deed, the Düppelers' slight,
  The world had witnessed before.
No raven hath ever his brother slain —
  Does Poland come into your mind?
Or at Copenhagen the English gain?
Or the Flensburg grave? Or Sönderburg's bane?
  What anger now do ye find?

The ruddy flower that yonder glows,
  And startles you with its gloom,
Is only the graft of our Europe-rose,
  In richer earth a-bloom.
You planted this scion of your land,
  That reddens the soil of the West;
'Tis you who with your very own hand
Have bound the blood-stained martyrs' band
  On Abraham Lincoln's breast.

With vows forgotten and oaths insincere,
  With sheaves of treaties unsound,
With promises broken from year to year,
  Ye have fertilized history's ground.
And now, even now, ye expect it to bear
  A crop of the noblest strain.
Lo, your seed is grown! At a ruddy flare
Ye marvel, beholding everywhere
  A harvest of daggers for grain!

Where law abides at the point of the knife,
  And justice the gallows can sway,
Is nearer and surer the dawn of new life
  Than here where with words ye slay.
A Will is awaking and bringing its doom
  To hurl down the fabric of lies;
But the worm must first eat his way in the tomb,
And Time must other garments assume
  Till in caricature he dies.

There ruleth a Spirit, eternally just,
  Whose power ye cannot gainsay;
He bade Domus Aurea lie in the dust
  And Nero's colossus decay.
But first had the vices of Rome to go
  O'er the earth from pole to pole,
And tyrants be deified here below,
And emperors' golden statues glow
  Like gods on the Capitol.

They crumbled together, both circus and hall,
  Temples and columns fell low;
Arcades and arches were trampled small
  By the hoofs of the buffalo.
Men builded anew on the old, old ground,
  And clean was the air for a time;
But the new life in turn its warning hath found;
Now rises the pest, from the swamp unbound,
  And is wafted from clime to clime.

But although in the swamp of corruption we go,
  I cry not "Woe is me,"
For the poison-flowers that flaunting grow
  In clusters on Time's fair tree.
Let the worm gnaw on till the shell is bare,
  Nor roof nor wall shall decay;
Let the "system" on to its ruin fare,
The sooner will vengeance its doom prepare,
  On Hypocrisy's latest day!

Monadnock Valley Press > Ibsen