“Do I believe,” sayest thou, “what the masters of wisdom would teach me,
And what their followers’ band boldly and readily swear?
Cannot I ever attain to true peace, excepting through knowledge,
Or is the system upheld only by fortune and law?
Must I distrust the gently-warning impulse, the precept
That thou, Nature, thyself hast in my bosom impressed,
Till the schools have affixed to the writ eternal their signet,
Till a mere formula’s chain binds down the fugitive soul?
Answer me, then! for thou hast down into these deeps e’en descended,
Out of the mouldering grave thou didst uninjured return.
Is’t to thee known what within the tomb of obscure works is hidden,
Whether, yon mummies amid, life’s consolations can dwell?
Must I travel the darksome road? The thought makes me tremble;
Yet I will travel that road, if ’tis to truth and to right.”
Friend, hast thou heard of the golden age? Full many a story
Poets have sung in its praise, simply and touchingly sung
Of the time when the holy still wandered over life’s pathways,
When with a maidenly shame every sensation was veiled,
When the mighty law that governs the sun in his orbit,
And that, concealed in the bud, teaches the point how to move,
When necessity’s silent law, the steadfast, the changeless,
Stirred up billows more free, e’en in the bosom of man,
When the sense, unerring, and true as the hand of the dial,
Pointed only to truth, only to what was eternal?
Then no profane one was seen, then no initiate was met with,
And what as living was felt was not then sought ‘mongst the dead;
Equally clear to every breast was the precept eternal,
Equally hidden the source whence it to gladden us sprang;
But that happy period has vanished! And self-willed presumption
Nature’s godlike repose now has forever destroyed.
Feelings polluted the voice of the deities echo no longer,
In the dishonored breast now is the oracle dumb.
Save in the silenter self, the listening soul cannot find it,
There does the mystical word watch o’er the meaning divine;
There does the searcher conjure it, descending with bosom unsullied;
There does the nature long-lost give him back wisdom again.
If thou, happy one, never hast lost the angel that guards thee,
Forfeited never the kind warnings that instinct holds forth;
If in thy modest eye the truth is still purely depicted;
If in thine innocent breast clearly still echoes its call;
If in thy tranquil mind the struggles of doubt still are silent,
If they will surely remain silent forever as now;
If by the conflict of feelings a judge will ne’er be required;
If in its malice thy heart dims not the reason so clear,
Oh, then, go thy way in all thy innocence precious!
Knowledge can teach thee in naught; thou canst instruct her in much!
Yonder law, that with brazen staff is directing the struggling,
Naught is to thee. What thou dost, what thou mayest will is thy law,
And to every race a godlike authority issues.
What thou with holy hand formest, what thou with holy mouth speakest,
Will with omnipotent power impel the wondering senses;
Thou but observest not the god ruling within thine own breast,
Not the might of the signet that bows all spirits before thee;
Simple and silent thou goest through the wide world thou hast won.