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Stefan George, "The War" (1917)

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Less strange that millions die than that more millions
Still dare to live! Whose rhythm is his era’s
Will see the present only as a spook.
A childish fool finds comfort in: You did it!
No! All and none—so reads the final verdict.
A cheating fool pretends: This time the kingdom
Of peace is near. But when reprieves are over,
Your ankles and your knees again shall wade
In must the Master trod. But then a race
Will spring to life whose gaze does not dissemble,
Who know their fate and will not turn to stone
For fear of pitiless Gorgonian law.

In neither camp a single thought, a glimmer
Of what’s at stake. Here, only greed to traffic
Where others came before, to be converted
To that which one reviles and not acknowledge
That when its gods have died a people dies.
And there they boast of old prestige, and splendor,
And culture, while they want to sprawl in comfort,
In gains—and in the lap of clearest judgment
They do not even guess that those they slighted
Destroy what has been ripening for destruction.
And that, perhaps, “a hate and scorn of mankind”
Will bring salvation in a different form.

But let the song not end in curse! Some ears
Already grasp my praise of stuff and stem,
Of seed and fruit. And many hands already
Are stretched toward me when I proclaim: O land,
Too beautiful for alien feet to ravage,
Where groves are harps for winds, where in the osiers
A flute resounds, and where the dream still weaves,
Although your children always try to rend it,
And where the radiant Mother of Caucasians
Who are embroiled and vicious now, first showed
Her real unchanging face, O land, still hiding
So great a promise that it cannot fall!

Now youth calls up the gods, both the eternal
And the returning when their day is rounded.
The king of storms gives him of clear horizons
The scepter and delays the Longest Winter.
Who hung upon the Tree of Weal cast off
The pallor of pale souls and vies in frenzy
With Bacchus. Secretly Apollo leans
On Baldur: for a while there will be night—
This time the east will not bring light! The war
Has been resolved on stars, he is the victor
Who shelters the palladium in his confines,
And who can change is lord of worlds to come.

Source of English translation: Stefan George, The Works of Stefan George, translated by Olga Marx and Ernst Morwitz. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1949, pp. 290-94.

Source of original German text: Stefan George, Das neue Reich. Gesamt-Ausgabe der Werke, Volume 9. Berlin: Georg Bondi, Endgültige Fassung, 1928, pp. 27-35.

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