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THE RING OF POLYCRATES. Friedrich Schiller


        A ballad.

   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.

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