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The Sorrows of Werter

By Johann Wolfgang Goethe



RASH youth, forbear! O lay that poniard by,
Nor boldly thus the wrath of Heaven defy!
Contend not with God, in impious strife,
But calmly bear th'alloted ills of life;
Nor from thy station treach'rously withdraw,
Assigned by heaven's inviolable law.
"With grief, with pain, or poverty opprest,
"No ray of hope to cheer the tortur'd breast;
"Or with ill-fortune, say, the wretch has strove,
"Neglect of friends, or pangs of lighted love;
"What law commands such wretches to endure
"Those desperate evils, which admit no cure?"
-- The first primaeval law, by Heav'n imprest,
At man's creation, on the human breast,
The love of life -- which nothing can controul,
Till loss of reason stupifies the soul.
Self-preservation is God's firm decree;
Can self-destruction then from guilt be free?
The fear of death the stoutest heart appals,
Then listen to her voice -- 'tis Nature calls.

Hast thou no offspring, no dear, faithful wife,
By love, by interest, anxious for thy life?
No aged father, or more tender mother?
No friend more dear than sister or than brother?
If thou thyself canst mock the poniard's smart,
Ah! plunge not thus the dagger in their heart!

But say then, whence these miseries arise?
Though men are foolish, God is good and wise;
By whose kind plan, 'tis evident, mankind
Were for a life of happiness design'd. {223}
Thy griefs then spring from luxury and vice;
Thy poverty, perhaps, from cards and dice.
Does love, like Werter's, thy fond breast inspire?
Let reason quench, at once, th'adult'rous fire;
Nor think t'intrude amidst the blest above,
A soul defil'd with sin and guilty love.

As death to murder is by Heaven decreed,
Self-murder surely is a fouler deed,
And death eternal must that crime succeed;
For Mercy's self, though eager to relent,
Expects, at least, our crimes we should repent;
But what atonement can the wretch devise,
Who wilfully affronts his God - and dies?

Then yield not, coward like, to transient woe,
But bravely, like a Christian, face thy foe,
Dare to be wretched, if thou dar'st to sin,
Lest, when these pains thou'st ended, worse begin.

F I N I S.