Friedrich Schiller

10 November 1759 – 9 May 1805 / Marbach, Württemberg

The Ring Of Polycrates - 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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