The Gods of Greece | Friedrich von Schiller #poem

Photo by Daiga Ellaby on Unsplash

Last week I read Sally Rooney’s new novel, Beautiful World, Where Are You? (review to come).

Her book title was inspired by the 2018 Liverpool Biennial statement, which came from a line in an 1819 composition by Franz Schubert (D677), which he based on stanza from the 1788 Friedrich Schiller poem, The Gods of Greece (Die Götter Griechenlandes).

The folk at the Liverpool Biennial found that the Schiller poem “talks of fear, and longing, and loss of a world long gone. But, it also grabs and claws at hope, wanting to find a good and honourable place in the world it now finds itself in.” This sums up Rooney’s novel rather well too.

The original 1788 poem was 25 stanzas long, but Schiller republished it in 1793 with only 16 stanzas after a religious controversy caused him to reconsider. His original poem was thought to be defending Paganism against Christianity.

I’ve only included the particular verse of Friedrich von Schiller’s, The Gods of Greece below, that references Rooney’s title.

The first stanza is translated by E. A. Bowring. The second one by David B. Gosselin.

Beauteous world, where art thou gone? O, thou,
Nature’s blooming youth, return once more!
Ah, but in song’s fairy region now
Lives thy fabled trace so dear of yore!
Cold and perished, sorrow now the plains,
Not one godhead greets my longing sight;
Ah, the shadow only now remains
Of yon living image bright!

Oh beautiful world, where art thou flown?
Oh face of nature’s purest bloom, return!
Now only in the fairy land of song
Still lives the image for which we yearn.
And barren mourn once blooming fields
No Godhead lights up nature’s visage
How from the world’s every living image
Naught but a shadow yields!
This post was written on the traditional land of the Wangal clan, one of the 29 clans of the Eora Nation within the Sydney basin. This Reading Life acknowledges that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are our first storytellers.

7 thoughts on “The Gods of Greece | Friedrich von Schiller #poem

  1. I read Sally Rooney’s new book last week, too. I thank you for sharing this poem.

    We seem to have an inborn sense of nostalgia for days past. My grandfather, who experienced WW!, the Great Depression, and WWII when he was young, would always say, “The Good Old Days? Ha. These are the Good Old Days.”


  2. Pingback: 2022 in Review

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