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Friedrich Schiller

Wallenstein's Camp


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  • 1 Schiller composed this short poem as a prologue, or preliminary word, not to the Wallenstein trilog (...)

Seventeenth-century image of a mounted Croat, armed with a pike

Seventeenth-century image of a mounted Croat, armed with a pike

A Mounted Croatian Pikeman
How many stranger troops one doesn’t see today
In many a German town, and mostly with dismay.
Their curious outfits are cause for wide alarm;
We wish them home again, not in our house and barn.​wiki/​File:Zeitgenössische_Abbildung_eines_Kroatischen_Reiters.JPG Image in the public domain.

1Spoken at the reopening of the Weimar Playhouse, October 1798

The play of smiling and of weeping masks
To which you’ve often lent a willing eye
And ear, devoted raptly your attention
Unites us once again within this Hall.
And see! It has made itself young again. Art,
With ornament, has made it a bright temple,
And a harmonious spirit speaks to us
In all these noble columns’ orderly ranks
And turns our senses and our feelings festive.

And yet this still remains our old playhouse, [10]
The cradle of so many young men’s gifts,
A field of exercise for growing talents.
We are the Old Guard; long before your time
We formed ourselves here, fervent, full of longing.
A noble master once stood in this place,
Where his creative genius lifted you,
Enchanted, to the clear heights of his art.
Oh, may the worth of this renewed space draw
Into our midst the worthiest of talents
And bless us with the brilliant realization
Of hopes that we’ve long carried in our hearts.
A grand example rouses emulation
And raises judgment to a higher standard.
Thus may this circle, may this new stage stand
As witnesses of talent brought to perfection.
Where would it rather want to try its powers,
Refresh, renew acclaim of long ago
Than here before this chosen circle that,
Susceptible to every magic Art makes,
With feelings lightly prompted into motion
Seeks after Mind in its most fleeting form.

For, quick and traceless, mimic art, a wonder,
Escapes, goes past, evades the senses, while
The image made by hammer and by chisel,
The song made by the poet live for millennia.
The magic made
here dies out with the artist;
The fleet creation of the moment fades away
The way that resonance dies in the ear,
Its fame preserved by no work that will last.
For Art is hard and praise of it will pass,
Posterity weaves no garlands for the Mime.
And so he must be chary with the present,
Must fill the moment that is his entirely,
Assure himself of his contemporaries’ favor,
And in the feelings of the Best and Worthiest
Erect a
living monument to himself.
Thus he anticipates his name’s eternity,
For one who’s done enough to satisfy
The Best of his own time has lived for all time.

The era that the art of Thalia opens [50]
Upon this stage today emboldens also
The poet, leaving accustomed things behind,
To lift you from the narrow circles of
Quotidian life onto a higher scene
Of spectacle not unlike the exalted
Moment, the time in which we live now, striving.
For only a grand object has the power
To move man in his deepest human depths
In narrow circles thinking also narrows,
And mankind grows, expands with larger purpose.

Here at the grave end of our century, where
Even reality has turned to poetry,
Where we see mighty natures struggle and
Perceive a weighty goal before us, and
Where the great objects of humanity,
Where rule and freedom are contested mutually,
There, too, may Art upon a shadow stage
Attempt a higher flight, indeed she must,
If she’s not to be shamed by Life’s great stage.

In tatters we see lying these days an [70]
Old solid form once given Europe’ s kingdoms
By peace one hundred fifty years ago,
The precious fruit of thirty years of war.
Now let the poet’s fantasy once more
Bring this dark time before your inner eye,
That you may look more happily upon the
Present and to the future’s hope-filled distance.

Into the midst of that war now the poet
Places you. Sixteen years of laying waste,
Of robbing, snatching, misery have flown by.
Over the earth dark masses swarm and seethe;
No hope of peace glows even from a distance;
The realm’s a no-man’s-land of arms and weapons;
The cities are a desert, Magdeburg
Is rubble, trade and manufacture dead;
The citizen is nothing, the soldier everything;
Unpunished, insolence despises mores;
Raw hordes encamp themselves, gone wild in endless
Fighting, about us on the ruined earth.

Against this gloomy ground an undertaking [90]
Of bold exuberance and a dauntless, rash,
And daring character stand out in contrast.
You know him: the man who made brave armies,
The idol of his men, scourge of the countryside,
The Kaiser’s best man and his nemesis,
The child of Fortune, her adventurous son, who,
Exalted by the favor of the times,
Ascended quickly to the highest honor
And, unappeased, still striving onward, upward,
Fell victim to his ravenous ambition.
Observed by partisan love and hate, his profile
Remains uncertain in the gaze of History.
For your eyes now and for your hearts let Art
Make him more human here and bring him closer.
For Art, which binds and limits, leads all things,
Also the most extreme ones, back to Nature.
It sees the
man embattled in the press
Of life and rolls the better half of his guilt
Over onto the luckless constellations.

He’s not the one who comes before you on [110]
This stage today. But in the countless armies
That his command leads mightily, his spirit
Inspires, his shadow image will come out
To meet you. The shy Muse then will dare to
Present him to you as a living figure,
Because it is his power that misleads
His heart; his Camp casts light upon his crime.

Therefore forgive the poet if it’ s not
Directly and at once that he would lead you
To reach the goal of this great action, if he
Dare only to develop that grand object
Before you in a series of tableaux.
Thus may the play we give today win your ear
And heart for unaccustomed sounds and voices,
May it transport you back to that far time,
Back onto that far theater of war that
Our hero will soon fill with deeds.
And if
The Muse today, unhampered goddess of
Both dance and song, should modestly lay claim
To her old German right to play with rhyme,
Spare her your blame and rather give her thanks
That she would play the gloomy world of Truth
Over onto the sparkling world of Art,
That she herself undoes forthrightly the
Illusion that she has created, does
Not substitute its Seeming for that Truth.
Our lives are earnest and our art serene.

Notes de fin

1 Schiller composed this short poem as a prologue, or preliminary word, not to the Wallenstein trilogy, which was not yet finished, but to a performance of Wallenstein’s Camp. That performance, in October 1798, was the main attraction at the formal reopening of the newly renovated Weimar playhouse. The Prologue was to be—and was—recited from the stage by an actor to welcome the company, name the occasion, and introduce the play. It is a ceremonial address composed to mark a special occasion. Two hundred twenty years later, it is profitably read not first but last, when the Wallenstein story is known and in the air, as it was in Weimar at the time.

Table des illustrations

Titre Seventeenth-century image of a mounted Croat, armed with a pike
Légende A Mounted Croatian PikemanHow many stranger troops one doesn’t see todayIn many a German town, and mostly with dismay.Their curious outfits are cause for wide alarm;We wish them home again, not in our house and barn.
Fichier image/jpeg, 125k


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