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What indeed are men! A dwelling place for grim pains,
A ball of false fortune, a will-o’-the-wisp of their times,
A stage of bitter fear, set with sharp pain,
A quickly melting snow and burnt-out candles.
These lives flee from us like gossip and gestures,
Which before us have removed the gown of a weak body
Have been enrolled in the book of the dead, of the
Great Mortality, and to us are now vanishing memories.
Like a vain dream which easily passes from our attention
And closes up, like a current which no power can resist,
Thus must our name, praise, honor and fame also disappear.
What now draws breath must also escape with the air,
What will follow us will trail after us into the grave.
What am I saying? We are transitory, like smoke before a strong wind.
All is Vanity
You will see wherever you look only vanity on this earth.
What one man builds today, another tears down tomorrow;
Where now cities stand, a meadow will be,
Upon which a shepherd’s child will play with the herds.
What now blooms in magnificence, will soon be tread asunder;
What today pounds with defiance, tomorrow is ash and bone;
There is nothing which is eternal, neither ore nor marble.
Now fortune smiles upon us, but soon troubles will thunder.
The fame of great deeds must pass like a dream.
Why should the game of time, the simple human, persist?
Oh, what is all of this that we hold to be exquisite,
But wicked vanities, as shadow, dust and wind
But a meadow flower which one can find no more!
Yet not a single man wants to contemplate what is eternal.
–Andreas Gryphius, Menschliches Elend and Es ist alles eitel (ca. 1630) in: Deutsche Dichtung des Barock pp. 94-95 (E. Hederer ed. 1967) (S.H. transl.)
More from Scott Horton:
Six Questions — October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm
Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.
Mark Denbeaux on the NCIS cover-up of three “suicides” at Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp
From the June 2014 issue
Jobs created by every billion dollars of U.S. government defense spending:
Artists tend to have twice as many sexual partners as noncreative people.
Swiss retailer Migros cut off ties with a collectible-creamer company following the distribution of 2,000 creamers whose lids bore images of Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini. “You cannot put Pol Pot or a terrorist on a milk creamer,” said a Migros spokesman.
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“I hope that after reading the following pages the leaders of the Y. M. C. A. will start a campaign to induce good young men to do nothing. If so, I shall not have lived in vain.”