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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
Hours per day that a death-row inmate in China wears hand and ankle restraints:
A multidisciplinary team detected cardiac arrhythmia in the works of Beethoven.
There was a run on cases of 5.56mm M855 green-tip rifle bullets, after the White House moved to ban their manufacture and sale because they can pierce police armor.
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