The Dance of Death
'Mid all that I have seen and known,--peoples and thrones, loves, glories, sorrows,
virtues--what have I ever loved? Nothing--except the mantling shroud that covers me!
My horse! ah, yes! my horse! I love thee too! How thou rushest o'er the world! thy hoofs
of steel resounding on the heads bruised by thy speeding feet. Thy tail is straight and
crisp, thine eyes dart flames, the mane upon thy neck flies in the wind, as on we dash
upon our maddened course. Never art thou weary! Never do we rest! Never do we sleep!
Thy neighing portends war; thy smoking nostrils spread a pestilence that, mist-like,
hovers over earth. Where'er my arrows fly, thou overturnest pyramids and empires,
trampling crowns beneath thy hoofs; All men respect thee; nay, adore thee! To invoke thy
favour, popes offer thee their triple crowns, and kings their sceptres; peoples, their secret
sorrows; poets, their renown. All cringe and kneel before thee, yet thou rushest on over
their prostrate forms.
Ah, noble steed! Sole gift from heaven! Thy tendons are of iron, thy head is of bronze.
Thou canst pursue thy course for centuries as swiftly as if borne up by eagle's wings; and
when, once in a thousand years, resistless hunger comes, thy food is human flesh, thy
drink, men's tears. My steed! I love thee as Pale Death alone can love!
* * * * *
Ah! I have lived so long! How many things I know! How many mysteries of the universe
are shut within my breast!
Sometimes, after I have hurled a myriad of darts, and, after coursing o'er the world on my
pale horse, have gathered many lives, a weariness assails me, and I long to rest.
But on my work must go; my path I must pursue; it leads through infinite space and all
the worlds. I sweep away men's plans together with their triumphs, their loves together
with their crimes, their very all.
I rend my winding-sheet; a frightful craving tortures me incessantly, as if some serpent
stung continually within.
I throw a backward glance, and see the smoke of fiery ruins left behind; the darkness of
the night; the agony of the world. I see the graves that are the work of these, my hands; I
see the background of the past--'tis nothingness! My weary body, heavy head, and tired
feet, sink, seeking rest. My eyes turn towards a glowing horizon, boundless, immense,
seeming to grow increasingly in height and depth. I shall devour it, as I have devoured all
When, O God! shall I sleep in my turn? When wilt Thou cease creating? When may I,
digging my own grave, stretch myself out within my tomb, and, swinging thus upon the
world, list the last breath, the death-gasp, of expiring nature?