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C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

From the ‘Tragedy of Man’

By Imre Madách (1823–1864)

  • Translation of George Alexander Kohut

  • Scene:An open square in Constantinople.A few citizens lounging about.In the centre the palace of the Patriarch; to the right a cloister; to the left a grove.Adam as Tancred, in the prime of life, is seen advancing at the head of returning Crusaders, accompanied by other knights, with colors flying and drums beating; Lucifer as his armor-bearer.Evening, then night.

  • FIRST CITIZEN—Behold, there comes another horde of heathen;

    Oh, flee and double-bar the doors, lest they

    Again the whim to plunder feel!

    Second Citizen—Hide ye the women: but too well

    Knows this rebel the joys of the seraglio.

    First Citizen—And our wives the rights of the conqueror.

    Adam—Hold! hold! why scatter in such haste?

    Do ye not see the holy sign aloft

    That makes us brothers in humanity

    And companions to one goal?—

    We bore the light of our faith, the law

    Of love, into Asia’s wilds,

    That the savage millions there

    Where our Savior’s cradle stood

    Might share sweet salvation’s boon.

    Know ye not this brotherly love?

    First Citizen—Full many a time through honeyed words

    Swift harm befell our homes.

    [They disperse.]
    Adam[to the knights]—Behold, this is the accursed result

    When scheming vagabonds

    The sacred symbol flaunt,

    And flattering the passions of the mob,

    Presume unasked to lead.—

    Fellow knights! Until our swords

    To honor fair, to praise of God,

    To women’s guard, to bravery,

    Be sanctified,—are we in duty bound

    This demon foul in constant check to hold,

    That in spite of godless inclination,

    He great and noble deeds may do.

    Lucifer—That sounds well. But, Tancred, what if the people

    Do but spurn thy leadership?

    Adam—Where spirit is, is also victory.

    I’ll crush them to the earth!

    Lucifer—And should spirit with them alike abide,

    Wilt thou descend to them?
    Adam—Why descend?

    Is it not nobler to lift them up to me?

    To yield for lack of fighters

    The foremost place in battle, were

    As unworthy as to reject a comrade

    In envy of his share of victory.

    Lucifer—Alack! how the grand idea has come to naught

    For which the martyrs of the circus fought!

    Is this the freedom of equality?

    A wondrous brotherhood were that!

    Adam—Oh, cease thy scorn! Think not that I misprize

    Christianity’s exalted precepts.

    My being yearns for them alone!

    Whoever hath the spark divine may strive;

    And him who upward toils to us

    With joy we surely will receive.

    A sword-cut lifts him to our ranks.

    But guard we must our ranks with jealous eye

    Against the still fermenting chaos here.

    Would that our time were already near!

    For only then can we be quite redeemed

    When every barrier falls—when all is pure.

    And were he who set this universe in motion

    Not himself the great and mighty God,

    I must needs doubt the dawn of such a day.

    Ye have seen, O friends, how we have been received:

    Orphaned amidst the tumult of the town,

    Naught now remains save in yonder grove

    A tent to pitch, as we were wont among the infidels,

    Till better times shall come. Go; I follow soon.

    Every knight stands sponsor for his men.

    [The Crusaders pitch their tent.]
    Lucifer—What a pity that thy spirit’s lofty flight

    Even now begets such sorry fruit;

    Red without, within already rotten!

    Hast thou no longer faith in lofty thought?

    Lucifer—What boots it thee if I believe,

    When thine own race doth doubt?

    This knighthood which thou hast placed

    As lighthouse amid ocean’s waves,

    Will yet die out, or half collapse,

    And make the sailor’s course even more fearful

    Than before, when no light shone before his way.

    What lives to-day and blessing works,

    Dies with time; the spirit takes wing

    And the carcass but remains, to breathe

    Murderous miasmas into the fresher life

    Which round him buds. Behold, thus

    Survive from bygone times our old ideals.

    Adam—Until our ranks dissolve, its sacred teachings

    Will have had effect upon the public mind.

    I fear no danger then.

    Lucifer—The holy teachings! They are your curse indeed,

    When ye approach them unawares,

    For ye turn, sharpen, split, and smooth

    Them o’er so long, till they your phantoms

    Or your chains become.

    And though reason cannot grasp exact ideas,

    Yet ye presumptuous men do always seek

    To forge them—to your harm.

    Look thou upon this sword! It may by a hair’s-breadth

    Longer be or shorter, and yet remains the same

    In substance. The door is opened thus to endless speculation;

    For where is there limit pre-imposed?

    ’Tis true your feelings soon perceive the right

    When change in greater things sets in.—

    But why speak and myself exert? Speech

    Is wearisome. Turn thou, survey the field thyself.

    Adam—Friends, my troops are tired and shelter crave.

    In the Capital of Christendom they will

    Perchance not crave in vain.

    Third Citizen—The question is, whether as heretics

    Ye’re not worse than infidels!…

    Adam—I stand aghast! But see—what prince

    Approaches from afar, so haughtily defiant?

    Lucifer—The Patriarch—successor to the Apostles.

    Adam—And this barefoot, dirty mob

    Which follows with malicious joy

    In the captive’s wake,

    Feigning humility?

    Lucifer—They are monks, Christian cynics.

    Adam—I saw not such among my native hills.

    Lucifer—You’ll see them yet. Slowly, slowly

    Spreads the curse of leprosy;

    But beware how you dare insult

    This people, so absolute in virtue and

    Hence so hard to reconcile.

    Adam—What virtue could adorn such folk as this?

    Lucifer—Their worth is abnegation, poverty,

    As practiced first by the Master on the Cross.

    Adam—He saved a world by such humility;

    While these cowards, like rebels,

    Do but blaspheme the name of God,

    In that they despise his gift.

    Who ’gainst gnats the weapons same would draw

    That in the bear hunt he is wont to use

    Is a fool.
    Lucifer—But if they in pious zeal, perchance,

    Mistake the gnats for monstrous bears,

    Have they then not the right to drive

    To the very gates of hell

    Those who life enjoy?…

    Adam[facing the Patriarch]—Father, we’re battling for the Holy Grave,

    And wearied from the way which we have come,

    To rest within these walls we are denied.

    Thou hast power here: help thou our cause.

    Patriarch—My son, I have just now no time for petty things.

    God’s glory and my people’s weal

    Call higher aims now forth. I must away

    To judge the heretics; who, like poisonous weeds,

    Do grow and multiply, and whom hell

    With force renewed upon us throws,

    Even though we constant try with fire and sword

    To root them out.

    But if indeed ye be true Christian knights,

    Why seek the Moor so far remote?

    Here lurks a yet more dangerous foe.

    Scale ye their walls, level them to the ground,

    And spare ye neither woman, child, nor hoary head.

    Adam—The innocent! O father, this cannot be thy wish!

    Patriarch—Innocent is the serpent, too, while yet of tender growth

    Or after its fangs are shed.

    Yet sparest thou the snake?

    Adam—It must, in faith, have been a grievous sin

    Which could such wrath from Christian love evoke.

    Patriarch—O my son! not he shows love who feeds the flesh,

    But he who leadeth back the erring soul,

    At point of sword,—or e’en through leaping flames

    If needs must be,—to Him who said:

    Not peace but war do I proclaim!

    That wicked sect interprets false

    The mystic Trinity….

    Monks—Death upon them all!

    There burns the funeral pile.

    Adam—My friend, give up the iota, pray:

    Your inspired valor in fighting

    For the Savior’s grave will be

    More fitting sacrifice than this.

    An Old Heretic—Satan, tempt us not! We’ll bleed

    For our true faith where God ordains.

    One of the Monks—Ha, renegade! thou boastest of true faith?…

    Patriarch—Too long have we tarried here: away with them

    To the funeral pyre, in honor of God!

    The Old Heretic—In honor of God? Thou spakest well, O knave!

    In honor of God are we indeed your prey.

    Ye are strong, and can enforce your will

    As ye may please. But whether ye have acted rightly

    Heaven alone will judge. Even now is weighed,

    At every hour, your vile career of crime.

    New champions shall from our blood arise;

    The idea lives triumphant on; and coming centuries

    Shall the light reflect of flames that blaze to-day.

    Friends, go we to our glorious martyrdom!

    The Heretics[chanting in chorus]—My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?

    Why art thou so far from helping me

    And from the words of my roaring?

    O my God, I cry in the daytime, but thou

    Hearest not; and in the night season,

    And am not silent. But thou art holy!(Psalm xxii.)

    Monks[breaking in]—Plead my cause, O Lord, with them that strive with me;

    Fight against them that fight against me;

    Take hold of shield and buckler and stand up for mine help;

    Draw out also the spear, and stop the way

    Against them that persecute me.(Psalm xxxv.)

    [In the interim the Patriarch and the procession go by.The monks with tracts mingle among the Crusaders.]
    Lucifer—Why silent thus and horrified?

    Dost hold this to be a tragedy?

    Consider it a comedy, and ’twill make thee laugh.

    Adam—Nay, spare thy banter now! Can one

    For a mere iota go firmly thus to death?

    What then is the lofty and sublime?

    Lucifer—That which to others may seem droll.

    Only a hair divides these two ideas;

    A voice in the heart alone may judge betwixt them,

    And the mysterious judge is sympathy,

    Which, blindly, at one time deifies,

    Then with brutal scorn condemns to death.

    Adam—Why must my eyes be witness of these varied sins?

    The subtleties of proud science, and of sophistry!

    That deadly poison wondrously so sipped

    From the sweetest, gayest, freshest flowers?

    I knew this flower once in the budding time

    Of our oppressed faith. Where is the wanton hand

    That ruthlessly destroyed it?

    Lucifer—The wanton hand is victory,

    Which wide-spread once, a thousand wishes wakes,

    Danger allies, and martyrs makes,

    And strength endues;

    ’Tis there among the heretics.

    Adam—Verily, I’d cast away my sword and turn me

    To my northern home, where, in the glades

    Of the shadowy woods primeval,

    Stern manliness, true artlessness yet dwell,

    And the rancor of this smooth-tongued age defy.

    I would return but for a voice that lisps

    The constant message in my ears,

    That I alone am called to re-create this world.

    Lucifer—Love’s labor lost; for unaided thou canst

    Ne’er prevail against the ruling spirit of the age.

    The course of time is a mighty stream,—

    It buries thee or bears thee;

    Nor canst thou hope to guide it,

    But only swim adrift the tide.

    Who in history immortal shine,

    And wield uncommon power,

    Knew well the time in which they lived,

    Yet did not themselves the thought create.

    Not because the cock crows does day dawn,

    But the cock crows with the dawn of day;

    Yonder those who, fettered, fly to face

    The terrors of a death of martyrdom,

    See scarce a step ahead.

    The thought but just conceived dawns in their midst

    In the throes of death they hail so joyfully,—

    The thought which by a care-free posterity

    Will be inhaled with the air they breathe.

    But leave thou this theme! Glance toward thy tent:

    What unclean monks stroll about there?

    What trade they drive, what speeches make

    And gestures wild, insane?

    Let’s nearer draw, and hearken!

    A Monk in the centre of a crowd of Crusaders—Buy ye, brave warriors; neglect ye not

    This manual of penance:

    ’Twill clear all doubt of conscience;

    You’ll learn therein much weighty mystery:

    How many years in hell will burn

    Each murderer, thief, and ravisher,

    And he who doth our doctrines spurn;

    It tells ye what the rich may buy

    For a score or more of solidi;

    And the poor for three alone

    May swift obtain salvation’s boon;

    Whilst even he, to be quite fair,

    Who such a sum cannot well spare,

    May for a thousand lashes, mind,

    Salvation bring upon his kind.

    Buy ye, buy ye, this precious book!

    The Crusaders—Here, father, here, give us a copy too!

    Adam—Infamous trader, and still more wicked patrons,

    Draw ye the sword and end this foul traffic!

    Lucifer[confused]—I beg your pardon. This monk has long my partner been.

    Not so deeply do I this world despise;

    When praise of God soared high,

    My homage also rose aloft,

    Whilst thine remained becalmed….

    Adam—Help me, O Lucifer! Away, away from here!

    Lead back my future into past,

    That I my fate no longer see,

    Nor view a fruitless strife. Pray let me think

    If wisdom is to thwart my destiny!

    Lucifer—Awake then, Adam,—thy dream is o’er.


    Scene:A garden of palms.Adam, young again, enters from his bower; still half asleep, he looks about in astonishment.Lucifer stands in the middle of the scene.It is a radiant day.

    ADAM—Ye weird scenes and haggard forms,

    How have ye left me lone!

    Joys and smiles greet now my path,

    As once of yore before my heart was broken.

    Lucifer—O boastful man, is it thy wish, perchance,

    That Nature for thy sake her law should change,—

    A star appoint to mark thy loss,

    Or shake the earth because a worm has died?

    Adam—Have I dreamed, or am I dreaming still?

    And is our life aught but a dream at last

    Which makes an inanimate mass to live

    But for a moment, then lets it fade forever?

    Oh why, why this brief glimpse of consciousness,

    Only to view the terrors of annihilation?

    Lucifer—Thou mournest? Only cowards bend

    Their necks to yoke, and unresisting stand

    When yet the blow may be averted.

    But unmurmuring doth the strong man

    Decipher the mystic runes eternal

    Of his destiny, caring but to know

    If he himself can thrive beneath their doom.

    The might of Fate controls the world’s great course;

    Thou art but a tool and blindly onward driven.

    Adam—Nay, nay, thou liest! for the will of man is free;

    That at least I’ve well deserved,

    And for it have resigned my Paradise!

    My phantom dreams have taught me much;

    Full many a madness have I left behind,

    And now ’tis mine to choose another path.

    Lucifer—Ay, if forgetting and eternal hope

    Were not to destiny so closely wed.

    The one doth heal thy bleeding wounds,

    The other closely screens abysmal depths,

    And gives new courage, saying,—

    Rash hundreds found a grave therein,

    Thou shalt be the first safely to leap it o’er.

    Hast thou not, scholar, full oft beheld

    The many freaks and whims among

    The parasites that brood and breed

    In cats and owls only,

    But must pass in mice their earliest stage

    Of slow development?

    Not just the one or other mouse

    Predestined is the claw to feel

    Of cat or owl; who cautious is

    May even both avoid, and keep

    In ripe old age his nest and house.

    A relentless hand doth yet provide

    Just such a number for his foes

    As its presence here on earth

    Ages hence insures.

    Nor is the human being bound,

    And yet the race wears chains.

    Zeal carries thee like a flood along:

    To-day for this, for that to-morrow,

    The funeral pyres will their victims claim,

    And of scoffers there will be no lack;

    While he who registers the count

    Will be in wonder lost, that wanton fate

    Should have maintained such rare consistency

    In making, matching, marring,

    In virtue, faith, and sin and death,

    In suicide and lunacy.

    Adam—Hold! An inspiration fires my brain;

    I may then thee, Almighty God, defy.

    Should fate but cry to life a thousand halts,

    I’d laugh serene and die, should I so please.

    Am I not lone and single in this world?

    Before me frowns that cliff, beneath whose base

    Yawns the dark abysmal gulf.

    One leap, the final scene, and I shall cry—

    Farewell, the farce at last is ended!

    [Adam approaches the cliff, as Eve appears.]
    Lucifer—Ended! What simple-minded phrases!

    Is not each moment end and

    Beginning too? Alas! and but for this

    Hast thou surveyed millennial years to come?

    Eve—I pray thee, Adam, why didst steal off from me?

    Thy last cold kiss still chills my heart;

    And even now, sorrow or anger sits

    Upon thy brow; I shrink from thee!

    Adam[going on]—Why follow me? Why dog my footsteps?

    The ruler of creation, man,

    Has weightier things to do

    Than waste in sportive love his days.

    Woman understands not; is a burden only.

    [Softening]—Oh, why didst thou not longer slumber?

    Far harder now the sacrifice will be

    That I for future ages offer must.

    Eve—Shouldst hear me, lord, ’twill easier be:

    What doubtful was, is now assured,—

    The future.
    Adam—How now?

    Eve—The hope my lips thus fain would lisp

    Will lift the cloud and clear thy brow.

    Come then a little nearer, pray!

    O Adam, hear: I am a mother.

    Adam[sinking upon his knee]—Thou hast conquered me, O Lord!

    Behold, in the dust I lie.

    Without thee as against thee I strive in vain;

    Thou mayest raise me up or strike me down,—

    I bare my heart and soul before thee.

    God[appearing, surrounded by angels]—Adam, rise, and be thou not cast down.

    Behold, I take thee back to me,

    Reconciled by my saving grace.

    Lucifer[aside]—Family scenes are not my specialty.

    They may affect the heart,

    But the mind shrinks from such monotony;

    Methinks I’ll slink away.[About to go.]

    God—Lucifer! I’ll have a word with thee,—remain!

    And thou, my son, confess what troubles thee.

    Adam—Fearful images haunted me, O Lord,

    And what was true therein I cannot tell;

    Intrust to me, I beg, I supplicate,

    The mystery of all my future state.

    Is there naught else besides this narrow life

    Which, becoming clarified like wine,

    Thou mayest spill with every whim of thine,

    And dust may drink it?

    Or didst thou mean the soul for higher things?

    Will further toil and forward stride my kind,

    Still growing nobler, till we perfection find

    Near thine almighty Throne?

    Or drudge to death like some blind treadmill-horse

    Without the hope of ever changing course?

    Doth noble striving meet with just reward,

    When he who for ideals gives his blood

    Is mocked at by a soulless throng?

    Enlighten me; grateful will I bear my lot:

    I can but win by such exchange,

    For this suspense is hell.

    God—Seek not to solve the mystery

    Which Godly grace and sense benign

    Hath screened from human sight.

    If thou couldst see that transient is

    The soul’s sojourn upon this world,

    And that it upward soars

    To life unending, in the great beyond,—

    Sorrow would no virtue be.

    If dust absorbed thy soul alike,

    What would spur thee on to thought?

    Who would prompt thee to resign

    Thy grosser joys for virtue fine?

    Whilst now, though burdened with life,

    Thy future beckons from afar,

    Shimmering through the clouds

    And lifting thee to higher spheres.

    And should, at times, this pride thy heart inflame,

    Thy span of life will soon control thy pace,

    And nobleness and virtue reign supreme.

    Lucifer[laughing derisively]—Verily, glory floods the paths you tread,

    Since greatness, virtue, are to lead thee on.

    Two words which only pass in blessed deed

    When superstition, ignorance, and prejudice

    Keep constant guard and company.—

    Why did I ever seek to work out great ideas

    Through man, of dust and sunbeams formed,

    So dwarfed in knowledge, in blind error so gigantic?

    Adam—Cease thy scorn, O Lucifer! cease thy scorn!

    I saw full well thy wisdom’s edifice,

    Wherein my heart felt only chilled;

    But, gracious God, who shall sustain me now

    And lead me onward in the paths of right,

    Since thou didst withdraw the hand that guided me,

    Before I tasted fruit of idle knowledge?

    God—Strong is thine arm, full thy heart of lofty thoughts;

    The field is boundless where thou seed shouldst sow.

    Give thou but heed! A voice shall ceaseless call thee back.

    Or constant speed thee on:

    Follow its lead. And if at times

    This heavenly sound be hushed in midst the whirl

    Of thine eventful years, the purer soul

    Of woman, unselfish, pure, and gentle,

    Will surely hear it, and thrilled by woman’s love,

    Thy soul shall soar in Poetry and Song!

    And by thy side she loyally will watch,

    Mounted on these cherubim,

    In sorrow pale or rosy joy,

    A cheering, soothing genius.

    Thou too, O Lucifer, a link but art

    In my wide universe; so labor on!

    Thy frosty knowledge and thy mad denial

    Will cause, like yeast, the mind to effervesce.

    E’en though it turns him from the beaten track,

    It matters not. He’ll soon return;

    But endless shall thy penance be,

    Since thou art ever doomed to see

    How beauty buds and virtue sprouts

    From the seed thou wouldst have spoiled.

    Chorus of Angels
    Choice between the good and evil,

    Wondrous thought, sublime decision!

    Still to know that thou art shielded

    By a gracious God’s provision.

    For the right, then, be thou steadfast,

    Though thou labor without meed;

    Thy reward shall be the knowledge

    Thou hast done a noble deed.

    Greatness grows in goodness only;

    Shame will keep the good man just,

    And the fear of shame uplifts him,

    While the mean man crawls in dust.

    But when treading paths exalted,

    This blind error cherish not,—

    That the glory thou achievest

    Adds to God’s a single jot:

    For he needs not thy assistance

    To accomplish his designs;

    Be thou thankful if he calls thee

    And a task to thee assigns.

    Eve—Praise be to God, I understand this song.

    Adam—I divine the message and submit to its decree.

    Ah, could I only the distant end foresee!

    God—I have ordained, O man,—

    Struggle thou and trust!