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

The New-Year’s Night of a Miserable Man

By Jean Paul (J. P. F. Richter) (1763–1825)

Translation of James Clarence Mangan

IN the lone stillness of the New-Year’s night

An old man at his window stood, and turned

His dim eyes to the firmament, where, bright

And pure, a million rolling planets burned,—

And then down on the earth all cold and white,

And felt that moment that of all who mourned

And groaned upon its bosom, none there were

With his deep wretchedness and great despair.

For near him lay his grave,—hidden from view

Not by the flowers of youth, but by the snows

Of age alone. In torturing thought he flew

Over the past, and on his memory rose

That picture of his life which conscience drew,

With all its fruits,—diseases, sins, and woes;

A ruined frame, a blighted soul, dark years

Of agony, remorse, and withering fears.

Like spectres now his bright youth-days came back,

And that cross-road of life where, when a boy,

His father placed him first: its right-hand track

Leads to a land of glory, peace, and joy,

Its left to wildernesses waste and black,

Where snakes and plagues and poison-winds destroy.

Which had he trod? Alas! the serpents hung

Coiled round his heart, their venom on his tongue.

Sunk in unutterable grief, he cried,

“Restore my youth to me! O God, restore

My morn of life! O father! be my guide,

And let me, let me choose my path once more!”

But on the wide waste air his ravings died

Away, and all was silent as before.

His youth had glided by, fleet as the wave;

His father came not,—he was in his grave.

Strange lights flashed flickering by: a star was falling;

Down to the miry marsh he saw it rush—

“Like me!” he thought, and oh! that thought was galling,

And hot and heart-wrung tears began to gush.

Sleep-walkers crossed his eyes in shapes appalling;

Gaunt windmills lifted up their arms to crush;

And skeleton monsters rose up from the dim

Pits of the charnel-house, and glared on him!

Amid these overboiling bursts of feeling,

Rich music, heralding the young year’s birth,

Rolled from a distant steeple, like the pealing

Of some celestial organ o’er the earth:

Milder emotions over him came stealing;

He felt the soul’s unpurchasable worth.

“Return!” again he cried, imploringly;

“O my lost youth! return, return to me!”

And youth returned, and age withdrew its terrors;

Still was he young,—for he had dreamed the whole:

But faithful is the image conscience mirrors

When whirlwind passions darken not the soul.

Alas! too real were his sins and errors;

Too truly had he made the earth his goal;

He wept, and thanked his God that with the will,

He had the power, to choose the right path still.

Here, youthful reader, ponder! and if thou,

Like him, art reeling over the abyss,

And shakest off sin’s iron bondage now,

This ghastly dream may prove thy guide to bliss;

But should age once be written on thy brow,

Its wrinkles will not be a dream, like this.

Mayest vainly pour thy tears above the urn

Of thy departed youth,—it never will return!