Translations From Novalis: Spiritual Songs by George MacDonald


Without thee, what were life or being!
Without thee, what had I not grown!
From fear and anguish vainly fleeing,
I in the world had stood alone;
For all I loved could trust no shelter;
The future a dim gulf had lain;
And when my heart in tears did welter,
To whom had I poured out my pain?

Consumed in love and longing lonely
Each day had worn the night’s dull face
With hot tears I had followed only
Afar life’s wildly rushing race.
No rest for me, tumultuous driven!
A hopeless sorrow by the hearth!–
Who, that had not a friend in heaven,
Could to the end hold out on earth?

But if his heart once Jesus bareth,
And I of him right sure can be,
How soon a living glory scareth
The bottomless obscurity!
Manhood in him first man attaineth;
His fate in Him transfigured glows;
On freezing Iceland India gaineth,
And round the loved one blooms and blows.

Life grows a twilight softly stealing;
The world speaks all of love and glee;
For every wound grows herb of healing,
And every heart beats full and free.
I, his ten thousand gifts receiving,
Humble like him, his knees embrace;
Sure that we share his presence living
When two are gathered in one place.

Forth, forth to all highways and hedges!
Compel the wanderers to come in;
Stretch out the hand that good will pledges,
And gladly call them to their kin.
See heaven high over earth up-dawning!
In faith we see it rise and spread:
To all with us one spirit owning–
To them with us ’tis opened.

An ancient, heavy guilt-illusion
Haunted our hearts, a changeless doom;
Blindly we strayed in night’s confusion;
Gladness and grief alike consume.
Whate’er we did, some law was broken!
Mankind appeared God’s enemy;
And if we thought the heavens had spoken,
They spoke but death and misery.

The heart, of life the fountain swelling–
An evil creature lay therein;
If more light shone into our dwelling,
More unrest only did we win.
Down to the earth an iron fetter
Fast held us, trembling captive crew;
Fear of Law’s sword, grim Death the whetter,
Did swallow up hope’s residue.

Then came a saviour to deliver–
A Son of Man, in love and might!
A holy fire, of life all-giver,
He in our hearts has fanned alight.
Then first heaven opened–and, no fable,
Our own old fatherland we trod!
To hope and trust we straight were able,
And knew ourselves akin to God.

Then vanished Sin’s old spectre dismal;
Our every step grew glad and brave.
Best natal gift, in rite baptismal,
Their own faith men their children gave.
Holy in him, Life since hath floated,
A happy dream, through every heart;
We, to his love and joy devoted,
Scarce know the moment we depart.

Still standeth, in his wondrous glory,
The holy loved one with his own;
His crown of thorns, his faithful story
Still move our hearts, still make us groan.
Whoso from deadly sleep will waken,
And grasp his hand of sacrifice,
Into his heart with us is taken,
To ripen a fruit of Paradise.


Dawn, far eastward, on the mountain!
Gray old times are growing young:
From the flashing colour-fountain
I will quaff it deep and long!–
Granted boon to Longing’s long privation!
Sweet love in divine transfiguration!

Comes at last, our old Earth’s native,
All-Heaven’s one child, simple, kind!
Blows again, in song creative,
Round the earth a living wind;
Blows to clear new flames that rush together
Sparks extinguished long by earthly weather.

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Everywhere, from graves upspringing,
Rises new-born life, new blood!
Endless peace up to us bringing,
Dives he underneath life’s flood;
Stands in midst, with full hands, eyes caressing–
Hardly waits the prayer to grant the blessing.

Let his mild looks of invading
Deep into thy spirit go;
By his blessedness unfading
Thou thy heart possessed shalt know.
Hearts of all men, spirits all, and senses
Mingle, and a new glad dance commences.

Grasp his hands with boldness yearning;
Stamp his face thy heart upon;
Turning toward him, ever turning,
Thou, the flower, must face thy sun.
Who to him his heart’s last fold unfoldeth,
True as wife’s his heart for ever holdeth.

Ours is now that Godhead’s splendour
At whose name we used to quake!
South and north, its breathings tender
Heavenly germs at once awake!
Let us then in God’s full garden labour,
And to every bud and bloom be neighbour!


Who in his chamber sitteth lonely,
And weepeth heavy, bitter tears;
To whom in doleful colours, only
Of want and woe, the world appears;

Who of the Past, gulf-like receding,
Would search with questing eyes the core,
Down into which a sweet woe, pleading,
Wiles him from all sides evermore–

As if a treasure past believing
Lay there below, for him high-piled,
After whose lock, with bosom heaving,
He breathless grasps in longing wild:

He sees the Future, waste and arid,
In hideous length before him stretch;
About he roams, alone and harried,
And seeks himself, poor restless wretch!–

I fall upon his bosom, tearful:
I once, like thee, with woe was wan;
But I grew well, am strong and cheerful,
And know the eternal rest of man.

Thou too must find the one consoler
Who inly loved, endured, and died–
Even for them that wrought his dolour
With thousand-fold rejoicing died.

He died–and yet, fresh each to-morrow,
His love and him thy heart doth hold;
Thou mayst, consoled for every sorrow,
Him in thy arms with ardour fold.

New blood shall from his heart be driven
Through thy dead bones like living wine;
And once thy heart to him is given,
Then is his heart for ever thine.

What thou didst lose, he keeps it for thee;
With him thy lost love thou shalt find;
And what his hand doth once restore thee,
That hand to thee will changeless bind.


Of the thousand hours me meeting,
And with gladsome promise greeting,
One alone hath kept its faith–
One wherein–ah, sorely grieved!–
In my heart I first perceived
Who for us did die the death.

All to dust my world was beaten;
As a worm had through them eaten
Withered in me bud and flower;
All my life had sought or cherished
In the grave had sunk and perished;
Pain sat in my ruined bower.

While I thus, in silence sighing,
Ever wept, on Death still crying,
Still to sad delusions tied,
All at once the night was cloven,
From my grave the stone was hoven,
And my inner doors thrown wide.

Whom I saw, and who the other,
Ask me not, or friend or brother!–
Sight seen once, and evermore!
Lone in all life’s eves and morrows,
This hour only, like my sorrows,
Ever shines my eyes before.


If I him but have,[1]
If he be but mine,
If my heart, hence to the grave,
Ne’er forgets his love divine–
Know I nought of sadness,
Feel I nought but worship, love, and gladness.

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[Footnote 1: Here I found the double or feminine rhyme impossible without the loss of the far more precious simplicity of the original, which could be retained only by a literal translation.]

If I him but have,
Pleased from all I part;
Follow, on my pilgrim staff,
None but him, with honest heart;
Leave the rest, nought saying,
On broad, bright, and crowded highways straying.

If I him but have,
Glad to sleep I sink;
From his heart the flood he gave
Shall to mine be food and drink;
And, with sweet compelling,
Mine shall soften, deep throughout it welling.

If I him but have,
Mine the world I hail;
Happy, like a cherub grave
Holding back the Virgin’s veil:
I, deep sunk in gazing,
Hear no more the Earth or its poor praising.

Where I have but him
Is my fatherland;
Every gift a precious gem
Come to me from his own hand!
Brothers long deplored,
Lo, in his disciples, all restored!


My faith to thee I break not,
If all should faithless be,
That gratitude forsake not
The world eternally.
For my sake Death did sting thee
With anguish keen and sore;
Therefore with joy I bring thee
This heart for evermore.

Oft weep I like a river
That thou art dead, and yet
So many of thine thee, Giver
Of life, life-long forget!
By love alone possessed,
Such great things thou hast done!
But thou art dead, O Blessed,
And no one thinks thereon!

Thou stand’st with love unshaken
Ever by every man;
And if by all forsaken,
Art still the faithful one.
Such love must win the wrestle;
At last thy love they’ll see,
Weep bitterly, and nestle
Like children to thy knee.

Thou with thy love hast found me!
O do not let me go!
Keep me where thou hast bound me
Till one with thee I grow.
My brothers yet will waken,
One look to heaven will dart–
Then sink down, love-o’ertaken,
And fall upon thy heart.



Few understand
The mystery of Love,
Know insatiableness,
And thirst eternal.
Of the Last Supper
The divine meaning
Is to the earthly senses a riddle;
But he that ever
From warm, beloved lips,
Drew breath of life;
In whom the holy glow
Ever melted the heart in trembling waves;
Whose eye ever opened so
As to fathom
The bottomless deeps of heaven–
Will eat of his body
And drink of his blood
Who of the earthly body
Has divined the lofty sense?
Who can say
That he understands the blood?
One day all is body,
One body:
In heavenly blood
Swims the blissful two.

Oh that the ocean
Were even now flushing!
And in odorous flesh
The rock were upswelling!
Never endeth the sweet repast;
Never doth Love satisfy itself;
Never close enough, never enough its own,
Can it have the beloved!
By ever tenderer lips
Transformed, the Partaken
Goes deeper, grows nearer.
Pleasure more ardent
Thrills through the soul;
Thirstier and hungrier
Becomes the heart;
And so endureth Love’s delight
From everlasting to everlasting.
Had the refraining
Tasted but once,
All had they left
To set themselves down with us
To the table of longing
Which will never be bare;
Then had they known Love’s
Infinite fullness,
And commended the sustenance
Of body and blood.


Weep I must–my heart runs over:
Would he once himself discover–
If but once, from far away!
Holy sorrow! still prevailing
Is my weeping, is my wailing:
Would that I were turned to clay!

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Evermore I hear him crying
To his Father, see him dying:
Will this heart for ever beat!
Will my eyes in death close never?
Weeping all into a river
Were a bliss for me too sweet!

Hear I none but me bewailing?
Dies his name an echo failing?
Is the world at once struck dead?
Shall I from his eyes, ah! never
More drink love and life for ever?
Is he now for always dead?

Dead? What means that sound of dolour?
Tell me, tell me thou, a scholar,
What it means, that word so grim.
He is silent; all turn from me!
No one on the earth will show me
Where my heart may look for him!

Earth no more, whate’er befall me,
Can to any gladness call me!
She is but one dream of woe!
I too am with him departed:
Would I lay with him, still-hearted,
In the region down below!

Hear, me, hear, his and my father!
My dead bones, I pray thee, gather
Unto his–and soon, I pray!
Grass his hillock soon will cover,
Soon the wind will wander over,
Soon his form will fade away.

If his love they once perceived,
Soon, soon all men had believed,
Letting all things else go by!
Lord of love him only owning,
All would weep with me bemoaning,
And in bitter woe would die!


He lives! he’s risen from the dead!
To every man I shout;
His presence over us is spread,
Goes with us in and out.

To each I say it; each apace
His comrades telleth too–
That straight will dawn in every place
The heavenly kingdom new.

Now, to the new mind, first appears
The world a fatherland;
A new life men receive, with tears
Of rapture, from his hand.

Down into deepest gulfs of sea
Grim Death hath sunk away;
And now each man with holy glee,
Can face his coming day.

The darksome road that he hath gone
Leads out on heaven’s floor:
Who heeds the counsel of the Son
Enters the Father’s door.

Down here weeps no one any more
For friend that shuts his eyes;
For, soon or late, the parting sore
Will change to glad surprise.

And now to every friendly deed
Each heart will warmer glow;
For many a fold the fresh-sown seed
In lovelier fields will blow.

He lives–will sit beside our hearths,
The greatest with the least;
Therefore this day shall be our Earth’s
Glad Renovation-feast.


The times are all so wretched!
The heart so full of cares!
The future, far outstretched,
A spectral horror wears.

Wild terrors creep and hover
With foot so ghastly soft!
Our souls black midnights cover
With mountains piled aloft.

Firm props like reeds are waving;
For trust is left no stay;
Our thoughts, like whirlpool raving,
No more the will obey!

Frenzy, with eye resistless,
Decoys from Truth’s defence;
Life’s pulse is flagging listless,
And dull is every sense.

Who hath the cross upheaved
To shelter every soul?
Who lives, on high received,
To make the wounded whole?

Go to the tree of wonder;
Give silent longing room;
Issuing flames asunder
Thy bad dream will consume.

Draws thee an angel tender
In saftey to the strand:
Lo, at thy feet in splendour
Lies spread the Promised Land!


I know not what were left to draw me,
Had I but him who is my bliss;
If still his eye with pleasure saw me,
And, dwelling with me, me would miss.

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So many search, round all ways going,
With face distorted, anxious eye,
Who call themselves the wise and knowing,
Yet ever pass this treasure by!

One man believes that he has found it,
And what he has is nought but gold;
One takes the world by sailing round it:
The deed recorded, all is told!

One man runs well to gain the laurel;
Another, in Victory’s fane a niche:
By different Shows in bright apparel
All are befooled, not one made rich!

Hath He not then to you appeared?
Have ye forgot Him turning wan
Whose side for love of us was speared–
The scorned, rejected Son of Man?

Of Him have you not read the story–
Heard one poor word upon the wind?
What heavenly goodness was his glory,
Or what a gift he left behind?

How he descended from the Father,
Of loveliest mother infant grand?
What Word the nations from him gather?
How many bless his healing hand?

How, thereto urged by mere love, wholly
He gave himself to us away,
And down in earth, foundation lowly,
First stone of God’s new city, lay?

Can such news fail to touch us mortals?
Is not to know the man pure bliss?
Will you not open all your portals
To him who closed for you the abyss?

Will you not let the world go faring?
For Him your dearest wish deny?
To him alone your heart keep baring,
Who you has shown such favour high?

Hero of love, oh, take me, take me!
Thou art my life! my world! my gold!
Should every earthly thing forsake me,
I know who will me scatheless hold!

I see Thee my lost loves restoring!
True evermore to me thou art!
Low at thy feet heaven sinks adoring,
And yet thou dwellest in my heart!


Earth’s Consolation, why so slow?
Thy inn is ready long ago;
Each lifts to thee his hungering eyes,
And open to thy blessing lies.

O Father, pour him forth with might;
Out of thine arms, oh yield him quite!
Shyness alone, sweet shame, I know,
Kept him from coming long ago!

Haste him from thine into our arm
To take him with thy breath yet warm;
Thick clouds around the baby wrap,
And let him down into our lap.

In the cool streams send him to us;
In flames let him glow tremulous;
In air and oil, in sound and dew,
Let him pierce all Earth’s structure through.

So shall the holy fight be fought,
So come the rage of hell to nought;
And, ever blooming, dawn again
The ancient Paradise of men.

Earth stirs once more, grows green and live;
Full of the Spirit, all things strive
To clasp with love the Saviour-guest,
And offer him the mother-breast.

Winter gives way; a year new-born
Stands at the manger’s alter-horn;
‘Tis the first year of that new Earth
Claimed by the child in right of birth.

Our eyes they see the Saviour well,
Yet in them doth the Saviour dwell;
With flowers his head is wreathed about;
From every flower himself smiles out.

He is the star; he is the sun;
Life’s well that evermore will run;
From herb, stone, sea, and light’s expanse
Glimmers his childish countenance.

His childlike labour things to mend,
His ardent love will never end;
He nestles, with unconscious art,
Divinely fast to every heart.

To us a God, to himself a child,
He loves us all, self un-defiled;
Becomes our drink, becomes our food–
His dearest thanks, a heart that’s good.

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The misery grows yet more and more;
A gloomy grief afflicts us sore:
Keep him no longer, Father, thus;
He will come home again with us!


When in hours of fear and failing,
All but quite our heart despairs;
When, with sickness driven to wailing.
Anguish at our bosom tears;
Then our loved ones we remember;
All their grief and trouble rue;
Clouds close in on our December
And no beam of hope shines through!

Oh but then God bends him o’er us!
Then his love comes very near!
Long we heavenward then–before us
Lo, his angel standing clear!
Life’s cup fresh to us he reaches;
Whispers comfort, courage new;
Nor in vain our prayer beseeches
Rest for our beloved ones too.


Who once hath seen thee, Mother fair,
Destruction him shall never snare;
His fear is, from thee to be parted;
He loves thee evermore, true-hearted;
Thy grace remembered is the source
Whereout springs hence his spirit’s highest force.

My heart is very true to thee;
My ever failing thou dost see:
Let me, sweet mother, yet essay thee–
Give me one happy sign, I pray thee.
My whole existence rests in thee:
One moment, only one, be thou with me.

I used to see thee in my dreams,
So fair, so full of tenderest beams!
The little God in thine arms lying
Took pity on his playmate crying:
But thou with high look me didst awe,
And into clouds of glory didst withdraw.

What have I done to thee, poor wretch?
To thee my longing arms I stretch!
Are not thy holy chapels ever
My resting-spots in life’s endeavour?
O Queen, of saints and angels blest,
This heart and life take up into thy rest!

Thou know’st that I, beloved Queen,
All thine and only thine have been!
Have I not now, years of long measure,
In silence learned thy grace to treasure?
While to myself yet scarce confest,
Even then I drew milk from thy holy breast.

Oh, countless times thou stood’st by me!
I, merry child, looked up to thee!
His hands thy little infant gave me
In sign that one day he would save me;
Thou smiledst, full of tenderness,
And then didst kiss me: oh the heavenly bliss!

Afar stands now that gladness brief;
Long have I companied with grief;
Restless I stray outside the garden!
Have I then sinned beyond thy pardon?
Childlike thy garment’s hem I pull:
Oh wake me from this dream so weariful!

If only children see thy face,
And, confident, may trust thy grace,
From age’s bonds, oh, me deliver,
And make me thine own child for ever!
The love and truth of childhood’s prime
Dwell in me yet from that same golden time.


In countless pictures I behold thee,
O Mary, lovelily expressed,
But of them all none can unfold thee
As I have seen thee in my breast!
I only know the world’s loud splendour
Since then is like a dream o’erblown;
And that a heaven, for words too tender,
My quieted spirit fills alone.

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