Lament Addressed to the People

Peter Porter

(A version of Schubert’s ‘Klage an das Volk’)

Youth of our Days, gone like the Days of our Youth!
The People’s strength, unnumbered impotence,
The Crowd’s gross pressure without consequence,
The Insignificant our only glimpse of Truth!

The Power I wield springs always from my Pain,
That remnant of a preternatural striving.
I cannot act, and Time with its conniving
Treats all our deeds with infinite disdain.

The Nation lets it sickness make it old,
Youth’s works are dreams which every dawn disperses –
So soon forgotten are those sacred Verses
That Faith would once have written out in gold.

To Art alone, that noble calling, falls
The task of leavening a world of Action
And give relief in time of brawling Faction
To all whom Fate has huddled within walls.

Schubert wrote verse occasionally throughout his life, much of which is preserved in letters to friends and family. Abschied (1817), a farewell to Franz von Schober, who was leaving Vienna briefly, is the only example of his setting his own words to music. ‘Klage an das Volk’ is the last of his poems to survive. Elizabeth Norman McKay, in her biography of Schubert, describes it as a summary of his thoughts about the decline in aesthetic standards in Vienna at the time (1824). My translation sticks as far as possible to the stanza shape, rhyme scheme and metre of Schubert’s original, but takes many liberties otherwise in order to keep these formal qualities intact.