Supplementary Appendix: Wilhelm Schlegel – Dedication to Romeo and Juliet

Wilhelm Schlegel’s
“Dedication of the Tragedy Romeo and Juliet” (1797) [*]

Take this poem, woven from love and grief,
And press it gently to your tender breast.
That which disturbs you, stirs within us both,
And of that which you leave unsaid, I am nonetheless aware.
Unfortunate couple! and yet to be envied;
For of life's highest pleasure did they indeed partake.
Hence let us sweetly and bitterly these tears mix,
And with the dew the grave of these faithful ones refresh.

To these mortals but a fleeting life was granted:
And this fleeting life, what faint dream!
They grope, amid even their boldest striving,
In darkness, and hardly know themselves.
Though fate them does oppress or raise:
Where can infinite yearning find its space?
Love alone lends wings to earthly dust,
Love alone opens heaven's gate.

But alas! she herself, Queen of Souls,
How often does she see fate's own envy!
To divide and torment so many loving couples
Hatred and pride stand conjured and ready.
Cleverly must they steal their moments,
Wakefully listen in intoxication,
And, as like on wild and stormy wave,
Tremble for mortal fear and divine bliss.

Yet faintheartedness alone succumbs to danger,
While love's courage does swell the more it threatens.
Nestling warmly, firmly to the beloved,
It knows no other refuge in distress.
Resolutely to die, or gloriously to win:
Such is its first, most sacred commandment.
United, it yet feels free even in chains,
Nor shudders from bedding with the dead.

Alas! smiling dangers threaten more severely yet,
When chance’s guileful tricks it overcame.
Every blossom must see transience:
Is the blossom of all blossoms more abiding?
For those who as enchanted were tightly entwined
Happiness and peace and time with gentle hand will loosen,
And, having escaped all external resistance,
Does love drown itself in the goblet of its own bliss.

More blessedly yet when into the land of shadows
The heart conveys its most precious possession,
When to the liberator death flows as sacrificial offering
The sweet goblet, though scarce tasted.
The lovers' grave a temple becomes,
Shimmering, enveloping their sacred covenant.
Though they die, in that final breath
Does love elevate to yet loftier flight.

For you is thus softened the grief so willingly evoked,
And us back into ourselves does poetry us guide.
We, both of us, sense, joyously tranquil, trembling,
And speak, in a glance quickly discerned:
How in our abiding alliance our own value inheres,
A comely secret secures our happiness.
Whatever the distant future may well veil,
We the youth of love will perpetually celebrate.


[*] “Zueignung des Trauerspiels Romeo und Julia,” totaling seven stanzas, was first published in Schiller’s Musen-Almanach für das Jahr 1798 175–78; reprinted in Sämmtliche Werke 1:35–37). Erich Schmidt (1913), 1:659–60, published stanzas 1, 4, 5, 6 as part 3 of his appendix. The entire poem is included here.

Wilhelm and Caroline’s translation of the play itself appeared in Shakspeare’s Dramatische Werke übersetzt von August Wilhelm Schlegel, vol. 1. Romeo und Julia, Ein Sommernachtstraum (Berlin 1797). See also his and Caroline’s essay “On Romeo and Juliet” along with Caroline’s undated letters to Wilhelm in 1797 (letters 186, 187), as well as Hermann Conrad on Caroline and the translation of Shakespeare.

Ludwig Tieck remarks the following concerning this present poem (“Die neuesten Musenalmanache und Taschenbücher (1796–98),” Archiv der Zeit; here from the reprint: Kritische Schriften, 2 vols. [Leipzig 1848] 1:108):

We would be hard pressed to find anything in German poesy as delicate and subtle as the poem “Zueignung des Trauerspiels Romeo und Julie” by Schlegel. How melodious each and every verse, how amiably, as if quite on their own, do the ideas mold themselves to the meter! Many poets seem not yet to have realized at all that a poem’s meter and genre do not have to depend on simple chance or habit; they seem not to suspect that the alternation of rhyme and the length of verses, the composition of the stanzas must instead be governed by a gentle, quiet rule so that this particular meter accompanies the poem in the fashion of delicate, subtle music.

Schiller writes to Christian Gottfried Körner on 20 October 1797 (Schillers Briefwechsel mit Körner. Von 1784 bis zum Tode Schillers, 4 vols.[Berlin 1847] 4:57; here Correspondence of Schiller with Körner, trans. Leonard Simpson, 3 vols. [London 1849] 142) that “in his stanzas on Romeo and Juliet he has really excelled himself: they are written in the true spirit, and speak of feelings of which I did not think him capable — provided he has not borrowed them.”

Wilhelm von Humboldt (Neue Briefe Wilhelm von Humboldt’s an Schiller. 1796–1803, ed. Friedrich Clemens Ebrard [Berlin 1911] 190–91) makes fun only of the concluding verse:

As you quite rightly say, Schlegel’s “Dedication” quite surpasses anything he has yet done. It expresses true emotion and feeling, and yet the whole is rendered so fully in the tone that is genuinely unique to him that one cannot mistake it. The final verse, however, did make me laugh a bit. Really, they seem to have set out to deliver an eternal celebration of the youth of love despite all baptismal certificates and chronologies to the contrary, and when one is able to treat 40 female years as sweetly and as youthfully as he and she [Caroline] do, no one is permitted to doubt that they do indeed understand this art. Psychologically it does still seem rather peculiar to me that someone of Schlegel’s sort is yet able to live from this love. It would be incomprehensible had he not simultaneously woven his own vanity into it. Back.

Translation © 2012 Doug Stott