Iceland-Moss Tea

Ferdinand Freiligrath

Translated by James Clarence Mangan


OLD even in boyhood, faint and ill,

  And sleepless on my couch of woe,

  I sip this beverage, which I owe

To geysers’ depths and Hecla’s hill.


In fields where ice lies layer on layer,

  And lava hardens o’er the whole,

  And the circle of the Arctic Pole

Looks forth on snow-crags ever bare;


Where fierce volcanic fires burn blue,

  Through many a meteor-lighted night,

  Mid springs that foam in boiling might,

These blandly bitter lichens grew.


Where from the mountain’s furnace-lair,

  From thousand smoke-enveloped cones,

  Colossal blocks of red-hot stones

Are, night by night, uphurled in air


(Like blood-red saga-birds of yore),

  While o’er the immeasurable snows

  A sea of burning resin flows,

Bubbling like molten metal ore;


Where, from the jökuls to the strand,

  The dimmed eye turns from smoke and steam

  Only to track some sulphur-stream

That seethes along the blasted land;


Where clouds lie black on cinder-piles,

  And all night long the lone seal moans,

  As, one by one, the mighty stones

Fall echoing down on far-off isles;


Where, in a word, hills vomit flame,

  And storms forever lash the sea,—

  There sprang this bitter moss for me,

Thence this astringent potion came.


Yes! and my heart beats lightlier now,

  My blood begins to dance along:

  I now feel strong,—O, more than strong!

I feel transformed, I know not how.


The meteor-lights are in my brain,—

  I see through smoke the desolate shore,—

  The raging torrent sweeps once more

From Hecla’s crater o’er the plain.


Deep in my breast the boiling springs

  Beneath apparent ice are stirred,—

  My thoughts are each a saga-bird,

With tongues of living flame for wings!


Ha! if this green beverage be

  The chalice of my future life,—

  If now, as in yon isle, the strife

Of snow and fire be born in me,—


O, be it thus! O, let me feel

  The lava-flood in every vein!

  Be mine the will that conquers pain,

The heart of rock, the nerves of steel!


O, let the flames that burn unfed

  Within me wax until they glow,

  Volcano-like, through even the snow

That in few years shall strew my head!


And, as the stones that Hecla sees

  Flung up to heaven through fiery rain

  Descend like thunderbolts again

Upon the distant Faröese,


So let the rude but burning rhymes

  Cast from the caldron of my breast

  Again fall flashing down, and rest

On human hearts in farthest climes!

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