Works of Frederick Engels, 1840

On the Invention of Printing [48]

Translated: in the first half of 1840
First published: in the Gutenberrgs-Album, Braunschweig, 1840
Signed: Friedrich Engels

Shall then the Poet’s voice sing, only telling
Of bloody Ambition, Thrones in all their pride,
When Fame’s shrill trumpets sound about him, swelling
The lips in places where the Gods abide?
Have you forgotten shame? And do you waste
The precious gift of Praise with its bright light
On men to curses and to execration
Ever condemned by History outright?
Awake, awake! Song, that’s become so shy,
Soar up above the clouds,
With might unmatched to lofty triumph fly!
And he who wants the world to find his song
Well worthy of the laurels on his brow,
Must make his song from now
Unfold well worthy of the world, and strong!

They were not prodigal in olden days,
But freely at the Altar
Of beneficial Spirit, of Invention,
They spent the sacrificial smoke of Praise.
Saturn came down, and with the mighty plough
Divided he the Earth’s maternal breast.
And then mankind beheld
The living seeds grow on the barren ground.
Heaven received Man’s gratitude profound:
God of the Golden Age is Saturn called.
And were you not a God, you who once found
Body for Thought, for Word,
Fixing in signs the life of speech that would
Have otherwise flown off, by no ties bound?
Without you, Time had gone,
Still self-consuming, sinking, dying, down,
Buried forever in oblivion.
You came. ‘Twas then that Thought
Saw the swift widening of the narrow sphere
That once enfolded its long infancy.
It winged its way into that world so vast,
Where mighty dialogue doth fill the air
Between Time Future and deed-heavy Past.
You've helped the blind to see!
Immortal one, enjoy the honours rare,
The lofty hymns of praise,
That are your due alone, Exalted Spirit!
And Nature, just as if the one invention
Were of itself enough to prove her power,
Rests from that time and, parsimonious,
Gives the world no such wonder any more.

But Nature in the end bestirs herself,
To give another token: the icy Rhine
Sees Gutenberg come forth: “O vain endeavours!
What does it help you, that you can inspire
Your thoughts with life by writing,
If thought dies, petrified, dumb in the dire
Darkness of lethargy and long forgetting?
Say, can a single vessel be enough
E'er to contain the billowing sea that rages?
Much less can Man’s gifts of the Spirit be
Unfolded in a single volume’s pages!
What lacks? The art of flight? But when bold Nature
Created in one image countless beings,
Now, after hers, there comes my own Invention!
That, echoing a thousandfold, Truth might
Embrace the world with powerful proclamation,
Soaring aloft with Clarity’s sheer flight!”

He spoke. And there was Print. And lo! all Europe,
Astounded, moved, forthwith herself bestirs
With thunderous sound. As if by storm winds fanned,
Swift-rushing onward roars
The wrathful fire that has so long lain deep
In the dark bowels of the Earth, asleep.
O evil Pile, raised up for Ignorance there
By base brutality and Tyrants’ wrath!
Rocks glowing, the Volcano gushes forth,
And your foundations tremble in their fear!
What is this monster of the evil spirit,
This foul abortion, that, all scruples gone,
Founds on the old decaying Capitol
Its loathsome and abominable Throne,
And now bids to destroy, yea, murder all?

It stands, although the structure of its power
Is crumbling slowly. But one day that Throne
Shall fall and cast its ruins o'er the land.
A fastness perching on a crag alone
Thus crowns the summit of a mountain high.
The Sons of War once took up their abode
In its security.
Ruling by force of stolen power, they
Would sally forth exultant to the fray.
Deserted and alone,
The Keep stands in the forest, seen by none.
It still surveys, though crumbling with neglect,
The world all round with menacing aspect.
One day it shall fall down,
And then the fields shall groan,
Covered with ruins. Meanwhile, it shall be
Scarecrow and bogey to all folk that lived
In fear and terror of it recently.

That, then, was the first wreath of bay to deck
The brow of Reason; but Intellect now rises
Courageously, athirst for certain knowledge,
Encompassing the world in its embraces.
Copernicus soars to the starry places
Hitherto shrouded in a heavy pall;
And then he sees, immeasurably far,
Day’s bringer, our forever festive star,
The brightest luminary of them all.
Then Galileo feels beneath his feet
The Earth’s ball rolling; but blind Italy
Rewards him with a prison cell’s disgrace.
Meanwhile, the Earth sails onward ceaselessly
And swiftly through the infinite sea of space,
And with it, fast as lightning, sweep the stars,
Shimm'ring in flight. Then Newton’s fiery spirit
Is flung aloft into their very midst.
He follows, understands them,
Charting the tracks of forces
That keep them racing in their whirling courses.

What does it help you, then, to conquer Heaven,
To find the law that moves eternally
Air’s circle and the seas? To split the ray
Of light incorporeal; or to dig down
Into the bowels of Earth and snatch the cradle
Of gold and crystal? Spirit, return once more
To Man!

And so it did, only to pour
Its bitterness into lamentations loud:
"How is the Intellect with blindness cowed!
How rings that chain of iron
Forged by the frenzied powers of Tyranny,
From pole to pole each with the other vying,
And pins Man helpless lying,
Upon his death-bed, tired of slavery!
This must be ended.”

And the Despots heard,
And wielded in their vile and villainous hands
Two weapons to depend on — Fire and Sword.

“O senseless ones! Those very high-piled faggots
That threaten to devour me horribly,
That burn to keep me from the Truth away,
Are beacons guiding me along Truth’s way,
Are Torches to light up Truth’s victory!
Truth fondly I desire;
With rapture drunk, my heart to Truth gives prayer,
My spirit looks on Truth; I follow her,
Not of the sword afraid, nor yet of fire.
That being so, then shall I still demur?
Can I turn back again,
Retrace my steps? The waves of Tagus never
Run back towards the source from which they came
Once they have flowed into the mighty sea.
The mountains seek to bar its course in vain;
They cannot stay it in its onward motion.
It rushes in the train
Of Destiny that roars into the Ocean.”

And then the great day came
On which a mortal man arose outraged,
In wrath from all-encompassing disgrace,
And, with almighty voice,
Called out to all the World: Mankind is free!
And narrow boundaries no longer caged
The sacred call: it rose up on the wing
Of the great echo Gutenberg invented,
Soared up, a wondrous thing,
And swift, in mighty inspiration,
O'erleapt the mountains and the ocean wide
And o'er the very winds held domination.
It was not shouted down by Tyranny,
And loud and lusty rang on every side
The joyful cry of Reason: Man is free!

Oh, free, yes, free! Sweetest of words, the breast
Swells, beating faster at the sound of you;
My spirit, that you imbue,
O'erbrimming with your holy inspiration,
Soars to serene celestial dominions,
Bearing me on its fiery beating pinions.
Where are you all that hear
My singing, mortal beings? From on high,
I see the awesome prison doors of Fate
Open, the impenetrable veil of Time
Is torn apart — the Future lies before me!
I see full clear that Earth never again
Shall be the wretched planet where Ambition
And War with its fierce countenance can reign.

Now both of them are gone from Earth for ever,
As Plague and Storm, those torturers, prepare
To leave the zone they've pillaged and laid bare,
When Polar ice-winds threaten to blow over.
AB people felt their true equality;
With strength untamed, brave heroes struggled for
That right and won it with triumphant glee.
There are no Slaves or Tyrants any more.
Now Love and Peace fill all the World around,
And Love and Peace breathe over all the Earth,
And “Love and Peace!” both near and far resound.
And up aloft, upon his golden Throne
In blessing doth the Lord his sceptre raise,
Dispensing Air and joy all round below,
So that on all Earth’s ways
They might, as once of old, abundant flow.

Do you not see that column soaring there,
Towering in all its splendour to the sky,
A-throb with flashing light, eye-dazzling?
Less mighty are the pyramids so high,
The work of slaves who toiled in abject fear
Of one whose glory came from suffering.
See there, unwavering,
The eternal incense rise,
As the whole Earth gives thanks to Gutenberg.
For such beneficence, a modest prize!
Hail to the one who broke the insensate power
Of battering violence; raised the might of Reason,
The strength of soul, high o'er the world to fly!
Praise him who raised the Truth in triumph high,
Making his hands’ work fruitful for all time!
Sing the Well-Doer’s praise in song sublime!