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illeopardi text integral passage complete quotation of the sources comedies works historical literary works in prose and in verses

Translated by Charles Edwardes

      CERTAIN Hebrew savants and writers affirm, that between heaven and earth, or rather, partly in one and partly on the other, lives a wild cock which stands with its feet resting on the earth, and touching the sky with its crest and beak. This gigantic cock, besides possessing other peculiarities mentioned by these writers, has the use of reason; or else, like a parrot, it has been taught, I know not by whom, to express itself in human fashion. In proof of this, an old parchment manuscript has been discovered, containing a canticle written in Hebrew characters, and in a language compounded of Chaldean, Targumic, Rabbinical, Cabalistic and Talmudic, entitled " Morning Song of the Wild Cock." (Scir detarneg˛l bara letzafra.) This, not without great exertion, and the interrogation of more than one Rabbi, Cabalist, theologian, jurist, and Hebrew philosopher, has been interpreted and translated as follows. I have not yet been able to ascertain whether this song is still uttered by the cock on certain occasions, or every morning, or whether it was sung but once, or who is said to have heard it, or if this language be the proper tongue of the cock, or whether the canticle was translated from some other language. In the following translation I have used prose rather than verse, although it is a poem, in order to ensure as literal a rendering as possible. The broken style and occasional bombast must not be imputed to me, for it is a reproduction of the original; and in this respect the composition partakes of the characteristics of Oriental languages, and especially of Oriental poems.

      "Mortals, awake! The day breaks; truth returns to the earth and vain fancies flee away. Arise; take up again the burden of life; forsake the false world for the true.

      "Now is the time when each one takes again to his mind all the thoughts of his real life. He recalls to memory his intentions, aims, and labours; and thinks of the pleasures and cares that must occur during the new day. And every one at this time eagerly seeks to discover in his mind joyful hopes and sweet thoughts. Tew, however, are satisfied in this desire; for all men it is a misfortune to awake. The miserable man is no sooner aroused than he falls again into the clutches of his unhappiness. Very sweet a thing is that sleep induced by joy or hope. These preserve ^themselves in their entirety until the following morning, when they either vanish or decrease in force.

      "If the sleep of mortals were continuous and identical with life; if under the star of day all living beings languished on the earth in utter rest, and no work was wrought; if the oxen ceased bellowing in the meadows, the beasts roaring in the forests, the birds singing in the air, the bees buzzing, and the butterflies skimming over the fields; if no voice nor motion except that of the waters, winds, and tempests anywhere existed, the universe would indeed be useless; but would there be less happiness or more misery than there is to-day?

      "I ask of thee, Sun, author of day, and guardian of eve; in the course of the centuries measured out and consummated by thee, thus rising and setting, hast thou ever at any time seen one living being possessed of happiness? Of the numberless works of mortals which hitherto thou hast seen, thinkest thou that a single one was successful in its aim of procuring satisfaction, durable or temporary, for its originator? And seest thou, or hast thou ever seen, happiness within the boundaries of the world? Where does it dwell? In what country, forest, mountain, or valley; in what land, inhabited or uninhabited; in which planet of the many that thy flames illumine and cherish? Does it perchance hide from thee in the bowels of the earth, or the depths of the sea? What living being, what plant, or other thing animated by thee, what vegetable or animal participates in it? And thou thyself, like an indefatigable giant, traversing swiftly, day and night, sleepless and restless, the vast course prescribed to thee; art thou content or happy?

      "Mortals, arouse yourselves! Not yet are you free from life. The time will come when no eternal force, no internal agitation, shall awaken you from the repose of sleep, in which you shall ever and insatiably rest. For the present, death is not granted to you; only from time to time you are permitted to taste briefly its resemblance, because life would fail were it not often suspended. Too long abstention from this short and fleeting sleep is a fatal evil, and causes eternal sleep. Such thing is life, that to secure its continuance it must from time to time be laid aside; man then in sleep refreshes himself with a taste, and, as it were, a fragment of death.

      "It seems as though death were the essential aim of all things. That which has no existence cannot die; yet all that exists has proceeded from nothing. The final cause of existence is not happiness, for nothing is happy. It is true, living creatures seek this end in all their works, but none obtain it; and during all their life, ever deceiving, tormenting, and exerting themselves, they suffer indeed for no other purpose than to die.

      "The earliest part of the day is ordinarily the most bearable for living beings. Few, when they awake, find again in their minds delightful and joyful thoughts, but almost all people give birth to them for the time being. For then the minds of men, being free from any special concentration, are predisposed to joyfulness, and inclined to bear evils more patiently than at other times. Thus a man who falls asleep in the anguish of despair is filled anew with hope when he awakes, though it can profit him nothing. Many misfortunes and peculiar hardships, many causes of fear and distress, then seem less formidable than they appeared the previous evening. Often, also, the pangs of yesterday are remembered with contempt, and are ridiculed as follies and vain fancies.

      "The evening is comparable to old age; and on the other hand, the dawn of the morning resembles youth; the one full of comfort and hope, and then sad evening with its discouragement and tendencies to look on the dark side of things. But, just as the time of youth in life is very short and fleeting, so is the infancy of each new day, which quickly ages towards its evening.

      "Youth, if indeed it be the best of life, is a very wretched thing. Yet even this poor benefit is so soon over, that when by many signs man is led to perceive the decline of his existence, he has scarcely experienced its perfection, or fully realised its peculiar strength, which, once diminished, the best part of life is gone with every race of mortals. Thus, in all her works, Nature turns and points towards death: for old age reigns universally. Every part of the world hastens untiringly, with diligence and wonderful celerity, towards death. The world itself alone seems exempt from decay; for although in autumn and winter it appears as it were sick and aged, nevertheless in the spring it ever rejuvenates. But just as mortals in the first part of each day regain some portion of their youth, yet grow old as the day progresses, and are at length extinguished in sleep; so although in the beginning of the year the world becomes young again, none the less it perpetually ages. The time will come when this world, and Nature herself, shall die. And as at the present day there remains no trace nor record of many very great kingdoms and empires, so in the whole world there shall not be left a vestige of the infinite changes and catastrophes of created things. A naked silence and an utter calm shall fill the vast space. Thus, this wonderful and fearful mystery of universal existence shall be unloosed, and shall melt away before it be made manifest or be comprehended." (1)


(1) This is a poetical not philosophical conclusion. Speaking philosophically, existence, which has had no beginning, will have no ending.

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