The Young Captive

We present this work in honor of the 225th anniversary of the poet’s death.

André Chénier
1762 – 1794


“The corn in peace fills out its golden ear;
Through the long summer days, the flowers without a fear
Drink in the strength of the noon.
And I, a flower like them, as young, as fair, as pure,
Though at the present hour some trouble I endure,
I would not die so soon!

“No, let the stoic heart call upon Death as kind!
For me, I weep and hope; before the bitter wind
I bend like some lithe palm.
If there be long, sad days, others are bright and fleet;
Alas! what honeyed draught holds nothing but the sweet?
What sea is ever calm?

“And still within my breast nestles illusion bright;
In vain these prison walls shut out the noonday light;
Fair Hope has lent me wings.
So from the fowler’s net, again set free to fly,
More swift, more joyous, through the summer sky,
Philomel soars and sings.

“Is it my lot to die? In peace I lay me down,
In peace awake again, a peace nor care doth drown,
Nor fell remorse destroy.
My welcome shines from every morning face,
And to these downcast souls my presence in this place
Almost restores their joy.

“The voyage of life is but begun for me,
And of the landmarks I must pass, I see
So few behind me stand.
At life’s long banquet, now before me set,
My lips have hardly touched the cup as yet
Still brimming in my hand.

“I only know the spring; I would see autumn brown;
Like the bright sun, that all the seasons crown,
I would round out my year.
A tender flower, the sunny garden’s boast,
I have but seen the fires of morning’s host;
Would eve might find me here!

“O Death, canst thou not wait? Depart from me, and go
To comfort those sad hearts whom pale despair, and woe,
And shame, perchance have wrung.
For me the woods still offer verdant ways,
The Loves their kisses, and the Muses praise:
I would not die so young!”

Thus, captive too, and sad, my lyre none the less
Woke at the plant of one who breathed its own distress,
Youth in a prison cell;
And throwing off the yoke that weighed upon me too,
I strove in all the sweet and tender words I knew
Her gentle grief to tell.

Melodious witness of my captive days,
These rhymes shall make some lover of my lays
Seek the maid I have sung.
Grace sits upon her brow, and all shall share,
Who see her charms, her grief and her despair:
They too “must die so young”!

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