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Henrik Ibsen’s "Balloon Letter" Expresses Fear of German Militarism (December 1870)

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Good, but now the German hordes
that are storming Parisward?
Who stands whole and clear in the danger;
singly who bears off the palm?
When stood out the person splendid,
so that mouths of millions bore
round their homes his name in song?–
Now the regiment, the squadron,
now the staff,–or else the spy–
all the leash of dogs let loose
track the game upon its way.

[ . . . ]

Then think of our own day’s heroes,
of these Blumenthals and Fritzes,
of the Herren Generale
number this and number that!
Under Prussia’s ghastly colours–
sorrow’s clout of black and white–
ne’er burst forth achievement’s larvæ
as the butterfly of song.
They perhaps their silk may spin
for a time, but die therein.

Just in victory lies defeat;
Prussia’s sword proves Prussia’s scourge.
Ne’er poetic inspiration
springs from problems that they solve.
Deeds win no response in song,
if a people noble, free,
beauty-loving, are transformed
into staff-machinery,–
bristling with the dirks of cunning
from the time that Herr von Moltke
murdered battle’s poesy.

So demonic is the power
that received our world to rule:
and the Sphinx, her wisdom guarding,
when her riddle’s solved, is slain.

Cipher-victories are doomed.
Soon the moment’s blast will veer;
like a storm on desert-plain
it will fell the false gods’ race.

[ . . . ]

Source: “Ibsen’s ‘Balloon Letter’ – 1870,” in The English Review 18 (Aug.-Nov. 1914), pp. 501-12. Translated by Andrew Runni Anderson.

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