Ode to [humankind]


Numberless wonders

terrible wonders walk the world but none the match for man--

that great wonder crossing the heaving gray sea,

driven on by the blasts of winter

on through breakers crashing left and right,

holds his steady course

and the oldest of the gods he wears away--

the Earth, the immortal, the inexhaustible--

as his powers go back and forth, year in, year out

with the breed of stallions turning up the furrows.


And the blithe, lightheaded race of birds he snares,

the tribes of savage beasts, the life that swarms the depths--

with one fling of his nets ;

woven and coiled tight, he takes them all,

man the skilled, the brilliant!

He conquers all, taming with his techniques

the prey that roams the cliffs and wild lairs,

training the stallion, clamping the yoke across

his shaggy neck, and the tireless mountain bull.

And speech and thought, quick as the wind

and the mood and mind for law that rules the city--

all these he has taught himself

and shelter from the arrows of the frost

when there's rough lodging under the cold clear sky

I and the shafts of lashing rain--

ready, resourceful man!

Never without resources

never an impasse as he marches on the future--

only Death, from Death alone he will find no rescue

but from desperate plagues he has plotted his escapes.


Man the master, ingenious past all measure

past all dreams, the skills within his grasp--

he forges on, now to destruction

now again to greatness. When he weaves in

the laws of the land, and the justice of the gods

that binds his oaths together

he and his city rise high--

but the city casts out

that man who weds himself to inhumanity

thanks to reckless daring. Never share my hearth

never think my thoughts, whoever does such things.