Andreas Gryphius: Sonnet On the Transitoriness of Life

YOU see, where’er you look, but vanity on earth:
To-morrow they’ll tear down what we have built to-day,
And peaceful herds will graze and shepherds’ children play
On fields where now the lively cities boast their worth.

All that is blooming now must lie in sorry dearth;
The hearts that beat in pride will turn to ashes grey.
No marble and no ore, nay, nothing here can stay.
Now happiness may smile before some sorrow’s birth.

The glory of high deeds must vanish like a dream.
Oh, how can man withstand the flow of time’s fleet stream?
Yea, what is all that we have deemed so wondrous great,

But worthless trifles, only shadows, wind and dust,
A flower of the field, that on the road is thrust.
And yet eternal things man will not contemplate.


Written in 1637, vanitas was a big topic at the time. Translation by Margarete Münsterberg, first printed 1916.

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