"God" by Gavrila Romanovich Derzhavin
Source of witness transcribed: Vermont Telegraph (Brandon, Vermont)
Date of witness transcribed: 18 July 1838
Notes about this poem: "God" was printed in at least 209 newspapers during the nineteenth century. It can be found using ID 65475 in this table of most widely-reprinted poems.
The following poem, translated from the Russian of Derzhavin, is scarcely equalled in grandeur and sublimity by any poem in any language. We take it from a work entitled 'Specimens of the Russian Poets,' translated by John Bowring.—Conn. Ob.
- O thou eternal One! whose presence bright
- All space doth occupy, all motion guide;
- Unchanged thro’ time’s all devastating flight.
- Thou only God! There is no God beside!
- Being above all beings! Mighty One!
- Who none can comprehend and none explore;
- Who fill’st existence with Thyself alone:
- Embracing all,—supporting—ruling o’er—
Being whom we call God—and know no more.
- In its sublime research, philosophy
- May measure out the ocean—deep—may count
- The sands of the sun’s ray—but, God! for Thee
- There is no weight nor measure:—none can mount
- Up to Thy mysteries; Reason’s brightest spark,
- Though kindled by Thy light, in vain would try
- To trace Thy counsels, infinite and dark:
- And thought is lost ere thought can soar so high;
Even like past moments in eternity.
- Thou from primeval nothingness didst call
- First chaos, their existence;—Lord! on Thee
- Eternity had its foundation:—all
- Sprung forth from Thee:—of light, and joy, harmony,
- Sole origin:—all life, all beauty Thine.
- Thy word created all, and doth create;
- Thy splendor fills all space with rays divine.
- Thou art, and wert, and shalt be! Glorious! Great
Light-giving, life-sustaining Potentate!
- Thy chains the unmeasured universe surround:
- Upheld by Thee, by Thee inspired with breath!
- Thou the beginning with the end hast bound,
- And beautifully mingled life and death!
- As sparks mount upward from the fiery blaze,
- So suns are born, so worlds spring forth from Thee;
- And as the spangles in the sunny rays
- Shine round the silver snow, the pageantry
Of heaven’s bright army glitters in Thy praise.
- A million torches lighted by Thy hand
- Wander unwearied through the blue abyss:
- They own Thy power, accomplish thy command;
- All gay with life, all eloquent with bliss.
- What shall we call them! Piles of crystal light—
- A glorious company of golden streams—
- Lamps of celestial ether burning bright—
- Suns lighting systems with their joyous beams?
But Thou to these art as the noon to night.
- Yes! As a drop of water in the sea,
- All this magnificence in Thee is lost:
- What are ten thousand worlds compared to Thee?
- And what am I then? Heavens unnumbered host,
- Though multiplied by myriads, and arrayed
- In all the glory of sublimest thought,
- Is but an atom in the balance weighed
- Against thy greatness, is a cypher brought
Against infinity! What am I then? Nought!
- Nought! But the effluence of thy light divine,
- Pervading worlds, hath reach’d my bosom too;
- Yes! in my spirit doth Thy spirit shine
- As shines the sun-beam in a drop of dew.
- Now but I live, and one hope’s pinions fly
- Eager towards thy presence; for in Thee
- I live, and breathe, and dwell; aspiring high.
- Even to the throne of Thy divinity
I am, O God! and surely Thou must be!
- Thou art! directing, guiding all, Thou art!
- Direct my understanding then to Thee;
- Control my spirit, guide my wandering heart:
- Though but an atom ‘midst immensity,
- Still I am something, fashioned by Thy hand!
- I hold a middle rank ‘twixt heaven and earth,
- On the last verge of mortal being stand,
- Close to the realms where angels have their birth,
Just on the boundaries of the spirit land!
- The chain of the being is complete in me;
- In me is matter’s last gradation lost,
- And the next step is spirit—Deity!
- I can command the lightening, and I am dust!
- A monarch, and a slave; a worm, a God!
- Whence came I here and how? so marvellously
- Constructed and conceived? unknown! this clod
- Lives surely through some energy;
For from itself alone it could not be!
- Creator, yes! Thy wisdom and Thy word
- Created me! Thou source of life and good!
- Thou spirit of my spirit, and my Lord!
- Thy light, Thy love, in their bright plenitude,
- Filled me with an immortal soul to spring
- Over the abyss of death, and bade it wear
- The garments of eternal day, and wing
- Its heavenly flight beyond this little sphere,
Even to its source—to—Thee—it’s Author there.
- O thoughts ineffable! O visions blest!
- Though worthless our conceptions all of Thee,
- Yet shall Thy shadowed image fill our breast,
- And waft its homage to Thy Deity.
- God! thus alone my lowly thoughts can soar;
- Thus seek Thy presence—Being wise and good!
- Midst Thy vast works admire, obey, adore;
- And when the tongue is eloquent no more,
- The soul shall speak in tears of gratitude.