Fugitive Verses
Popular Reprinted Poetry from Nineteenth Century Newspapers

"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.

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God

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.