The highest virtue circles halo-wise
Our Caesar’s brow; virtue, which from the throne,
He validly can exercise alone:
Justice!—What all men love and prize,
What all demand, desire, and sorely want,
It lies with him, this to the folk to grant.
But ah! what help can intellect command,
Goodness of heart, or willingness of hand,
When fever saps the state with deadly power,
And mischief breedeth mischief, hour by hour?
To him who downward from this height supreme
Views the wide realm, ’tis like a troubled dream,
Where the deformed deformity o’ersways,
Where lawlessness, through law, the tyrant plays,
And error’s ample world itself displays.
One steals a woman, one a steer,
Lights from the altar, chalice, cross,
Boasts of his deed full many a year,
Unscathed in body, without harm or loss.
Now to the hall accusers throng;
On cushioned throne the judge presides;
Surging meanwhile in eddying tides,
Confusion waxes fierce and strong.
He may exalt in crime and shame,
Who on accomplices depends;
Guilty! the verdict they proclaim,
When Innocence her cause defends.
So will the world succumb to ill,
And what is worthy perish quite;
How then may grow the sense which still
Instructs us to discern the right?
E’en the right-minded man, in time,
To briber and to flatterer yields;
The judge, who cannot punish crime,
Joins with the culprit whom he shields.—
I’ve painted black, yet fain had been
A veil to draw before the scene.
Measures must needs be taken; when
All injure or are injured, then
E’en Majesty becomes a prey.
In these wild days what tumults reign!
Each smitten is and smites again,
Deaf to command, will none obey.
The burgher, safe behind his wall,
Within his rocky nest, the knight,
Against us have conspired, and all
Firmly to hold their own unite.
Impatient is the hireling now,
With vehemence he claims his due;
And did we owe him naught, I trow,
Off he would run, nor bid adieu.
Who thwarts what fondly all expect,
He bath disturbed a hornet’s nest;
The empire which they should protect,
It lieth plundered and oppress’d.
Their furious rage may none restrain;
Already half the world’s undone;
Abroad there still are kings who reign—
None thinks ’tis his concern, not one.
Who will depend upon allies!
For us their promised subsidies
Like conduit-water, will not flow.
Say, Sire, through your dominions vast
To whom hath now possession passed!
Some upstart, wheresoe’er we go,
Keeps house, and independent reigns.
We must look on, he holds his own;
So many rights away we’ve thrown,