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OSWALD VON WOLKENSTEIN 
________________

 

ATTEMPTS UPON MY LIFE

 

I.

Whatever I sing or make into verse

about the dire consequences

of this life on earth

all strikes me as null & void

when I turn my thoughts to Death

whom I never managed to avoid

as I traveled through the world.

He has often tried to take my life,

& I have often escaped him by a hair.

Without throwing down the gauntlet,

he drives us to despair

with his cruel tricks, so quick

to catch us in his snares,

& has no room for patience

as he falls upon his prey.

Had I not outrun him,

he’d have surely wolfed me down.

Be it on land or on sea,

on horseback or on foot,

he has laid his traps for me

& clapped me into chains.

Had I a sultan’s treasure,

I’d offer it him for free,

if, at my own pace,

he just let me proceed.

Counting my falls, my near drownings,

& all my large deep wounds,

I’ve seen seven attempts upon my life

& still have no written guarantee

that I might make my way scot-free.

Every meal Death eats beside me,

God knows, how he finds me.


II.

Let me tell the true story

of the first of my calamities.

During a tournament, on horseback,

I aimed my lance & missed my man

&, bam, shot through a door

a span high, three feet wide,

& went crashing down

some twenty-four steps

to the cellar floor

where my poor horse broke his neck.

I thought I was drowning

in a cask of wine,

so I asked all my friends

in for a drink.

Then, a few weeks after this,

God came to my aid:

my ship had broken into bits

in a storm upon the sea.

I managed to grab a cask

of fine Malvasier wine

&, hope against hope,

rode it on in to shore.

After this time at sea,

I was welcomed home,

promptly thrown into prison,

all my property seized.

My head still stunned

& aching from these blows,

into my gut was plunged

half a length of sword.


III.

Then there was the time

I tried to learn to swim

in a deep lake,

but once in,

shot straight

to the floor,

out of sight, out of mind

for a good hour or more.

Nice & cold down there

as I went looking for fish

with my nose-tip.

But then I fell for her

hook, line & sinker

& that sweet little stinker

netted me like a common thief,

she whom I held so dear

to heart, causing me

all this untold pain & fear.

Not smart on my part.

Had she only died

some time before,

she who still poses

such clear & present danger,

of which I became aware

as I rode toward Hungary,

still in love, still alone

still accident-prone.

The weather rainy

all the way there,

I was learning a few words

of Magyar, chill

to the tongue,

drinking my fill

of the Tauggel waterfall

that plunges down there

from the high cliffs,

into which, fool,

I splashed & nearly

drowned,

wet to the bone.

I’d bet any precious stone,

however well-buffed,

however well-cut,

that no man in a hundred

could survive such

headlong

dives into love.


IV.

Two & a half years later,

things again took a turn for the worse:

I wanted to leave home

& travel to foreign lands,

to Portugal & the Barbary coast,

Grenada & the Spanish main,

where I had high hopes

of being wildly entertained.

But a highborn duke

named Friedrich

was most displeased with me

& my luck ran out

when he threw me,

innocent of any crime,

into the poke.

I thought my days on earth

had come & gone,

but God upon his throne most high

lets nothing go unpunished,

so there I stayed & did my time.

Thanks be to this old flame

who piped her notes

into all the aches & pains

of my mortal frame,

even though it was long ago

that Death swept her away.

Let the hail smash her memory

into smithereens,

let it be scratched

by savage bears.

It has become so bitter to me

that I flee far

from its sway.

Had I only cooked my love

upon the coals

& burnt it all away,

I‘d be far better off today--

life, soul, honor, & all my estates.


V.

There’s much more I could say

but I’ll spare you the tales

of all my adventures

with Christians, Russians, Greeks

& heathens in my youth.

These things no longer amuse me

now that I am ridden by age.

Who knows how well prepared I’ll be

when he of whom I spoke

cuts short my days

& carries me away?

When the judge comes

to lash me with his whip,

how filled with dread I’ll be.

What will be my fate?

Therefore, noble lords & squires,

take heed, for from me

you need no advice.

You see how things proceed,

all of you, rich & poor alike.

Purify yourselves of sin,

lest Death sneak up on you

& fall upon you,

at whim.

O World, I always wonder

why you agree to be deceived,

you who clearly see, day after day,

how Death puts us all to flight

from your earthly delights.

Today you take your pick,

& tomorrow you die,

your name & fame all in vain,

until you face the music.