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Angelus Silesius: English Translations of German Poetry

Angelus Silesius (1624–1677), born Johann Scheffler and also known as Johann Angelus Silesius, was a German Catholic priest and physician, known as a mystic and religious poet. The earliest mention of him is the registration of his baptism on Christmas Day, 25 December 1624. Born and raised a Lutheran, he adopted the name Angelus (Latin for "angel" or "heavenly messenger") and the epithet Silesius ("Silesian") on converting to Catholicism in 1653. While studying in the Netherlands, he began to read the works of medieval mystics and became acquainted with the works of the German mystic Jacob Böhme through Böhme's friend, Abraham von Franckenberg. Silesius's mystical beliefs caused tension between him and Lutheran authorities and led to his eventual conversion to Catholicism. He took holy orders under the Franciscans and was ordained a priest in 1661. Ten years later, in 1671, he retired to a Jesuit house where he remained for the rest of his life. He is now remembered chiefly for his religious poetry, and in particular for two poetical works both published in 1657: Heilige Seelenlust (literally, "The Soul's Holy Desires"), a collection of more than 200 religious hymn texts that have been used by Catholics and Protestants; and Der Cherubinischer Wandersmann ("The Cherubinic Pilgrim"), a collection of 1,676 short poems, mostly Alexandrine couplets. His poetry explores themes of mysticism, quietism, and pantheism within an orthodox Catholic context.

Angelus Silesius epigrams, translated by Michael R. Burch:

***

The rose merely blossoms
and never asks why:
heedless of her beauty,
careless of every eye.

***

There is more to being rich
than merely having;
the wealthiest man can lose
everything not worth saving.

****

Eternity is time,
time eternity,
except when we
are determined to "see."

***

Our souls possess two eyes:
one examines time,
the other visions
eternal and sublime.

***

God is absolute Nothingness
beyond our sense of time and place;
the more we try to grasp Him,
The more He avoids our embrace.

***

The rose lack reasons
and merely sways with the seasons;
she has no ego
but whoever put on such a show?

***

Water is pure and clean
when taken at the well-head:
but drink too far from the Source
and you may well end up dead.

***

Unceasingly you seek
life's ceaseless wavelike motion;
I seek perpetual peace, all storms calmed.
Whose is the wiser notion?

***

Man has three enemies:
himself, the world, and the devil.
Of these the first is, by far,
the most irresistible evil.

***

Friend, cease!
Abandon all pretense!
You must yourself become
the Writing and the Sense.

***

No worm is buried
so deep within the soil
that God denies it food
as reward for its toil.

***

New love, like a sparkling wine, soon fizzes.
Mature love, calm and serene, abides.

***

God cannot condemn those with whom he would dwell,
or He would have to join them in hell!

***

A ruby
is no more magnificent
than a dirt clod,
nor an angel
more glorious
than a frog.

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