The Messiah by Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock

I.—The Mount of Olives

Rejoice, ye sons of earth, in the honour bestowed on man. He who was before all worlds, by Whom all things in this visible creation were made, descended to our earth as your Redeemer. Near Jerusalem, once the city where God displayed His grace, the Divine Redeemer withdrew from the multitude and sought retirement. On the side where the sun first gilds the city with its beams rises a mountain, whose summit He had oft honoured with His presence when during the solitary night He spent the hours in fervent prayer.

Gabriel, descending, stands between two perfumed cedars and addresses Jesus.

Wilt Thou, Lord, here devote the night to prayer, Or weary, dost thou seek a short repose? Permit that I for Thine immortal head A yielding couch prepare. Behold the shrubs And saplings of the cedar, far and near, Their balmy foliage already show. Among the tombs in which Thy prophets rest The cooling earth yields unmolested moss.

Jesus answered not, but regarded Gabriel with a look of divine complacency. He went up to the summit, where were the confines of heaven, and there prayed. Earth rejoiced at the renewal of her beauty as His voice resounded and penetrated the gates of the deep, but only He and the Eternal Father knew the whole meaning of the divine petition. As Jesus arose from prayer, in His face shone sublimity, love, and resignation.

Now He and the Eternal Father entered on discourse mysterious and profound, obscure even to immortals; discourse of things which in future ages should display to man the love of God. A seraph entered the borders of the celestial world, whose whole extent is surrounded by suns. No dark planet approaches the refulgent blaze.

There, central of the circumvolving suns, Heaven, archetype of every blissful sphere, Orbicular in blazing glory, swims, And circumfuges through infinitude In copious streams, the splendour of the spheres. Harmonious sounds of its revolving motion Are wafted on the pinions of the winds To circumambient suns. The potent songs Of voice and harp celestial intermingle And seem the animation of the whole.

Up to this sacred way Gabriel ascended, approaching heaven, which, in the very centre of the assemblage of suns, rises into a vast dome. When the Eternal walks forth, the harmonic choirs, borne on the wings of the wind to the borders of the sunny arch, chant His praise, joining the melody of their golden harps. During the hymn the seraph, as messenger of the Mediator, stood on one of the suns nearest heaven. The Eternal Father rewarded the choirs with a look of benignity and then beheld the Chief Seraph, whose name with God is The Chosen, and by the heavenly host is called Eloah.

The awful thunder seven times rolled forth, The sacred gloom dispelling, and the Voice Divine gently descended: "God is Love. E'er beings gently emanated I was Love. 
Creating worlds, I ever was the same, And such I am in the accomplishment Of my profoundest, most mysterious deed. But in the death of the Eternal Son Ye learn to know Me wholly—God, the Judge Of every world. New adoration then Ye will to the Supreme of heaven address."

The seraph having descended to the altar of the earth, Adam, filled with eager expectation, hastened to him. A lucid, ethereal body was the radiant mansion of his blessed spirit, and his form was as lovely as the bright image in the Creator's mind when meditating on the form of man in the blooming fields of Paradise. Adam approached with a radiant smile, which suffused over his countenance an air of ineffable and sweetest dignity, and thus with impassioned accents he spoke.

Hail, blessed seraph, messenger of peace! Thy voice, resounding of thy message high, Has filled our souls with rapture. Son of God, Messiah, O that Thee I could behold, Behold Thee in the beauty of Thy manhood, E'en as this seraph sees Thee in the form Which Thy compassion prompted Thee to take My wretched progeny from death to save. Point out to me, O seraph, show to me, Where my Redeemer walked, my loving Lord; Only from far I will His step attend.

Gabriel descends again to earth, the stars silently saluting him with a universal morn. He finds Jesus placidly sleeping on a bare rock, and after long contemplation, apostrophises all nature to be silent, for her Creator sleeps.

II.—Of Satan Warring, and the Council of the Sanhedrim

The morn descends over the forest of waving cedars, and Jesus awakes. The spirits of the patriarchs see Him with joy from their solar mansion. Raphael, John's guardian angel, tells Jesus that this disciple is viewing a demoniac among the sepulchres on the Mount of Olives. He goes thither, and puts Satan to flight, who, returning to hell, gives an account of what he knows of Jesus, and determines that He shall be put to death. Satan is opposed by Abaddon. Another grim fiend speaks.

Then Moloch fierce approached, a martial spirit. From mountains and entrenchments huge he came, Which still he forms, thus the domains of hell To fence, in case the Thundering Warrior e'er (He thus the dread Eternal nominates) From heaven descending, should th' abyss molest. All before Moloch with respect retired. In sable armour clad, which to his pace Resounded, he advanced as does a storm Amid dark lowering clouds. The mountains shook Before him, and behind, a trembling rock In shattered fragments sunk. Thus he advanced And soon attained the first revolter's throne.

After the council of fiends, all hell approves Satan's determination. Satan and Adramelech return to earth to execute their design. Abaddon, following them at a distance, sees at the gate of hell Abdiel, the seraph who was once his friend, whom he addresses. But Abdiel ignoring him, he presses forward, bewails the loss of his glory, despairs of finding grace, and after vainly endeavouring to destroy himself, descends to earth. Satan and Adramelech also advance to earth and alight on Mount Olivet.

They both advanced and stormed against the Mount Of Olives, the Redeemer there to find Assembled with His confidential friends. Thus down into the vale destructive cars Of battle roll, against th' intrepid chief Of the advancing and undaunted host. Now brazen warriors throng from every point. The thundering crash of the encounter, clash Of sword and shield, a sullen iron din O'er distant rocks resounds tow'rd heaven aloft, And in the valley scatters death around.

Caiaphas assembles the Sanhedrim, and relates a vision which has terrified him. He declares that Jesus must die, but counsels caution as to the manner of the execution. Philo, a dreaded priest and Pharisee, steps forward, and with great vehemence pronounces the dream of Caiaphas a mere empty fiction, yet joins in counselling the death of Jesus. He declares Caiaphas  a disgrace to the priesthood of God, but that Jesus would abolish the priesthood altogether.

So saying, Philo, with uplifted arms, Advanced in the assembly and exclaimed: "Spirit of Moses, reigning now in bliss, Whether in thy celestial robes thou art, Or whether thy yet mortal children now In council met beneath a humble roof, Thou deign'st to visit. Solemnly I swear to thee, by yon dread covenant, Which thou to us hast brought out of the storm From God, to thee on Sinai revealed: I will not rest till this thine adversary, Who hates thy laws and thee, be from this earth Exterminated."

The evil counsel is warmly opposed by Gamaliel and Nicodemus. Judas has a private conference with Caiaphas. The Messiah sends Peter and John into Jerusalem to prepare the Passover. Jesus, going to Jerusalem, is met by Judas. Jesus institutes a memorial of His death. Judas goes out from the supper. Then Jesus prays for His disciples, and returns to the Mount of Olives.

III.—Eloah Sings the Redeemer's Glory

God descends towards the earth to judge the Mediator, and rests on Tabor. The Almighty sends the seraph Eloah to comfort Jesus in Gethsemane by singing a triumphant song on His future glory.

He soared on golden clouds and sang aloud: "Hail me, I was found worthy after Thee To feel what Thou dost feel, and to behold At humble distance the Messiah's thoughts, Which in the fearful and most dreadful hour Of His humiliation, fill His mind. No finite being ever saw God's thoughts: Yet I have been found worthy from afar, From an obscure dimension of created And but finite understanding, to extend  My view into Divine Infinitude! O with what feelings of creation new, Divine Messiah, those redeemed by Thee— With what surpassing transport they will see Thee on Thy everlasting throne of glory! How they will then behold those radiant wounds, The splendid testimonies of Thy love To Adam's race! How they will shout Thy praise In never-ceasing songs and alleluias! Ah, then the angel Death's tremendous trump Will nevermore be heard, nor thunders, then, O'er Thy redeemed from the Throne will roll, The depths will bow before Thee, and the heights To Thee, the Judge, will folded hands uplift. The last of days will evanescent die Before the throne, lost in eternity. And Thou wilt gather all the righteous souls Around Thee, that they, face to face, may see Thy glory and behold Thee as Thou art."
Now the Messiah from the crimsoned dust Rose victor, and the heavens sang aloud— The third heaven, of the great Messiah's most Transcendent sufferings which brought endless life To precious souls, as now gone over Him. So sang the heavens.

IV.—Pilate's Wife Bewails the Saviour's Sufferings

The Messiah is seized and bound. The assembled priests are seized with consternation, but their fears are removed by the arrival of successive messengers. Jesus being taken before Annas, Philo goes thither and brings Him to Caiaphas. Portia, Pilate's wife, comes to see Jesus. She approaches from the Procurator's palace near the hall of assembly, by an arcade lit by lamps.

Impelled by curiosity at last The great and wondrous Prophet to behold,  She to the high-priest's palace came in haste, Only few attendants being with her. And Portia saw Him Who awoke the dead, And Who serenely bore the hellish rage And malice of indignant priests, and now, With wondrous magnanimity stood forth Resolved to act with greatness, unadmired, To beings so degenerate still unknown. With fervid expectation and with joy She stood and gazed upon the Holy Man, And saw how He, sublime with dignified Serenity, His base accusers faced.

On false evidence of suborned witnesses Jesus is condemned. Eloah and Gabriel discourse on the Saviour's sufferings.

Gabriel: Eloah! He at whose command the dead
Of the renewed creation shall arise,
The tempest of the resurrection shaking
The earth around, that she with bearing throes
Will yield the dust at His almighty call.
He then with thunders and attendant hosts
Of angels and in terrors clad, that stars
Before Him sink, will judge that sinful world.

Eloah: He said, Let there be light! And there was light.
Thou, Gabriel, sawest how at His command
Effulgent beams rushed forth! With thought profound
He still advanced: and lo, at His right hand
Ten thousand times ten thousand beings bright
Collected, and an animating storm
Advanced before Him. Then the suns
Rolled in their orbits! Then the harmony
Of morning spheres resounded round the poles.
And then the heavens appeared!

Gabriel: And at His word
 Eternal night sank far below the heavens!
Thou sawest, Eloah, how He stood on high
O'er the Profound. He spake again, and, lo,
A hideous mass inanimate appeared
And lay before Him, seeming ruins vast
Of broken suns, or of a hundred worlds
To chaos crushed. He summoned then the flame,
And the nocturnal blaze rushed in the fields
Of everlasting death. Then misery
Existed, which from the depths ascended
In cries of anguish and despondency.
Then was created the infernal gulf!

Thus they communed. Portia no longer could
The Blessed Saviour's sufferings behold,
And lone ascended to the palace roof.
She stood and wrung her hands, her weeping eyes
To heaven uplifted, while she thus express'd
The agitated feelings of her heart:
"O Thou, the First of Gods, who didst create
This world from night of darkness, and who gav'st
A heart to man! Whatever be Thy name—
God, Jupiter, Jehovah, Romulus?
Or Abraham's God? Not of chosen few,
Thou art the Judge and Father of us all!
May I before Thee, Lord, with tears display
The feelings of my heart, and rend my soul?
What is the crime of this most peaceful man?
Why should He thus be barbarously used
And persecuted even unto death
By these inhuman and relentless men?
Dost Thou delight from Thine Olympus, Lord,
To look on suffering virtue? Is to Thee
The object sacred? To the heart of men,
That is not of humanity devoid,
It is most awful, wondrous, and endearing;
But He who formed the stars, can He admire
 And wonder? No, far too sublime is He
To admiration ever scope to give!
Yet th' object must e'en to the God of Gods
Be sacred, else He never could permit
That thus the good and guiltless be oppress'd.
My tears of pity and compassion flow,
But thou discernest suffering virtue's tears
That flow in secret and to Thee appeal.
Great God of Gods, reward and if Thou canst,
Admire the magnanimity He shows."

Peter, in deep distress, tells John he has denied his Master, then departs and deplores his guilt.

V.—The Day of Oblation

Eloah welcomes the returning morn with a hymn, and hails the Day of the Atonement, precious, fair day of oblation, sent by Love Divine.

The Messiah is led to Pilate, and is accused by Caiaphas and Philo. Judas, in despair, destroys himself. Jesus is sent to Herod, who, expecting to see a miracle, is disappointed. After being treated with derision, Jesus is sent back to Pilate, who seeks to save Him, but is persuaded to release Barabbas. Jesus is scourged, arrayed in a purple robe, crowned with thorns, and delivered to the priests, who cause Him to be led to crucifixion. Eloah descends from the throne and proclaims that the Redeemer is led to death, on which the angels of the earth form a circle round Mount Calvary. Jesus is nailed to the cross. One of the two thieves crucified with Him is converted. Uriel places a planet before the sun to obscure the dreadful scene on Calvary, and then conducts to earth the souls of all future generations of mankind.

The Angel of Death descends to address Jesus, Who dies. The earth shakes, the veil of the Temple is rent, the Old Testament saints are raised. The converted thief dies. Joseph of Arimathea begs the body of Jesus, and he and Nicodemus wrap it in spices and perform the interment. Mary and some devout women meet in John's house, to which Nicodemus brings the crown of thorns taken from the body at burial. The interment is solemnised by choirs of risen saints and angels.

 

 Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock, who was born at Quedlinburg on July 2, 1724, and died on March 14, 1803, was one of Germany's most famous eighteenth century poets. While studying theology at Jena University, he conceived the idea of a great spiritual epic, and actually planned in prose the first three cantos of "The Messiah," which he afterwards finished at Leipzig. These were published anonymously in the Bremische Beiträge in 1748, the remaining five appearing in 1773. Although the poem perhaps lacks in unity of conception and precision of style, it contains many noble passages that are admitted by critics to mark a very high order of lyrical genius. One of the chief distinctions of Klopstock was that he was the real inaugurator of the emancipation of the German intellect from the superficialism of French literary ascendancy. This distinction was generously acknowledged by Goethe, who rejoiced at Klopstock's success in first striking the keynote of intellectual freedom in the Fatherland. Various odes, Biblical dramas, tragedies, and hymns constitute his other works. The "Messiah" was translated into both English prose and verse by G. Egerstorff, his work being published at Hamburg in 1821.

Arthur Mee J. A. Hammerton