There he lies, the gallant warrior, the inspired, noble poet; his broken eyes are turned to heaven; his blue, cold lips are opened and wearily stammering a few disconnected words. Perhaps he thinks in this last hour of the last words of his last poem. Perhaps his stiffening lips murmured these words which his mangled hand had written just before the battle:
"Death for one's fatherland is ever honorable. How gladly will I die that noble death When my destiny calls!"
Yes, death might have been beautiful, but fate is never propitious to German poets. It would have been noble and sweet to die in the wild tumult of battle, under the sound of trumpets, amid the shouts of victory; sweet thus, with a smile upon the lip to yield up the immortal spirit.
Ewald von Kleist, the German poet, received his death-wound upon the field of battle, but he did not die there; he lives, he knows that the battle is lost, that his blood has been shed in vain. The Cossack has come down into his grave--with greedy eyes he gazes at the rich booty. This bleeding, mangled body--this is to the Cossack not a man, it is only a uniform which is his; with hands trembling with greed he tears it from the quivering, bleeding form. What to him is the death-rattle and the blood--even the bloody shirt dying frame. [Footnote: "History of the Seven Years' War."--Thiebault, 363.] The Prussian warrior, the German poet, lay there naked, his own blood alone covered his wounded body, wrapped it in a purple mantle, worthy of the poet's crown with which his countrymen had decked his brow.
But Ewald von Kleist is no longer a poet or a hero--he is a poor, suffering, tortured child of earth; he lies on the damp ground, he pleads for a few rags to cover his wounds, into which the muddy water of the hole in which he lies is rushing.
And now fate seems favorable. A Russian officer is riding by--he takes pity on the naked man with the gaping wounds; he throws him a soldier's old mantle, a piece of bread, and a half gulden. [Footnote: "Seven Years' War," 353.] The German poet receives the alms of the Russian thankfully--he covers himself with the cloak, he tries to eat the bread.
But destiny is never propitious to German poets. The Cossacks swarm again upon the battle-field, and again they approach the groaning warrior in the open grave; he has no longer a glittering uniform, but the Cossack takes all; the poor old mantle excites his greed--he tears it from the unresisting soldier; he opens his hands and takes out the half gulden which Ewald von Kleist had received from the Russian hussar.
Again he lies naked, again the muddy water forces into his wounds, and adds cruel torture to the agonies of death. So lies he till the next day, till the enemy takes pity upon him and carries him as a prisoner to Frankfort. [Footnote: Ewald von Kleist died a few days after this, on the 24th of August. The Russians gave him an honorable burial; and as there was no sword upon his coffin, Captain Bulow, chief of the Russian dragoons, took his own from his side and placed it upon the bier, saying, "So worthy an officer shall not be buried without every mark of honor."--Archenholtz, 262.]