Look at that warrior who, groaning with anguish, his limbs torn to pieces, bleeding from a thousand wounds, is lying in an open grave; he is wounded to death; he still holds his sword in his left hand-- his right arm has been torn off by a cannon-ball, a shot that he might not be trampled upon by the horses' hoofs; they are forced to leave him in the hands of God and to the mercy of man.
But the Cossack knows no mercy. That is a word he has never heard in his Russian home; he has no fear of God before his eyes--he fears the Czar and his captain, and above all other things, he fears the knout. He knows nothing of pity, for it has never been shown him-- how then should he exercise it?
When the Cossack saw the Prussian officer in his gold-embroidered uniform, he sprang from his horse and threw the bridle over him, a shrill whistle told the wild steed, the Cossack's better half, that he must stand still. He sprang into the grave where the Prussian warrior, the German poet, was laid to rest. Yes, a great German poet lies there--a poet by the grace of God. All Germany knows him, "their songster of the spring." All Germany had read and been inspired by his lays. The Austrian and the Saxon considered the Prussian Major Ewald von Kleist their enemy, but they loved and admired the poet, Ewald von Kleist. The people are never enemies to poesy, and even politics are silent before her melodious voice.
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.