Happy those whom the murderous sword and the crushing ball carried off in an instant to the land of spirits! Woe, woe to those lying upon the battle-field, living, breathing, conscious of their defeat and of their great agony! Woe! woe! for they hear the sound of the tramping and neighing of horses--they come nearer and nearer. The moon throws the long, dark shadows of those advancing horse-men over the battle-field. It is fearful to see their rash approach; spurring over thousands of pale corpses, not regarding the dying, who breathe out their last piteous sighs under the hoofs of these wild horses.
The Cossack has no pity; he does not shudder or draw back from this monstrous open grave, which has received thousands of men as if they were one great corpse. The Cossack has come to rob and to plunder; he spares neither friend nor foe. He is the heir of the dead and of the dying, and he has come for his inheritance. If he sees a ring sparkling upon the hand of a grinning corpse, he springs from his horse and tears it off. If his greedy, cruel eye rests upon a rich uniform he seizes it, he tears it off from the bleeding, wounded body, no matter whether it is dead or still breathing and rattling.
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.