Meta, the wife of Klopstock, is probably known to many readers through her beautiful letters to Richardson, the novelist, or Mrs. Jameson’s popular work, “The Loves of the Poets.” It is said that Klopstock wrote to her continually after her death.
THE poet had retired from the social circle. Its mirth was to his sickened soul a noisy discord, —its sentiment a hollow mockery. With grief he felt that the recital of a generous action, the vivid expression of a noble thought could only graze the surface of his mind; the desolate stillness of death lay brooding on its depths. The friendly smiles, the affectionate attentions, which had seemed so sweet in the days when Meta’s presence was
“The boon prefigured in his earliest wish,
Crown of his cup, and garnish of his dish,”
could give the present but a ghastly similitude to that blessed time. While his attention, disobedient to his wishes, kept turning painfully inward, the voice of the singer suddenly startled it back. A lovely maid with moist clear eye, and pleading, earnest voice, was seated at the harpsichord. She sang a sad and yet not hopeless strain, like that of a lover who pines in absence, yet hopes again to meet his loved one. The heart of the listener rose to his lips and natural tears suffused his eyes. She paused. Some youth of untouched heart, shallow as yet in all things, asked for a lively song, the expression of animal enjoyment, one of these mountain strains that call upon us to climb the most steep and rugged ascents with an untiring gayety. She hesitated and cast a sidelong glance at the mourner. Heedlessly the request was urged. She wafted over the keys an airy prelude, — a cold rush of anguish came over the awakened heart, Klopstock rose and hastily left the room.
He entered his chamber and threw himself upon the bed. The moon was nearly at the full. A tree near the large window obscured the radiance, and cast into the room a flickering shadow, as its leaves kept swaying to and fro with the breeze. Vainly Klopstock sought to soothe himself in that soft and varying light. Sadness is always deepest at this hour of celestial calmness. The soul realizes its wants and longs to be at harmony with itself far more than when any outward ill is arousing or oppressing it.
Weak, fond wretch that I am, cried he, — I the bard of Messiah — To what purpose have I nurtured my soul on the virtues of that sublime model for whom no renunciation was too hard. Four years an angel sojourned with me. Her presence brightened me into purity and benevolence like her own. Happy as the saints, who after their long strife rest in the bosom of perfect love, I thought myself good because I sinned not against a God of so apparent bounty, because my heart could spare some drops of its overflowing oil and balm for the wounds of others. Now what am I? My angel leaves me, but she leaves with me the memory of our perfect communion as an earnest of what awaits us, if I prove faithful to my own words of faith, to these religious strains which are even now cheering on many an inexperienced youth. And I, — the springs of life and love frozen, here I lie sunk in grief as if a grave were the bourne to all my thoughts; the joy of other men seems an insult, their grief a dead letter. compared with mine own. Meta, Meta, couldst thou see me in mine hour of trial, thou wouldst disdain thy chosen.
A strain of sweet but solemn music swelled on his ear, — one of those majestic harmonies which, were there no other proof of the soul’s immortality, would create the intellectual Paradise. It closed, and Meta stood before him. A long veil of silvery whiteness fell over her, through which might be seen the fixed but nobly serene expression of the large blue eyes, and a holy, a seraphic dignity of mein.
Klopstock knelt before her — his soul was awed to earth. “Hast thou come, my adored,” said he, “from thy home of bliss to tell me that thou canst no longer love thy unworthy friend?”
“O speak not thus,” replied the softest and most penetrating of voices. “Can purified beings look with contempt or anger on those suffering the ills from which they are set free? O no, my love, my husband, — I come to speak consolation to thy sinking spirit.”
“When you left me to breathe my last sigh in the arms of a sister who, however dear, was nothing to my heart in comparison with you, I closed my eyes, wishing that the light of day might depart also. The thought of what thou must suffer convulsed my heart with one last pang. Once more I murmured the wish I had so often expressed, that the sorrows of the survivor might have fallen to my lot rather than to thine. In that pang my soul extricated itself from the body, a sensation like that from exquisite fragrance came over me, and with breezy lightness I escaped into the pure serene. It was a moment of feeling wildly free and unobscured. I had not yet passed the verge of comparison. I could not yet embrace the infinite; and my joy was, like those of earth, intoxicating. Words cannot paint, even to thy eager soul, my friend, the winged swiftness, the glowing hopefulness of my path through the fields of azure. I paused at length in a region of keen, bluish light, such as beams from Jupiter to thy planet on a mild October evening.
“Here an immediate conviction pervaded me that this was home, was my appointed resting-place; a full tide of hope and satisfaction, similar to what I felt on first acquaintance with thy poem, flowed over this hour. Joyous confidence in Goodness and Beauty forbade me to feel the want even of thy companionship. The delicious clearness of every feeling exalted my soul into an entire life. Some time elapsed thus. The whole of my earthly existence passed in review before me. My thought, my actions, were brought in full relief before the cleared eye of my spirit. Beloved, thou wilt rejoice to know, that thy Meta could then feel her worst faults sprung from ignorance. As I was striving to connect my present with my past state, and, as it were, poising myself on the brink of space and time, the breath of another presence came upon me, and gradually evolving from the bosom of light, rose a figure, in grace, in sweetness, how excelling! Fixing her eyes on mine with the full gaze of love, she said in flutelike tones, ‘Dost thou know me, my sister?’
“‘Art thou not,’ I replied, ‘the love of Petrarch? I have seen the portraiture of thy mortal lineaments, and now I recognize that perfect beauty, the full violet flower which thy lover’s genius was able to anticipate.’
“‘Yes,’ she said, ‘I am Laura, on earth most happy, yet most sad, most rich and most poor. I come to greet her, whom I recognize as the inheritress of all that was lovely in my earthly being, more happy than I in her earthly estate. I have sympathized, wife of Klopstock, in thy happiness, thy lover was thy priest and thy poet, thy model and oracle was thy bosom friend. All that one world could give was thine, and I joyed to think on thy fulfilled love, thy freedom of soul and unchecked faith. Follow me now; we are to dwell in the same circle, and I am appointed to show it to thee.’
“She guided me towards the source of the light I have described. We paused before a structure of dazzling whiteness. This stood on a slope and overlooked a valley of exceeding beauty. It was shaded by trees, which had that peculiar calmness, that the shadows of trees have below in the high noon of summer moonlight.
‘Trees which are as still
As the shades of trees below,
When they sleep on the lonely hill
In the summer moonlight’s glow.’
“It was decorated by sculptures of which I may speak at some future interview, for they in manifold ways of wonderful subtlety express one thought, I had not then time to examine them. Before rose a fountain, which seemed, one silvery tree from off whose leaves that stream of light fell ever, and, flowing down the valley, divided it into two unequal parts. The larger and farther from us seemed as I first looked on it, populous with shapes beauteous as that of my guide. But when I looked more fixedly, I saw only the valley carpeted with large blue and white flowers which emitted a hyacinthine odor.
“Here Laura, turning round, asked — ‘Is not this a poetic home, Meta?’
“I paused a moment ere I replied, ‘It is, indeed, a place of beauty; —yet more like the Greek Elysium than the home Klopstock and I were wont to picture for ourselves beyond the gate of death.’
“‘Thou sayest well,’ she replied, ‘nor is this thy final home. Thou wilt but wait here for a season the coming of thy friend.’
“‘What!’ said I, ‘alone? Alone in Eden?’
“Hast not Meta then collected aught on which she might meditate? Hast thou never read, ‘While I was musing, the fire burned?’”
“Lady,” said I, “spare the reproach. The love of Petrarch, whose soul grew up in golden fetters, whose strongest emotions, whose most natural actions were through a long life constantly repressed by the dictates of duty and honor, she might here pass long years in that contemplation, which was on earth her only solace. But I, whose life has all been breathed out in love and ministry, can I endure that existence to be reversed? Can I live without utterance of spirit, or would such be a stage of that progressive happiness we are promised?”
“True, little one,” said she, with her first heavenly smile, “nor shall it be thus with thee. Thou art appointed to the same ministry which was committed to me while waiting here for that friend whom below I was forbidden to call my own.”
“She touched me, and from my shoulders sprang a pair of wings, white and azure, wide and glistening. ‘Meta,’ she resumed, ‘Spirit of love! Be this thine office. Wheresoever a soul pines in absence from all companionship, breathe in sweet thoughts of future sympathy to be deserved by steadfast virtue and mental growth. Bind up the wounds of hearts torn by bereavement, teach them where healing is to be found. Revive in the betrayed and forsaken that belief in virtue and nobleness, without which life is an odious, disconnected dream. Fan every flame of generous enthusiasm, and on the altars where it is kindled strew the incense of wisdom.
“‘In such a ministry, thou couldst never be alone, since hope must dwell with thee. But I shall often come hither to speak of the future glories of thy destiny. Yet more; seest thou that marble tablet? Retire here when thy pinions are wearied. Give up the soul to faith, fix thy eyes on the tablet, and the deeds and thoughts which fill the days of Klopstock shall be traced on it. Thus shall ye not for an hour be divided. Hast thou, Meta, aught else to ask?’
“Messenger of peace and bliss,” said I, “dare I make yet one other request? O is it presumptuous to ask that Klopstock may be one of those to whom I minister, and that he may know it is Meta who consoles him?”
“‘Even this to a certain extent I have power to grant. Most pure, most holy were your lives; you taught one another only good things, and peculiarly are ye rewarded. Thou mayest occasionally manifest thyself to Klopstock, and answer his prayers with words, so long,’ she continued looking fixedly at me, ‘as he shall continue true to himself and thee.’
“O my beloved, why tell thee what were my emotions at such a promise? —Ah! I must now leave thee, for dawn is bringing back the world’s doings. Soon shall I visit thee again. Farewell; remember that thy every thought and deed will be known to me, and be happy.”
Source: The Dial (January 1841) pp. 293-298