by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
THEN when into the room the well-built son made his entry,
Straightway with piercing glances the minister eyed him intently,
And with carefulness watch'd his looks and the whole of his bearing,
With an inquiring eye which easily faces decyphers;
Then he smiled, and with cordial words address'd him as follows
'How you are changed in appearance, my friend! I never have seen you
Half so lively before; your looks are thoroughly cheerful.
You have return'd quite joyous and merry. You've doubtless divided
All of the presents amongst the poor, their blessings receiving.'
Then in calm accents replied the son, with gravity speaking
'Whether I've laudably acted, I know not; I follow'd the impulse
Of my own heart, as now I'll proceed to describe with exactness.
Mother, you rummaged so long, in looking over old pieces,
And in making your choice, that 'twas late when the bundle was ready,
And the wine and the beer were slowly and carefully pack'd up.
When I at length emerged at the gate, and came on the highway,
Streams of citizens met I returning, with women and children,
For the train of the exiles had long disappear'd in the distance.
So I quicken'd my pace, and hastily drove to the village
Where I had heard that to-night to rest and to sleep they intended.
Well, as I went on my way, the newly-made causeway ascending,
Suddenly saw I a waggon, of excellent timber constructed,
Drawn by a couple of oxen, the best and the strongest of foreign.
Close beside it there walk'd, with sturdy footsteps, a maiden,
Guiding the two strong beasts with a long kind of staff, which with skill she
Knew how to use, now driving, and now restraining their progress.
When the maiden observed me, she quietly came near the horses,
And address'd me as follows:--'Our usual condition, believe me,
Is not so sad as perchance you might judge from our present appearance.
I am not yet accustom'd to ask for alms from a stranger,
Who so often but gives, to rid himself of a beggar.
But I'm compell'd to speak by necessity. Here on the straw now
Lies the lately-confined poor wife of a wealthy landowner,
Whom with much trouble I managed to save with oxen and waggon.
We were late in arriving, and scarcely with life she escaped.
Now the newly-born child in her arms is lying, all naked,
And our friends will be able to give them but little assistance,
E'en if in the next village, to which to-night we are going,
We should still find them, although I fear they have left it already.
If you belong to the neighbourhood, any available linen
These poor people will deem a most acceptable present.
'Thus she spake, and wearily raised herself the pale patient
Up from the straw and gazed upon me, while thus I made answer
'Oft doth a heavenly spirit whisper to kind-hearted people,
So that they feel the distress o'er their poorer brethren impending;
For my mother, your troubles foreboding, gave me a bundle
Ready prepared for relieving the wants of those who were naked.'
Then I loosen'd the knots of the cord, and the dressing-gown gave her
Which belong'd to my father, and gave her some shirts and some linen,
And she thank'd me with joy and said:--'The fortunate know not
How 'tis that miracles happen; we only discover in sorrow
God's protecting finger and hand, extended to beckon
Good men to good. May your kindness to us by Him be requited.'
And I saw the poor patient joyfully handling the linen,
Valuing most of all the soft flannel, the dressing-gown lining.
Then the maid thus address'd her:--'Now let us haste to the village
Where our friends are resting, to-night intending to sleep there
There I will straightway attend to what e'er for the infant is needed.'
Then she saluted me too, her thanks most heartily giving,
Drove the oxen, the waggon went on. I lingerd behind them,
Holding my horses rein'd back, divided between two opinions,
Whether to hasten ahead, reach the village, the viands distribute
'Mongst the rest of the people, or give them forthwith to the maiden,
So that she might herself divide them amongst them with prudence
Soon I made up my mind, and follow'd after her softly,
Overtook her without delay, and said to her quickly
'Maiden, it was not linen alone that my mother provided
And in the carriage placed, as clothing to give to the naked,
But she added meat, and many an excellent drink too;
And I have got quite a stock stow'd away in the boot of the carriage.
Well, I have taken a fancy the rest of the gifts to deposit
In your hands, and thus fulfil to the best my commission;
You will divide them with prudence, whilst I my fate am obeying.'
Then the maiden replied:--'With faithfulness I will distribute
All your gifts, and the needy shall surely rejoice at your bounty.'
Thus she spake, and I hastily open'd the boot of the carriage,
Took out the hams (full heavy they were) and took out the bread-stuffs,
Flasks of wine and beer, and handed the whole of them over.
Gladly would I have given her more, but empty the boot was.
Straightway she pack'd them away at the feet of the patient, and forthwith
Started again, whilst I hasten'd back to the town with my horses.'
Then when Hermann had ended his story, the garrulous neighbour
Open'd his mouth and exclaim'd:--'I only deem the man happy
Who lives alone in his house in these days of flight and confusion,
Who has neither wife nor children cringing beside him
I feel happy at present; I hate the title of father;
Care of children and wife in these days would be a sad drawback.
Often have I bethought me of flight, and have gather'd together
All that I deem most precious, the antique gold and the jewels
Worn by my late dear mother, not one of which has been sold yet.
Much indeed is left out, that is not so easily carried.
Even the herbs and the roots, collected with plenty of trouble,
I should he sorry to lose, though little in value they may be.
If the dispenser remains, I shall leave my house in good spirits
If my ready money is saved, and my body, why truly
All is saved, for a bachelor easily flies when 'tis needed.'
'Neighbour,' rejoin'd forthwith young Hermann, with emphasis speaking
'Altogether I differ, and greatly blame your opinions.
Can that man be deem'd worthy, who both in good and ill fortune
Thinks alone of himself, and knows not the secret of sharing
Sorrows and joys with others, and feels no longing to do so?
I could more easily now than before determine to marry
Many an excellent maiden needs a husband's protection,
Many a man a cheerful wife, when sorrow's before him.'
Smilingly said then the father:--'I'm pleas'd to hear what you're saying,
Words of such wisdom have seldom been utter'd by you in my presence.
Then his good mother broke in, in her turn, with vivacity speaking
'Son, you are certainly right. We parents set the example.
'Twas not in time of pleasure that we made choice of each other,
And 'twas the saddest of hours, that knitted us closely together.
Monday morning,--how well I remember! the very day after
That most terrible fire occurr'd which burnt down the borough,
Twenty years ago now; the day, like to-day, was a Sunday,
Hot and dry was the weather, and little available water.
All the inhabitants, clothed in their festival garments, were walking,
Scatter'd about in the inns and the mills of the neighbouring hamlets.
At one end of the town the fire broke out, and the flames ran
Hastily all through the streets, impell'd by the draught they created.
And the barns were consumed, where all the rich harvest was gather'd
And all the streets as far as the market; the dwelling house also
Of my father hard by was destroy'd, as likewise was this one.
Little indeed could we save; I sat the sorrowful night through
On the green of the town, protecting the beds and the boxes.
Finally sleep overtook me, and when by the cool breeze of morning
Which dies away when the sun arises I was awaken'd,
Saw I the smoke and the glow, and the half-consumed walls and the chimneys.
Then my heart was sorely afflicted; but soon in his glory
Rose the sun more brilliant than ever, my spirits reviving.
Then in haste I arose, impell'd the site to revisit
Where our dwelling had stood, to see if the chickens were living
Which I especially loved; for childlike I still was by nature.
But when over the ruins of courtyard and house I was climbing,
Which still smoked, and saw my dwelling destroy'd and deserted,
You came up on the other side, the ruins exploring.
You had a horse shut up in his stall; the still-glowing rafters
Over it lay, and rubbish, and nought could be seen of the creature.
Over against each other we stood, in doubt and in sorrow,
For the wall had fallen which used to sever our courtyards;
And you grasp'd my hand, addressing me softly as follows
'Lizzy, what here are you doing? Away! Your soles you are burning,
For the rubbish is hot, and is scorching my boots which are thicker.'
Then you lifted me up, and carried me off through your courtyard.
There still stood the gateway before the house, with its arch'd roof,
Just as it now is standing, the only thing left remaining.
And you sat me down and kiss'd me, and I tried to stop you,
But you presently said, with kindly words full of meaning
'See, my house is destroy'd! Stop here and help me to build it,
I in return will help to rebuild the house of your father.'
I understood you not, till you sent to my father your mother,
And ere long our marriage fulfilid the troth we soon plighted.
Still to this day I remember with pleasure the half-consumed rafters,
Still do I see the sun in all his majesty rising,
For on that day I gain'd my husband; the son of my youth too
Gained I during that earliest time of the wild desolation.
Therefore commend I you, Hermann, for having with confidence guileless
Turn'd towards marriage your thoughts in such a period of mourning,
And for daring to woo in war and over the ruins.--'
Then the father straightway replied, with eagerness speaking:--
'Sensible is your opinion, and true is also the story
Which you have told us, good mother, for so did ev'rything happen.
But what is better is better. 'Tis not the fortune of all men
All their life and existence to find decided beforehand;
All are not doom'd to such troubles as we and others have suffer'd.
O, how happy is he whose careful father and mother
Have a house ready to give him, which he can successfully manage!
All beginnings are hard, and most so the landlords profession.
Numberless things a man must have, and ev'rything daily
Dearer becomes, so he needs to scrape together more money.
So I am hoping that you, dear Hermann, will shortly be bringing
Home to us a bride possessing an excellent dowry,
For a worthy husband deserves a girl who is wealthy,
And 'tis a capital thing for the wish'd-for wife to bring with her
Plenty of suitable articles stow'd in her baskets and boxes.
Not in vain for years does the mother prepare for her daughter
Stocks of all kinds of linen, both finest and strongest in texture;
Not in vain do god-parents give them presents of silver,
Or the father lay by in his desk a few pieces of money.
For she hereafter will gladden, with all her goods and possessions,
That happy youth who is destined from out of all others to choose her.
Yes! I know how pleasant it makes a house for a young wife,
When she finds her own property placed in the rooms and the kitchen,
And when she herself has cover'd the bed and the table.
Only well-to-do brides should be seen in a house, I consider,
For a poor one is sure at last to be scorn'd by her husband,
And he'll deem her a jade who as jade first appear'd with her bundle.
Men are always unjust, but moments of love are but transient.
Yes, my Hermann, you greatly would cheer the old age of your father
If you soon would bring home a daughter-in-law to console me,
Out of the neighbourhood too,--yes, out of yon dwelling, the green one!
Rich is the man, in truth his trade and his manufactures
Make him daily richer, for when does a merchant not prosper?
He has only three daughters; the whole of his wealth they'll inherit.
True the eldest's already engaged; but then there's the second,
And the third, who still (not for long) may be had for the asking.
Had I been in your place, I should not till this time have waited;
Bring home one of the girls, as I brought your mother before you.
Then, with modesty, answer'd the son his impetuous father
'Truly my wish was, like yours, to marry one of the daughters
Of our neighbour. We all, in fact, were brought up together,
Sported in youthful days near the fountain adjoining the market,
And from the rudeness of boys I often managed to save them.
But those days have long pass'd the maidens grew up, and with reason
Stop now at home and avoid the rougher pastimes of childhood.
Well brought up with a vengeance they are! To please you, I sometimes
Went to visit them, just for the sake of olden acquaintance
But I was never much pleased at holding intercourse with them,
For they were always finding fault, and I had to bear it
First my coat was too long, the cloth too coarse, and the colour
Far too common, my hair was cut and curl'd very badly.
I at last was thinking of dressing myself like the shop-boys,
Who are accustom'd on Sundays to show off their persons up yonder,
And round whose coats in summer half-silken tatters are hanging.
But ere long I discover'd they only intended to fool me
This was very annoying, my pride was offended, but more still
Felt I deeply wounded that they so mistook the good feelings
Which I cherish'd towards them, especially Minnie, the youngest.
Well, I went last Easter, politely to pay them a visit,
And I wore the new coat now hanging up in the closet,
And was frizzled and curld, like all the rest of the youngsters.
When I enter'd, they titter'd; but that didn't very much matter.
Minnie sat at the piano, the father was present amongst them,
Pleased with his daughter's singing, and quite in a jocular humour.
Little could I understand of the words in the song she was singing,
But I constantly heard of Pamina, and then of Tamino,*
(* Characters In Mozart's Zauberflote.)
And I fain would express my opinion; so when she had ended,
I ask'd questions respecting the text, and who were the persons.
All were silent and smiled; but presently answer'd the father
'Did you e'er happen, my friend, to hear of Eve or of Adam?'
Then no longer restrain'd they themselves, the girls burst out laughing,
All the boys laugh'd loudly, the old man's sides appear'd splitting.
In my confusion I let my hat fall down, and the titt'ring
Lasted all the time the singing and playing continued.
Then I hasten'd home, ashamed and full of vexation,
Hung up my coat in the closet, and put my hair in disorder
With my fingers, and swore ne'er again to cross o'er their threshold.
And I'm sure I was right; for they are all vain and unloving.
And I hear they're so rude as to give me the nickname Tamino.'
Then the mother rejoin'd:--'You're wrong, dear Hermann, to harbour
Angry feelings against the children, for they are but children.
Minnie's an excellent girl, and has a tenderness for you;
Lately she ask'd how you were. Indeed, I wish you would choose her!'
Then the son thoughtfully answer'd:--'I know not why, but the fact is
My annoyance has graven itself in my mind, and hereafter
I could not bear at the piano to see her, or list to her singing.'
But the father sprang up, and said, in words full of anger
'Little comfort you give me, in truth! I always have said it,
When you took pleasure in horses, and cared for nothing but fieldwork;
That which the servants of prosperous people perform as their duty,
You yourself do; meanwhile the father his son must dispense with,
Who in his honour was wont to court the rest of the townsfolk.
Thus with empty hopes your mother early deceived me,
When your reading, and writing, and learning at school ne'er succeeded
Like the rest of the boys, and so you were always the lowest.
This all comes from a youth not possessing a due sense of honour,
And not having the spirit to try and raise his position.
Had my father but cared for me, as I have for you, sir,
Sent me to school betimes, and given me proper instructors,
I should not merely have been the host of the famed Golden Lion.'
But the son arose, and approach'd the doorway in silence,
Slowly, and making no noise: but then the father in dudgeon
After him shouted:--'Be off! I know you're an obstinate fellow!
Go and look after the business; else I shall scold you severely;
But don't fancy I'll ever allow you to bring home in triumph
As my daughter-in-law any boorish impudent hussy.
Long have I lived in the world, and know how to manage most people,
Know how to entertain ladies and gentlemen, so that they leave me
In good humour, and know how to flatter a stranger discreetly.
But my daughter-in-law must have useful qualities also,
And be able to soften my manifold cares and vexations.
She must also play on the piano, that all the best people
Here in the town may take pleasure in often coming to see us,
As in the house of our neighbour the merchant happens each Sunday.'
Softly the son at these words raised the latch, and left the apartment.