MOTHER AND SON.
by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
THUS the men discoursed together; and meanwhile the mother
Went in search of her son,--at first in front of the dwelling
On the bench of stone, for he was accustom'd to sit there.
When she found him not there, she went to look in the stable,
Thinking perchance he was feeding his splendid horses, the stallions
Which he had bought when foals, and which he entrusted to no one.
But the servant inform'd her that he had gone to the garden.
Then she nimbly strode across the long double courtyard,
Left the stables behind, and the barns all made of good timber,
Enter'd the garden which stretch'd far away to the walls of the borough,
Walk'd across it, rejoicing to see how all things were growing,
Carefully straighten'd the props, on which the apple-tree's branches,
Heavily loaded, reposed, and the weighty boughs of the pear-tree,
Took a few caterpillars from off the strong-sprouting cabbage;
For a bustling woman is never idle one moment.
In this manner she came to the end of the long-reaching garden,
Where was the arbour all cover'd with woodbine: she found not her son there,
Nor was he to be seen in any part of the garden.
But she found on the latch the door which out of the arbour
Through the wall of the town had been made by special permission
During their ancestor's time, the worthy old burgomaster.
So she easily stepp'd across the dry ditch at the spot where
On the highway abutted their well-inclosed excellent vineyard.
Rising steeply upwards, its face tow'rd the sun turn'd directly.
Up the hill she proceeded, rejoicing, as farther she mounted,
At the size of the grapes, which scarcely were hid by the foliage.
Shady and well-cover'd in, the middle walk at the top was,
Which was ascended by steps of rough flat pieces constructed.
And within it were hanging fine chasselas and muscatels also,
And a reddish-blue grape, of quite an exceptional bigness,
All with carefulness planted, to give to their guests after dinner.
But with separate stems the rest of the vineyard was planted,
Smaller grapes producing, from which the finest wine made is.
So she constantly mounted, enjoying in prospect the autumn.
And the festal day, when the neighbourhood met with rejoicing,
Picking and treading the grapes, and putting the must in the wine-vats,
Every corner and nook resounding at night with the fireworks,
Blazing and cracking away, due honour to pay to the harvest.
But she uneasy became, when she in vain had been calling
Twice and three times her son, and when the sole answer that reach'd her
Came from the garrulous echo which out of the town towers issued.
Strange it appear'd to have to seek him; he never went far off,
(As he before had told her) in order to ward off all sorrow
From his dear mother, and her forebodings of coming disaster.
But she still was expecting upon the highway to find him,
For the doors at the bottom, like those at the top, of the vineyard
Stood wide open; and so at length she enter'd the broad field
Which, with its spreading expanse, o'er the whole of the hill's back extended.
On their own property still she proceeded, greatly rejoicing
At their own crops, and at the corn which nodded so bravely,
Over the whole field in golden majesty waving.
Then on the border between the fields she follow'd the footpath,
Keeping her eye on the pear-tree fix'd, the big one, which standing
Perch'd by itself on the top of the hill, their property bounded.
Who had planted it, no one knew; throughout the whole country
Far and wide was it visible; noted also its fruit was.
Under its shadow the reaper ate his dinner at noonday,
And the herdsman was wont to lie, when tending his cattle.
Benches made of rough stones and of turf were placed all about it.
And she was not mistaken; there sat her Hermann and rested
On his arm he was leaning, and seem'd to be looking cross country
Tow'rds the mountains beyond; his back was turn'd to his mother.
Softly creeping up, she lightly tapp'd on his shoulder;
And he hastily turn'd; she saw that his eyes full of tears were.
'Mother,' he said in confusion:--'You greatly surprise me!' and quickly
Wiped he away his tears, the noble and sensitive youngster.
'What! You are weeping, my son?' the startled mother continued
'That is indeed unlike you! I never before saw you crying!
Say, what has sadden'd your heart? What drives you to sit here all lonely
Under the shade of the pear-tree? What is it that makes you unhappy?'
Then the excellent youth collected himself, and made answer
'Truly that man can have no heart, but a bosom of iron,
Who no sympathy feels for the wants of unfortunate exiles;
He has no sense in his head who, in times of such deep tribulation,
Has no concern for himself or for his country's well-being.
What I to-day have seen and heard, has stirr'd up my feelings;
Well, I have come up here, and seen the beautiful, spreading
Landscape, which in fruitful hills to our sight is presented,
Seen the golden fruit of the sheaves all nodding together,
And a plentiful crop of fruit, full garners foreboding.
But, alas, how near is the foe! By the Rhine's flowing waters
We are protected indeed; but what are rivers and mountains
To such a terrible nation, which hurries along like a tempest!
For they summon together the young and the old from all quarters,
Rushing wildly along, while the multitude little is caring
Even for death; when one falls, his place is straight fill'd by another,
Ah! and can Germans dare to remain at home in their dwellings,
Thinking perchance to escape from the widely-threat'ning disaster?
Dearest mother, I tell you that I to-day am quite sorry
That I was lately excused, when they selected the fighters
Out of the townfolk. 'Tis true I'm an only son, and more-over
Large is our inn, and our business also is very important;
Were it not better however for me to fight in the vanguard
On the frontier, than here to await disaster and bondage?
Yes, my spirit has told me, and in my innermost bosom
Feel I courage and longing to live and die for my country,
And to others to set an example worthy to follow.
Oh, of a truth, if the strength of the German youths was collected
On the frontier, all bound by a vow not to yield to the stranger,
He on our noble soil should never set foot, or be able
Under our eyes to consume the fruits of the land, or to issue
Orders unto our men, or despoil our women and maidens!
See, good mother, within my inmost heart I've determined
Soon and straightway to do what seems to me right and becoming;
For the man who thinks long, not always chooses what best is.
See, I will not return to the house, but will go from here straightway
Into the town, and there will place at the fighters' disposal
This stout arm and this heart, to serve, as I best can, my country.
Then let my father say whether feelings of honour are stirring
In my bosom or not, and whether I yearn to mount upwards.'
Then with significance answer'd his good and sensible mother,
Shedding tears in silence, which easily rose in her eyelids:--
'Son, what has wrought so strange a change in your temper and feelings,
That you freely and openly speak to your mother no longer,
As you till yesterday did, nor tell her truly your wishes?
If another had heard you speaking, he doubtless would praise you
Highly, and deem your new resolution as worthy of honour,
Being deceived by your words, and by your manner of speaking.
I however can only blame you. I know you much better.
You are concealing your heart, and very diff'rent your thoughts are;
For I am sure you care not at all for drum and for trumpet,
Nor, to please the maidens, care you to wear regimentals.
For, though brave you may be, and gallant, your proper vocation
Is to remain at home, the property quietly watching.
Therefore tell me truly: What means this sudden decision?'
Earnestly answer'd the son:--'You are wrong, dear-mother, one day is
Unlike another. The youth soon ripens into his manhood.
Ofttimes he ripens better to action in silence than living
That tumultuous noisy life which ruins so many.
And though silent I have been, and am, a heart has been fashion'd
Inside my bosom, which hates whatever unfair and unjust is,
And I am able right well to discriminate secular matters.
Work moreover my arms and my feet has mightily strengthen'd.
All that I tell you is true; I boldly venture to say so.
And yet, mother, you blame me with reason; you've caught me employing
Words that are only half true, and that serve to conceal my true feelings.
For I must need confess, it is not the advent of danger
Calls me away from my father's house, nor a resolute purpose
Useful to be to my country, and dreaded to be by the foeman.
Words alone it was that I utter'd,--words only intended
Those deep feelings to hide, which within my breast are contending.
And now leave me, my mother! For as in my bosom I cherish
Wishes that are but vain, my life will be to no purpose.
For I know that the Unit who makes a self-sacrifice, only
Injures himself, unless all endeavour the Whole to accomplish.'
'Now continue,' replied forthwith his sensible mother:--
'Tell me all that has happen'd, the least as w'ell as the greatest
Men are always hasty, and only remember the last thing,
And the hasty are easily forced from the road by obstructions.
But a woman is skillful, and full of resources, and scorns not
Bye-roads to traverse when needed, well-skill'd to accomplish her purpose.
Tell me then all, and why you are stirr'd by such violent feelings
More than I ever have seen, while the blood is boiling within you,
And from your eyes the tears against your will fain would fall now.'
Then the youth gave way to his sorrow, and burst into weeping,
Weeping aloud on the breast of his mother, and softly replying
'Truly, my father's words to-day have wounded me sadly,
Never have I deserved at his hands such treatment,--no, never!
For to honour my parents was always my wish from my childhood,
No one ever appear'd so prudent and wise as my parents,
Who in the darker days of childhood carefully watch'd me.
Much indeed it has been my lot to endure from my playmates,
When with their knavish pranks they used to embitter my temper.
Often I little suspected the tricks they were playing upon me:
But if they happen'd to ridicule Father, whenever on Sundays
Out of church he came with his slow deliberate footsteps,
If they laugh'd at the strings of his cap, and his dressing-gown's flowers,
Which he in stately wise wore, and to-day at length has discarded,
Then in a fury I clench'd my fist, and, storming and raging,
Fell upon them and hit and struck with terrible onslaught,
Heedless where my blows fell. With bleeding noses they halloed,
And could scarcely escape from the force of my blows and my kicking.
Then, as in years I advanced, I had much to endure from my father,
Who, in default of others to blame, would often abuse me,
When at the Council's last sitting his anger perchance was excited,
And I the penalty paid of the squabbles and strife of his colleagues.
You yourself have oft pitied me; I endured it with patience,
Always rememb'ring the much-to-be-honour'd kindness of parents,
Whose only thought is to swell for our sakes their goods and possessions,
And who deprive themselves of much, to save for their children.
But, alas, not saving alone, for enjoyment hereafter,
Constitutes happiness, no, not heaps of gold or of silver,
Neither field upon field, however compact the estate be.
For the father grows old, and his son at the same time grows older,
Feeling no joy in To-day, and full of care for To-morrow.
Now look down from this height, and see how beauteous before us
Lies the fair rich expanse, with vineyard and gardens at bottom;
There are the stables and barns, and the rest of the property likewise;
There I also descry the back of our house, in the gables
Of the roof may be seen the window of my small apartment.
When I remember the time when I used to look out for the moon there
Half through the night, or perchance at morning awaited the sunrise,
When with but few hours of healthy sleep I was fully contented,
Ah, how lonely do all things appear! My chamber, the court, and
Garden, the beautiful field which spreads itself over the hillside;
All appears but a desert to me: I still am unmarried!'
Then his good mother answer'd his speech in a sensible manner
'Son, your wish to be able to lead your bride to her chamber,
Turning the night to the dearest and happiest half of your lifetime,
Making your work by day more truly free and unfetter'd,
Cannot be greater than that of your father and mother. We always
Urged you,--commanded, I even might say,--to choose some fair maiden.
But I know full well, and my heart has told me already
If the right hour arrives not, or if the right maiden appears not
Instantly when they are sought for, man's choice is thrown in confusion,
And he is driven by fear to seize what is counterfeit only.
If I may tell you, my son, your choice already is taken,
For your heart is smitten, and sensitive more than is usual.
Answer me plainly, then, for my spirit already has told me:
She whom now you have chosen is that poor emigrant maiden!'
'Yes, dear mother, you're right!' the son with vivacity answer'd
Yes, it is she! And unless this very day I conduct her
Home as my bride, she will go on her way and escape me for ever,
In the confusion of war, and in moving backwards and forwards.
Mother, then before my eyes will in vain he unfolded
All our rich estate, and each year henceforward be fruitful.
Yes, the familiar house and the garden will be my aversion.
Ah, and the love of my mother no comfort will give to my sorrow,
For I feel that by Love each former bond must be loosen'd,
When her own bonds she knits; 'tis not the maiden alone who
Leaves her father and mother behind, when she follows her husband.
So it is with the youth; no more he knows mother and father.
When he beholds the maiden, the only beloved one, approaching.
Therefore let me go hence, to where desperation may lead me,
For my father already has spoken in words of decision,
And his house no longer is mine, if he shuts out the maiden
Whom alone I would fain take home as my bride from henceforward.'
Then the excellent sensible mother answer'd with quickness
'Men are precisely like rocks when they stand opposed to each other!
Proud and unyielding, the one will never draw near to the other.
Neither will suffer his tongue to utter the first friendly accent.
Therefore I tell you, my son, a hope still exists in my bosom,
If she is worthy and good, he will give his consent to your marriage,
Poor though she be, and although with disdain he refused you the poor thing.
For in his hot-beaded fashion he utters many expressions
Which he never intends; and so will accept the Refused One.
But he requires kind words, and has a right to require them,
For your father he is; his anger is all after dinner,
When he more eagerly speaks, and questions the reasons of others,
Meaning but little thereby; the wine then excites all the vigour
Of his impetuous will, and prevents him from giving due weight to
Other people's opinions; he hears and he feels his own only.
But when evening arrives, the tone of the many discourses
Which his friends and himself hold together, is very much alter'd.
Milder becomes he, as soon as his liquor's effects have passed over
And he feels the injustice his eagerness did unto others.
Come, we will venture at once! Success the reward is of boldness,
And we have need of the friends who now have assembled around him.--
Most of all we shall want the help of our excellent pastor.'
Thus she eagerly spoke, and leaving the stone that she sat on,
Also lifted her son from his seat. He willingly follow'd,
And they descended in silence, revolving the weighty proposal.