by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
O YE Muses, who gladly favour a love that is heartfelt,
Who on his way the excellent youth have hitherto guided,
Who have press'd the maid to his bosom before their betrothal,
Help still further to perfect the bonds of a couple so loving,
Drive away the clouds which over their happiness hover!
But begin by saying what now in the house has been passing.
For the third time the mother impatiently enter'd the chamber
Where the men were sitting, which she had anxiously quitted,
Speaking of the approaching storm, and the loss of the moon's light,
Then of her son's long absence, and all the perils that night brings.
Strongly she censured their friends for having so soon left the youngster,
For not even addressing the maiden, or seeking to woo her.
'Make not the worst of the mischief,' the father peevishly answer'd;
'For you see we are waiting ourselves, expecting the issue.'
But the neighbour sat still, and calmly address'd them as follows:--
'In uneasy moments like these, I always feel grateful
To my late father, who when I was young all seeds of impatience
In my mind uprooted, and left no fragment remaining,
And I learnt how to wait, as well as the best of the wise men.
'Tell us what legerdemain he employ'd,' the pastor made answer.
'I will gladly inform you, and each one may gain by the lesson,'
Answer'd the neighbour. 'When I was a boy, I was standing one Sunday
In a state of impatience, eagerly waiting the carriage
Which was to carry us out to the fountain under the lime-trees;
But it came not; I ran like a weasel now hither, now thither,
Up and down the stairs, and from the door to the window;
Both my hands were prickling, I scratch'd away at the tables,
Stamping and trotting about, and scarcely refrain'd I from crying.
All this the calm man composedly saw; but finally when I
Carried my folly too far, by the arm he quietly took me,
Led me up to the window, and used this significant language
'See you up yonder the joiner's workshop, now closed for the Sunday?
'Twill be re-open'd to-morrow, and plane and saw will be working.
Thus will the busy hours be pass'd from morning till evening.
But remember this: the rimming will soon be arriving,
When the master, together with all his men, will be busy
In preparing and finishing quickly and deftly your coffin,
And they will carefully bring over here that house made of boards, which
Will at length receive the patient as well as impatient,
And which is destined to carry a roof that's unpleasantly heavy.
All that he mention'd I forthwith saw taking place in my mind's eye,
Saw the boards join'd together, and saw the black cover made ready,
Patiently then I sat, and meekly awaited the carriage.
And I always think of the coffin whenever I see men
Running about in a state of doubtful and wild expectation.'
Smilingly answered the pastor:--'Death's stirring image is neither
Unto the wise a cause of alarm,--or an end to the pious.
Back into life it urges the former, and teaches him action,
And, for the weal of the latter, it strengthens his hope in affliction.
Death is a giver of life unto both. Your father did wrongly
When to the sensitive boy he pointed out death in its own form.
Unto the youth should be shown the worth of a noble and ripen'd
Age, and unto the old man, youth, that both may rejoice in
The eternal circle, and life may in life be made perfect!'
Here the door was open'd. The handsome couple appear'd there,
And the friends were amazed, the loving parents astonish'd
At the form of the bride, the form of the bridegroom resembling.
Yes! the door appear'd too small to admit the tall figures
Which now cross'd the threshold, in company walking together.
To his parents Hermann presented her, hastily saying:--
'Here is a maiden just of the sort you are wishing to have here,
Welcome her kindly, dear father! she fully deserves it, and you too,
Mother dear, ask her questions as to her housekeeping knowledge,
That you may see how well she deserves to form one of our party.'
Then he hastily took on one side the excellent pastor,
Saying:--' Kind sir, I entreat you to help me out of this trouble
Quickly, and loosen the knot, whose unravelling I am so dreading;
For I have not ventured to woo as my bride the fair maiden,
But she believes she's to be a maid in the house, and I fear me
She will in anger depart, as soon as we talk about marriage.
But it must be decided at once! no longer in error
Shall she remain, and I no longer this doubt can put up with.
Hasten and once more exhibit that wisdom we all hold in honour.'
So the pastor forthwith turn'd round to the rest of the party,
But the maiden's soul was, unhappily, troubled already
By the talk of the father, who just had address'd her as follows,
Speaking good humour'dly, and in accents pleasant and lively
'Yes, I'm well satisfied, child! I joyfully see that my son has
Just as good taste as his father, who in his younger days show'd it,
Always leading the fairest one out in the dance, and then lastly
Taking the fairest one home as his wife--'twas your dear little mother!
For by the bride whom a man selects, we may easily gather
What kind of spirit his is, and whether he knows his own value.
But you will surely need but a short time to form your decision,
For I verily think he will find it full easy to follow.'
Hermann but partially heard the words; the whole of his members
Inwardly quivered, and all the circle were suddenly silent.
But the excellent maiden, by words of such irony wounded,
(As she esteem'd them to be) and deeply distress'd in her spirit,
Stood, while a passing flush from her cheeks as far as her neck was
Spreading, but she restrain'd herself, and collected her thoughts soon;
Then to the old man she said, not fully concealing her sorrow
'Truly I was not prepared by your son for such a reception,
When he described his father's nature,--that excellent burgher,
And I know I am standing before you, a person of culture,
Who behaves himself wisely to all, in a suitable manner.
But it would seem that you feel not pity enough for the poor thing
Who has just cross'd your threshold, prepared to enter your service
Else you would not seek to point out, with ridicule bitter,
How far removed my lot from your son's and that of yourself is.
True, with a little bundle, and poor, I have enter'd your dwelling,
Which it is the owner's delight to furnish with all things.
But I know myself well, and feel the whole situation.
Is it generous thus to greet me with language so jeering,
Which was well nigh expelled me the house, when just on the threshold?'
Hermann uneasily moved about, and signed to the pastor
To interpose without delay, and clear up the error.
Quickly the wise man advanced to the spot, and witness'd the maiden's
Silent vexation and tearful eyes and scarce-restrain'd sorrow.
Then his spirit advised him to solve not at once the confusion,
But, on the contrary, prove the excited mind of the maiden.
So, in words framed to try her, the pastor address'd her as follows:--
'Surely, my foreign maiden, you did not fully consider,
When you made up your mind to serve a stranger so quickly,
What it really is to enter the house of a master;
For a shake of the hand decides your fate for a twelvemonth,
And a single word Yes to much endurance will bind you.
But the worst part of the service is not the wearisome habits,
Nor the bitter toil of the work, which seems never-ending;
For the active freeman works hard as well as the servant.
But to suffer the whims of the master, who blames you unjustly,
Or who calls for this and for that, not knowing his own mind,
And the mistress's violence, always so easily kindled,
With the children's rough and supercilious bad manners,--
This is indeed hard to bear, whilst still fulfilling your duties
Promptly and actively, never becoming morose or ill-natured;
Yet for such work you appear little fit, for already the father's
Jokes have offended you deeply; yet nothing more commonly happens
Than to tease a maiden about her liking a youngster.'
Thus he spoke, and the maiden felt the weight of his language,
And no more restrain'd herself; mightily all her emotions
Show'd themselves, her bosom heaved, and a deep sigh escaped her,
And whilst shedding burning tears, she answer'd as follows:--
'Ne'er does the clever man, who seeks to advise us in sorrow,
Think how little his chilling words our hearts can deliver
From the pangs which an unseen destiny fastens upon us.
You are happy and merry. How then should a jest ever wound you?
But the slightest touch gives torture to those who are suff'ring.
Even dissimulation would nothing avail me at present.
Let me at once disclose what later would deepen my sorrow,
And consign me perchance to agony mute and consuming.
Let me depart forthwith! No more in this house dare I linger;
I must hence and away, and look once more for my poor friends
Whom I left in distress, when seeking to better my fortunes.
This is my firm resolve; and now I may properly tell you
That which had else been buried for many a year in my bosom.
Yes, the father's jest has wounded me deeply, I own it,
Not that I'm proud and touchy, as ill becometh a servant,
But because in truth in my heart a feeling has risen
For the youth, who to-day has fill'd the part of my Saviour.
For when first in the road he left me, his image remain'd still
Firmly fix'd in my mind; and I thought of the fortunate maiden
Whom, as his betroth'd one, he cherish'd perchance in his bosom.
And when I found him again at the well, the sight of him charm'd me
Just as if I had-seen an angel descending from heaven.
And I follow'd him willingly, when as a servant he sought me,
But by my heart in truth I was flatter'd (I need must confess it),
As I hitherward came, that I might possibly win him,
If I became in the house an indispensable pillar.
But, alas, I now see the dangers I well nigh fell into,
When I bethought me of living so near a silently-loved one.
Now for the first time I feel how far removed a poor maiden
Is from a richer youth, however clever she may be.
I have told you all this, that you my heart may mistake not,
Which an event that in thought I foreshadow has wounded already.
For I must have expected, my secret wishes concealing,
That, ere much time had elapsed, I should see him bringing his bride home.
And how then could I have endured my hidden affliction!
Happily I am warn'd in time, and out of my bosom
Has my secret escaped, whilst curable still is the evil.
But no more of the subject! I now must tarry no longer
In this house, where I now am standing in pain and confusion,
All my foolish hopes and my feelings freely confessing.
Not the night which, with sinking clouds, is spreading around us,
Not the rolling thunder (I hear it already) shall stop me,
Not the falling rain, which outside is descending in torrents,
Not the blustering storm. All this I had to encounter
In that sorrowful flight, while the enemy follow'd behind Us.
And once more I go on my way, as I long have been wont to,
Seized by the whirlpool of time, and parted from all that I care for.
So farewell! I'll tarry no longer. My fate is accomplish'd!'
Thus she spoke, and towards the door she hastily turn'd her,
Holding under her arm the bundle she brought when arriving.
But the mother seized by both of her arms the fair maiden,
Clasping her round the body, and cried with surprise and amazement
'Say, what signifies this? These fruitless tears, what denote they?
No, I'll not leave you alone! You're surely my dear son's betroth'd one!'
But the father stood still, and show'd a great deal of reluctance,
Stared at the weeping girl, and peevishly spoke then as follows
'This, then, is all the indulgence my friends are willing to give me,
That at the close of the day the most unpleasant thing happens!
For there is nothing I hate so much as the tears of a woman,
And their passionate cries, set up with such heat and excitement,
Which a little plain sense would show to be utterly needless.
Truly, I find the sight of these whimsical doings a nuisance.
Matters must shift for themselves; as for me, I think it is bed-time.'
So he quickly turn'd round, and hasten'd to go to the chamber
Where the marriage-bed stood, in which he slept for the most part.
But his son held him back, and spoke in words of entreaty
'Father, don't go in a hurry, and be not amniote with the maiden!
I alone have to bear the blame of all this confusion,
Which our friend has increased by his unexpected dissembling.
Speak then, honour'd Sir! for to you the affair I confided;
Heap not up pain and annoyance, but rather complete the whole matter;
For I surely in future should not respect you so highly,
If you play practical jokes, instead of displaying true wisdom.'
Thereupon the worthy pastor smilingly answer'd
'What kind of wisdom could have extracted the charming confession
Of this good maiden, and so have reveal'd all her character to us?
Is not your care converted at once to pleasure and rapture?
Speak out, then, for yourself! Why need explanations from others
Hermann then stepped forward, and gently address'd her as follows
'Do not repent of your tears, nor yet of your passing affliction;
For they perfect my happiness; yours too, I fain would consider.
I came not to the fountain, to hire so noble a maiden
As a servant, I came to seek to win you affections.
But, alas! my timid gaze had not strength to discover
Your heart's leanings; it saw in your eye but a friendly expression,
When you greeted it out of the tranquil fountain's bright mirror.
Merely to bring you home, made half of my happiness certain
But you now make it complete! May every blessing be yours, then!'
Then the maiden look'd on the youth with heartfelt emotion,
And avoided not kiss or embrace, the summit of rapture,
When they also are to the loving the long-wish'd-for pledges
Of approaching bliss in a life which now seems to them endless.
Then the pastor told the others the whole of the story;
But the maiden came and gracefully bent o'er the father,
Kissing the while his hand, which he to draw back attempted.
And she said:--' I am sure that you will forgive the surprised one,
First for her tears of sorrow, and then for her tears of true rapture.
O forgive the emotions by which they both have been prompted,
And let me fully enjoy the bliss that has now been vouchsafed me!
Let the first vexation, which my confusion gave rise to,
Also be the last! The loving service which lately
Was by the servant promised, shall now by the daughter be render'd.'
And the father, his tears concealing, straightway embraced her;
Lovingly came the mother in turn, and heartily kiss'd her,
Warmly shaking her hand; and silently wept they together.
Then in a hasty manner, the good and sensible pastor
Seized the hand of the father, his wedding-ring off from his finger
Drawing (not easily though; so plump was the member that held it)
Then he took the mother's ring, and betroth'd the two children,
Saying:--'Once more may it be these golden hoops' destination
Firmly to fasten a bond altogether resembling the old one!
For this youth is deeply imbued with love for the maiden,
And the maiden confesses that she for the youth has a liking.
Therefore, I now betroth you, and wish you all blessings hereafter,
With the parents' consent, and with our friend here as a witness.'
And the neighbour bent forward, and added his own benediction;
But when the clergyman placed the gold ring on the hand of the maiden,
He with astonishment saw the one which already was on it,
And which Hermann before at the fountain had anxiously noticed.
Whereupon he spoke in words at once friendly and jesting
'What! You are twice engaging yourself? I hope that the first one
May not appear at the altar, unkindly forbidding the banns there!'
But she said in reply:--'O let me devote but one moment
To this mournful remembrance! For well did the good youth deserve it,
Who, when departing, presented the ring, but never return'd home.
All was by him foreseen, when freedom's love of a sudden,
And a desire to play his part in the new-found Existence,
Drove him to go to Paris, where prison and death were his portion.
'Farewell,' said he, 'I go; for all things on earth are in motion
At this moment, and all things appear in a state of disunion.
Fundamental laws in the steadiest countries are loosen'd,
And possessions are parted from those who used to possess them,
Friends are parted from friends, and love is parted from love too.
I now leave you here, and whether I ever shall see you
Here again,--who can tell? Perchance these words will our last be.
Man is a stranger here upon earth, the proverb informs us;
Every person has now become more a stranger than ever.
Ours the soil is no longer; our treasures are fast flying from us;
All the sacred old vessels of gold and silver are melted,
All is moving, as though the old-fashion'd world would roll backwards
Into chaos and night, in order anew to be fashion'd.
You of my heart have possession, and if we shall ever here-after
Meet again over the wreck of the world, it will be as new creatures,
All remodell'd and free and independent of fortune;
For what fetters can bind down those who survive such a period!
But if we are destined not to escape from these dangers,
If we are never again to embrace each other with raptures
O then fondly keep in your thoughts my hovering image,
That you may be prepared with like courage for good and ill fortune!
If a new home or a new alliance should chance to allure you,
Then enjoy with thanks whatever your destiny offers,
Purely loving the loving, and grateful to him who thus loves you.
But remember always to tread with a circumspect footstep,
For the fresh pangs of a second loss will behind you be lurking.
Deem each day as sacred; but value not life any higher
Than any other possession, for all possessions are fleeting.'
Thus he spoke; and the noble youth and I parted for ever:
Meanwhile I ev'rything lost, and a thousand times thought of his warning.
Once more I think of his words, now that love is sweetly preparing
Happiness for me anew, and the brightest of hopes is unfolding.
Pardon me, dearest friend, for trembling e'en at the moment
When I am clasping your arm! For thus, on first landing, the sailor
Fancies that even the solid ground is shaking beneath him.'
Thus she spoke, and she placed the rings by the side of each other.
But the bridegroom answer'd, with noble and manly emotion
'All the firmer, amidst the universal disruption,
Be, Dorothea, our union! We'll show ourselves bold and enduring,
Firmly hold our own, and firmly retain our possessions.
For the man who in wav'ring times is inclined to be wav'ring
Only increases the evil, and spreads it wider and wider;
But the man of firm decision the universe fashions.
'Tis not becoming the Germans to further this fearful commotion,
And in addition to waver uncertainly hither and thither.
'This is our own!' we ought to say, and so to maintain it!
For the world will ever applaud those resolute nations
Who for God and the Law, their wives, and parents, and children
Struggle, and fall when contending against the foeman together.
You are mine; and now what is mine, is mine more than ever.
Not with anxiety will I preserve it, or timidly use it,
But with courage and strength. And if the enemy threaten
Now or hereafter, I'll hold myself ready, and reach down my weapons.
If I know that the house and my parents by you are protected,
I shall expose my breast to the enemy, void of all terror;
And if all others thought thus, then might against might should be measured,
And in the early prospect of peace we should all be rejoicing.'