by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
BUT the Three, as before, were still sitting and talking together,
With the landlord, the worthy divine, and also the druggist,
And the conversation still concern'd the same subject,
Which in every form they had long been discussing together.
Full of noble thoughts, the excellent pastor continued
'I can't contradict you. I know 'tis the duty of mortals
Ever to strive for improvement; and, as we may see, they strive also
Ever for that which is higher, at least what is new they seek after,
But don't hurry too fast! For combined with these feelings, kind Nature
Also has given us pleasure in dwelling on that which is ancient,
And in clinging to that to which we have long been accustom'd.
Each situation is good that's accordant to nature and reason.
Many things man desires, and yet he has need of but little;
For but short are the days, and confined is the lot of a mortal.
I can never blame the man who, active and restless,
Hurries along, and explores each corner of earth and the ocean
Boldly and carefully, while he rejoices at seeing the profits
Which round him and his family gather themselves in abundance.
But I also duly esteem the peaceable burgher,
Who with silent steps his paternal inheritance paces,
And watches over the earth, the seasons carefully noting.
'Tis not every year that he finds his property alter'd;
Newly-planted trees cannot stretch out their arms tow'rds the heavens
All in a moment, adorn'd with beautiful buds in abundance.
No, a man has need of patience, he also has need of
Pure unruffled tranquil thoughts and an intellect honest;
For to the nourishing earth few seeds at a time he entrusteth,
Few are the creatures he keeps at a time, with a view to their breeding,
For what is Useful alone remains the first thought of his lifetime.
Happy the man to whom Nature a mind thus attuned may have given!
'Tis by him that we all are fed. And happy the townsman
Of the small town who unites the vocations of town and of country.
He is exempt from the pressure by which the poor farmer is worried,
Is not perplex'd by the citizens' cares and soaring ambition,
Who, with limited means,--especially women and maidens,--
Think of nothing but aping the ways of the great and the wealthy,
You should therefore bless your son's disposition so peaceful,
And the like-minded wife whom we soon may expect him to marry.
Thus he spoke. At that moment the mother and son stood before them.
By the hand she led him and placed him in front of her husband
'Father,' she said, 'how often have we, when talking together,
Thought of that joyful day in the future, when Hermann, selecting
After long waiting his bride at length would make us both happy!
All kinds of projects we form'd. designing first one, then another
Girl as his wife, as we talk'd in the manner that parents delight in.
Now the day has arrived; and now has his bride been conducted
Hither and shown him by Heaven; his heart at length has decided.
Were we not always saying that he should choose for himself, and
Were you not lately wishing that he might feel for a maiden
Warm and heart-felt emotions? And now has arrived the right moment!
Yes, he has felt and has chosen, and like a man has decided.
That fair maiden it is, the Stranger whom he encounter'd.
Give her him; else he'll remain--he has sworn it--unmarried for ever.'
And the son added himself:--'My father, O give her! My heart has
Chosen purely and truly: she'll make you an excellent daughter.'
But the father was silent. Then suddenly rose the good pastor,
And address'd him as follows:--' One single moment's decisive
Both of the life of a man, and of the whole of his Future.
After lengthen'd reflection, each resolution made by him
Is but the work of a moment; the prudent alone seize the right one.
Nothing more dangerous is, in making a choice, than revolving
First this point and then that, and so confusing the feelings.
Pure is Hermann's mind; from his youth I have known him; he never,
Even in boyhood, was wont to extend his hand hither and thither.
What he desired, was suitable to him; he held to it firmly.
Be not astonish'd and scared, because there appears on a sudden
What you so long have desired. 'Tis true the appearance at present
Bears not the shape of the wish, as you in your mind had conceived it.
For our wishes conceal the thing that we wish for; our gifts too
Come from above upon us, each clad in its own proper figure.
Do not now mistake the maiden who has succeeded
First in touching the heart of your good wise son, whom you love so.
Happy is he who is able to clasp the hand of his first love,
And whose dearest wish is not doom'd to pine in his bosom!
Yes, I can see by his face, already his fate is decided;
True affection converts the youth to a man in a moment.
He little changeable is; I fear me, if this you deny him,
All the fairest years of his life will be changed into sorrow.'
Then in prudent fashion the druggist, who long had been wanting
His opinion to give, rejoin'd in the following manner
'This is Just a case when the middle course is the wisest!
'Hasten slowly,' you know, was the motto of Caesar Augustus.
I am always ready to be of use to my neighbours,
And to turn to their profit what little wits I can boast of.
Youth especially needs the guidance of those who are older.
Let me then depart; I fain would prove her, that maiden,
And will examine the people 'mongst whom she lives, and who know her.
I am not soon deceived; I know how to rate their opinions.'
Then forthwith replied the son, with eagerness speaking:--
'Do so, neighbour, and go, make your inquiries. However,
I should greatly prefer that our friend, the pastor, went with you;
Two such excellent men are witnesses none can find fault with.
O, my father! the maiden no vagabond is, I assure you,
No mere adventurer, wand'ring about all over the country,
And deceiving the inexperienced youths with her cunning;
No! the harsh destiny link'd with this war, so destructive of all things,
Which is destroying the world, and already has wholly uprooted
Many a time-honour'd fabric, has driven the poor thing to exile.
Are not brave men of noble birth now wand'ring in mis'ry?
Princes are fleeing disguised, and monarchs in banishment living.
Ah, and she also herself, the best of her sisters, is driven
Out of her native land; but her own misfortunes forgetting,
Others she seeks to console, and, though helpless, is also most helpful.
Great are the woes and distress which over the earth's face are brooding,
But may happiness not be evoked from out of this sorrow?
May not I, in the arms of my bride, the wife I have chosen,
Even rejoice at the war, as you at the great conflagration?'
Then replied the father, and open'd his mouth with importance:--
'Strangely indeed, my son, has your tongue been suddenly loosen'd,
Which for years has stuck in your mouth, and moved there but rarely
I to-day must experience that which threatens each father:
How the ardent will of a son a too-gentle mother
Willingly favours, whilst each neighbour is ready to back him,
Only provided it be at the cost of a father or husband!
But what use would it be to resist so many together?
For I see that defiance and tears will otherwise greet me.
Go and prove her, and in God's name then hasten to bring her
Home as my daughter; if not, he must think no more of the maiden.'
Thus spake the father. The son exclaim'd with jubilant gesture
'Ere the ev'ning arrives, you shall have the dearest of daughters,
Such as the man desires whose bosom is govern'd by prudence
And I venture to think the good creature is fortunate also.
Yes, she will ever be grateful that I her father and mother
Have restored her in you, as sensible children would wish it.
But I will loiter no longer; I'll straightway harness the horses,
And conduct our friends on the traces of her whom I love so,
Leave the men to themselves and their own intuitive wisdom,
And be guided alone by their decision--I swear it,--
And not see the maiden again, until she my own is.'
Then he left the house; meanwhile the others were eagerly
Settling many a point, and the weighty matter debating.
Hermann sped to the stable forthwith, where the spirited stallions
Tranquilly stood and with eagerness swallow'd the pure oats before them,
And the well-dried hay, which was cut from the best of their meadows.
Then in eager haste in their mouths the shining bits placed he,
Quickly drew the harness through the well-plated buckles,
And then fastend the long broad reins in proper position,
Led the horses out in the yard, where already the carriage,
Easily moved along by its pole, had been push'd by the servant.
Then they restrain'd the impetuous strength of the fast-moving horses,
Fastening both with neat-looking ropes to the bar of the carriage.
Hermann seized his whip, took his seat, and drove to the gateway.
When in the roomy carriage his friends had taken their places,
Swiftly he drove away, and left the pavement behind them,
Left behind the walls of the town and the clean-looking towers,
Thus sped Hermann along, till he reach'd the familiar highway,
Not delaying a moment, and galloping uphill and downhill.
When however at length the village steeple descried he,
And not far away lay the houses surrounded by gardens,
He began to think it was time to hold in the horses.
By the time-honour'd gloom of noble lime-trees o'er shadow'd,
Which for many a century past on the spot had been rooted,
Stood there a green and spreading grass-plot in front of the village,
Cover'd with turf, for the peasants and neighbouring townsmen a playground.
Scooped out under the trees, to no great depth, stood a fountain.
On descending the steps, some benches of stone might be seen there,
Ranged all around the spring, which ceaselessly well'd forth its waters,
Cleanly, enclosed by a low wall all round, and convenient to draw from.
Hermann then determined beneath the shadow his horses
With the carriage to stop. He did so, and spoke then as follows
'Now, my friends, get down, and go by yourselves to discover
Whether the maiden is worthy to have the hand which I offer.
I am convinced that she is; and you'll bring me no new or strange story:
Had I to manage alone, I would straightway go off to the village,
And in few words should my fate by the charming creature be settled.
Her you will easily recognize 'mongst all the rest of the people,
For her appearance is altogether unlike that of others.
But I will now describe the modest dress she is wearing:--
First a bodice red her well-arch'd bosom upraises,
Prettily tied, while black are the stays fitting closely around her.
Then the seams of the ruff she has carefully plaited and folded,
Which with modest grace, her chin so round is encircling.
Free and joyously rises her head with its elegant oval,
Strongly round bodkins of silver her back-hair is many times twisted
Her blue well-plaited gown begins from under her bodice.
And as she walks envelopes her well-turn'd ankles completely.
But I have one thing to say, and this must expressly entreat you:
Do not speak to the maiden, and let not your scheme be discover'd.
But inquire of others, and hearken to all that they tell you,
When you have learnt enough to satisfy father and mother,
Then return to me straight, and we'll settle future proceedings.
This is the plan which I have matured, while driving you hither.'
Thus he spoke, and the friends forthwith went on to the village,
Where, in gardens and barns and houses, the multitude crowded;
All along the broad road the numberless carts were collected,
Men were feeding the lowing cattle and feeding the horses.
Women on every hedge the linen were carefully drying,
Whilst the children in glee were splashing about in the streamlet.
Forcing their way through the waggons, and past the men and the cattle,
Walk'd the ambassador spies, looking well to the righthand and lefthand,
Hoping somewhere to see the form of the well-described maiden;
But wherever they look'd, no trace of the girl they discover'd.
Presently denser became the crowd. Round some of the waggons.
Men in a passion were quarrelling, women also were screaming.
Then of a sudden approach'd an aged man with firm footstep
Marching straight up to the fighters; and forthwith was hush'd the contention,
When he bade them be still, and with fatherly earnestness threaten'd.
'Are we not yet,' he exclaim'd, 'by misfortune so knitted together,
As to have learnt at length the art of reciprocal patience
And toleration, though each cannot measure the actions of others?
Prosperous men indeed may quarrel! Will sorrow not teach you
How no longer as formerly you should quarrel with brethren?
Each should give way to each other, when treading the soil of the stranger,
And, as you hope for mercy yourselves, you should share your possessions.'
Thus the man address'd them, and all were silent. In peaceful
Humour the reconciled men look'd after their cattle and waggons.
When the pastor heard the man discourse in this fashion,
And the foreign magistrate's peaceful nature discovered,
He approach'd him in turn, and used this significant language
'Truly, Father, when nations are living in days of good fortune,
Drawing their food from the earth, which gladly opens its treasures,
And its wish'd-for gifts each year and each month is renewing,
Then all matters go smoothly; each thinks himself far the wisest,
And the best, and so they exist by the side of each other,
And the most sensible man no better than others is reckon'd
For the world moves on, as if by itself and in silence.
But when distress unsettles our usual manner of living,
Pulls down each time-honour'd fabric, and roots up the seed in our gardens,
Drives the man and his wife far away from the home they delight in,
Hurries them off in confusion through days and nights full of anguish,
Ah! then look we around in search of the man who is wisest,
And no longer in vain he utters his words full of wisdom.
Tell me whether you be these fugitives' magistrate, Father,
Over whose minds you appear to possess such an influence soothing?
Aye, to-day I could deem you one of the leaders of old time,
Who through wastes and through deserts conducted the wandering people;
I could imagine 'twas Joshua I am addressing, or Moses.'
Then with solemn looks the magistrate answer'd as follows
'Truly the present times resemble the strangest of old times,
Which are preserved in the pages of history, sacred or common.
He in these days who has lived to-day and yesterday only,
Many a year has lived, events so crowd on each other.
When I reflect back a little, a grey old age I could fancy
On my head to be lying, and yet my strength is still active.
Yes, we people in truth may liken ourselves to those others
Unto whom in a fiery bush appear'd, in a solemn
Moment, the Lord our God; in fire and clouds we behold him.'
When the pastor would fain continue to speak on this subject,
And was anxious to learn the fate of the man and his party,
Quickly into his ear his companion secretly whisper'd
'Speak for a time with the magistrate, turning your talk on the maiden,
Whilst I wander about, endeav'ring to find her. Directly
I am successful, I'll join you again.' Then nodded the pastor,
And the spy went to seek her, in barns and through hedges and gardens.