by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
WHEN the pastor ask'd the foreign magistrate questions,
What the people had suffer'd, how long from their homes they had wander'd,
Then the man replied:--'By no means short are our sorrows,
For we have drunk the bitters of many a long year together,
All the more dreadful, because our fairest hopes have been blighted.
Who can deny that his heart beat wildly and high in his bosom
And that with purer pulses his breast more freely was throbbing,
When the newborn sun first rose in the whole of its glory,
When we heard of the right of man, to have all things in common,
Heard of noble Equality, and of inspiriting Freedom!
Each man then hoped to attain new life for himself, and the fetters
Which had encircled many a land appear'd to be broken,
Fetters held by the hands of sloth and selfish indulgence.
Did not all nations turn their gaze, in those days of emotion,
Tow'rds the world's capital, which so many a long year had been so,
And then more than ever deserved a name so distinguish'd?
Were not the men, who first proclaim'd so noble a message,
Names that are worthy to rank with the highest the sun ever shone on,
Did not each give to mankind his courage and genius and language?
'And we also, as neighbours, at first were warmly excited.
Presently after began the war, and the train of arm'd Frenchmen
Nearer approach'd; at first they appear'd to bring with them friendship,
And they brought it in fact; for all their souls were exalted.
And the gay trees of liberty ev'rywhere gladly they planted,
Promising unto each his own, and the government long'd for.
Greatly at this was youth, and greatly old age was delighted,
And the joyous dance began round the newly-raised standards.
In this manner the overpowering Frenchmen soon conquer'd
First the minds of the men, with their fiery lively proceedings,
Then the hearts of the women, with irresistible graces.
Even the strain of the war, with its many demands, seem'd but trifling,
For before our eyes the distance by hope was illumined,
Luring our gaze far ahead into paths now first open'd before us.
'O how joyful the time, when with his bride the glad bridegroom
Whirls in the dance, awaiting the day that will join them for ever
But more glorious far was the time when the Highest of all things
Which man's mind can conceive, close by and attainable seemed.
Then were the tongues of all loosen'd, and words of wisdom and feeling
Not by greybeards alone, but by men and by striplings were utter'd.
'But the heavens soon clouded became. For the sake of the mast'ry
Strove a contemptible crew, unfit to accomplish good actions.
Then they murder'd each other, and took to oppressing their new-found
Neighbours and brothers, and sent on missions whole herds of selfÄseekers
And the superiors took to carousing and robbing by wholesale,
And the inferiors down to the lowest caroused and robb'd also.
Nobody thought of aught else than having enough for tomorrow.
Terrible was the distress, and daily increased the oppression.
None the cry understood, that they of the day were the masters.
Then even temperate minds were attack'd by sorrow and fury;
Each one reflected, and swore to avenge all the injuries suffer'd,
And to atone for the hitter loss of hopes twice defrauded.
Presently Fortune declared herself on the side of the Germans,
And the French were compell'd to retreat by forced marches before them.
Ah! the sad fate of the war we then for the first time experienced.
For the victor is kind and humane, at least he appears so,
And he spares the man he has vanquish'd, as if he his own were,
When he employs him daily, and with his property helps him.
But the fugitive knows no law; he wards off death only,
And both quickly and recklessly all that he meets with, consumes he.
Then his mind becomes heated apace; and soon desperation
Fills his heart, and impels him to all kinds of criminal actions.
Nothing then holds he respected, he steals It. With furious longing
On the woman he rushes; his lust becomes awful to think of.
Death all around him he sees, his last minutes in cruelty spends he,
Wildly exulting in blood, and exulting in howls and in anguish.
'Then in the minds of our men arose a terrible yearning
That which was lost to avenge, and that which remain'd to defend still.
All of them seized upon arms, lured on by the fugitives' hurry,
By their pale faces, and by their shy, uncertain demeanour.
There was heard the sound of alarm-bells unceasingly ringing,
And the approach of danger restrain'd not their violent fury.
Soon into weapons were turn'd the implements peaceful of tillage,
And with dripping blood the scythe and the pitchfork were cover'd.
Every foeman without distinction was ruthlessly slaughter'd,
Fury was ev'rywhere raging, and artful, cowardly weakness.
May I never again see men in such wretched confusion!
Even the raging wild beast is a better object to gaze on.
Ne'er let them speak of freedom, as if themselves they could govern!
All the evil which Law has driven farback in the corner
Seems to escape, as soon as the fetters which bound it are loosen'd.'
'Excellent man,' replied the pastor, with emphasis speaking
'If you're mistaken in man, 'tis not for me to reprove you.
Evil enough have you suffer'd indeed from his cruel proceedings!
Would you but look back, however, on days so laden with sorrow,
You would yourself confess how much that is good you have witness'd,
Much that is excellent, which remains conceald in the bossom
Till by danger 'tis stirr'd, and till necessity makes man
Show himself as an angel, a tutelar God unto others.'
Then with a smile replied the worthy old magistrate, saying
'Your reminder is wise, like that which they give to the suff'rer
Who has had his dwelling burnt down, that under the ruins,
Gold and silver are lying, though melted and cover'd with ashes.
Little, indeed, it may be, and yet that little is precious,
And the poor man digs it up, and rejoices at finding the treasure.
Gladly, therefore, I turn my thoughts to those few worthy actions
Which my memory still is able to dwell on with pleasure.
Yes, I will not deny it, I saw late foemen uniting
So as to save the town from harm; I saw with devotion
Parents, children and friends impossible actions attempting,
Saw how the youth of a sudden became a man, how the greybeard
Once more was young, how the child as a stripling appear'd in a moment.
Aye, and the weaker sex, as people commonly call it,
Show'd itself brave and daring, with presence of mind all-unwonted.
Let me now, in the first place, describe a deed of rare merit
By a high-spirited girl accomplish'd, an excellent maiden,
Who in the great farmhouse remain'd behind with the servants,
When the whole of the men had departed, to fight with the strangers.
Well, there fell on the court a troop of vagabond scoundrels,
Plund'ring and forcing their way inside the rooms of the women.
Soon they cast their eyes on the forms of the grown-up fair maiden
And of the other dear girls, in age little more than mere children.
Hurried away by raging desire, unfeelingly rush'd they
On the trembling band, and on the high-spirited maiden.
But she instantly seized the sword from the side of a ruffian,
Hew'd him down to the ground; at her feet straight fell he, all bleeding,
Then with doughty strokes the maidens she bravely deliver'd.
Wounded four more of the robbers; with life, however, escaped they.
Then she lock'd up the court, and, arm'd still, waited for succour.
When the pastor heard the praise of the maiden thus utter'd
Feelings of hope for his friend forthwith arose in his bosom,
And he prepared to ask what had been the fate of the damsel,
Whether she, in the sorrowful flight, form'd one of the people?
At this moment, however, the druggist nimbly approach'd them,
Pull'd the sleeve of the pastor, and whisper'd to him as follows
'I have at last pick'd out the maiden from many a hundred
By her description! Pray come and judge for yourself with your own eyes;
Bring the magistrate with you, that we may learn the whole story.'
So they turn'd themselves round; but the magistrate found himself summon'd
By his own followers, who had need of his presence and counsel.
But the pastor forthwith the druggist accompanied, till they
Came to a gap in the hedge, when the latter pointed with slyness,
'See you,' exclaim'd he, 'the maiden? The child's clothes she has been changing.
And I recognise well the old calico--also the cushion--
Cover of blue, which Hermann took in the bundle and gave her.
Quickly and well, of a truth, she has used the presents left with her.
These are evident proofs; and all the rest coincide too;
For a bodice red her well-arch'd bosom upraises,
Prettily tied, while black are the stays fitting close 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.
When she is sitting, we plainly see her noble proportions,
And the blue well-plaited gown which begins from close to her bosom,
And in rich folds descending, her well-turn'd ankles envelops.
'Tis she, beyond all doubt. So come, that we may examine
Whether she be both a good and a frugal and virtuous maiden.'
Then the pastor rejoin'd, the sitting damsel inspecting
'That she enchanted the youth, I confess is no matter of wonder,
For she stands the test of the gaze of a man of experience.
Happy the person to whom Mother Nature the right face has given!
She recommends him at all times, he never appears as a stranger,
Each one gladly approaches, and each one beside him would linger,
If with his face is combined a pleasant and courteous demeanour.
Yes, I assure you the youth has indeed discover'd a maiden
Who the whole of the days of his life will enliven with gladness,
And with her womanly strength assist him at all times and truly.
Thus a perfect body preserves the soul also in pureness,
And a vigorous youth of a happy old age gives assurance.
After reflecting a little, the druggist made answer as follows:--
'Yet appearances oft are deceitful. I trust not the outside.
Often, indeed, have I found the truth of the proverb which tells us
Ere you share a bushel of salt with a new-found acquaintance,
Do not trust him too readily; time will make you more certain
How you and he will get on, and whether your friendship is lasting.
Let us then, in the first place, inquire amongst the good people
Unto whom the maiden is known, who can tell us about her.'
'Well, of a truth I commend your prudence,' the pastor continued
'Not for ourselves are we wooing! To woo for others is serious.'
So they started to meet the worthy magistrate seeing
How in the course of his business he was ascending the main street.
And the wise pastor straightway address'd him with foresight as follows
'We, by-the-bye, have just seen a girl in the neighbouring garden
Under an apple-tree sitting, and clothes for the children preparing,
Made of worn calico, which for the purpose was doubtless presented.
We were pleased by her face; she appears to be one of the right sort.
Tell us, what know you about her? We ask from a laudable motive.'
When the magistrate came to the garden and peep'd in, exclaimed he
'Well do I know her, in truth; for when I told you the story
Of that noble deed which was done by the maiden I spoke of,
How she seized on the sword, and defended herself, and the servants,
She the heroine was! You can see how active her nature.
But she's as good as she's strong; for her aged kinsman she tended
Until the time of his death, for he died overwhelm'd by affliction
At the distress of his town, and the danger his goods were exposed to.
Also with mute resignation she bore the grievous affliction
Of her betroth'd's sad death, a noble young man who, incited
By the first fire of noble thoughts to struggle for freedom,
Went himself to Paris, and soon found a terrible death there.
For, as at home, so there, he fought 'gainst intrigue and oppression.'
Thus the magistrate spoke. The others departed and thanked him,
And the pastor produced a gold piece (the silver his purse held
He some hours before had with genuine kindness expended
When he saw the fugitives passing in sorrowful masses).
And to the magistrate handed it, saying:--' Divide it, I pray you,
'Mongst those who need it the most. May God give it prosperous increase.'
But the man refused to accept it, and said:--'I assure you,
Many a dollar we've saved, and plenty of clothing and such things,
And I trust we may reach our homes before they are finish'd.'
Then continued the pastor, the gold in his hand once more placing
'None should delay to give in days like the present, and no one
Ought to refuse to receive what is offer'd with liberal kindness.
No one can tell how long he will keep what in peace he possesses,
No one, how long he is doom'd in foreign countries to wander,
While he's deprived of the field and the garden by which he is nurtured.'
'Bravo!' added in turn the druggist, with eagerness speaking
'Had I but money to spare in my pocket, you surely should have it,
Silver and gold alike; for your followers certainly need it.
Yet I'll not leave you without a present, if only to show you
My good will, and I hope you will take the will for the action.'
Thus he spoke, and pull'd out by the strings the leather embroider'd
Pouch, in which he was wont his stock of tobacco to carry,
Daintily open'd and shared its contents--some two or three pipes' full.
'Small in truth is the gift,' he added. The magistrate answered:
'Good tobacco is always a welcome present to trav'llers.'
Then the druggist began his canister to praise very highly.
But the pastor drew him away, and the magistrate left them.
'Come, let us hasten!' exclaimed the sensible man, 'for our young friend
Anxiously waits; without further delay let him hear the good tidings.'
So they hasten'd and came, and found that the youngster was leaning
'Gainst his carriage under the lime-trees. The horses were pawing
Wildly the turf; he held them in check and stood there all pensive,
Silently gazing in front, and saw not his friends coming near him,
Till, as they came, they called him and gave him signals of triumph.
Some way off the druggist already began to address him,
But they approach'd the youth still nearer, and then the good pastor
Seized his hand and spoke and took the word from his comrade
'Friend, I wish you joy! Your eye so true and your true heart
Rightly have chosen! May you and the wife of your young days be happy!
She is full worthy of you; so come and turn around the carriage,
That we may reach without delay the end of the village,
So as to woo her, and shortly escort the dear creature home with us.'
But the youth stood still, and without any token of pleasure
Heard the words of the envoy, though sounding consoling and heav'nly,
Deeply sigh'd and said:--'We came full speed in the carriage
And shall probably go back home ashamed and but slowly;
For, since I have been waiting care has fallen upon me,
Doubt and suspicion and all that a heart full of love is exposed to.
Do you suppose we have only to come, for the maiden to follow,
Just because we are rich, and she poor and wandering in exile?
Poverty, when undeserved, itself makes proud. The fair maiden
Seems to be active and frugal; the world she may claim as her portion.
Do you suppose that a woman of such great beauty and manners
Can have grown up without exciting love in man's bosom?
Do you suppose that her heart until now has to love been fast closed?
Do not drive thither in haste, for perchance to our shame and confusion
We shall have slowly to turn towards home the heads of our horses.
Yes, some youth, I fear me, possesses her heart, and already
She has doubtless promised her hand and her solemn troth plighted,
And I shall stand all ashamed before her, When making my offer.'
Then the pastor proceeded to cheer him with words of good comfort,
But his companion broke in, in his usual talkative manner
'As things used to be, this embarrassment would not have happened,
When each matter was brought to a close in an orthodox fashion.
Then for their son themselves the bride the parents selected,
And a friend of the house was secretly call'd in the first place.
He was then quietly sent as a suitor to visit the parents
Of the selected bride; and, dress'd in his gayest apparel,
Went after dinner some Sunday to visit the excellent burgher,
And began by exchanging polite remarks on all subjects,
Cleverly turning and bending the talk in the proper direction.
After long beating about the bush, he flatter'd the daughter,
And spoke well of the man and the house that gave his commission.
Sensible people soon saw his drift, and the sensible envoy
Watch'd how the notion was taken, and then could explain himself farther.
If they declined the proposal, why then the refusal cost nothing,
But if all prosper'd, why then the suitor for ever thereafter
Play'd the first fiddle at every family feast and rejoicing.
For the married couple remember'd the whole of their lifetime
Whose was the skilful hand by which the marriage knot tied was.
All this now is chang'd, and with many an excellent custom
Has gone quite out of fashion. Each person woos for himself now.
Everyone now must bear the weight of a maiden's refusal
On his own shoulders, and stand all ashamed before her, if needs be.'
'Let that be as it may,' then answered the young man who scarcely
Heard what was said, and his mind had made up already in silence
'I will go myself, and out of the mouth of the maiden
Learn my own fate, for towards her I cherish the most trustful feelings
That any man ever cherish'd towards any woman whatever.
That which she says will be good and sensible,--this I am sure of.
If I am never to see her again, I must once more behold her,
And the ingenuous gaze of her black eyes must meet for the last time.
If to my heart I may clasp her never, her bosom and shoulders
I would once more see, which my arm so longs to encircle:
Once more the mouth I would see, from which one kiss and a Yes will
Make me happy for ever, a No for ever undo me.
But now leave me alone! Wait here no longer. Return you
Straight to my father and mother, in order to tell them in person
That their son was right, and that the maiden is worthy.
And so leave me alone! I myself shall return by the footpath
Over the hill by the pear-tree and then descend through the vineyard,
Which is the shortest way back. Oh may I soon with rejoicing
Take the beloved one home! But perchance all alone I must slink back
By that path to our house and tread it no more with a light heart.'
Thus he spoke, and then placed the reins in the hands of the pastor,
Who, in a knowing way both the foaming horses restraining,
Nimbly mounted the carriage, and took the seat of the driver.
But you still delay'd, good cautious neighbour, and spoke thus
Friend, I will gladly entrust to you soul, and spirit, and mind too,
But my body and bones are not preserved in the best way
When the hand of a parson such worldly matters as reins grasps!'
But you smiled in return, you sensible pastor, replying
'Pray jump in, nor fear with both body and spirit to trust me,
For this hand to hold the reins has long been accustom'd,
And these eyes are train'd to turn the corner with prudence.
For we were wont to drive the carriage, when living at Strasburg,
At the time when with the young baron I went there, for daily,
Driven by me, through the echoing gateway thunder'd the carriage
By the dusty roads to distant meadows and lindens,
Through the crowds of the people who spend their lifetime in walking.'
Partially comforted, then his neighbour mounted the carriage,
Sitting like one prepared to make a wise jump, if needs be,
And the stallions, eager to reach their stables, coursed homewards,
While beneath their powerful hoofs the dust rose in thick clouds.
Long there stood the youth, and saw the dust rise before him,
Saw the dust disperse; but still he stood there, unthinking.