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Madame de Staël: Goethe’s Faust

Excerpt from DE L’ALLEMAGNE – “Germany” by Madame Germaine de Staél-Holstein (published 1810, the 1813 John Murray translation), Vol. II, 181-192. Unless otherwise noted, all illustrations by Eugene Delacroix.

“Faustus”

Plan all things to achieve my end!
Engage the attention of her friend!
No milk and water devil be.
And bring fresh jewels instantly!

Among the pieces written for the performance of puppets, there is one entitled “Dr. Faustus, or Fatal Science,” which has always had great success in Germany. Lessing took up this subject fore Goethe. This wonderful history is a tradition very generally known. Several English authors have written the life of this same Dr. Faustus, and some of them have even attributed to him the art of printing — his profound knowledge did not preserve him from being weary of life, and in order to escape from it, he tried to enter into a compact with the devil, who concludes the whole by carrying him off. From these slender materials, Goethe has furnished the astonishing work, of which I will now try to give some idea.
Certainly, we must not expect to find in its either taste, or measure, or the art that selects and terminates; but if the imagination could figure to itself an intellectual chaos, such as the material chaos has often been painted, the “Faustus” of Goethe should have been composed at that epoch. It cannot be exceeded in boldness of conception, and the recollection of this production is always attended with a sensation of giddiness.

The Devil is the hero of the piece;
the author has not conceived him like a hideous phantom,
such as he is usually represented to children;
he has made him, if we may so express ourselves,
the evil Being par excellence,
before whom all others…are only novices,
scarcely worthy to be the servants of Mephistopheles.

Goethe wished to display in this character, at once real and fanciful, the bitterest pleasantry that contempt can inspire, and at the same time an audacious gaiety that amuses. There is an infernal irony in the discourses of Mephistopheles, which extends itself to the whole creation, and criticizes the universe like a bad book of which the Devil has made himself the censor.
Mephistopheles makes sport with genius itself, as with the most ridiculous of all absurdities, when it leads men to take a serious interest in any thing that exists in the world, and above all when it gives them confidence in their own individual strength. It is singular that supreme wickedness and divine wisdom coincide in this respect; that they equally recognize the vanity and weakness of all earthly things: but the one proclaims this truth only to disgust men with what is good, the other only to elevate them above what is evil.
If the play of “Faustus” contained only a lively and philosophical pleasantry, an analogous spirit may be found in many of Voltaire’s writings; but we perceive in this piece an imagination of a very different nature. It is not only that it displays to us the moral world, such as it is, annihilated, but that Hell itself is substituted in the room of it. There is a potency of sorcery, a poetry belonging to the principle of evil, a delirium of wickedness, a distraction of thought, which make us shudder, laugh and cry, in a breath.
It seems as if the government of the world were, for a moment, entrusted to the hands of the Demon. You tremble because he is pitiless, you laugh because he humbles the satisfaction of self-love, you weep, because human nature, thus contemplated from the depths of hell, inspires a painful compassion.
Milton has drawn his Satan larger than man; Michaelangelo and Dante have given him the hideous figure of the brute combined with the human shape. The Mephistopheles of Goethe is a civilized Devil. He handles with dexterity that ridicule, so trifling in appearance, which is nevertheless often found to consist with a profundity of malice; he treats all sensibility as silliness or affectation; his figure is ugly, low, and crooked; he is awkward without timidity, disdainful without pride; he affects something of tenderness with the women, because it is only in their company that he needs to deceive, in order to seduce; and what he understands by seduction, is to minister to the passion of others; for he cannot even imitate love. This is the only dissimulation that is impossible to him.
The character of Mephistopheles supposes an inexhaustible knowledge of social life, of nature, and of the marvelous. This play of “Faustus,” is the nightmare of the imagination, but is is a nightmare that redoubles its strength. It discovers the diabolical revelation of incredulity — of that incredulity which attaches itself to everything that can ever exist of good in this world; and perhaps this might be a dangerous revelation, if the circumstances produced by the perfidious intentions of Mephistopheles did not inspire a horror of his arrogant language, and make known the wickedness which it covers.
In the character of Faustus, all the weaknesses of humanity are concentrated: desire of knowledge, and fatigue of labour; wish of success and satiety of pleasure. It presents a perfect model of the changeful and versatile being whose sentiments are yet more ephemeral than the short existence of which he complains. Faustus has more ambition than strength; and this inward agitation produces his revolt against nature, and makes him have recourse to all manner of sorceries, in order to escape from the hard but necessary conditions imposed upon mortality.
He is discovered, in the first scene, surrounded by his books, and by an infinite number of mathematical instruments and chemical phials. His father had also devoted himself to science, and transmitted to him the same taste and habits. A solitary lamp enlightens this gloomy retreat, and Faustus pursues without intermission his studies of nature, and particularly of magic, many secrets of which are already in his possession.

Rembrandt’s Faust

He invokes one of the creating Genii of the second order; the spirit appears, and counsels him not to elevate himself above the sphere of the human understanding — “It is for us,” he says, “it is for us to plunge into the tumult of exertion, into those eternal billows of life, which are made to swell and sink, are impelled and recalled, by man’s nativity and dissolution: we are created to labour in the work which God has ordained us, and of which time completes the web. But thou, who canst conceive of nothing beyond thine own being, thou, who trembles to sound thine own destiny, and whom a breath of mine makes sudden, leave me! Recall me no more!” When the Genii has disappeared, a deep despair seizes on Faustus, and he forms the design of poisoning himself.
“And I,” he says, ” the image of the Deity, I, who believed myself on the point of tasting eternal truth in all the splendour of celestial light! I, who was no longer a son of the earth, who felt myself equal to the cherubim, who creators in their turn, are susceptible of the enjoyments of God himself! Ah! how much do I need expiate my presumptuous anticipation! One word of thunder has dissipated them for ever. Divine spirit! I had power to attract, but none to retain thee, I felt myself at once so great and so little! But thou hast driven me back, with violence, to the uncertain lot of humanity!
Who now will instruct me? What ought I to avoid? Ought I to yield to the impulse which presses upon me? Our action, as our sufferings, arrest the advance of thought. Low inclinations oppose themselves to the most magnificent conception of the soul. When we attain a certain degree of sublime happiness, we treat as illusion and falsehood whatever is more valuable than this happiness; and the sublime sentiments with which we were gifted by the Creator, lose themselves in earthly interests.
At first, imagination, with its daring wings, aspires to eternity; soon a little space is enough for the ruins of our broken hopes. Anxiety takes possession of our heart. She engenders secret griefs within it, and robs it of pleasure and repose. She presents herself to us in a thousand shapes; now under the aspect of fortune, then as a wife or children, in the likeness of the dagger, of poison, of flames, or of the ocean, she pursues and harasses us. Man trembles in the contemplation of what never will happen, and mourns incessantly for what he has never lost.
No, I did not compose myself to the Deity; no, I feel my misery: it is the insect that I resemble; the insect that agitates the dust on which it exists, and is crushed by the foot of the passenger.
And what, but dust, are all these books by which I am surrounded? Am I not shut up in the prison of science? These walls, these windows which environ me, do they suffer even the light of the sun to reach me without altering its rays? What am I to do with these numberless volumes, with these endless nothings that crowd my brain? Shall I find among them what I want? If I cast my eye over these pages, what shall I read into them? That men everywhere torment themselves about their fate; that from time to time a single happy man has existed, and that he has made all the other inhabitants of the earth despair.” (A death’s head is on the table.)

“And thou, who seemest to address me with that horrible grin, was not the mind that once inhabited thy brain guilty of error like my own? Did it not search for light, and did it not sink under the weight of darkness? These instruments of every description, that my father collected, to assist him in his vain labours; these wheels, and cylinders, and levers, will they reveal to me the secret of nature? no, she is involved in mystery, for all that she pretends to display herself on the light; and, what she chooses to conceal, not all the efforts of science will ever tear from her bosom.
My ears turn themselves, then, to thee, thou poisoned beverage! Thou, who bestowest death, I salute thee like a pale ray of light in the gloomy forest. In thee, I honour science and reverence the human understanding. Thou art the sweetest essence of all sleeping juices. In thee are concentrated all the powers of death. Come to my relief! I feel my troubled spirit already grow calm; I am about to launch upon the open sea. The limpid waves glitter like a mirror under my feet. A new day invitest me to the opposite shore. A chariot of fire already hovers over my head; I am about to ascend it; soon shall I wander amongst etherial spheres, and taste the delights of the heavenly regions.
But how deserve them in this state of my debasement? Yes, I may deserve them if I dare, if I courageously burst those gates of death before which no man can pass without shuddering. It is time to display the dignity of man. I must no longer shiver on the brink of this abyss, where the imagination condemns itself to its own torments, and the flames of hell seem to prohibit our approach. Into this cup of pure crystal will I pour the mortal poison. Alas! it once served for another use: it circulated from hand to hand in the joyous festivals of our fathers, and the guest, as it passed to him, celebrates its beauty in a song.
Thou gilded cup! Thou bringest to my remembrance the jovial nights of my youth. No more shall I pass thee to my neighbour; no more shall I extol the artist that fashioned and embelished thee. Thou art now filled with a dismal beverage — it was prepared by me, it is chosen by me. Ah! be it for me the solemn libation which I consecrate to the morning of a new existence!”
At the moment when he is about to swallow the poison, Faustus hears the town bells ringing in honour of Easter day, and the choirs of the neighboring church celebrating that holy feast.
The Choir: “Christ is risen. Let degenerate, weak and trembling mortals be glad thereof!”
Faustus: “With what imposing solemnity does this brazen sound shake my soul to its very foundations! What pure voices are those that make the poisoned cup fall out of my hand? Do yet announce, resounding bells, the first hour of the sacred sabbath of Easter? Ye, oh choir! do ye already celebrate those strains of consolation, those strains, which, in the night of the grave, were sung by angels descending from heaven to commence the new covenant?”
The choir repeats: “Christ is risen….”
Faustus: “Celestial strains! potent and gentle, wherefore do ye seek me, humbled in the dust? Go! make yourselves heard by those who are capable of deriving comfort from you! I hear the message you convey to me, but I want faith to believe it. Miracle is the cherished offspring of faith. I cannot spring upwards to the sphere from which your glorious tidings are descending: and yet, accustomed from childhood to these songs, they recall me to life. Once, a ray of divine light used to call on me during the peacful solemnity of the sabbath. The drowsy hum of the bells used to fill my soul with the presentiment of futurity, and prayer was an ardent enjoyment to my heart.
Those same bells also announced the games of youth, and the festival of spring. The memory of them rekindles those feelings of childhood which remove us from the contemplation of death. Oh! should again, celestial strains! Earth has regained possession of me.”
To be continued…

E.T.A. Hoffmann: “The Fire-Lily”

From Thomas Carlyle’s “German Romance: Specimens of its Chief Authors; with Biographical and Critical Notices.” Vol. II, 1827. Excerpt: “The Golden Pot” by E.T. A. Hoffmann.

jThe Fire-Lily

The Spirit looked upon the water, and the water moved itself, and chafed in foaming billows, and plunged thundering down into the Abysses, which opened their black throats, and greedily swallowed it. Like triumphant conquerors, the granite Rocks lifted their cleft peaky crowns, protecting the Valley, till the Sun took it into its paternal bosom, and clasping it with its beams as with growing arms, cherished it and warmed it.

Then a thousand germs, which had been sleeping under the desert sand, awoke from their deep slumber, and stretched out their little leaves and stalks toward the Sun their father’s face; and the smiling infants in green cradles, the flowrets rested in their buds and blossoms, til they too, awakened by their father, decked themselves in lights, which their father, to please them, tinted in a thousand varied hues.

But in the midst of the Valley was a black Hill, which heaved up and down like the breast of man when warm longing swells it. From the Abysses mounted steaming vapours, and rolled themselves together into huge masses, striving malignantly to hide the father’s face: but he called the Storm to him, which rushed thither, and scattered them away; and when the pure sunbeam rested again on the bleak Hill, there started from it, in the excess of its rapture, a glorious Fire-Lily, opening its fair leaves like gentle lips to receive the kiss of its father.

And now came a gleaming Splendour into the Valley; it was the youth Phosphorus; the Lily saw him, and begged, being seized with warm longing love: “Be mine for ever, fair youth! For I love thee, and must die if thou forsake me!” Then spake the youth Phosphorus: “I will be thine, thou fair flower; but then wilt thou, like a naughty child, leave father and mother; thou wilt know thy playmates no longer, wilt strive to be greater and stronger than all that now rejoices with thee as thy equal.

The longing which now beneficently warms thy whole being, will be scattered into a thousand rays, and torture and vex thee; for sense will bring forth senses; and the highest rapture, which the Spark I cast into thee kindles, will be the hopeless pain wherein thou shalt perish, to spring up anew in foreign shape. This spark is Thought!”

“Ah!” mourned the Lily, “Can I not be thine in this glow, as it now burns in me; not still be thine? Can I love then more than now; could I look on thee as now, if thou wert to annihilate me?” Then the youth Phosphorus kissed the Lily; and as if penetrated with light, it mounted up in flame, out of which issued a foreign Being, that hastily flying from the Valley, roved forth into endless Space, no longer heeding its old playmates, or the youth it had loved.

This youth mourned for his lost beloved; for he too loved her, it was love to the fair Lily that had brought him to the lone Valley; and the granite Rocks bent down their heads in participation of his grief.

But one of these opened its bosom, and there came a black-winged Dragon flying out of it, and said: “My brethren, the Metals are sleeping in there; but I am always brisk and waking, and will help thee.”

Dashing up and down on its black pinions, the Dragon at last caught the Being which had sprung from the Lily; bore it to the Hill, and encircled it with his wing; then was it the Lily again; but Thought, which continued with it, tore asunder its heart; and its love for the youth Phosphorus was a cutting pain, before which, as if breathed on by poisonous vapours, the flowrets which had once rejoiced in the fair Lily’s presence, faded and died.

The youth Phosphorus put on a glittering coat of mail, sporting with the light in a thousand hues, and did battle with the Dragon, who struck the cuirass with his black wing, till it rung and sounded; and at this loud clang the flowrets again came to life, and like variegated birds fluttered round the Dragon, whose force departed; and who, thus being vanquished, hid himself in the depths of the Earth.

The Lily was freed; the youth Phosphorus clasped her, full of warm longing, of heavenly love; and in triumphant chorus, the flowers, the birds, nay even the high granite Rocks, did reverence to her as the Queen of the Valley.”

h

Eduard Mörike: “The Fire-Rider”

By Eduard Mörike (1804-1875) Set by Hugo Wolf (1860-1903) , “Der Feuerreiter”, from Mörike-Lieder, no. 44. Translation © by Emily Ezust, from The Lied & Art Song Texts Page.

Hear the Lied! See the Video!

darkstalliona

Der Feuerreiter 

Do you see at the window
there again, that red cap?
Something must be the matter
for it is going up and down.
And what a sudden mob
is now by the bridge near the field!
Hark! the fire-bell is shrilling:
beyond the hill,
beyond the hill,
there's a fire in the mill!
.
Look, there he goes, galloping furiously
through the gate - it's the fire-rider
on his horse, a bony nag
like a fire-ladder!
Across the fields, through the smoke and heat
he plunges, and he's already reached his goal!
Over there the bells are pealing,
beyond the hill,
beyond the hill,
there's a fire in the mill!
.
You who so often smelled fire
from a mile off,
and with a fragment of the holy cross
maliciously conjured the blaze -
Woe! from the rafters there grins
the Enemy of Man in hellish light.

May God have mercy on your soul!
Beyond the hill,
beyond the hill,
he is raging in the mill!
.
Not an hour had passed
before the mill was reduced to rubble;
but the bold rider
from that hour was never seen again.
People and wagons in crowds
turn toward home away from all the horror;
and the bell stops ringing:
beyond the hill,
beyond the hill,
it's burning!
.
Later a miller found
a skeleton together with the cap
upright against the wall of the cellar
sitting on the mare of bone:
Fire-rider, how coolly
you ride now to your grave!
Hush! there it falls to ashes.
Rest well,
rest well,
down there in the mill!
 

Eduard Mörike: “A Song for Two in the Night”

4347427,
A SONG FOR TWO IN THE NIGHT
  (1825)
_She_. How soft the night wind strokes the meadow grasses
And, breathing music, through the woodland passes!
Now that the upstart day is dumb,
One hears from the still earth a whispering throng
Of forces animate, with murmured song
Joining the zephyrs' well-attunèd hum.

, _He_. I catch the tone from wondrous voices brimming,
Which sensuous on the warm wind drifts to me,
While, streaked with misty light uncertainly,
The very heavens in the glow are swimming.

. _She_. The air like woven fabric seems to wave,
Then more transparent and more lustrous groweth;
Meantime a muted melody outgoeth
From happy fairies in their purple cave.
To sphere-wrought harmony
Sing they, and busily
The thread upon their silver spindles floweth.

, _He_. Oh lovely night! how effortless and free
O'er samite black-though green by day--thou movest!
And to the whirring music that thou lovest
Thy foot advances imperceptibly.
Thus hour by hour thy step doth measure--
In trancèd self-forgetful pleasure
Thou'rt rapt; creation's soul is rapt with thee!

Heinrich Heine: “What is Dreaming?”

Excerpt, The Works of Heinrich Heine, Vol. 1, 157-160. Translated from the German by Charles Godfrey Leland..

What is dreaming? What is death? Is it only an interruption of life, and its full cessation? Yes, for people who only know the Past and the Future, and do not live an eternity in every moment of the Present, death must be terrible! When their two crutches, Space and Time, fall away, then they slip away into the eternal Nothing.

And dreams? Why are we not more afraid before going to sleep than to be buried? Is it not terrible that the body can be as if dead all night, while the spirit in us leads the wildest life … a life full of all those terrors of that parting which we have established between life and soul! When in the future both shall be again united in our consciousness, then there will be perhaps no more dreams, or else only invalids, those whose harmony has been disturbed, will dream. The ancients dreamed only softly and seldom; a strong and powerfully impressive dream was for them an event, and it was recorded in their histories…

And yet, what beautiful sweet dreams we have been able to dream! Our healthy descendants will hardly be able to understand them! All the splendours of the world disappeared from around us, and we found them again in our own souls; yes, there was the perfume of the trampled roses, and the sweetest songs of the frightened nightingales took refuge.

Thus I feel, and die of the unnatural anxieties and horrible dainties and sweet pains of our time. When I at night undress and lay me in bed, and stretch myself out at full length, and cover myself with the white sheets, I often shutter involuntarily, it seems so like being a corpse and burying myself. Then I close my eyes as quickly as I can to escape this fearful thought, and to save myself in the Land of Dreams.

It was a sweet, kind, sunshiny dream. The heaven was heavenly-blue and cloudless; the sea sea-green and still. A boundless horizon; and on the water sailed a gaily-pennoned skiff, and on its deck I sat caressingly at the feet of Jadviga. I read to her strange and dreamy love songs, which I had written on strips of rose-coloured paper, sighing yet joyful, and she listened with incredulous yet inclined ear and deeply loving smiles, and now and then hastily snatched the leaves from my hand and threw them in the sea. But the beautiful water-fairies, with snow-white breasts and arms, rose from the water and caught the fluttering love-lays as they fell.

As I bent overboard I could see clearly far down into the depths of the sea, and there sat, as in a social circle, the beautiful water-maids, and among them was a young sprite who, with deeply sympathetic expression, declaimed my love-songs. Wild enraptured applause rang out at every verse. The green-locked beauties applauded so passionately that necks and bosoms grew rosy red, and they praised cordially yet compassionately what they heard.

“What strange beings these mortals are! How wonderful their lives, how dire their destinies! They love, and seldom dare express their love; and when they give it utterance at last, they rarely understand one another.

And withal they do not lead eternal lives like ours; they are mortal. Only a little time is granted them to seek for happiness. They must grasp it quickly and press it hastily unto their hearts, ere it is gone. Therefore their songs of love are so deeply tender, so sweetly painful and anxious, so despairingly gay. Such strange blendings of joy and pain. The melancholy shadow of death falls on their happiest hours, and consoles them lovingly in adversity.

They can weep. What poetry there is in mortal tears…”

Sir Walter Scott: “Enchantress, Farewell”

.

leaha

Farewell to the Muse

Enchantress, farewell, who so oft hast decoy'd me,
At the close of the evening through woodlands to roam,
Where the forester, 'lated, with wonder espied me
Explore the wild scenes he was quitting for home.
 ~

Farewell and take with thee thy numbers wild speaking
The language alternate of rapture and woe:
Oh! none but some lover, whose heartstrings are breaking
The pang that I feel at our parting can know.
 ~
Each joy thou couldst double, and when there came sorrow,
Or pale disappointment to darken my way,
What voice was like thine, that could sing of tomorrow,
Till forgot in the strain was the grief of today!
~

But when friends drop around us in life's weary waning,
The grief, Queen of Numbers, thou canst not assuage;
Nor the gradual estrangement of those yet remaining,
The languor of pain, and the chillness of age.
 ~
'Twas thou that once taught me, accents bewailing,
To sing how a warrior I lay stretch'd on the plain,
And a maiden hung o'er him with aid unavailing,
And held to his lips the cold goblet in vain ;
~

As vain thy enchantments, O Queen of wild Numbers
To a bard when the reign of his fancy is o'er,
And the quick pulse of feeling in apathy slumbers --
Farewell, then, Enchantress I'll meet thee no more!.

Franz von Dingelstedt: “Ebb and Flood”

.Excerpt, “Translations From The German Poets.” Edward Stanhope Pearson. 1879.

 

girl sea

EBB AND FLOOD

 

The maiden paced along the shore,

Around her heart ‘twas well, ‘twas sore,

She spake: “thou wild, thou vasty sea,

What is’t inconstant driveth thee

That now in ebb, in flood again

Thy vex’d heart can no rest obtain?”

.

Thereat the sea its answer brought,

“It is the Moon who this hath wrought,

When her bright track approacheth me

I hasten heavenwards with glee,

But when her form retreating flies

I follow her with longing sighs.”

.

The maiden pensive whispered low:

“Now, heart, thy secret well I know.

Thee too doth rule a lofty star

Which now is near, and now is far.

T’wards him, all joyous thou dost strain,

For him, all trembling, pin’st again.

.

Flow on, O sea, O heart, ebb still!

And both is good, and both is ill.

When Love no more the world doth sway,

What resteth? All hath passed away.

Come bitter joy, come sorrow suave,

And rock me on thy changeful wave!”

.

Methinks, thou surely must be feeling

How oft, how true thou’rt in my mind,

What time in summer night comes stealing

As ’twere my voice upon the wind.

As though in every star that’s burning

Thou read’st as in an open book

My greetings still and full of yearning;

Not else thy absence could I brook.

.

E’en now, the blue sea waves careering

’Twixt thee and me a barrier stand,

Thou for the fatherland art steering,

I linger still on foreign strand,

No bridge the waste of waters spanneth,

No path to lead me to thy side,

Time’s iron hand may access banneth

And dreary days my plaint deride.

.

And yet, my ground I’ve not forsaken,

My anchor ground in storm’s domain,

I’ll trust my love for thee unshaken,

Which draws as with magnetic chain.

Thou feel’st it, in thy dreams thou’st wondered,

My form before thine eyes doth play,

Thus, spite of paths too early surrendered

I know that we shall meet one day.

.

Adelbert von Chamisso: “Peter Schlemihl”

 

To My old Friend
Peter Schlemihl

After long years once more thy writing lay
Before me, and – how wonderful – forth flew
Back on my heart our youthful friendship’s day,
When in the world’s great school we yet were new.
I now am an old man; my hair is grey,
And false shame I have long learned to subdue,
Yes! I will call thee friend, as I did then,
Will hail thee mine, and tell it unto men!

My poor, poor friend! the joggling fiend hath not
Me, as thyself, so treacherously undone;
Still have I striven, still hoped a brighter lot,
And truly, in the end, have little won’
Yet the Grey Man will boast not to have got
Hold of my shadow; nor hath ever done.
Here lies my native shadow, free unfurled:
I never lost my shadow in the world.

Yet, guiltless as a child, on me descended
The scorn men for thy nakedness did feel,
What! is our likeness then so subtly blended?
They shouted, “Where’s thy shadow, O Schlemihl?”
And when I showed it, laughing, they pretended
Blindness, and still laughed endless peal on peal.
What help? We learn in patience to endure;
Nay more – are glad – feel we our conscience pure.

And what then is the shadow? May I know it?
As I myself so oft am catechised?
Thus monstrously, and higher far to show it,
Than the harsh world itself it e’er hath prized?
Yes! and to nineteen thousand days we own it
Which passing o’er us, thus have us advised –
As formerly to shadow we gave being,
We now see life, a shadow, from us fleeing.

And thereupon we give our hands, Schlemihl!
On we will go, and to the Old One leave it;
How little for the whole world will we feel,
But our own union, firm and firmer weave it.
As thus unto our goal we nearer wheel,
Who laughs or blames — we’ll hear not, nor conceive it;
Till, ‘scaped from all the tempests of the deep
We’ll enter port, and sleep our soundest sleep.


Berlin, August 1834

Adelbert von Chamisso

 

 Excerpt, “The Wonderful History of Peter Schlemihl” by Adelbert von Chamisso. London: Longman, Brown, Green and Longmans. Paternoster Row. 1843. Translated by William Howitt.  Illustrated by A. Fleischmann.

Heinrich Heine: “Dream Pictures” 2/2

Preamble to The Book of Songs. Excerpt, The Works of Heinrich Heine, Vol. 17, 15-25. Translated from the German by Charles Godfrey Leland.

8.

I came from the house of my mistress bright
And wandered half crazed thro’ the grim midnight;
And as thro’ the churchyard my way I took,
The still graves gave me a solemn look.

From the Minstrel’s grave some bright glance sped,
Twas a flickering ray that the wan moon shed;
And “Brother, I’m coming” was whispered low,
While a pale form rose from the grave below.

‘Twas the Minstrel himself from the grave who crept,
And on to the top of the grave-stone leapt;
With rapid hand he strikes the strings,
And in voice both hollow and harsh he sings:

“Oh! sad and dull, my lute-string, say,
Know ye still the theme that used to sway
The life-blood and enthral it?
Heaven’s bliss — the Angels call it so;
Hell’s pain, it is called by the fiends below,
But Love is what men call it.”

And scarce had the sound of the last word died
When, all around, the graves gaped wide;
And phantoms rose and swayed about
The Minstrel, raising in chorus the shout:

“Love, oh Love, it was thy might
Brought us to this doleful plight,
Closed our lips and sealed our sight,
Wherefore call’st thou in the night?”

And the clamour arises, confused and confounding,
With croaking and creaking, rebound, resounding:
Round the Minstrel circle the madden hordes,
And the Minstrel wildly smites the chords.

“Mad my masters, well, ’tis well
Welcome are ye;
Nought could bar ye
When ye heard my magic spell.
Though from year to year we be
Mouse-still in our coffins, we
Make today a day of glee!

But are we alone? Just see!
We were asses all when living,
Our existence madly giving
To a mad love’s raging fires.
Pastime surely will not fail,
If each spirit tells the tale
Of what brought him from above,
Of his woes
And his throes
In the frenzied chase of Love.”

Then light as the breeze there hopped forth soon
The leanest of phantoms, and hummed this tune:

“A tailor’s ‘prentice steady
With needle and with shears;
I grew expert and ready!
With needle and with shears;

“When my master’s daughter lured me
With needle and with shears;
And through my bosom skewered me
With needle and with shears!”

Then the chorus of spirits laughed long and loud,
And a second stalked solemnly out of the crowd.

“Brigands such as Rinaldini,
Robin Hood and Orlandini,
But Karl Moor the most by far,
These I took for exemplar!

“And I plunged — pray let me show it —
Into Love, in mode heroic,
And a female form divine
Jostled thro’ this brain of mine.

“And my heart and hopes were maddened,
And my love being almost maddened,
I at last dipped fingers rash
In my worthy neighbour’s cash.

“Then some high police curmudgeon
Chose to take the thing in dungeon,
That I dried the tears of grief
With my neighbour’s handkerchief.

“And in good policeman fashion
Marched me off without compassion;
So the gaol stupendous pressed
Me to its maternal breast.

“Thoughts of her! aye, picking oakum
Did voluptuously provoke ’em!
Till Rinaldo came one day
And bore my soul with him away.”

Then all the spirits laughed long and loud,
And a well be-rouged dandy stepped from the crowd.

“I was king of the boards and enchanted
The town in the true lover’s part;
I bellowed, ‘Ye gods,’ and I ranted,
I breathed forth my Aha, from my heart.

“In Romeo I chiefly attracted:
Each Juliette an angel I thought;
Through the part so the life I enacted,
She ne’er understood what I sought.

“When once in the fifth act despairing
‘O my Saint! O my Juliet!’ I cried;
My bodkin relentlessly baring,
I stuck it too deep in my side.”

Then all the spirits laughed long and loud,
And a fourth appeared in a snow-white shroud.

“From his lofty chair the Professor was prosing,
Was prosing while I took a nap serene;
But a thousand times rather than napping or dozing,
By his dear little daughter would I have been.

“From her window she gave me sweet nods as I passed by
My flower of flower, my life’s sole light!
But my flower of flower was plucked at the last by
A Philistine huckster, a wealthy wight.

“Then I cursed all women and scoundrels wealthy,
And some devil’s drug with my wine did blend;
And I pledged King Death in a goblet stealthy.”
He cried, “On my faith, Old Death’s a friend!”

Then all the spirits laughed long and loud;
With a rope round his neck came a fifth from the crowd.

“He reveled and swaggered, the Count o’er his wine,
With his diamonds rare and his daughter divine;
What care I, Sir Count, for your jewels so fine?
Tis your fair little daughter whom I would make mine.

“They both of them lay under bolt, lock and key,
And the Count a whole army of henchmen had he.
What cared I for henchmen, for belt, lock and key?
The rungs of a ladder I mounted with glee.

“So gaily I climbed to my darling’s window,
When savagest swearing is heard from below.
‘Stop, stop, my fine fellow, let me have my share,
I’ve also a fancy for diamonds rare.’

“‘Twas the Count who thus jeered me, and at me he flew,
And shouting, his myrmidons hustled me, too.
‘To hell with your rabble! No thief have you here,
And all I would steal is my own little dear!

“Entreaties availed not, no counsel could aid
In a moment were cords and a gibbet arrayed;
When next the sun came how astonished was he,
To discover me there on the bright gallows-tree!”

Then all the spirits laughed long and loud,
With his head in his hand came a sixth from the crowd.

“Love drove me to the poacher’s trade;
Thro’ forest, gun in hand, I strayed;
In the high trees the raves scoff,
And croak at me: ‘Heads off! Heads off!’

“Oh, could I track some pretty dove,
Home would I bear it to my Love.
Thro’ bush and briar, as thus I thought,
My sportman’s eye the quarry sought.

“What cooing’s that? What billing’s there?
Two tender turtles, I declare.
I crept up close and cocked my gun,
And lo! my own sweetheart was one!

“My dove, my bride, it was in sooth,
Embracing her a stranger youth.
Old marksman, see thy aim be good!
There lay the stranger in his blood.

“Ere long the headsman’s train marched thro’
The gloomy wood, and I marched too,
Chief actor — while the ravens scoff
And croak on high: ‘Heads off! heads off!'”

Then the spirits in merry chorus shout,
And then the Minstrel himself steps out.

“I too had a song I cherished,
But the dear song is o’er;
When the heart in your body is perished,
Then songs are sung no more!”

And the maniac laughter rang doubly loud,
And circled about him the death-pale crowd;
When the church tower boomed forth One and then
With a shriek they plunged in the graves again.

9.

I lay and slept; slept peacefully,
All pain and care dispelled;
In dreams a vision came to me
The fairest e’er beheld.

Pale as white marble to the view,
A maid of mystery rare,
With pearl-like eyes all brimmed with dew,
And strangely waving hair.

And soft and softly drawing sigh
The maid so marble pale,
She came upon my heart to lie
The maid so marble pale.

Ah! how my breast doth burn and start
And leap with joy and woe;
Nor leaps, nor starts the maiden’s heart,
That heart as cold as snow.

“My heart doth neither bear, nor move,
As very ice ’tis cold;
And yet I know the bliss of love,
Its passion uncontrolled!

“On lip and cheek there blooms no red,
Nor through my heart streams blood;
Yet strive not with such shuddering dread,
For thee I’m meek and good.”

And wilder still she clasped me round,
Till terror made me quail;
When the cock crowed — without a sound
Fled the maid, marble pale.

10.

Yes, I have summoned many
Pale corpses by spells of might,
And now there is not any
Will slink back into the night.

The terror and horror drove from me
The master’s o’erpowering spell;
And so my own spectres o’ercome me,
And drag me back to hell.

Urge me not, ye swart friends, I implore ye!
Hurl me not to the darkness below;
There are many delights yet ‘fore me
In the sheen of our earth’s rosy glow.

For ever must I be straining
After one fair flower near;
What were my whole life’s meaning
If I did not love thee, dear?

Might I only clasp and press her
To my flowing heart once again,
On her cheeks, on her mouth to kiss her
Once only with rapturous pain!

Might I only hear one tender
Word from her lips at that hour,
O spirits, I would surrender
Myself to your gloomy power!

The spirits heard me, bending
Their heads as an awful sign.
Fair sweetheart — to them am I wending;
Dost thou love me — fair sweetheart mine!

Heinrich Heine

 

Heinrich Heine: Dream Pictures Part 1 of 2

Preamble to The Book of Songs. Excerpt, The Works of Heinrich Heine, Vol. 17, 1-15. Translated from the German by Charles Godfrey Leland.

Once did I dream of wildest passion’s glow,
Of love-locks, bloom of flowers, and songs of birds,
Of sweetest lips that uttered bitter words,
Of woeful verse married to airs of woe.

Faded and vanished are those visioned time!
Vanished the dreamt-of Shade I loved the best;
Nothing remains but that which, love-possessed,
I shaped and moulded into gentle rhymes.

Thou, orphaned song, was left — thou, too, shalt fade!
Go, seek that Shade which fled with dreams too fleeting;
And, if thou find it, hear it all my greeting,
An airy breath I send to airy Shade.

2.

A dream of awful mystery
Appalled and yet delighted me.
Shapes hideous float before me still,
And in my heart dim horrors thrill.

A wondrous garden was the place
Wherein I thought at ease to pace;
A wealth of flowers the garden had
Which smiled on me, and made me glad.

The little birds were chattering all
Their merry lovers’ madrigal;
The blazing sun shot rays of gold
On bloom of tincture manifold.

And spicy scents from herbage flow;
Softly and sweet the zephyrs blow;
And all things glint and all things smile,
And show their loveliness the while.

Within this blooming land midway
A limpid marble fountain lay,
O’er which a beauteous damsel bent,
On washing some white robe intent.

With eyes so mild, with cheeks so fair,
A pictured saint with golden hair,
And as I gazed it seemed that she
Was strange, and yet well known to me.

The bonny maid, she works away;
She sings a wondrous roundelay:
“Ripple, ripple, brooklet bright,
Wash my linen fair and white.”

Forward I moved, and drawing near,
“Tell me,” I whispered in her ear.
“Oh damsel sweet and wondrous fair,
For whom is this white garment rare?”

“Make ready soon,” swift answered she,
“A shroud I’m washing now — for Thee!”
And lo, the word was hardly said
When like a bubble all was sped.

* * *

The magic lasted. Soon I stood
Within a gloomy, savage wood;
Heav’n high the trees around up-raught,
I stood amazed, and thought and thought.

And hark! dull echoes clang around
Like distant hatchets’ hewing sound;
Through brake and brier I hurried fast,
And reached an open space at last.

Where ‘mid the green the space was cleared
A giant oak his branches reared;
and lo, upon the sturdy oak
That same strange maid dealt many a stroke.

And never resting, blow on blow,
She swung the ax, and murmur’d low:
“Iron clink, iron clank,
Shape a chest of good oak-plank.”

Forward I moved, and drawing near,
“Tell me,” I whispered in her ear,
“Oh little damsel loveliest,
For whom mak’st thou this oaken chest?”

“No time to lose!” swift answer’d she,
“A coffin ’tis I make — for Thee!”
And lo, the word was said
When like a bubble all was sped.

* * *

It stretched out wan, it stretched out wide,
Bare, barest moor on every side;
Scarce knowing what I felt or saw,
I trembling paused in spell-bound awe.

And soon as farther on I hied
A streak of gleaming white I spied;
I sped with all the speed I might,
And lo! it was that damsel bright.

On the wide heath stood the white maid,
Deep delving in the earth, with spade.
To look on her I almost feared,
She was so fair, and yet so weird.

The bonny maid she works away,
She sings a wondrous roundelay:
“Sharp and broad, good spade, good spade,
That a deep broad trench be made.”

Forward I moved, and drawing near,
“Tell me?” I whispered to her ear,
“O damsel sweet and wondrous fair,
What means the hole thou delvest there?”

And swift she answered: “Hush, poor fool!
I dig a grave for Thee, so cool!”
Scarce did these words the fair maid shape,
When lo! the trench was wide agape.

And as I gazed into the hole
Chill horror shivered through my soul.
I plunged into the hideous deep,
And as I plunged — I woke from sleep.

3.

I saw myself all in a dream by night
In glossy evening coat and satin vest,
Ruffles on wrist, as for some gala dressed,
And by me stood my mistress sweet and bright.

“So you’re betrothed,” I murmured with a slight
Inclining. “Pray, fair lady, take my best
Good wishes.” But my throat was tight compressed
By the unfeeling, long drawled tones polite.

And floods of bitter tears streamed forth unbidden
From my beloved’s eyes, and in their breaking.
The vision fair was almost from me hidden.
Oh ye sweet eyes, love-stars so seeming true,
Though ye have lied to me in dreams and waking
Often, how gladly still I trust in you!

4.

I saw in dreams a man-kin small and sprightly,
Who walked with ell-long steps, on stilts as ’twere,
Dainty in broadcloth, linen white and fair,
But who within was coarse, unclean, unsightly.

Within he was an object to distress ye,
But dignity without, beyond compare!
He swaggered bold of what he’d do and dare,
And seemed a man to bully and oppress ye.
“And knowst though who it is? Come quick and see!”
So spoke the god of dreams and showed to me
A pictured vision in a mirror then.
Before an altar that small man stood still,
My Love beside him; both replied: “I will,”
And all Hell’s laughing demons yelled: “Amen!”

5.

What makes my mad blood rave and rush?
What makes my heart to flame and flush?
My blood doth boil and flame and dart,
And scorching flame devours my heart.

My blood is pulsing wild and mad
Because of that vile dream I had.
The son of Night approach’d me dim,
And led me gasping forth with him.

He led me to a palace bright
With blazing torch and taper-light.
‘Mid sounding harps, ‘mid stir and din,
I reached the hall — I entered in.

There was a wedding revelry;
The guests sat round the board in glee.
And when the bridal pair I spied,
Ah, woe! my darling was the bride.

It was my winsome Love in sooth,
And for the groom, a stranger youth.
I crept behind her chair of state,
And hardly breathing, there I wait.

The music swelled; I stood amazed,
The loud delights my spirits dazed:
The bride’s glance was supremely blest,
And both her hands the bridegroom pressed.

The bridegroom brims his beaker high,
And drinks and gives it lovingly
To her, who thanks with sweet low laugh.
Ah woe! my red blood did she quaff?

The bride took up an apple fair
And gave it to the bridegroom there;
He took his knife and cut it free.
Ah woe! it was the heart of me!

Their glances met a long sweet space;
He clasps the bride in keen embrace;
Her cheeks so rosy red kissed he.
Ah woe! chill Death was kissing me!

The tongue within my mouth was lead,
No single word could I have said.
Loud music sounded thro’ the hall,
The dainty bride-pair led the ball!

I stood there silent as the dead,
The nimble dances round me sped.
One low-toned word he whispers next;
She blushes, but she is not vext!

6.

In sweetest dream, in stillest Night,
My love came by enchantment’s might,
As by enchantment’s might she crept
To the small chamber where I slept.

I gazed on her, of vision mild!
I gazed on her, she softly smiled;
My heart swelling high that smile to see,
And reckless words stormed forth from me:

“Take all, take all things that are mine!
Oh best beloved, all shall be thine,
So I may be thy paramour
Till cock-crow from the midnight hour!”

She gazed with loving sad surprise,
Her inmost heart within her eyes,
And low entreating murmured she:
“Yield thy salvation unto me!”

“To thee the life I hold so dear,
My youth, my blood, with joy and cheer,
Oh angel maiden, shall be given,
But never more my hope of Heaven.”

Swiftly my lips repelled her prayer,
But ever lovelier bloomed she there,
And ever more entreated she:
“Yield thy salvation unto me!”

I sounded like a hopeless moan;
Into my being’s depth was thrown
A sea of fire all tempest-tossed;
My breath came thick — it ceased almost.

White angels, glorious to behold,
first shone with haloes bright as gold;
But then a crew of goblins foul
Rushed wildly up against my soul.

They wrestled with the angels all,
They drove away the angles all;
And before long the swarthy crew,
Like films of mist had vanished too.

I was near death with sheer delight,
My arms were round my darling bright;
She nestled to me like a roe,
And yet she wept with wildest woe.

The fair child weeps, I well know why;
My kisses still the rosebud’s cry;
“Forbid, fair child, thy tears to flow,
Surrender to my love’s fierce glow.”

“Surrender to my love’s fierce flow!”
My blood grew sudden ice, for lo!
The earth itself with crash and start
Before my feet gaped wide apart.

From the swart gulf the swarthy crew
Arose; the fair child’s colour flew;
The fair child from my arms was gone,
And I was standing all alone.

Then in fantastic circle hurled,
The swarthy crew around me whirled;
Nearer to clutch me surged the crowd,
And scornful laughter bellowed loud.

The lessening circle hemmed me round;
Still did that burthen dread resound;
“Salvation was renounced by thee,
Ours art thou for Eternity.”

7.

The price has been paid thee, why palterest thou?
Oh black-blooded fiend, why palterest now?
See here in my chamber, fretfully wait,
and midnight’s at hand, ’tis the bride who is late.

The breezes blow chill from the churchyard side;
Ye winds, have ye happened to see my wee bride?
The hosts of pale shadows around me press,
They curtsy with grinning and nodding — Oh yes!

Speak up, what message bringst thou to me,
Swart rogue in the flame-red livery?
“I announce the illustrious company near,
With their chariots and dragons they soon will be here.”

Grey mannikin, darling, hey, what is your will?
O dead baccalaureus, waiting here still?
He eyes me with speechless and troubled gaze,
And shakes his head, and goes back his ways.

My shaggy familiar, why purr and stare?
Why do the eyes of black tom-cat glare?
Why howl the long-loose-haired women? and why
Does the ancient nurse croon my lullaby?

Madam nurse, bide at home with your sing-song today,
‘Tis long since I needed a cradle-lay;
Today ’tis my wedding-feast that is planned,
And see where the comely guests are at hand.

That’s capital, gentlemen! What are ye at,
Each bearing his head in his hand, not his hat!
Ye sprawling-legged creatures in gallows clothes,
What makes ye so late? Not a breath of wind blows.

And see on her broom-stick old mother-witch rides;
Oh bless thy son, mother, whatever betides.
In the dead-white face, the lips quiver then,
And she cries out: “For ever and ever. Amen!”

Twelve wind-dried musicians come loitering in;
One halting blind crone tunes up her violin;
And the famous Jack-pudding, half yellow, half black,
Comes bearing the sexton a-pick-a-back.

Then tripping twelve nuns from their convent advance.
And the leering old procuress leads on the dance;
Twelve brawny backed parsons come trooping along,
And chant with mock reverence a scandalous song.

Old clothes-man, you’re black in the face; shout not so,
No second-hand coat wards the flames off below.
For ever and gratis there hell-fires will burn;
And for wood, great and little men’s bones serve the turn.

The flower girls, all humped and awry, gather round,
And head over heels thro’ the chamber they bound;
Hoho! ye owl faces with grasshopper shanks,
I’ll stop all your clatter and mountebank’s pranks.

And Hell universal has broke loose indeed,
And, howling and scowling, increases the breed,
and the waltz of damnation now breaks on the ear,
Hush, hush! for my love is about to appear.

Ye wretches, be still, or get out of the way,
I can scarce hear a word of all that I say.
Hark! listen again! are not wheels there outside?
Come forward, cook-maid, throw the gates wide.

Fair welcome, my fairest, how are you today?
Sir Parson, you’re welcome; be seated, I pray.
Sir Parson with tail and with hoofs like a horse,
I’m our reverence’s faithfulest servant, of course.

Fair bride, why art standing so silent and wan?
Sir Parson, proceed with the service anon.
I pay him a costly, a blood-costing fee,
But so that I win you that’s child’s play to me.

Kneel down, my sweet bride, by my side, by my side shalt thou kneel.
She kneels and she smiles — ah, the rapture I feel!
She sinks on my heart, on my big heaving breast,
And with shuddering rapture I hold her tight pressed.

The waves of her gold tresses flow round us both;
On my heart beats the heart of the maid, nothing loth;
Both hearts are a-beating with woe and delight,
and high to the heavens they both take their flight.

Our hearts are afloat on a sea of delight
Oh high, far above us, in God’s holy height;
But here on our heads there is horror and dread,
For here the vile hands of dark hell are outspread.

‘Twas the dark son of Midnight himself who hath played
The part of the parson, who blessed and who prayed;
From a blood-besprent book he drones chapter and verse,
His prayer is blaspheming, his blessing is curse.

There are hubbub and riot and groans more and more,
Like thunder in heaven, storm-waves on the shore.
And sudden the blue lightning flashes, and then
The witch cries: “For ever and ever. Amen!”

To be continued...

 

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