Ballad: “The Well of Wisdom”

Excerpt, “German Ballads, Songs, etc., comprising translations from Schiller, Uhland, Burger, Goethe, Korner, Becker,  Fouque, Chamisso, etc., etc.” London:  Edward Lumley. 1900.

well of wisdom

The Well of Wisdom


In Swabia there stood of old a town of honest fame,

A sparkling fountain in the midst had gained a wondrous name;

For in its virtues lay a power to make the foolish wise :

The Well of Wisdom it was called, a rare and welcome prize !


Free access to that stream was had by all within the town,

No matter what their thirst might be, unchecked they drank it down :

But strangers, ere they dared to taste, must first permission gain

Of the mayor and his counselors, of such an honour vain.


A horseman once passed through the town, and saw that

fountain play,

And stopped to let his thirsty steed drink of it by the way.

Meanwhile the rider gazed around on many a structure fair,

Turret and spire of olden times that pierced the quiet air.


Such boldness soon attracted round the gaze of passers-by, —

The mayor ran in robes of state, so quick was rumour’s cry,

That man and horse were at the well, the latter drinking down

The precious gifts of Wisdom’s Well, unsanctioned by the town.


How swelled the mayor’s wrath ! how loud his tones, as thus he spoke,—

“What’s this I see ? Who’s this that hath our civic mandate broke ?

What wickedness mine eyes behold ! that wisdom, wasted so

Upon a brute ; as punishment, from this you shall not go.

But stop a prisoner until our council’s mind we hear!”


The rider stared ; but wiser grown, his steed pricked up his ear.

And, turning round, he left the town more quickly than he came.

While watch and ward were gone to guard his exit from the same ;


Forgetting what the horse had drank, they all had gone in state

To keep their prisoners secure, by guarding the wrong gate.

Henceforward ’twas a law, declared by solemn wig and gown,

No rider with a thirsty horse should e’er pass through the town!