C. Theodor Körner: “Goldner”

Excerpt, “German Stories: Tales and Traditions Chiefly Selected from the Literature of Germany.” 1855. 



A Fairy Tale Told by Körner

It may be two thousand years ago, or more, since a poor herdsman lived in a thick forest, where he had built a hut in which he dwelt with his wife and six children, all of whom were boys.  There was a clear cool spring near the little hut, and a small garden; and when the father was in the fields with his cattle, the children would oftentimes carry a refreshing draught to him from the spring or some cherry-cheeked apples from the garden.

The parents had called the youngest of their children Goldner; for his hair was bright and shining like gold, and although he was the youngest, yet was he taller and stronger than any of his brothers.  Whenever any of the children were abroad into the fields or the forest, Goldner went before them with a large stick in his hand.   Without him none of the other children would venture to leave the neighborhood of the hut, lest they should be carried off, or devoured by wild beasts, or some evil mischance peradventure should befall them; but under his guidance they would wander without fear through the thickest and gloomiest parts of the forest,–even though it was night-fall, and the moon had risen above the mountains.

One evening the boys, while returning home, had amused themselves long in the fields, and Goldner particularly had been so eager in the sport that his cheeks glowed like the crimson of the evening sky.  “Let us go home,” said the eldest, “for it seems to grow dark.”

“Look, there is the moon,” said the second; and all at once a clear light shows upon them, and they beheld a woman fair and radiant as the moon, seated on a mossy stone among the dark fir trees.  As the children gazed upon so beautiful a sight, they saw her twirling a crystal spindle, from which she spun a marvelous thread, which glittered brightly through the dark night; and ever as she spun, she nodded to Goldner, and sung these words:

“The snow-white Finch, and the gold Rose tree,

And the Crown that lies hidden beneath the sea.”

Perhaps she would have sung longer, and added other words than these, but her thread suddenly snapped in twain, whereupon she vanished like a light which is suddenly extinguished.  It was now quite dark, and the children seized with terror hastened away in different directions, over rocks and cliffs, till they had all lost sight of one another.

Long Goldner wandered in the thick forest, but he neither found his brothers, nor could perceive his father’s hub, or any trace of men; for all around him the trees of the forest grew close and thick together, and high mountains towered above his head to the very skies, while deep ravines crossed his path.  But for a few bramble-berries which he picked here and there, poor Goldner would have died of hunger and exhaustion.  But on the third day—some say that it was not until the sixth—the forest became clearer and clearer, and Goldner at last got out of it, and came to a beautiful green meadow.

The brave boy now felt his heart lightened, and began to breathe with delight the fresh air. There were a number of snares placed on the meadow,which belonged to a bird-catcher who dwelt near the spot, and who gained a livelihood by catching the beautiful singing-birds which came out of the forest, and selling them in the neighbouring town.

“It is just such a young spark as this I stand in need of,” thought the bird-catcher to himself, when he first perceived the gallant boy standing alone on the green meadow, and gazing upwards on the wide blue sky as if he never could tire at the sight.  So the bird-catcher thought he would play a trick on the young stranger, and drew his nets, whereupon poor Goldner was suddenly caught, and lay under the snare quite unable to comprehend what had happened to him.

“Thus we catch all foolish birds when they venture out of the forest,” said the bird-catcher, laughing aloud.  “Your crimson feathers just please me, brave boy, and methinks you are a sly one too, so be content to stay with me, and I shall teach you how to catch birds.”

Goldner was very well-pleased with this proposal; for it seemed to him that one would lead a very merry life among the gay birds, and he could not hope soon to regain his father’s hut.

“Come, let us see what you have learned,” said he bird-catcher one day to the boy.  So Goldner and he went out with the nets; and on his first trial Goldner caught a marvelous Finch that was as white as snow.

“Begone with your white Finch!” exclaimed the bird-catcher, when he beheld so rare a bird.  “Begone, sirrah; for you must be in compact with the Evil One!”  So he drove Goldner away from the meadow, and with many curses crushed the pretty white Finch beneath his feet.

Goldner knew not why the bird-catcher should have been so angry at his success; but he cheerfully took his way back into the forest, intending once more to seek his father’s hut.  Far he traveled through the thick and gloomy forest, among rocks and stones and decayed trees, till on the third day the forest became clearer and clearer, and on emerging from it, he found himself in a fine sunny garden, full of lovely flowers.

The boy had never before beheld so charming a site, and long he stood and gazed on the beautiful plants and flowers.  But when the gardener drew nigh and beheld Goldner standing in the midst of a plot of sunflowers, with his long golden locks glittering in the light of the sun, as radiant as the flowers with which he was surrounded, he thought to himself:  “It is just such a stripling as this I stand in need of.”  So he hastily shut the gate of the garden, and Goldner was well-pleased to stay with him, for he  thought he would lead such a pleasant life among the pretty flowers, especially as his hopes were now fainter of reaching his father’s hut.

“Go,” said the gardener one morning to Goldner, “go and fetch me a wild rose-bush from the forest, that I may graft my garden-roses upon it.”  So Goldner went to the forest, and soon returned with a marvelous bush of gold-coloured Roses, which looked as beautiful as if every flower and bud had been wrought by the most skillful goldsmith to ornament the table of a king.

“Begone with your golden Roses!” exclaimed the gardener, when he saw so rare a plant.  “Some evil thing befriends thee, thou vile one!” And with these words he pushed the wandering boy out of the garden, and trampled the beautiful Roses under his feet.

Goldner again took his way cheerfully back into the forest, and resolved once more to seek the way to his father’s hut.  On the third day of his wanderings the forest became clearer and clearer, and Goldner on getting out of it beheld the blue sea and spreading out before him into the infinite distance. The sun shone upon the liquid mirror, which glowed like burnished gold; and there were beautifully adorned ships, with gay pendants and silken sails, gliding majestically over the surface of the waters.  Goldner was ravished with so brave a sight, and having stepped into an elegant pinnace which lay moored to the shore, he gazed and gazed more delightfully on the wide waters and the azure sky.

Read the rest of this brief Antique German Story in Translation in its entirety here!