Category Archives: Bürger


Madame de Staél: “Of German Poetry: Gottfried August Bürger and The Wild Huntsman” (2 of 2)

Excerpt from DE L’ALLEMAGNE – “Germany” by Madame Germaine de Staél-Holstein (published 1810, the 1813 John Murray translation), Vol. I. Illustrationen zu Bürgers Werk.

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Burger has written another story, less celebrated, but also extremely original, entitled “The Wild Huntsman.”  Followed by his servants and a large pack of hounds, he sets out for the chase on a Sunday, just as the village bell announces divine service.

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A knight in white armour presents himself, and conjures him not to profane the Lord’s day. Another knight, arrayed in black armour, makes him ashamed of subjecting himself to prejudices which are suitable only to old men and children.

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The huntsman yields to these evil suggestions. He sets off and reaches the field of a poor widow. She throws herself at his feet, imploring him not to destroy her harvest by trampling down her corn with his attendants.

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The knight in white armour entreats the huntsman to listen to the voice of pity. The black knight laughs at a sentiment so puerile; the huntsman mistakes ferocity for energy, and his horses trample on the hope of the poor and the orphan.

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At length the stag, pursued, seeks refuge in the hut of an old hermit.  The huntsman wishes to set it on fire in order to drive out his prey.  The hermit embraces his knees, and endeavors to soften the ferocious being who thus threatens his humble abode.  For the last time, the good genius, under the form of the white knight, again speaks to him.  The evil genius, under that of the black knight, triumphs.  The huntsman kills the hermit, and is at once changed into a phantom, pursued by his own dogs, who seek to devour him.

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This story is derived from a popular superstition. It is said, that at midnight in certain seasons of the year, a huntsman is seen in the clouds, just over the forest where this event is supposed to have passed, and that he is pursued by a furious pack of hounds till day-break.

What is truly fine in this poem of Bürger’s is his description of the ardent will of the huntsman: It is at first innocent, as are all the faculties of the soul; but it becomes more and more depraved, as often as he resists the voice of conscience and yields to his passions.  His headstrong purpose was at first only the intoxication of power.  It soon becomes that of guilt, and the earth can no longer sustain him.  The good and evil inclinations of men are well characterized by the white and black knights; the words, always the same, which are pronounced by the white knight to stop the career of the huntsman, are also very ingeniously combined.

The ancients, and the poets of the middle ages, were well acquainted with the kind of terror caused in certain circumstances by the repetition of the same words; it seems to awaken the sentiment of inflexible necessity.  Apparitions, oracles, all supernatural powers, must be monotonous: what is immutable is uniform; and in certain fictions it is a great art to imitate by words that solemn fixedness which imagination assigns to the empire of darkness and of death.

We also remark in Bürger a certain familiarity of expression, which does not lessen the dignity of the poetry, but, on the contrary, singularly increases its effect.  When we succeed in exciting both terror and admiration without weakening either, each of those sentiments is necessarily strengthened by the union: it is mixing, in the art of painting, what we see continually with that which we never see; and from what we know, we are led to believe that which astonishes us.

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Gottfried August Bürger  1747-1794

 

Madame de Staél: “Of German Poetry: Gottfried August Bürger and Leonora” (1 of 2)

Excerpt from DE L’ALLEMAGNE – “Germany” by Madame Germaine de Staél-Holstein (published 1810, the 1813 John Murray translation), Vol. I.   Illustrationen zu Bürgers Werk..

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.The detached pieces of poetry among the Germans are, it appears to me, still more remarkable than their poems, and it is particularly that writing on which the stamp of originality is impressed. It is also true that the authors who have written most in this manner, Goethe, Schiller, Bürger, etc, are of the modern school, which alone bears a truly national character.  Goethe has most imagination, and Schiller most sensibility; but Gottfried August Bürger is more generally admired than either…

We have not yet spoken of an inexhaustible source of poetical effect in Germany, which is terror:  stories of apparitions and sorcerers are equally well received by the populace and by men of more enlightened minds. It is a relick of the northern mythology; a disposition naturally inspired by the long nights of a northern climate; and besides, though Christianity opposes all groundless fears, yet popular superstitions have always some sort of analogy to the prevailing religion.  Almost every true opinion has its attendant error, which like a shadow places itself at the side of the reality: it is a luxuriance or excess of belief, which is commonly attached both to religion and to history, and I know not why we should disdain to avail ourselves of it.

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Shakespeare has produced wonderful effects from the introduction of spectres and magic; and poetry cannot be popular when it despises that which exercises a spontaneous empire over the imagination.  Genius and taste may preside over the arrangement of these tales, and in proportion to the commonness of the subject, the more skill is required  in the manner of treating it; perhaps it is in this union alone that the great force of a poem consists.  It is probable that the great events recorded in the Iliad and Odyssey were sung by nurses, before Homer rendered them the chef-d’oeuvre of the poetical art.

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Of all German writers, Bürger has made the best use of this vein of superstition which carries us so far into the recesses of the heart.  His tales are therefore well known throughout Germany.  “Leonora,” which is most generally admired, is not yet translated into French, or at least, it would be very difficult to relate it circumstantially either in our prose or verse.

A young girl is alarmed at not hearing from her lover who is gone to the army.  Peace is made, and the soldiers return to their habitations.  Mothers again meet their sons, sisters their brothers, and husbands their wives.  The warlike trumpet  accompanies the songs of peace, and joy reigns in every heart.

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Leonora in vain surveys the ranks of the soldiers, she sees not her lover, and no one can tell her what is become of him.

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She is in despair:  her mother attempts to calm her; but the youthful heart of Leonora revolves against the stroke of affliction, and in its frenzy she accuses Providence.

From the moment in which the blasphemy is uttered, we are sensible that the story is to have something fatal in it, and this idea keeps the mind in constant agitation.

At midnight, a knight stops at the door of Leonora’s house. She hears the neighing of the horse and the clinking of the spurs.  The knight knocks, she goes down and beholds her lover.

He tells her to follow him instantly, having not a moment to lose, he says, before he returns to the army.  She presses forward; he places her behind him on his horse, and sets off with the quickness of lightning.

During the night he gallops through barren and desert countries:  his youthful companion is filled with terror, and continually asks him why he goes so fast.  The knight still presses on his horse by his hoarse and hollow cries, and in a low voice says, “The dead go quick the dead go quick.”

Leonora answers, “Ah! Leave the dead in peace!” But whenever she addresses to him any anxious question, he repeats the same appalling words.

In approaching the church, where he says he is carrying her to complete their union, the frosts of winter seem to change nature herself into a frightful omen:  priests carry a coffin in great pomp, and their black robes train slowly on the snow, the winding sheet of the earth.

Leonora’s terror increases, and her lover cheers her with a mixture of irony and carelessness which makes one shudder.  All that he says is pronounced with a monotonous precipitation, as if already, in his language, the accents of life were no longer heard.

He promises to bring her to that narrow and silent abode where their union was to be accomplished.  We see at a distance the church-yard by the side of the church.

The knight knocks, and the door opens. He pushes forward with his horse, making him pass between the tombstones. He then by degrees loses the appearance of a living being, is changed into a skeleton, and the earth opens to swallow up both him and his mistress.

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I certainly do not flatter myself that I have been able in this abridged recital to give a just idea of the astonishing merit of this tale.  All the imagery, all the sounds connected with the situation of the soul, are wonderfully expressed by the poetry: the syllables, the rhymes, all the art of language is employed to excite terror.  The rapidity of the horse’s pace seems more solemn and more appalling than even the slowness of a funeral procession.  The energy with which the knight quickens his course, that petulance of death, causes an inexpressible emotion; and we feel ourselves carried off by the phantom, as well as the poor girl whom he drags with him into the abyss.

There are four English translations of this tale of Leonora [as of 1810], but the best beyond comparison is that of William Spencer, who of all English poets is best acquainted with the true spirit of foreign languages.  The analogy between the English and the German allows a complete transfusion of the originality of style and versification of Bürger; and we not only find in the translation the same ideas as in the original, but also the same sensations; and nothing is more necessary than this to convey the true knowledge of a literary production.  It would be difficult to obtain the same result in French, where nothing strange or odd seems natural.

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Coming soon, Part Two:  Madame de Staël :  “Of German Poetry:   Gottfried August Bürger and The Wild Huntsman”

Gottfried August Bürger: “Love’s Witchcraft”

Excerpt, “Specimens of the German Lyric Poets: Consisting of Translations in Verse, From the Works of Bürger, Goethe, Klopstock, Schiller, etc., Interspersed with Biographical Notices, and Ornamented with Engravings on Wood by the First Artists.”  Translated by Benjamin Beresford, Joseph Charles Mellish. 1822

Gottfried August Bürger: “Lily and Rose”

Excerpt, “The Poetry of Germany, Consisting from Upwards of Seventy of the Most Celebrated Poets.”  Translated into English Verse by Alfred Baskerville.  1853.

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Gottfried August Bürger: “The Heart Without a Home”

Excerpt, “The Sonnets of Europe.” A Volume of Translations, selected and arranged, with notes, by Samuel Waddington. 1886.

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Long like a dove by the fierce falcon driven,
Hither and thither wandered sad my Love;
And simply it imagined, like a dove,
That it had reached at length
its tranquil heaven.

Ah Faith! To fond delusions vainly given;
And Fate! Conceived by none but
those who prove;
That home from which it dreaded no remove,
Is by the instant stroke of lightning riven!

Hither and thither still it wanders now;
Poor little dove! Twixt earth
and heaven remains
No object for its wing; the Fates allow
No kindred Heart in solace of its pains;
Not one this desolated Earth contains
That might return its warmth,
That might reward its vow.

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G.A. Bürger: “Ellenore”

Gottfried August Bürger (1748-1701) is a poet of fiery and original genius. His ballads are among the noblest in the German language. His great aim was to make poetry popular, and his success in this respect was brilliant. He is chiefly known as a writer of ballads, of which his “Ellenore” is the best. This remarkable composition has been rendered familiar to English readers by the early translations of Taylor and Sir Walter Scott. It is Scott’s Paraphrase of “Ellenore” … known as “William and Helen” … which is presented below.

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From heavy dreams fair Helen rose,
And eyed the dawning red:
“Alas, my love, thou tarriest long!
O art thou false or dead?”

With gallant Fred’rick’s princely power
He sought the bold Crusade;
But not a word from Judah’s wars
Told Helen how he sped.

With Paynim and with Saracen
At length a truce was made,
And every knight return’d to dry
The tears his love had shed.

Our gallant host was homeward bound
With many a song of joy;
Green waved the laurel in each plume,
The badge of victory.

And old and young, and sire and son,
To meet them crowd the way,
With shouts, and mirth, and melody,
The debt of love to pay.

Full many a maid her true-love met,
And sobb’d in his embrace,
And flutt’ring joy in tears and smiles
Array’d full many a face.

Nor joy nor smile for Helen sad
She sought the host in vain;
For none could tell her William’s fate,
In faithless, or if slain.

The martial band is past and gone;
She rends her raven hair,
And in distraction’s bitter mood
She weeps with wild despair.

“O rise, my child,” her mother said,
“Nor sorrow thus in vain;
A perjured lover’s fleeting heart
No tears recall again.”

“O mother, what is gone, is gone,
What’s lost for ever lorn:
Death, death alone can comfort me;
O had I ne’er been born!

“O break, my heart, — O break at once!
Drink my life-blood, Despair!
No joy remains on earth for me,
For me in Heaven no share.”

“O enter not in judgement, Lord!”
The pious mother prays;
“Impute not guilt to thy frail child!
She knows not what she says.

“O say thy pater noster, child,
O turn to God and grace!
His will, that turn’d thy bliss to bale,
Can change thy bale to bliss.”

“O mother, mother, what is bliss?
O mother, what is bale?
My William’s love was heaven on earth,
Without it earth is hell.

“Why should I pray to ruthless Heaven,
Since my loved William’s slain?
I only pray’d for William’s sake,
And all my prayers were vain.”

“O take the sacrament, my child,
And check these tears that flow;
By resignation’s humble prayer,
O hallow’d be thy woe!”—

“No sacrament can quench this fire,
Or slake this scorching pain;
No sacrament can bid the dead
Arise and live again.

“O break, my heart, — O break at once!
Be thou my God, Despair!
Heaven’s heaviest blow has fallen on me,
And vain each fruitless prayer.”

“O enter not in judgement, Lord,
With thy frail child of clay!
She knows not what her tongue has spoke;
Impute it not, I pray!

“Forbear, my child, this desperate woe,
And turn to God and grace;
Well can devotion’s heavenly glow
Convert thy bale to bliss.”

“O mother, mother, what is bliss?
O mother, what is bale?
Without my William what were heaven,
Or with him what were hell?”

Wild she arraigns the eternal doom,
Upbraids each sacred power,
Till, spent, she sought her silent room,
All in the lonely tower.

She beat her breast, she wrung her hands,
Till sun and day were o’er,
And through the glimmering lattice shone
The twinkling of the star.

Then, crash! the heavy drawbridge fell
That o’er the moat was hung;
And, clatter! clatter! on its boards
The hoof of courser rung.

The clank of echoing steel was heard
As off the rider bounded;
And slowly on the winding stair
A heavy footstep sounded.

And hark! and hark! a knock — Tap! tap!
A rustling stifled noise;—
Door-latch and tinkling staples ring;—
At length a whispering voice.

“Awake, awake, arise, my love!
How, Helen, dost thou fare?
Wak’st thou, or sleep’st? laugh’st thou or weep’st?
Hast thought on me, my fair?”

“My love! my love! — so late by night!
I waked, I wept for thee:
Much have I borne since dawn of morn;
Where, William, couldst thou be?”

“We saddle late — from Hungary
I rode since darkness fell;
And to its bourne we both return
Before the matin-bell.”

“O rest this night within my arms,
And warm thee in their fold!
Chill howls through hawthorn bush the wind:—
My love is deadly cold.”

“Let the wind howl through hawthorn bush!
This night we must away;
The steed is wight, the spur is bright;
I cannot stay till day.

“Busk, busk, and boune! Thou mount’st behind
Upon my black barb steed:
O’er stock and stile, a hundred miles,
We haste to bridal bed.”

“To-night — to-night a hundred miles!
O dearest William, stay!
The bell strikes twelve — dark, dismal hour!
O wait, my love, till day!”

Look here, look here — the moon shines clear
Full fast I ween we ride;
Mount and away! for ere the day
We reach our bridal bed.

“The black barb snorts, the bridle rings;
Haste, busk, and boune, and seat thee!
The feast is made, the chamber spread,
The bridal guests await thee.”

Strong love prevail’d: She busks, she bounes,
She mounts barb behind,
And round her darling William’s waist
Her lily arms she twined.

And, hurry! hurry! off they rode,
As fast as fast might be;
Spurn’d from the courser’s thundering heels
The flashing pebbles flee.

And on the right, and on the left,
Ere they could snatch a view,
Fast, fast each mountain, mead, and plain,
And cot, and castle, flew.

“Sit fast — dost fear? — The moon shines clear —
Fleet goes my barb — keep hold!
Fear’st thou?” — “O no!” she faintly said;
“But why so stern and cold?

“What yonder rings? what yonder sings?
Why shrieks the owlet grey?”
“‘Tis death-bells’ clang, ’tis funeral song,
The body to the clay.

“With song and clang, at morrow’s dawn,
Ye may inter the dead:
To-night I ride with my young bride,
To deck our bridal bed.

“Come with thy choir, thou coffin’d guest,
To swell our nuptial song!
Come, priest, to bless our marriage feast!
Come all, come all along!”—

Ceased clang and song; down sunk the bier;
The shrouded corpse arose:
And, hurry! hurry! all the train
The thundering steed pursues.

And, forward! forward! on they go;
High snorts the straining steed;
Thick pants the rider’s labouring breath,
As headlong on they speed.

“O William, why this savage haste?
And where thy bridal bed?”
“‘Tis distant far, low, damp, and chill,
And narrow, trustless maid.”

“No room for me?” — “Enough for both;
Speed, speed, my barb, thy course!”
O’er thundering bridge, through boiling surge
He drove the furious horse.

Tramp! tramp! along the land they rode,
Splash! splash! along the sea;
The scourge is wight, the spur is bright,
The flashing pebbles flee.

Fled past on right and left how fast
Each forest, grove, and bower!
On right and left fled past how fast
Each city, town, and tower!

“Dost fear? dost fear?  The moon shines clear,
Dost fear to ride with me?
Hurrah! hurrah! the dead can ride!”
“O William, let them be!

“See there, see there!  What yonder swings
And creaks ‘mid whistling rain?”
“Gibbet and steel, th’ accursed wheel;
A murderer in his chain.

“Hollo! thou felon, follow here:
To bridal bed we ride;
And thou shalt prance a fetter dance
Before me and my bride.”

And, hurry! hurry! clash, clash, clash!
The wasted form descends;
And fleet as wind through hazel bush
The wild career attends.

Tramp! tramp! along the land they rode,
Splash! splash! along the sea;
The scourge is red, the spur drops blood,
The flashing pebbles flee.

How fled what moonshine faintly show’d!
How fled what darkness hid!
How fled the earth beneath their feet,
The heaven above their head!

“Dost fear? dost fear? The moon shines clear,
And well the dead can ride;
Does faithful Helen fear for them?”
“O leave in peace the dead!”

“Barb! Barb! methinks I hear the cock;
The sand will soon be run:
Barb! Barb! I smell the morning air;
The race is wellnigh done.”

Tramp! tramp! along the land they rode;
Splash! splash! along the sea;
The scourge is red, the spur drops blood,
The flashing pebbles flee.

“Hurrah! hurrah! well ride the dead;
The bride, the bridge is come;
And soon we reach the bridal bed,
For, Helen, here’s my home.”


Reluctant on its rusty hinge
Revolved an iron door,
And by the pale moon’s setting beam
Were seen a church and tower.

With many a shriek and cry whiz round
The birds of midnight, scared;
And rustling like autumnal leaves
Unhallow’d ghosts were heard.

O’er many a tomb and tombstones pale
He spurr’d the fiery horse,
Till sudden at an open grave
He check’d the wondrous course.

The falling gauntlet quits the rein,
Down drops the casque of steel,
The cuirass leaves his shrinking side,
The spur his gory heel.

The eyes desert the naked skull,
The mould’ring flesh the bone,
Till Helen’s lily arms entwine
A ghastly skeleton.

The furious barb snorts fire and foam,
And, with a fearful bound,
Dissolves at once in empty air,
And leaves her on the ground.

Half seen by fits, by fits half heard,
Pale spectres flit along,
Wheel round the maid in dismal dance,
And howl the funeral song;

“E’en when the heart’s with anguish cleft,
Revere the doom of Heaven,
Her soul is from her body reft;
Her spirit be forgiven!”

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