Christoph von Schmid: “The Hero Without Fear and Without Reproach”
Excerpt, “German Ballads, Songs, etc., comprising translations from Schiller, Uhland, Burger, Goethe, Korner, Becker, Fouque, Chamisso, etc., etc.” London: Edward Lumley. 1900.
THE HERO WITHOUT FEAR AND WITHOUT REPROACH
All frowning o’er the valley green,
Girt by dark cliff and dusky wood,
Purpled in evening’s light serene.
An ancient mountain-castle stood.
See, how each lofty tower it rears.
All hoary with the pomp of years.
And clad in stately garments made
By the proud oak’s ancestral shade.
In days of yore, there dwelt within
A meek and angel-hearted maid,
Untouched by care, unstained by sin.
The gentle lady Adelaide.
All shadowed by her golden hair,
With eyes so clear, so still, so fair,
She seemed, in loveliness and love,
A herald from the heavens above.
Yet swiftly past that castle’s gate,
With trembling steps the wanderer hied,
The land around lay desolate
And tenantless on every side.
By thistles, thorns, and weeds alone
The earth’s forsaken ways were sown;
The castle’s silent walls, I trow.
Seemed grieving o’er the waste below.
For deep within that vale of woes,
A hideous monster, night and day,
With hungry jaws that never close,
Did fiercely prowl to seek his prey;
Clad was his serpent-form, I ween,
In scaly vest of shining green,
A thousand teeth—O sight of awe!—
Were weapons in the dragon’s jaw.
And once the sire of that fair dame
Had spurred his steed, and charged his spear,
(A warrior he of well-earned fame)
To battle with that beast of fear;
But spear, nor sword, nor lance avails
To pierce those adamantine scales;
And, by the monster torn and slain.
He died a gallant death, but vain.
In grief the sorrowing mother sank,
Upon the bed of sickness thrown,
She neither spake, nor ate, nor drank,
Nor heard her child’s consoling tone;
Beside her couch that maiden bright
Kept tearful watch by day and night,
Ready her own young life to give,
Her drooping mother’s to revive.
With parched lips and piteous look,
The dying lady faintly cried:
“Oh, bring me water from the brook
That wells beneath our mountain side!”
Silent in fear her damsels stand,
No foot is stirred at her command;
For, ah, beside that wave they know
Keeps grisly watch their dragon-foe!
The maid defied the natural dread,
Which made her frail limbs shake and quiver;
Praying God’s blessing on her head,
She sought that tiny mountain-river:
A thousand steps of deep descent
Adown the hill’s hard surface went,
Winding now right, now left, they led
Down to the streamlet’s narrow bed.
The fountain’s silver waves spring up
Above a low rock’s hollow rim;
The maiden plunges deep her cup
Till the clear streams o’erflow its brim.
Alas! within a cavern near
His form the beast did slowly rear,
And through those dusky shades, the light
Of his grim eyes gleamed fiery bright.
Forth, forth the furious monster leapt—
She cannot hide, she dares not fly,
But still her steadfast faith she kept,
And, kneeling, raised her prayerful eye;
“O gracious God, have mercy now!!
My mother’s sorrow pity Thou!
Alas, if I be slain, Thou know’st,
Hope for her sinking life is lost!”
But hark! a sudden sound awoke
Afar, like stifled thunder pealing,
And, pierced as by a lightning-stroke,
She saw the mighty dragon reeling:
A steed’s swift tread that thunder-peal—
That flash a lance of gleaming steel,
Hurled by a knightly hand, she saw
That weapon cleave the dragon’s jaw.
Hah! how the beast in rage and pain
Struggles and writhes, with failing strength.
And, low on that polluted plain,
Lies in his sable blood at length!
The graceful warrior, tall and slight,
Adorned with golden armour bright,
Now, from his courser leaping, paid
Fair reverence to the wondering maid.
“God’s blessing on thy fearless brand!”
All trembling thus the damsel spake;
“Lo! from thy brave and generous hand
My life in thankfulness I take!”
“Nay, thank thy God!” he cried; “by Him
Mine arm hath slain this monster grim!
Thy timid prayer with gracious ear
He heard, and winged my conquering spear.”
Beneath a pine-tree’s ancient shade
His faithful steed he fastens now,
And to the castle leads the maid
With tranquil and untroubled brow.
That freshening draught the mother takes,
Her eye in grateful light awakes,
The healing waters pour amain
Life, health, and power through every vein.
“Ah, warrior,” thus, in tears, she said,
“But for thy stalwart arm of force,
I, hapless lady, now were dead,
And this fair child a mangled corse!
Oh, teach me, noble knight, the way
Thy generous valour to repay!
Happy were I,” she said, and smiled,
“If thou would’st wed my gentle child.”
But wondrous pale the maiden grew—
Her eyes, so bright with hope before,
Did sadly gaze through gathering dew
Upon a star-gemmed ring she wore.
“To him who gave this ring,” she said;
Sobbing, “though he were cold and dead;
Till in the silent grave I lie,
Changeless I keep my constancy.”
“O beauteous maiden, weep no more!”
At once the warrior gently cried,
“Thine Adelstan shall God restore
In health and safety to thy side!
The filial deed thy hand hath done
For thee this fitting meed hath won;
This very night thine eyes shall see
Him thou hast loved so steadfastly.”
Even while he spake, there rose around
The martial trumpet’s thrilling strains,
And the castle-bridge, with clashing sound,
Fell sternly in its rattling chains;
Sir Adelstan, true knight, hath come
From Syrian shore to German home.
Oh, what a meeting-hour was here
To close such scenes of grief and fear!
The knight, whose hand so bold and brave,
Rescued that maid, and saved that mother,
And more—whose noble spirit gave
The faithful damsel to another,
Soon to the spousal altar drew
Beside that pair so fond and true,
And then, with buoyant heart and gay,
Mounted his steed and rode away.
Glad tidings of the dragon’s fall
From lip to lip did loudly sound,
They thank their God, those peasants all.
For many a circling mile around;
With tears of joy on every face
The fugitives return apace,
Until round that forsaken spot
Rises full many a cheerful cot.
The hero won his well-earned place
Amid the saints, in death’s dread hour;
And still the peasant seeks his grace,
And, next to God, reveres his power!
In many a church his form is seen
With sword, and shield, and helmet sheen:
Ye know him by his steed of pride,
And by the dragon at his side.
But more than all, that spirit high,
That knight without reproach or fear,
Was to the German chivalry
For ever and for ever dear;
Still was a father wont to say.
When in his arms his first-born lay,
“Slight tribute to our hero’s fame,
Lo, George shall be the infant’s name!”