Jean Paul’s “Titan”

Excerpt, “Titan: A Romance” from the German of Jean Paul Friedrich Richter. Translated by Charles T. Brooks in two volumes, Vol. II. Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1862.


A Night of unrivaled serenity! The stars alone of themselves illuminated the earth, and the milky way was silvery. A single avenue, entwined with vine-blossoms, led to the magnificent city. Everywhere one heard people, now near, talking; now distant, singing. Out of dark chestnut woods, on moonlit hills, the nightingales called to one another. A poor, sleeping maiden, whom we had taken with us, heard the melodies even down into her dream, and sang after them; and then, when she awoke herself therewith, looked round confusedly and with a sweet smile, with the whole melody and dream still in her breast.
On a slender, light two-wheeled carriage, a wagoner, standing on the pole and singing, rolled merrily by. Women were already bearing in the cool of the hour great baskets full of flowers into the city; in the distance, as we passed along, whole Paradises of flower-cups sent their fragrance; and the heart and the bosom drank in all at once the love-draught of the sweet air. The moon had gone up bright as a sun in the high heaven, and the horizon was gilded with stars; and in the whole cloudless sky stood the dusky cloud-column of Vesuvius, alone, in the east.
Far into the night, about two o’clock, we rolled in and through the long city of splendor, wherein the living day bloomed on. Gay people filled the streets; the balconies sent each other songs; on the roofs bloomed flowers and trees between lamps, and the little bells of the hours prolonged the day; and the moon seemed to give warmth. Only now and then a man lay sleeping between the colonnades, as if he were taking his siesta. Dian, at home in all such matters, let the carriage stop on the southern side, toward the sea, and went far into the city, in order to arrange through old acquaintance, the passage across to the island, so that we might have exactly at sundown out on the sea, the richest view of the stately city, with its bay and its long coasts. The Ischian girl wrapped herself up in her blue veil and fell asleep on the black sandy shore.
I walked up and down alone; for me there was no Night and no house. The sea slept; the earth seemed awake. In the fleeting glimmer (the moon was already sinking towards Posilippo) I looked up over this divine frontier city of the world of waters, over this rising mountain of palaces, to where the lofty Castle of St. Elmo looks, white, out of green foliage. With two arms, the earth embraced the lovely sea; on her right, on Posilippo, she bore blooming vine-hills far out into the waves, and on the left she held cities, and spanned round its waters and its ships, and drew them up to her breast. Like a sphinx lay the jagged Capri darkly on the horizon in the water, and guarded the gates of the bay. Behind the city the volcano smoked in the ether, and occasionally sparks played between the stars.
Now the moon sank down behind the elms of Posilippo, – the city grew dark – the din of the night died away – fishermen disembarked, put out their torches, and laid themselves down on the bank. The earth seemed to sleep, but the sea to wake up. A wind from the coast of Sorrento ruffled the still waves; more brightly gleamed Sorrento’s sickle with the reflection at once of the moon and the morning, like silver meadows; the smoke column of Vesuvius had blown away, and from the fire-mount streamed a long clear morning redness over the coasts as over a strange world.
O, it was the morning twilight, full of youthful omens! Do not landscape, mountains, coasts, like an echo, speak so many the more syllables to the soul the farther off they are? How young did I feel the world and myself, and the whole morning of my life was crowded into this!
My friend came; all was arranged; the boatsmen had arrived; Agata was awakened to the joy, and we embarked, just as the dawn kindled the mountains, and, her sails swelling with the morning breezes, our little vessel flew out into the sea.
Before we had yet doubled the promontory of Posilippo, the crater of Vesuvius threw up its glowing child, the sun, slowly into the sky, and sea and earth blazed. The half earth-girdles of Naples, with morning-red palaces, its market-place of fluttering ships, the swarm of its country-houses on the mountains and up along the shore, and its green throne of St. Elmo, stood proudly between two mountains, before the sea.
When we came round Posilippo, there stood Ischia’s Epomeo, like a giant of the sea, in the distance, girdled about with a wood, and with bald white head. Gradually appeared on the immeasurable plain the islands, one after another, the scattered villages, and widely pressed and waded the promontories into the sea. Now, mightier and more alive than the dried up, parcelled out, stiff land, the watery kingdom opened, whose powers all, from the streams and waves even to the drops, join hands and move in concert.
Almighty, and yet gentle element! grimly thou leapest upon the lands, and swallowed them up, and, with thy undermining polypus-arms, liest stretching around the whole globe. But then thou reinest the wild streams, and meltest them down into waves; only thou playest with thy little children, the islands, and playest on the hand which hangs out of the light gondolas, and sendest out thy little waves which play before us, then bear us along, and play behind us.
When we came along by the little Nisita, where Brutus and Cato once sought shelter after Caesar’s death; when we passed by the enchanted Baja and the magic castle where once three Romans determined upon the division of the world, and before the whole promontory, where the country-seats of great Romans stood; and when we looked down towards the mountain of Cuma, behind which Scipio Africanus lived in his Linternum and died; then did the lofty life of the great ancients take possession of me, and I said to my friend, “What men were these! Scarcely do we learn incidentally in Pliny or Cicero that one of them has a country-house yonder, or that there is a lovely Naples.”
Out of the midst of nature’s sea of joys their laurels grow and bear as well as out of the ice-sea of Germany and England, or out of Arabia’s sand. Alike in wildernesses and in paradises, their mighty hearts beat on. And for these world-souls there was no dwelling except the world; only with such souls are emotions worth almost more than actions. A Roman might weep here nobly for joy! What can a modern man do for it, that he lives so late after their ruins?
Youth and ruins, tottering, crumbling past and eternal fullness of life, covered the shore of Misenum and the whole far-reaching coast. On the broken urns of dear gods, on the dismembered temples of Mercury and Diana, the frolicsome light wave played, and the eternal sun; old, lonely bridge-posts in the sea , solitary temple columns and arches, spoke, in the luxuriant splendor of life, a sober word; the old, holy names of the Elysian Fields, of Avernus, of the Dead Sea, lived still along the coast; ruins of rocks and temples lay in confusion beyond the motley-colored lava; all bloomed and lived; the maidens and the boatmen sang; the mountains and the islands stood great in the young fiery day; dolphins chased sportively along beside us; singing larks went whirling up in the ether above their narrow islands; and from all the ends of the horizon ships came up and flew down again with arrowy speed. It was the divine overfullness and intermingling of the world before me. Sounding strings of life were stretched over the string-bridge of Vesuvius, even to Epomeo.
Suddenly one peal of thunder passed along through the blue heaven over the sea. The maiden asked me, “Why do you grow pale? It is only Vesuvius.” Then was a god near me; yes, Heaven, Earth and Sea stood before me as three divinities. The leaves of life’s Dream-Book were ruffled up by a divine morning-storm; and everywhere I read our dreams.
After some time, we came to a long land swallowing up the north, as it were the foot of a single mountain; it was already the lovely Ischia, and I went on shore intoxicated with bliss, and then, for the first time, I thought of the promise that I should find there a sister.
To be continued…