Ludwig Hölty: “The Peasant’s Advice”

The Old Peasant’s Advice

To His Son.


In Virtue’s path life’s journey run,

‘Till halting at the tomb,

Ne’er mayst thou be induced, my son,

From God’s highway to roam!

Then, in green fields, near rivers clear,

Thy pilgrimage will be;

Then, void of shuddering, or fear,

Death wilt thou calmly see.


Thy scythe, thy plough, each daily task

How light will all appear!

Thou’lt sing, beside thy water-flask,

As though rich wine were there.

All, to the wicked  is severe,

Whate’er his time employ;

The devil guides, through regions drear,

And leaves him, void of joy.


On him smiles neither cheerful spring,

Nor field of yellow grain;

Fraud e’er impels him on the wing,

Base lucre to obtain.

To him wind, tree, and bower seem

The harbingers of gloom;

He finds, beyond life’s troubled dream,

No peace within the tomb.


For when pale wandering spirits roam,

Transformed in a black hound,

Near to his late terrestrial home,

At midnight is he found!

The spinners, gliding stealthily,

With spinning-wheel on arm,

Fly, trembling, like an aspen-tree,

With heart-thrilling alarm.


Spinners, as wheels turn round and round,

The fearful history tell,

And ardently they wish him bound

Within the vaults of Hell.

Old Hans a child of Satan proved,

Yes, till his dying day!

His neighbor’s land-mark he removed,

Ad stole his land away.


Now, as a man of fire, he moves,

Ploughing that neighbor’s land,

And measuring, up and down, he roves,

With fiery cord in hand.

He burns with a demoniac light,

Beside the flaming plough;

He ploughs and burns the live-long night,

Till rays of morning glow!


Till Justice who deceived the poor,

Killed stags, robbed those in need,

Hunts  with black hounds, through wood and moor;

On Satan’s fiery steed.

On knotty staff, he’s now a bear,

With shaggy fur!  He howls;

Sometimes a goat doth he appear,

And through the village prowls!


The priest who once the dance condemned,

Yet, practices usury,

A spectre, at the shrine, doth bend,

At midnight hour, his knee.

He thumps the pulpit; echoes fly

Thence toward the vault of Heaven!

He counts that money, greedily,

Which Penitence has given.


The Lordling who the widow lone,

Once basely dispossessed,

To coach, impelled by sigh and groan,

Will ride to Satan’s feast.

Sulphurous garments, vividly

On fire, will round him wind,

A devil will his coachman be,

And imps will stand behind.


In Virtue’s path life’s journey run,

Till halting at the tomb;

Ne’er mayst thou be induced, my son,

From God’s high-way to roam!

Then children’s children, on thy tomb,

Sweet flowers of Spring will rear,

Those flowers luxuriantly will bloom,

Bedewed by memory’s tear.