Excerpt, “THE POEMS OF GOETHE.” Translated in the Original Metres, by Edgar Alfred Bowring, C.B. 1853.
Johann Tserclaes, Count of Tilly
THE WOMEN OF WEINSBERG
It was the good King Konrad with all his army lay
Before the town of Weinsberg full many a weary day;
The Guelph at last was vanquished, but still the town held out;
The bold and fearless burghers they fought with courage stout.
But then came hunger, hunger! That was a grievous guest;
They went to ask for favor, but anger met their quest.
"Through you the dust hath bitten full many a worthy knight,
And if your gates you open, the sword shall you requite!"
Then came the women, praying: "Let be as thou hast said,
Yet give us women quarter, for we no blood have shed!"
At sight of these poor wretches the hero's anger failed,
And soft compassion entered and in his heart prevailed.
"The women shall be pardoned, and each with her shall bear
As much as she can carry of her most precious ware;
The women with their burdens unhindered forth shall go,
Such is our royal judgment--we swear it shall be so!"
At early dawn next morning, ere yet the east was bright,
The soldiers saw advancing a strange and wondrous sight;
The gate swung slowly open, and from the vanquished town
Forth swayed a long procession of women weighted down;
For perched upon her shoulders each did her husband bear--
That was the thing most precious of all her household ware.
"We'll stop the treacherous women!" cried all with one intent;
The chancellor he shouted: "This was not what we meant!"
But when they told King Konrad, the good King laughed aloud;
"If this was not our meaning, they've made it so," he vowed,
"A promise is a promise, our loyal word was pledge;
It stands, and no Lord Chancellor may quibble or map hedge."
Thus was the royal scutcheon kept free from stain or blot!
The story has descended from days now half forgot;
'Twas eleven hundred and forty this happened, as I've heard,
The flower of German princes thought shame to break his word.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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..
.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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
WALLENSTEIN IN SOLILOQUY
Is it possible?
Is't so? I can no longer what I would?
No longer draw back at my liking? I
Must do the deed, because I thought of it?
And fed this heart here with a dream?
Because I did not scowl temptation from my presence,
Dallied with thoughts of possible fulfillment,
Commenced no movement, left all time uncertain,
And only kept the road, the access open?
By the great God of Heaven! It was not
My serious meaning, it was ne'er resolved.
I but amused myself with thinking of it.
The free-will tempted me, the power to do
Or not to do.
Was it criminal
To make the fancy minister to hope,
To fill the air with pretty toys of air,
And clutch fantastic sceptres moving toward me?
Was not the will kept free? Beheld I not
The road of duty close beside me—but
One little step, and once more I was in it!
Where am I? Whither have I been transported?
No road, no track behind me, but a wall,
Rises obedient to the spells I muttered
And meant not—my own doings tower behind me.
Pauses and remains in deep thought.
A punishable man I seem, the guilt,
Try what I will, I cannot roll off from me;
The equivocal demeanor of my life
Bears witness on my prosecutor's party.
And even my purest acts from purest motives
Suspicion poisons with malicious gloss.
Were I that thing for which I pass, that traitor,
A goodly outside I had sure reserved,
Had drawn the coverings thick and double round me,
Been calm and chary of my utterance;
But being conscious of the innocence
Of my intent, my uncorrupted will,
I gave way to my humors, to my passion:
Bold were my words, because my deeds were not.
Now every planless measure, chance event,
The threat of rage, the vaunt of joy and triumph,
And all the May-games of a heart o’erflowing,
Will they connect, and weave them all together
Into one web of treason; all will be plan,
My eye ne'er absent from the far-off mark,
Step tracing step, each step a politic progress;
And out of all they'll fabricate a charge
So specious, that I must myself stand dumb.
I am caught in my own net, and only force,
Naught but a sudden rent can liberate me.
How else! Since that the heart's unbiased instinct
Impelled me to the daring deed, which now
Necessity, self-preservation, orders.
Stern is the on-look of necessity,
Not without shudder may a human hand
Grasp the mysterious urn of destiny.
My deed was mine, remaining in my bosom;
Once suffered to escape from its safe corner
Within the heart, its nursery and birthplace,
Sent forth into the foreign, it belongs
Forever to those sly malicious powers
Whom never art of man conciliated.
Paces in agitation through the chamber, then pauses, and, after the pause, breaks out again into audible soliloquy.
What is thy enterprise? Thy aim? Thy object?
Hast honestly confessed it to thyself?
Power seated on a quiet throne thou'dst shake,
Power on an ancient, consecrated throne,
Strong in possession, founded in all custom;
Power by a thousand tough and stringy roots
Fixed to the people's pious nursery faith.
This, this will be no strife of strength with strength.
That feared I not. I brave each combatant,
Whom I can look on, fixing eye to eye,
Who, full himself of courage, kindles courage
In me too. 'Tis a foe invisible
The which I fear—a fearful enemy,
Which in the human heart opposes me,
By its coward fear alone made fearful to me.
Not that, which full of life, instinct with power,
Makes known its present being; that is not
The true, the perilously formidable.
O no! it is the common, the quite common,
The thing of an eternal yesterday.
Whatever was, and evermore returns,
Sterling to-morrow, for to-day 'twas sterling!
For of the wholly common is man made,
And custom is his nurse! Woe then to them
Who lay irreverent hands upon his old
House furniture, the dear inheritance
From his forefathers! For time consecrates;
And what is gray with age becomes religion.
Be in possession, and thou hast the right,
And sacred will the many guard it for thee!
. . . ,
Excerpt, “Schiller’s Homage of the Arts, with it Miscellaneous Pieces from Rückert, Freiligrath, and Other German Poets.” By Charles T. Brooks. 1846.
Beside the River of Tears, with branches low,
And bitter leaves, the weeping willows grow;
The branches stream like the disheveled hair
Of woman in the sadness of despair.
On rolls the stream with a perpetual sigh;
The rocks moan wildly as it passes by;
Hyssop and wormwood border all the strand,
And not a flower adorns the dreary land.
Then comes a child, whose face is like the sun,
And dips the gloomy waters as they run,
And waters all the region, and behold
The ground is bright with blossoms manifold.
Where falls the tears of love, the rose appears,
And where the ground is bright with friendship’s tears,
Forget-me-not, and violets, heavenly blue,
Spring, glittering with the cheerful drops like dew.
The souls of mourners, all whose tears are dried,
Like swans, come gently floating down the tide,
Walk up the golden sands by which it flows,
And in that Paradise of Tears repose.
There every heart rejoins its kindred heart;
There is a long embrace that none may part,
Fulfillment meets desire, and that fair shore,
Beholds its dwellers happy evermore.