“The Last Rose” … Jean Paul
Excerpt, “Musical Tales, Phantasms and Sketches” from the German of Elise Polko. 1876.
The Last Rose
“From the Sky he came,
On Earth he lived,
Our Heart is his grave.”
In the beautiful, highly favoured land of Bavaria, at the foot of the wild, picturesque Fichtelgebirge, lies a little town named Wunsiedel. The scenery is grand and solemn, the tall trees are arrayed in dark foliage, and seldom does the bright warm hue of a flower meet our eyes. Caves with long, intricate passages, and deep, horrible precipices are concealed in those dark mountains, and the shy forest birds who dwell in those parts relate strange stories of buried treasure, and secret, dazzling fairly grottoes.
It is late ere lovely spring crosses that lofty mountain ridge, and playfully scatters around the last remnants of his gifts, bright sunshine and sweet nosegays. Summer, with his glowing cheeks, hastens onwards as though he feared to lose his way amid the impenetrable fir and pine forests. But capricious autumn seems well pleased.
His winds sport, unfettered and unrestrained, among the rocks and valleys, whirling the many-coloured leaves through the mazes of a fantastic dance, scornfully shaking from the trees the scanty fruits which summer has forgotten to colour; and industriously scattering upon the cottagers’ gardens the red, blue, yellow and white asters, which in his leisure hours he has carefully and artistically formed of half-faded summer flowers.
These sports, however, are soon interrupted by cold winter, who erects his splendid ice palace, arrays the mountains in glittering white livery, making them to appear his servants, while he spreads a snowy veil over the trees, and a great, soft, dazzling carpet over the whole earth. He breathes upon the window-panes, creating strange soulless flowers.
He scatters with an unsparing hand glittering diamonds, which sparkle and glare in the light of the sun or moon; until no human eye can longer endure to gaze upon them. His well-sharpened daggers, the icicles, gleam brightly, threatening with wounds and pain those who dare to scoff at the icy glory, might, and majesty of the proud sovereign, or long for the return of the mild, sweet spring.
In the beginning of March, 1763, however, the despotic ruler lifted up his white coverings in unusual haste, tore the ice flowers from the window-panes, broke his threatening daggers, packed up the mantles of the trees, and left the valley before a single human being could awake from his surprise at so unheard-of an occurrence. And on the morning of the 21st, a heavenly, smiling face looked down upon the delivered land – the face of spring; a warm, pleasant breeze was felt, and gentle drops of rain fell upon the hitherto breathless, frozen earth, which now awoke trembling with delight, and once more ventured to breathe.
Tender, bright green leaves appeared, called forth by magic irresistible power, the violets were awakened by the hot sun’s glowing kiss, and unclosed their eyes wondering that the dark night had passed so soon. Here and there a bird, rejoicing in his new life, raised his timid song, and strange murmurs arose from the mountains. The hearts of the wondering humans who heard and saw all these heavenly gifts, and felt a consoling promise; it seemed as if their wounds had been healed by a gentle loving touch, as if spring could never more depart from the quiet valley.
A narrow, insignificant plot of garden lay before one of the smallest, poorest houses of the village. This garden could boast of but one beauty, an old rose-tree, whose head was nestled lovingly and confidingly against the low window of a gloomy room. Within that room he could often hear the merry games of a rosy-cheeked troop of children; but how often, too, did he listen to the sign of a care-worn father! How often did he watch the silent tears of an anxious mother!
On the morning of the 21st March, the sweet reviving sunlight fell with tenderness upon this rose-bush, which had so seldom blossomed in the rough mountain air. A rosebud struggled forth so hastily that the green leaves had some difficulty in following; it swelled remarkably, soon tinged with red. Its perfume filled the air as a lovely half-opened rose timidly tapped against the window pane.
What a scene of joy did it behold! Around the cradle of a newborn brother stood a group of delighted children, the father seemed so grateful and happy, and the pale mother folded her hands, smiling joyfully as she lay upon the bed. The child of earth was sleeping peacefully; the rough, confused sounds did not disturb his innocent soul. Yet now the infant eyes opened – had the child heard the rosebud’s gentle knock? The clear blue eyes turned towards the window; all eyes followed that beaming gaze. The happy children rushed noisily from the room; the wonder was revealed, the rose discovered.
At night, the little room was filled with light and sweet music, the perfume of the rose breathed in through the open window. And a bright light, visible alone to the pure and unclouded infant eyes, kept watch around the cradle. A loving angel kissed the child’s forehead and sang.
“Thine eyes will pierce the deepest depths of man’s heart. The hidden treasures of the soul will be revealed to thee. Thou shalt have a smile for every joy, a word of sympathy with every delight.”
A second radiant form bent over the child and whispered:
“To thee alone is open the wondrous, the eternal book of nature. Those glorious pages will contain no mysteries for thee. The souls of the tender flowers will be opened, and thy heart will understand their secret language. The mighty stars will speak to thee. The earth will open, revealing her undying flowers, the glittering diamonds, the beaming sapphires and emeralds!
“The sweet, heavenly rose of love shall ever blossom within they heart! Its beauty will smooth the stony path which is appointed thee to tread.”
A sweet “farewell” was murmured by all as the golden sunlight poured into the poor little room, and the heavenly messengers hurried along the sunbeam path until they reached their glorious home.
Who has guessed the glorious sun who stands ever on the horizon of our German hearts?
Jean Paul hast pressed us all to his loving heart. We are comforted by his eyes, refreshed by his smile. Past, present, future, he has revealed unto us – the living world which glows within the heart of man and in the works of nature, the world buried beneath the earth. By visions of heavenly light and sound, he hast shown us the world to come.