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Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832). Hermann and Dorothea.
The Harvard Classics. 1909–14.



LIKE as the traveller, who, when the sun is approaching its setting,

Fixes his eyes on it once again ere quickly it vanish,

Then on the sides of the rocks, and on all the darkening bushes,

Sees its hovering image; whatever direction he look in

That hastes before, and flickers and gleams in radiant colors,—

So before Hermann’s eyes moved the beautiful shape of the maiden

Softly, and seeming to follow the path that led into the cornfield.

But he aroused from his wildering dream and turned himself slowly

Towards where the village lay and was wildered again; for again came

Moving to meet him the lofty form of the glorious maiden.

Fixedly gazed he upon her; herself it was and no phantom.

Bearing in either hand a larger jar and a smaller,

Each by the handle, with busy step she came on to the fountain.

Joyfully then he hastened to meet her; the sight of her gave him

Courage and strength; and thus the astonished girl he accosted:

“Do I then find thee, brave-hearted maiden, so soon again busy,

Rendering aid unto others, and happy in bringing them comfort?

Say why thou comest alone to this well which lies at such a distance,

When all the rest are content with the water they find in the village?

This has peculiar virtues, ’tis true; and the taste is delicious.

Thou to that mother wouldst bring it, I trow, whom thy faithfulness rescued.”

Straightway with cordial greeting the kindly maiden made answer:

“Here has my walk to the spring already been amply rewarded,

Since I have found the good friend who bestowed so abundantly on us;

For a pleasure not less than the gifts is the sight of the giver.

Come, I pray thee, and see for thyself who has tasted thy bounty;

Come, and the quiet thanks receive of all it has solaced.

But that thou straightway the reason mayst know for which I am hither

Come to draw, where pure and unfailing the water is flowing,

This I must tell thee,—that all the water we have in the village

Has by improvident people been troubled with horses and oxen

Wading direct through the source which brings the inhabitants water.

And furthermore they have also made foul with their washings and rinsings

All the troughs of the village, and all the fountains have sullied;

For but one thought is in all, and that how to satisfy quickest

Self and the need of the moment, regardless of what may come after.”

Thus she spoke, and the broad stone steps meanwhile had descended

With her companion beside her, and on the low wall of the fountain

Both sat them down. She bent herself over to draw, and he also

Took in his hand the jar that remained, and bent himself over;

And in the blue of the heavens, they, seeing their image reflected,

Friendly greetings and nods exchanged in the quivering mirror.

“Give me to drink,” the youth thereupon in his gladness petitioned,

And she handed the pitcher. Familiarly sat they and rested,

Both leaning over their jars, till she presently asked her companion:

“Tell me, why I find thee here, and without thy horses and wagon,

Far from the place where I met thee at first? how camest thou hither?”

Thoughtful he bent his eyes on the ground, then quietly raised them

Up to her face, and, meeting with frankness the gaze of the maiden,

Felt himself solaced and stilled. But then impossible was it,

That he of love should speak; her eye told not of affection,

Only of clear understanding, requiring intelligent answer.

And he composed himself quickly, and cordially said to the maiden:

“Hearken to me, my child, and let me reply to thy question.

’Twas for thy sake that hither I came; why seek to conceal it?

Know I live happy at home with both my affectionate parents,

Faithfully giving my aid their house and estates in directing,

Being an only son, and because our affairs are extensive.

Mine is the charge of the farm; my father bears rule in the household;

While the presiding spirit of all is the diligent mother.

But thine experience doubtless has taught thee how grievously servants,

Now through deceit, and now through their carelessness, harass the mistress,

Forcing her ever to change and replace one fault with another.

Long for that reason my mother has wished for a maid in the household,

Who not with hand alone, but with heart, too, will lend her assistance,

Taking the daughter’s place, whom, alas! she was early deprived of.

Now when to-day by the wagon I saw thee, so ready and cheerful,

Witnessed the strength of thine arms, and thy limbs of such healthful proportion,

When thy intelligent speech I heard, I was smitten with wonder.

Hastening homeward, I there to my parents and neighbors the stranger

Praised as she well deserved. But I now am come hither to tell thee

What is their wish as mine.—Forgive me my stammering language.”

“Hesitate not,” she, answering, said, “to tell me what follows.

Thou dost not give me offense; I have listened with gratitude to thee:

Speak it out honestly therefore; the sound of it will not alarm me.

Thou wouldst engage me as servant to wait on thy father and mother,

And to look after the well-ordered house of which ye are the owners;

And thou thinkest in me to find them a capable servant,

One who is skilled in her work, and not of a rude disposition.

Short thy proposal has been, and short shall be also my answer.

Yes, I will go with thee home, and the call of fate I will follow.

Here my duty is done: I have brought the newly made mother

Back to her kindred again, who are all in her safety rejoicing.

Most of our people already are gathered; the others will follow.

All think a few days more will certainly see them returning

Unto their homes; for such is the exile’s constant delusion.

But by no easy hope do I suffer myself to be cheated

During these sorrowful days which promise yet more days of sorrow.

All the bands of the world have been loosed, and what shall unite them,

Saving alone the need, the need supreme, that is on us?

If in a good man’s house I can earn my living by service,

Under the eye of an excellent mistress, I gladly will do it;

Since of doubtful repute, must be always a wandering maiden.

Yes, I will go with thee, soon as I first shall have carried the pitchers

Back to my friends, and prayed the good people to give me their blessing.

Come thou must see them thyself, and from their hands must receive me.”

Joyfully hearkened the youth to the willing maiden’s decision,

Doubtful whether he ought not at once to make honest confession.

Yet it appeared to him best to leave her awhile in her error,

Nor for her love to sue, before leading her home to his dwelling.

Ah! and the golden ring he perceived on the hand of the maiden,

Wherefore he let her speak on, and gave diligent ear to her language.

“Come,” she presently said, “Let us back to the village; for maidens

Always are sure to be blamed if they tarry too long at the fountain.

Yet how delightful it is to chat by the murmuring water!”

Then from their seats they rose, and both of them turned to the fountain

One more look behind, and a tender longing possessed them.

Both of the water-jars then in silence she took by the handle,

Carried them up the steps, while behind her followed her lover.

One of the pitchers he begged her to give him to lighten the burden.

“Nay, let it be!” she said: “I carry them better so balanced.

Nor shall the master, who is to command, be doing me service.

Look not so gravely upon me, as thinking my fortune a hard one.

Early a woman should learn to serve, for that is her calling;

Since through service alone she finally comes to the headship,

Comes to the due command that is hers of right in the household.

Early the sister must wait on her brother, and wait on her parents;

Life must be always with her a perpetual coming and going,

Or be a fetching and carrying, making and doing for others.

Happy for her be she wonted to think no way is too grievous,

And if the hours of the night be to her as the hours of the daytime;

If she find never a needle too fine, nor a labor too trifling;

Wholly forgetful of self, and caring to live but in others!

For she will surely, as mother, have need of every virtue,

When, in the time of her illness, the cries of her infant arouse her

Calling for food from her weakness, and cares are to suffering added.

Twenty men bound into one were not able to bear such a burden;

Nor is it meant that they should, yet should they with gratitude view it.”

Thus she spoke, and was come, meanwhile, with her silent companion,

Far as the floor of the barn, at the furthermost end of the garden,

Where was the sick woman lying, whom, glad, she had left with her daughters,

Those late rescued maidens: fair pictures of innocence were they.

Both of them entered the barn; and, e’en as they did so, the justice,

Leading a child in each hand, came in from the other direction.

These had been lost, hitherto, from the sight of their sorrowing mother;

But in the midst of the crowd the old man now had descried them.

Joyfully sprang they forward to meet their dear mother’s embraces,

And to salute with delight their brother, their unknown companion.

Next upon Dorothea they sprang with affectionate greeting,

Asking for bread and fruit, but more than all else for some water.

So then she handed the water about; and not only the children

Drank, but the sick woman too, and her daughters, and with them the justice.

All were refreshed, and highly commended the glorious water;

Acid it was to the taste, and reviving, and wholesome to drink of.

Then with a serious face the maiden replied to them, saying:

“Friends, for the last time now to your mouth have I lifted my pitcher;

And for the last time by me have your lips been moistened with water.

But henceforth in the heat of the day when the draught shall refresh you,

When it the shade ye enjoy your rest beside a clear fountain,

Think of me then sometimes and of all my affectionate service,

Prompted more by my love than the duty I owed you as kindred.

I shall acknowledge as long as I live the kindness ye’ve shown me.

’Tis with regret that I leave you; but every one now is a burden,

More than a help to his neighbor, and all must be finally scattered

Far through a foreign land, if return to our homes be denied us.

See, here stands the youth to whom we owe thanks for the presents.

He gave the cloak for the baby, and all these welcome provisions.

Now he is come, and has asked me if I will make one in his dwelling,

That I may serve therein his wealthy and excellent parents.

And I refuse not the offer; for maidens must always be serving;

Burdensome were it for them to rest and be served in the household.

Therefore I follow him gladly. A youth of intelligence seems he,

And so will also the parents be, as becometh the wealthy.

So then farewell, dear friend; and mayst thou rejoice in thy nursling,

Living, and into thy face already so healthfully looking!

When thou shalt press him against thy breast in these gay-colored wrappings,

Oh, then remember the kindly youth who bestowed them upon us,

And who me also henceforth, thy sister, will shelter and nourish.

Thou, too, excellent man!” she said as she turned to the justice;

“Take my thanks that in many a need I have found thee a father.”

Then she knelt down on the floor by the side of the newly made mother,

Kissing the weeping woman, and taking her low-whispered blessing.

Thou, meanwhile, worshipful justice, wast speaking to Hermann and saying:

“Justly mayst thou, my friend, be counted among the good masters,

Careful to manage their household affairs with capable servants.

For I have often observed how in sheep, as in horses and oxen,

Men conclude never a bargain without making closest inspection,

While with a servant who all things preserves, if honest and able,

And who will every thing lose and destroy, if he set to work falsely,

Him will a chance or an accident make us admit to our dwelling,

And we are left, when too late, to repent an o’er hasty decision.

Thou understandest the matter it seems; because thou hast chosen,

Thee and thy parents to serve in the house, a maid who is honest.

Hold her with care; for as long as thy household is under her keeping,

Thou shalt not want for a sister, nor yet for a daughter thy parents.”

Many were come, meanwhile, near relatives all of the mother,

Bringing her various gifts, and more suitable quarters announcing.

All of them, hearing the maiden’s decision, gave Hermann their blessing,

Coupled with glances of meaning, while each made his special reflections.

Hastily one and another would say in the ear of his neighbor:

“If in the master a lover she find, right well were she cared for.”

Hermann took her at last by the hand, and said as he did so:

“Let us be going; the day is declining, and distant the city.”

Eager and voluble then the women embraced Dorothea.

Hermann drew her away; but other adieus must be spoken:

Lastly the children with cries fell upon her and terrible weeping,

Clung to her garments, and would not their dear second mother should leave them.

But in a tone of command the women said, one and another:

“Hush now, children, she’s going to the town, and will presently bring you

Plenty of nice sweet cake that was by your brother bespoken

When by the stork just now he was brought past the shop of the baker.

Soon you will see her come back with sugar-plums splendidly gilded.”

Then did the little ones loose their hold, and Hermann, though hardly,

Tore her from further embraces away, and far-waving kerchiefs.