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



THUS entertaining themselves, the men sat talking. The mother

Went meanwhile to look for her son in front of the dwelling,

First on the settle of stone, whereon ’twas his wont to be seated.

When she perceived him not there, she went farther to look in the stable,

If he were caring perhaps for his noble horses, the stallions,

Which he as colts had bought, and whose care he intrusted to no one.

And by the servant she there was told: He is gone to the garden.

Then with a nimble step she traversed the long, double court-yards,

Leaving the stables behind, and the well-builded barns, too, behind her;

Entered the garden, that far as the walls of the city extended;

Walked through its length, rejoiced as she went in every thing growing;

Set upright the supports on which were resting the branches

Heavily laden with apples, and burdening boughs of the pear-tree.

Next some caterpillars removed from a stout, swelling cabbage;

For an industrious woman allows no step to be wasted.

Thus was she come at last to the end of the far-reaching garden,

Where stood the arbor embowered in woodbine; nor there did she find him,

More than she had hitherto in all her search through the garden.

But the wicket was standing ajar, which out of the arbor,

Once by particular favor, had been through the walls of the city

Cut by a grandsire of hers, the worshipful burgomaster.

So the now dried-up moat she next crossed over with comfort,

Where, by the side of the road, direct the well-fenced vineyard,

Rose with a steep ascent, its slope exposed to the sunshine.

Up this also she went, and with pleasure as she was ascending

Marked the wealth of the clusters, that scarce by their leafage were hidden.

Shady and covered the way through the lofty middlemost alley,

Which upon steps that were made of unhewn blocks you ascended.

There were the Muscatel, and there were the Chasselas hanging

Side by side, of unusual size and colored with purple,

All set out with the purpose of decking the visitor’s table;

While with single vine-stocks the rest of the hillside was covered,

Bearing inferior clusters, from which the delicate wine comes.

Thus up the slope she went, enjoying already the vintage,

And that festive day on which the whole country, rejoicing,

Picks and tramples the grapes, and gathers the must into vessels:

Fireworks, when it is evening, from every direction and corner

Crackle and blaze, and so the fairest of harvests is honored.

But more uneasy she went, her son after twice or thrice calling,

And no answer receiving, except from the talkative echo,

That with many repeats rang back from the towers of the city.

Strange it was for her to seek him; he never had gone to a distance

That he told her not first, to spare his affectionate mother

Every anxious thought, and fear that aught ill had befallen.

Still did she constantly hope that, if further she went, she should find him;

For the two doors of the vineyard, the lower as well as the upper,

Both were alike standing open. So now she entered the cornfield,

That with its broad expanse the ridge of the hill covered over.

Still was the ground that she walked on her own; and the crops she rejoiced in,—

All of them still were hers, and hers was the proud-waving grain, too,

Over the whole broad field in golden strength that was stirring.

Keeping the ridgeway, the footpath, between the fields she went onward,

Having the lofty pear-tree in view, which stood on the summit,

And was the boundary-mark of the fields that belonged to her dwelling.

Who might have planted it, none could know, but visible was it

Far and wide through the country; the fruit of the pear-tree was famous.

’Neath it the reapers were wont to enjoy their meal at the noon-day,

And the shepherds were used to tend their flocks in its shadow.

Benches of unhewn stones and of turf they found set about it.

And she had not been mistaken, for there sat her Hermann, and rested,—

Sat with his head on his hand, and seemed to be viewing the landscape

That to the mountains lay: his back was turned to his mother.

Towards him softly she crept, and lightly touched on the shoulder;

Quick he turned himself round: there were tears in his eyes as he met her.

“Mother, how hast thou surprised me!” he said in confusion; and quickly

Wiped the high-spirited youth his tears away. But the mother,

“What! do I find thee weeping, my son?” exclaimed in amazement.

“Nay, that is not like thyself: I never before have so seen thee!

Tell me, what burdens thy heart? what drives thee here, to be sitting

Under the pear-tree alone? These tears in thine eyes, what has brought them?”

Then, collecting himself, the excellent youth made her answer:

“Truly no heart can that man have in his bosom of iron,

Who is insensible now to the needs of this emigrant people;

He has no brains in his head, who not for his personal safety,

Not for his fatherland’s weal, in days like the present is anxious.

Deeply my heart had been touched by the sights and sounds of the morning;

Then I went forth and beheld the broad and glorious landscape

Spreading its fertile slopes in every direction about us,

Saw the golden grain inclining itself to the reapers,

And the promise of well-filled barns from the plentiful harvest.

But, alas, how near is the foe! The Rhine with its waters

Guards us, indeed; but, ah, what now are rivers and mountains

’Gainst that terrible people that onward bears like a tempest!

For they summon their youths from every quarter together,

Call up their old men too, and press with violence forward.

Death cannot frighten the crowd: one multitude follows another.

And shall a German dare to linger behind in his homestead?

Hopes he perhaps to escape the everywhere threatening evil?

Nay, dear mother, I tell thee, to-day has made me regretful

That I was lately exempt, when out of our townsmen were chosen

Those who should serve in the army. An only son I am truly,

Also our business is great, and the charge of our household is weighty.

Yet were it better, I deem, in the front to offer resistance

There on the border, than here to await disaster and bondage.

So has my spirit declared, and deep in my innermost bosom

Courage and longing have now been aroused to live for my country,

Yea, and to die, presenting to others a worthy example.

If but the strength of Germany’s youth were banded together

There on the frontier, resolved that it never would yield to the stranger,

Ah, he should not on our glorious soil setting his footsteps,

Neither consuming before our eyes the fruit of our labor,

Ruling our men, and making his prey of our wives and our daughters.

Hark to me, mother: for I in the depths of my heart am determined

Quickly to do, and at once, what appears to me right and in reason;

For he chooses not always the best who longest considers.

Hearken, I shall not again return to the house; but directly

Go from this spot to the city, and there present to the soldiers

This right arm and this heart, to be spent in the fatherland’s service.

Then let my father say if there be no feeling of honor

Dwelling within my breast, nor a wish to raise myself higher.”

Then with significant words spoke the good and intelligent mother,

While from her eyes the quick-starting tears were silently falling:

“Son, what change has come o’er thee to-day, and over thy temper,

That thou speakest no more, as thou yesterday didst, and hast always,

Open and free, to thy mother, and tellest exactly thy wishes?

Any one else, had he heard thee thus speak, would in sooth have commended,

And this decision of thine would have highly approved as most noble,

Being misled by thy tone and by thy significant language.

Yet have I nothing but censure to speak; for better I know thee.

Thou concealest thy heart, and thy thoughts are not such as thou tellest.

Well do I know that it is not the drum, not the trumpet that calls thee:

Neither in uniform wouldst thou figure in sight of the maidens;

Since, for all thou art honest and brave, it is thy vocation

Here in quiet to care for the farm and provide for the household.

Tell me honestly, therefore, what goads thee to such a decision?”

Earnestly answered the son: “Nay, thou art mistaken, dear mother:

One day is not like another. The youth matures into manhood:

Better in stillness oft ripening to deeds than when in the tumult

Wildering and wild of existence, that many a youth has corrupted.

And, for as still as I am and was always, there yet in my bosom

Has such a heart been shaped as abhors all wrong and injustice;

And I have learned aright between worldly things to distinguish.

Arm and foot, besides, have been mightily strengthened by labor.

All this, I feel, is true: I dare with boldness maintain it.

Yet dost thou blame me with reason, O mother! for thou hast surprised me

Using a language half truthful and half that of dissimulation.

For, let me honestly own,—it is not the near danger that calls me

Forth from my father’s house; nor is it the lofty ambition

Helpful to be to my country, and terrible unto the foeman.

They were but words that I spoke: they only were meant for concealing

Those emotions from thee with which my heart is distracted;

And so leave me, O mother! for, since the wishes are fruitless

Which in my bosom I cherish, my life must go fruitlessly over.

For, as I know, he injures himself who is singly devoted,

When for the common cause the whole are not working together.”

“Hesitate not,” replied thereupon the intelligent mother,

“Every thing to relate me, the smallest as well as the greatest.

Men will always be hasty, their thoughts to extremes ever running:

Easily out of their course the hasty are turned by a hindrance.

Whereas a woman is clever in thinking of means, and will venture

E’en on a roundabout way, adroitly to compass her object.

Let me know every thing, then; say wherefore so greatly excited

As I ne’er saw thee before, why thy blood is coursing so hotly,

Wherefore, against thy will, tears are filling thine eyes to o’erflowing.”

Then he abandoned himself, the poor boy, to his sorrow, and weeping,

Weeping aloud on his kind mother’s breast, he brokenly answered:

“Truly my father’s words to-day have wounded me sorely,—

Words which I have not deserved; not to-day, nor at any time have I:

For it was early my greatest delight to honor my parents.

No one knew more, so I deemed, or was wiser than those who begot me,

And had with strictness ruled throughout the dark season of childhood.

Many the things, in truth, I with patience endured from my playmates,

When the good-will that I bore them they often requited with malice.

Often I suffered their flings and their blows to pass unresented;

But if they ventured to ridicule father, when he of a Sunday

Home from Church would come, with his solemn and dignified bearing;

If they made fun of his cap-string, or laughed at the flowers of the wrapper

He with such stateliness wore, which was given away but this morning,—

Threateningly doubled my fist in an instant; with furious passion

Fell I upon them, and struck out and hit, assailing them blindly,

Seeing not where. They howled as the blood gushed out from their noses:

Scarcely they made their escape from my passionate kicking and beating.

Then, as I older grew, I had much to endure from my father;

Violent words he oft vented on me, instead of on others,

When, at the board’s last session, the council had roused his displeasure,

And I was made to atone for the quarrels and wiles of his colleagues.

Thou has pitied me often thyself; for much did I suffer,

Ever remembering with cordial respect the kindness of parents,

Solely intent on increasing for us their goods and possessions,

Much denying themselves in order to save for their children.

But, alas! saving alone, for the sake of a tardy enjoyment,—

That is not happiness: pile upon pile, and acre on acre,

Make us not happy, no matter how fair our estates may be rounded.

For the father grows old, and with him will grow old the children,

Losing the joy of the day, and bearing the care of tomorrow.

Look thou below, and see how before us in glory are lying,

Fair and abundant, the corn-fields; beneath them, the vineyard and garden;

Yonder the stables and barns; our beautiful line of possessions.

But when I look at the dwelling behind, where up in the gable

We can distinguish the window that marks my room in the attic;

When I look back, and remember how many a night from that window

I for the moon have watched; for the sun, how many a morning!

When the healthful sleep of a few short hours sufficed me,—

Ah, so lonely they seem to me then, the chamber and courtyard,

Garden and glorious field, away o’er the hill that is stretching;

All so desert before me lie: ’tis the wife that is wanting.”

Thereupon spoke the good mother, and thus with intelligence answered:

“Son, not greater thy wish to bring thee a bride to thy chamber,

That thou mayst find thy nights a beautiful part of existence,

And that the work of the day may gain independence and freedom,

Than is thy father’s wish too, and thy mother’s. We always have counselled,—

Yea, we have even insisted,—that thou shouldst elect thee a maiden.

But I was ever aware, and now my heart gives me assurance,

That till the hour appointed is come, and the maiden appointed

Shall with the hour appear, the choice will be left for the future,

While more strong than all else will be fear of grasping the wrong one.

If I may say it, may son, I believe thou already hast chosen;

For thy heart has been touched, and been made more than wontedly tender.

Speak it out honestly, then; for my soul has told me beforehand:

That same maiden it is, the exile, whom thou hast elected.”

“Thou has said, mother!” the son thereupon with eagerness answered.

“Yes, it is she; and if I to-day as my bride do not bring her

Home to our dwelling, she from me will go, perhaps vanish for ever,

Lost in the war’s confusion and sad movings hither and thither.

Mother, for ever in vain would then our abundant possessions

Prosper before me, and seasons to come be in vain to me fruitful.

Yea, I should hold in aversion the wonted house and the garden:

Even my mother’s love, alas! would not comfort my sorrow.

Every tie, so I feel in my heart, by love is unloosened

Soon as she fastens her own; and not the maid is it only

Leaves behind father and mother, to follow the man she has chosen.

He too, the youth, no longer knows aught of mother and father,

When he the maiden, his only beloved, sees vanishing from him.

Suffer me, then, to go hence wherever despair shall impel me:

Since by my father himself the decisive words have been spoken;

Since his house can no longer be mine if he shut out the maiden,

Her whom alone as my bride I desire to bring to our dwelling.”

Thereupon quickly made answer the good and intelligent mother:

“How like to rocks, forsooth, two men will stand facing each other!

Proud and not to be moved, will neither draw near to his fellow;

Neither will stir his tongue to utter the first word of kindness.

Therefore I tell thee, my son, a hope yet lives in my bosom,

So she be honest and good, thy father will let thee espouse her,

Even though poor, and against a poor girl so decisive his sentence.

Many a thing he is wont to speak out in his violent fashion

Which he yet never performs; and so what he denies will consent to.

Yet he requires a kindly word, and is right to require it:

He is the father! Besides we know that his wrath after dinner,—

When he most hastily speaks, and questions all others’ opinions,—

Signifies naught; the full force of his violent will is excited

Then by the wine, which lets him not heed the language of others;

None but himself does he see and feel. But now is come evening,

Talk upon various subjects has passed between him and his neighbors.

Gentle, he is; I am sure now his little excitement is over,

And he can feel how unjust his passion has made him to others.

Come, let us venture at once: success is alone to the valiant!

Further we need the friends, still sitting together there with him;

And in especial the worthy pastor will give us assistance.”

Thus she hastily spoke, and up from the stone then arising,

Drew from his seat her son, who willingly followed. In silence

Both descended the hill, their important purpose revolving.