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



NOW when of comely mien the son came into the chamber,

Turned with a searching look the eyes of the preacher upon him,

And with the gaze of the student, who easily fathoms expression,

Scrutinized well his face and form and his general bearing.

Then with a smile he spoke, and said in words of affection:

“Truly a different being thou comest! I never have seen the

Cheerful as now, nor ever beheld I thy glances so beaming.

Joyous thou comest, and happy: ’tis pain that among the poor people.

Thou hast been sharing thy gifts, and receiving their blessings upon thee.”

Quietly then, and with serious words, the son made him answer:

“If I have acted as ye will commend, I know not; but I followed

That which my heart bade me do, as I shall exactly relate you.

Thou wert, mother, so long in rummaging ’mong thy old pieces,

Picking and choosing, that not until late was thy bundle together;

Then too the wine and the beer took care and time in the packing.

When I came forth through the gateway at last, and out on the high-road,

Backward the crowd of citizens streamed with women and children,

Coming to meet me; for far was already the band of the exiles.

Quicker I kept on my way, and drove with speed to the village,

Where they were meaning to rest, as I heard, and tarry till morning.

Thirtherward up the new street as I hasted, a stout-timbered wagon,

Drawn by two oxen, I saw, of that region the largest and strongest;

While, with vigorous steps, a maiden was walking beside them,

And, a long staff in her hand, the two powerful creatures was guiding,

Urging them now, now holding them back; with skill did she drive them.

Soon as the maiden perceived me, she calmly drew near to the hoses,

And in these words she addressed me: ‘Not thus deplorable always

Has our condition been, as to-day on this journey thou seest.

I am not yet grown used to asking gifts of a stranger,

Which he will often unwillingly give, to be rid of the beggar.

But necessity drives me to speak; for here, on the straw, lies

Newly delivered of child, a rich land-owner’s wife, whom I scarcely

Have in her pregnancy, safe brought off with the oxen and wagon.

Naked, now in her arms the new-born infant is lying,

And but little the help our friends will be able to furnish,

If in the neighboring village, indeed, where to-day we would rest us,

Still we shall find them; though much do I fear they already have passed it.

Shouldst thou have linen to spare of any description, provided

Thou of this neighborhood art, to the poor in charity give it.”

“Thus she spoke, and the pale-faced mother raised herself feebly

Up from the straw, and towards me looked. The said I in answer:

‘Surely unto the good, a spirit from heaven oft speaketh,

Making them feel the distress the threatens a suffering brother.

For thou must know that my mother, already presaging thy sorrows,

Gave me a bundle to use it straightway for the need of the naked.’

Then I untied the knots of the string, and the wrapper of father’s

Unto her gave, and gave her as well the shirts and the linen.

And she thanked me with joy, and cried: ‘The happy believe not

Miracles yet can be wrought: for only in need we acknowledge

God’s own hand and finger, that leads the good to show goodness.

What unto us he has done through thee, may he do to thee also!’

And I beheld with what pleasure the sick woman handled the linens,

But with especial delight the dressing-gown’s delicate flannel.

‘Let us make haste,’ the maid to her said, ‘and come to the village,

Where our people will half for the night and already are resting.

There these clothes for the children I, one and all, straightway will portion.’

Then she saluted again, her thanks most warmly expressing,

Started the oxen; the wagon went on; but there I still lingered,

Still held the horses in check; for now my heart was divided

Whether to drive with speed to the village, and there the provisions

Share ’mong the rest of the people, or whether I here to the maiden

All should deliver at once, for her discreetly to portion.

And in an instant my heart had decided, and quietly driving

After the maiden, I soon overtook her, and said to her quickly:

‘Hearken, good maiden;—my mother packed up not linenstuffs only

Into the carriage, that I should have clothes to furnish the naked;

Wine and beer she added besides, and supply of provisions:

Plenty of all these things I have in the box of the carriage.

But now I feel myself moved to deliver these offerings also

Into thy hand; for so shall I best fulfil my commission.

Thou wilt divide them with judgment, while I must by chance be directed.’

Thereupon answered the maiden: ‘I will with faithfulness portion

These thy gifts, that all shall bring comfort to those who are needy.’

Thus she spoke, and quickly the box of the carriage I opened,

Brought forth thence the substantial hams, and brought out the breadstuffs,

Bottles of wine and beer, and one and all gave to the maiden.

Willingly would I have given her more, but the carriage was empty.

All she packed at the sick woman’s feet, and went on her journey.

I, with my horses and carriage, drove rapidly back to the city.”

Instantly now, when Hermann had ceased, the talkative neighbor

Took up the word, and cried: “Oh happy, in days like the present,

Days of flight and confusion, who lives by himself in his dwelling,

Having no wife nor child to be clinging about him in terror!

Happy I feel myself now, and would not for much be called father;

Would not have wife and children to-day, for whom to be anxious.

Oft have I thought of this flight before; and have packed up together

All my best things already, the chains and old pieces of money

That were my sainted mother’s, of which not one has been sold yet.

Much would be left behind, it is true, not easily gotten.

Even the roots and the herbs, that were with such industry gathered,

I should be sorry to lose, though the worth of the goods is but trifling.

If my purveyor remained, I could go from my dwelling contented.

When my cash I have brought away safe, and have rescued my person,

All is safe: none find it so easy to fly as the single.”

“Neighbor,” unto his words young Hermann with emphasis answered:

“I can in no wise agree with thee here, and censure thy language.

Is he indeed a man to be prized, who, in good and in evil,

Takes no thought but for self, and gladness and sorrow with others

Knows not how to divide, nor feels his heart so impel him?

Rather than ever to-day would I make up my mind to be married:

Many a worthy maiden is needing a husband’s protection,

And the man needs an inspiriting wife when ill is impending.”

Thereupon smiling the father replied: “Thus love I to hear thee!

That is a sensible word such as rarely I’ve known thee to utter.”

Straightway, however, the mother broke in with quickness, exclaiming:

“Son, to be sure, thou art right! we parents have set the example;

Seeing that not in our season of joy did we choose one another;

Rather the saddest of hours it was that bound us together.

Monday morning—I mind it well; for the day that preceded

Came that terrible fire by which our city was ravaged –

Twenty years will have gone. The day was a Sunday as this is;

Hot and dry was the season; the water was almost exhausted.

All the people were strolling abroad in their holiday dresses,

’Mong the villages partly, and part in the mills and the taverns.

And at the end of the city the flames began, and went coursing

Quickly along the streets, creating a draught in their passage.

Burned were the barns where the copious harvest already was garnered;

Burned were the streets as far as the market; the house of my father,

Neighbor to this, was destroyed, and this one also fell with it.

Little we managed to save. I sat, that sorrowful night through,

Outside the town on the common, to guard the beds and the boxes.

Sleep overtook me at last, and when I again was awakened,

Feeling the chill of the morning that always descends before sunrise,

There were the smoke and the glare, and the walls and chimneys in ruins.

Then fell a weight on my heart; but more majestic than ever

Came up the sun again, inspiring my bosom with courage.

Then I rose hastily up, with a yearning the place to revisit

Whereon our dwelling had stood, and to see if the hens had been rescued,

Which I especially loved, for I still was a child in my feelings.

Thus as I over the still-smoking timbers of house and of court-yard

Picked my way, and beheld the dwelling so ruined and wasted,

Thou camest up to examine the place, from the other direction.

Under the ruins thy horse in his stall had been buried; the rubbish

Lay on the spot and the glimmering beams; of the horse we saw nothing.

Thougthful and grieving we stood there thus, each facing the other,

Now that the wall was fallen that once had divided our court-yards.

Thereupon thou by the hand didst take me, and speak to me, saying,—

‘Lisa, how camest thou hither? Go back! thy soles must be burning;

Hot the rubbish is here: it scorches my boots, which are stronger.’

And thou didst lift me up, and carry me out through thy courtyard.

There was the door of the house left standing yet with its archway,

Just as ’tis standing now, the one thing only remaining.

Then thou didst set me down and kiss me; to that I objected;

But thou didst answer and say with kindly significant language:

‘See! my house lies in ruins: remain here and help me rebuild it;

So shall my help in return be given to building thy father’s.’

Yet did I not comprehend thee until thou sentest thy mother

Unto my father, and quick were the happy espousals accomplished.

E’en to this day I remember with joy those half-consumed timbers,

And I can see once more the sun coming up in such splendor;

For ’twas the day that gave me my husband; and, ere the first season

Passed of that wild desolation, a son to my youth had been given.

Therefore I praise thee, Hermann, that thou, with an honest assurance,

Shouldst, in these sorrowful days, be thinking thyself of a maiden,

And amid ruins and war shouldst thus have the courage to woo her.”

Straightway, then, and with warmth, the father replied to her, saying:

“Worthy of praise is the feeling, and truthful also the story,

Mother, that thou hast related; for so indeed everything happened.

Better, however, is better. It is not the business of all men

Thus their life and estate to begin from the very foundation:

Every one needs not to worry himself as we and the rest did.

Oh, how happy is he whose father and mother shall give him,

Furnished and ready, a house which he can adorn with his increase.

Every beginning is hard; but most the beginning a household.

Many are human wants, and every thing daily grows dearer,

So that a man must consider the means of increasing his earnings.

This I hope therefore of thee, my Hermann, that into our dwelling

Thou wilt be bringing ere long a bride who is handsomely dowered;

For it is meet that a gallant young man have an opulent maiden.

Great is the comfort of home whene’er, with the woman elected,

Enter the useful presents, besides, in box and in basket.

Not for this many a year in vain has the mother been busy

Making her daughter’s linens of strong and delicate texture;

God-parents have not in vain been giving their vessels of silver,

And the father laid by in his desk the rare pieces of money;

For there a day will come when she, with her gifts and possessions,

Shall that youth rejoice who has chosen her out of all others.

Well do I know how good in a house is a woman’s position,

Who her own furniture round her knows, in kitchen and chamber;

Who herself the bed and herself the table has covered.

Only a well-dowered bride should I like to receive to my dwelling.

She who is poor is sure, in the end, to be scorned by her husband;

And will as servant be held, who as servant came in with her bundle.

Men will remain unjust when the season of love is gone over.

Yes, my Hermann, thy father’s old age thou greatly canst gladden,

If thou a daughter-in-law will speedily bring to my dwelling,

Out of the neighborhood here,—from the house over yonder, the green one.

Rich is the man, I can tell thee. His manufactures and traffic

Daily are making him richer; for whence draws the merchant not profit?

Three daughters only he has, to divide his fortune among them.

True that the eldest already is taken; but there is the second

Still to be had, as well as the third; and not long so, it may be.

I would never have lingered till now, had I been in thy place;

But had fetched one of the maidens, as once I bore off thy dear mother.”

Modestly then did the son to the urgent father make answer:

“Truly ’twas my wish too, as well as thine own, to have chosen

One of our neighbor’s daughters, for we had been brought up together;

Played, in the early days, about the market-place fountain;

And, from the other boys’ rudeness, I often have been their defender.

That, though, is long since past: the girls, as they grew to be older,

Properly stayed in the house, and shunned the more boisterous pastimes.

Well brought up are they, surely! I used sometimes to go over,

Partly to gratify thee, and because of our former acquaintance:

But no pleasure I ever could take in being among them;

For I was always obliged to endure their censures upon me.

Quite too long was my coat, the cloth too coarse, and the color

Quite too common; my hair was not cropped, as it should be, and frizzled.

I was resolved, at last, that I, also, would dress myself finely,

Just as those office-boys do who always are seen there on Sundays,

Wearing in summer their half-silken flaps, that dangle about them;

But I discovered, betimes, they made ever a laughing-stock of me.

And I was vexed when I saw it,—it wounded my pride; but more deeply

Felt I aggrieved that they the good-will should so far misinterpret

That in my heart I bore them,—especially Minna the youngest.

It was on Easter-day that last I went over to see them;

Wearing my best new coat, that is now hanging up in the closet,

And having frizzled my hair, like that of the other young fellows.

Soon as I entered, they tittered; but that not at me, as I fancied.

Minna before the piano was seated; the father was present,

Hearing his daughters sing, and full of delight and good-humor.

Much I could not understand of all that was said in the singing;

But of Pamina I often heard, and oft of Tamino:

And I, besides, could not stay there dumb; so, as soon as she ended,

Something about the words I asked, and about the two persons.

Thereupon all were silent and smiled; but the father made answer:

‘Thou knowest no one, my friend, I believe, but Adam and Eve?’

No one restrained himself longer, but loud laughed out then the maidens,

Loud laughed out the boys, the old man held his sides for his laughing.

I, in embarrassment, dropped my hat, and the giggling continued,

On and on and on, for all they kept playing and singing.

Back to the house here I hurried, o’ercome with shame and vexation,

Hung up my coat in the closet, and pulled out the curls with my fingers,

Swearing that never again my foot should cross over that threshold.

And I was perfectly right; for vain are the maidens, and heartless.

E’en to this day, as I hear, I am called by them ever ‘Tamino.’”

Thereupon answered the mother, and said: “Thou shouldest not, Hermann,

Be so long vexed with the children: indeed, they are all of them children.

Minna, believe me, is good, and was always disposed to thee kindly.

’Twas not long since she was asking about thee. Let her be thy chosen!”

Thoughtfully answered the son: “I know not. That mortification

Stamped itself in me so deeply, I never could bear to behold her

Seated before the piano or listen again to her singing.”

Forth broke the father then, and in words of anger made answer:

“Little of joy will my life have in thee! I said it would be so

When I perceived that thy pleasure was solely in horses and farming:

Work which a servant, indeed, performs for an opulent master,

That thou doest; the father meanwhile must his son be deprived of,

Who should appear as his pride, in the sight of the rest of the townsmen.

Early with empty hopes thy mother was wont to deceive me,

When in the school thy studies, thy reading and writing, would never

As with the others succeed, but thy seat would be always the lowest.

That comes about, forsooth, when a youth has no feeling of honor

Dwelling within his breast, nor the wish to raise himself higher.

Had but my father so cared for me as thou hast been cared for;

If he had sent me to school, and provided me thus with instructors,

I should be other, I trow, than host of the Golden Lion!”

Then the son rose from his seat and noiselessly moved to the doorway,

Slowly, and speaking no word. The father, however, in passion

After him called, “Yes, go, thou obstinate fellow! I know thee!

Go and look after the business henceforth, that I have not to chide thee;

But do thou nowise imagine that ever a peasant-born maiden

Thou for a daughter-in-law shalt bring into my dwelling, the hussy!

Long have I lived in the world, and know how mankind should be dealt with;

Know how to entertain ladies and gentlemen so that contended

They shall depart from my house, and strangers agreeably can flatter.

Yet I’m resolved that some day I one will have for a daughter,

Who shall requite me in kind and sweeten my manifold labors;

Who the piano shall play to me, too; so that there shall with pleasure

All the handsomest people in town and the finest assemble,

As they on Sundays do now in the house of our neighbor.” Here Hermann

Softly pressed on the latch, and so went out from the chamber.