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



MUSES, O ye who the course of true love so willingly favor,

Ye who thus far on his way the excellent youth have conducted,

Even before the betrothal have pressed to his bosom the maiden;

Further your aid vouchsafe this charming pair in uniting,

Straightway dispersing the clouds which over their happiness lower!

Yet first of all declare what is passing meanwhile at the Lion.

Now for the third time again the mother impatient had entered

Where were assembled the men, whom anxious but now she had quitted;

Spoke of the gathering storm, and the moonlight’s rapid obscuring;

Then of her son’s late tarrying abroad and the dangers of nightfall;

Sharply upbraided her friends that without having speech of the maiden,

And without urging his suit, they had parted from Hermann so early.

“Make it not worse that it is,” the father replied with displeasure.

“For, as thou seest, we tarry ourselves and are waiting the issue.”

Calmly, however, from where he was sitting the neighbor made answer:

“Never in hours of disquiet like this do I fail to be grateful

Unto my late, blessed father, who every root of impatience

Tore from my heart when a child, and left no fibre remaining;

So that I learned on the instant to wait as do none of your sages.”

“Tell us,” the pastor returned, “what legerdemain he made use of.”

“That will I gladly relate, for all may draw from it a lesson;”

So made the neighbor reply. “When a boy I once stood of a Sunday

Full of impatience, and looking with eagerness out for the carriage

Which was to carry us forth to the spring that lies under the lindens.

Still the coach came not. I ran, like a weasel, now hither, now thither,

Up stairs and down, and forward and back, ’twixt the door and the window;

Even my fingers itched to be moving; I scratched on the tables,

Went about pounding and stamping, and hardly could keep me from weeping.

All was observed by the calm-tempered man; but at last when my folly

Came to be carried too far, by the arm he quietly took me,

Led me away to the window, and spoke in this serious language:

‘Seest thou yonder the carpenter’s shop that is closed for the Sunday?

He will re-open to-morrow, when plane and saw will be started,

And will keep on through the hours of labor from morning till evening.

But consider you this,—a day will be presently coming

When that man shall himself be astir and all of his workmen,

Making a coffin for thee to be quickly and skilfully finished.

Then that house of boards they will busily bring over hither,

Which must at last receive alike the impatient and patient,

And which is destined soon with close-pressing roof to be covered.’

Straightway I saw the whole thing in my mind as if it were doing;

Saw the boards fitting together, and saw the black color preparing,

Sat me down patiently then, and in quiet awaited the carriage.

Now when others I see, in seasons of anxious expectance,

Running distracted about, I cannot but think of the coffin.”

Smiling, the pastor replied: “The affecting picture of death stands

Not as a dread to the wise, and not as an end to the pious.

Those it presses again into life, and teaches to use it;

These by affliction it strengthens in hope to future salvation.

Death becomes life unto both. Thy father was greatly mistaken

When to a sensitive boy he death in death thus depicted.

Let us the value of nobly ripe age, point out to the young man,

And to the aged the youth, that in the eternal progression

Both may rejoice, and life may in life thus find its completion.”

But the door was now opened, and showed the majestical couple.

Filled with amaze were the friends, and amazed the affectionate parents,

Seeing the form of the maid so well matched with that of her lover.

Yea, the door seemed too low to allow the tall figures to enter,

As they together now appeared coming over the threshold.

Hermann, with hurried words, presented her thus to his parents:

“Here is a maiden,” he said; “such a one as ye wish in the household.

Kindly receive her, dear father: she merits it well; and thou, mother,

Question her straightway on all that belongs to a housekeeper’s duty,

That ye may see how well she deserves to ye both to be nearer.”

Quickly he then drew aside the excellent clergyman, saying:

“Help me, O worthy sir, and speedily out of this trouble;

Loosen, I pray thee, this knot, at whose untying I tremble.

Know that ’tis not as a lover that I have brought hither the maiden;

But she believes that as servant she comes to the house, and I tremble

Lest in displeasure she fly as soon as there’s mention of marriage.

But be it straightway decided; for she no longer in error

Thus shall be left, and I this suspense no longer can suffer.

Hasten and show us in this a proof of the wisdom we honor.”

Towards the company then the clergyman instantly turned him;

But already, alas! had the soul of the maiden been troubled,

Hearing the father’s speech; for he, in his sociable fashion,

Had in these playful words, with the kindest intention addressed her:

“Ay, this is well, my child! with delight I perceive that my Hermann

Has the good taste of his father, who often showed his in his young days,

Leading out always the fairest to dance, and bringing the fairest

Finally home as his wife; our dear little mother here that was.

For by the bride that a man shall elect we can judge what himself is,

Tell what the spirit is in him, and whether he feel his own value.

Nor didst thou need for thyself, I’ll engage, much time for decision;

For, in good sooth, methinks, he’s no difficult person to follow.”

Hermann had heard but in part; his limbs were inwardly trembling,

And of a sudden a stillness had fallen on all of the circle.

But by these words of derision, for such she could not but deem them,

Wounded, and stung to the depths of her soul, the excellent maiden,

Stood, while the fugitive blood o’er her cheeks and e’en to her bosom

Poured its flush. But she governed herself, and her courage collecting,

Answered the old man thus, her pain not wholly concealing:

“Truly for such a reception thy son had in no wise prepared me,

When he the ways of his father described, the excellent burgher.

Thou art a man of culture, I know, before whom I am standing;

Dealest with every one wisely, according as suits his position;

But thou hast scanty compassion, it seems, on one such as I am,

Who, a poor girl, am now crossing thy threshold with purpose to serve thee;

Else, with such bitter derision, thou wouldst not have made me remember

How far removed my fortune from that of thyself and thy son is.

True, I come poor to thy house, and bring with me naught but my bundle

Here where is every abundance to gladden the prosperous inmates.

Yet I know well myself; I feel the relations between us.

Say, is it noble, with so much of mockery straightway to greet me,

That I am sent from the house while my foot is scarce yet on the threshold?”

Anxiously Hermann turned and signed to his ally the pastor

That he should rush to the rescue and straightway dispel the delusion.

Then stepped the wise man hastily forward and looked on the maiden’s

Tearful eyes, her silent pain and repressed indignation,

And in his heart was impelled not at once to clear up the confusion,

Rather to put to the test the girl’s disquieted spirit.

Therefore he unto her said in language intended to try her:

“Surely, thou foreign-born maiden, thou didst not maturely consider,

When thou too rashly decidedst to enter the service of strangers,

All that is meant by the placing thyself ’neath the rule of a master;

For by our hand to a bargain the fate of the year is determined,

And but a single ‘yea’ compels to much patient endurance.

Not the worst part of the service the wearisome steps to be taken,

Neither the bitter sweat of a labor that presses unceasing;

Since the industrious freeman must toil as well as the servant.

But ’tis to bear with the master’s caprice when he censures unjustly,

Or when, at variance with self, he orders now this, now the other;

Bear with the petulance, too, of the mistress, easily angered,

And with the rude, overbearing ways of unmannerly children.

All this is hard to endure, and yet to go on with thy duties

Quickly, without delay, nor thyself grow sullen and stubborn.

Yet thou appearest ill-fitted for this, since already so deeply

Stung by the father’s jests: whereas there is nothing more common

Than for a girl to be teased on account of a youth she may fancy.”

Thus he spoke. The maiden had felt the full force of his language,

And she restrained her no more; but with passionate outburst her feelings

Made themselves way; a sob broke forth from her now heaving bosom,

And, while the scalding tears poured down, the straightway made answer:

“Ah, that rational man who thinks to advise us in sorrow,

Knows not how little of power his cold words have in relieving

Ever a heart from that woe which a sovereign fate has inflicted.

Ye are prosperous and glad; how then should a pleasantry wound you?

Yet but the lightest touch is a source of pain to the sick man.

Nay, concealment itself, if successful, had profited nothing.

Better show now what had later increased to a bitterer anguish,

And to an inward consuming despair might perhaps have reduced me.

Let me go back! for here in this house I can tarry no longer.

I will away, and wander in search of my hapless companions,

Whom I forsook in their need; for myself alone choosing the better.

This is my firm resolve, and I therefore may make a confession

Which might for years perhaps have else lain hid in my bosom.

Deeply indeed was I hurt by the father’s words of derision;

Not that I’m sensitive, proud beyond what is fitting a servant;

But that my heart in truth had felt itself stirred with affection

Towards the youth who to-day had appeared to my eyes as a savior.

When he first left me there on the road, he still remained present,

Haunting my every thought; I fancied the fortunate maiden

Whom as a bride, perhaps, his heart had already elected.

When at the fountain I met him again, the sight of him wakened

Pleasure as great as if there had met me an angel from heaven;

And with what gladness I followed, when asked to come as his servant.

True, that I flattered myself in my heart,—I will not deny it,—

While we were hitherward coming, I might peradventure deserve him,

Should I become at last the important stay of the household.

Now I, alas! for the first time see what risk I was running,

When I would make my home so near to the secretly loved one;

Now for the first time feel how far removed a poor maiden

Is from an opulent youth, no matter how great her deserving.

All this I now confess, that my heart ye may not misinterpret,

In that ’twas hurt by a chance to which I owe my awaking.

Hiding my secret desires, this dread had been ever before me,

That at some early day he would bring him a bride to his dwelling;

And ah, how could I then my inward anguish have suffered!

Happily I have been warned, and happily now has my bosom

Been of its secret relieved, while yet there is cure for the evil.

But no more; I have spoken; and now shall nothing detain me

Longer here in a house where I stay but in shame and confusion,

Freely confessing my love and that foolish hope that I cherished.

Not the night which abroad is covered with lowering storm clouds;

Not the roll of the thunder—I hear its peal—shall deter me;

Not the pelt of the rain which without is beating in fury;

Neither the blustering tempest; for all these things have I suffered

During our sorrowful flight, and while the near foe was pursuing.

Now I again go forth, as I have so long been accustomed,

Carried away by the whirl of the times, and from every thing parted.

Fare ye well! I tarry no longer; all now is over.”

Thus she spoke and back to the door she hastily turned her,

Still bearing under her arm, as she with her had brought it, her bundle.

But with both of her arms the mother seized hold of the maiden,

Clasping her round the waist, and exclaiming, amazed and bewildered:

“Tell me, what means all this? and these idle tears, say, what mean they?

I will not let thee depart: thou art the betrothed of my Hermann.”

But still the father stood, observing the scene with displeasure,

Looked on the weeping girl, and said in a tone of vexation:

“This then must be the return that I get for all my indulgence,

That at the close of the day this most irksome of all things should happen!

For there is naught I can tolerate less than womanish weeping,

Violent outcries, which only involve in disorder and passion,

What with a little of sense had been more smoothly adjusted.

Settle the thing for yourselves: I’m going to bed; I’ve no patience

Longer to be a spectator of these your marvellous doings.”

Quickly he turned as he spoke, and hastened to go to the chamber

Where he was wonted to rest, and his marriage bed was kept standing,

But he was held by his son, who said in a tone of entreaty:

“Father, hasten not from us, and be thou not wroth with the maiden.

I, only I, am to blame as the cause of all this confusion,

Which by his dissimulation our friend unexpectedly heightened.

Speak, O worthy sir; for to thee my cause I intrusted.

Heap not up sorrow and anger, but rather let all this be ended;

For I could hold thee never again in such high estimation,

If thou shouldst show but delight in pain, not superior wisdom.”

Thereupon answered and said the excellent clergyman, smiling:

“Tell me, what other device could have drawn this charming confession

Out of the good maiden’s lips, and thus have revealed her affection?

Has not the trouble been straightway transformed into gladness and rapture?

Therefore speak up for thyself; what need of the tongue of another?”

Thereupon Hermann came forward, and spoke in these words of affection:

“Do not repent of thy tears, nor repent of these passing distresses;

For they complete my joy, and—may I not hope it—thine also?

Not to engage the stranger, the excellent maid, as a servant,

Unto the fountain I came; but to sue for thy love I came thither.

Only, alas! my timorous look could thy heart’s inclination

Nowise perceive; I read in thine eyes of nothing but kindness,

As from the fountain’s tranquil mirror thou gavest me greeting.

Might I but bring thee home, the half of my joy was accomplished.

But thou completest it unto me now; oh, blest be thou for it!”

Then with a deep emotion the maiden gazed on the stripling;

Neither forbade she embrace and kiss, the summit of rapture,

When to a loving pair they come as the longed-for assurance,

Pledge of a lifetime of bliss, that appears to them now never-ending.

Unto the others, meanwhile, the pastor had made explanation.

But with feeling and grace the maid now advanced to the father,

Bent her before him, and kissing the hand he would fain have withholden,

Said: “Thou wilt surely be just and forgive one so startled as I was,

First for my tears of distress, and now for the tears of my gladness.

That emotion forgive me, and oh! forgive me this also.

For I can scarce comprehend the happiness newly vouchsafed me.

Yes, let that first vexation of which I, bewildered, was guilty

Be too the last. Whatever the maid of affectionate service

Faithfully promised, shall be to thee now performed by the daughter.”

Straightway then, concealing his tears, the father embraced her,

Cordially, too, the mother came forward and kissed her with fervor,

Pressing her hands in her own: the weeping women were silent.

Thereupon quickly he seized, the good and intelligent pastor,

First the father’s hand, and the wedding-ring drew from his finger,—

Not so easily either: the finger was plump and detained it,—

Next took the mother’s ring also, and with them betrothed he the children,

Saying: “These golden circlets once more their office performing

Firmly a tie shall unite, which in all things shall equal the old one,

Deeply is this young man imbued with love of the maiden,

And, as the maiden confesses, her heart is gone out to him also.

Here do I therefore betroth you and bless for the years that are coming,

With the consent of the parents, and having this friend as a witness.”

Then the neighbor saluted at once, and expressed his good wishes;

But when the clergyman now the golden circlet was drawing

Over the maiden’s hand, he observed with amazement the other,

Which had already by Hermann been anxiously marked at the fountain.

And with a kindly raillery thus thereupon he addressed her:

“So, then thy second betrothal is this? let us hope the first bridegroom

May not appear at the altar, and so prohibit the marriage.”

But she, answering, said: “Oh, let me to this recollection

Yet one moment devote; for so much is due the good giver,

Him who bestowed it at parting, and never came back to his kindred.

All that should come he foresaw, when in haste the passion for freedom,

When a desire in the newly changed order of things to be working,

Urged him onward to Paris, where chains and death he encountered.

‘Fare thee well,’ were his words; ‘I go, for all is in motion

Now for a time on the earth, and every thing seems to be parting.

E’en in the firmest states fundamental laws are dissolving;

Property falls away from the hand of the ancient possessor;

Friend is parted from friend; and so parts lover from lover.

Here I leave thee, and where I shall find thee again, or if ever,

Who can tell? Perhaps these words are our last ones together.

Man’s but a stranger here on the earth, we are told and with reason;

And we are each of us now become more of strangers than ever.

Ours no more is the soil, and our treasures are all of them changing:

Silver and gold are melting away from their time-honored patterns.

All is in motion as though the already-shaped world into chaos

Meant to resolve itself backward into night, and to shape itself over.

Mine thou wilt keep thine heart, and should we be ever united

Over the ruins of earth, it will be as newly made creatures,

Beings transformed and free, no longer dependent on fortune;

For can aught fetter the man who has lived through days such as these are!

But if it is not to be, that, these dangers happily over,

Ever again we be granted the bliss of mutual embraces,

Oh, then before thy thoughts so keep my hovering image

That with unshaken mind thou be ready for good or for evil!

Should new ties allure thee again, and a new habitation,

Enter with gratitude into the joys that fate shall prepare thee;

Love those purely who love thee; be grateful to them who show kindness.

But thine uncertain foot should yet be planted but lightly,

For there is lurking the twofold pain of a new separation.

Blessings attend thy life; but value existence no higher

Than thine other possessions, and all possessions are cheating!’

Thus spoke the noble youth, and never again I beheld him.

Meanwhile I lost my all, and a thousand times thought of his warning.

Here, too, I think of his words, when love is sweetly preparing

Happiness for me anew, and glorious hopes are reviving.

Oh forgive me, excellent friend, that e’en while I hold thee

Close to my side I tremble! So unto the late-landed sailor

Seem the most solid foundations of firmest earth to be rocking.”

Thus she spoke, and placed the two rings on her finger together.

But her lover replied with a noble and manly emotion:

“So much the firmer then, amid these universal convulsions,

Be, Dorothea, our union! We two will hold fast and continue,

Firmly maintaining ourselves, and the right to our ample possessions.

For that man, who, when times are uncertain, is faltering in spirit,

Only increases the evil, and further and further transmits it;

While he refashions the world, who keeps himself steadfastly minded.

Poorly becomes it the German to give to these fearful excitements

Aught of continuance, or to be this way and that way inclining.

This is our own! let that be our word, and let us maintain it!

For to those resolute peoples respect will be ever accorded,

Who for God and the laws, for parents, women and children,

Fought and died, as together they stood with their front to the foeman.

Thou art mine own; and now what is mine, is mine more than ever.

Not with anxiety will I preserve it, and trembling enjoyment;

Rather with courage and strength. To-day should the enemy threaten,

Or in the future, equip me thyself and hand me my weapons.

Let me but know that under thy care are my house and dear parents,

Oh! I can then with assurance expose my breast to the foreman.

And were but every man minded like me, there would be an upspring

Might against might, and peace should revisit us all with its gladness.”