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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Germany: Vols. XVII–XVIII. 1876–79.

Rhine, the River

A Hamlet on the Rhine

By Ferdinand Freiligrath (1810–1876)

Translated by K. F. Kroeker

ROMANCE! I greet thee! Lo, thy eyry bold!

Its slender turrets in the air uptowering,

Its crumbling porches, mossy ruins old,

Its castle, firm and rugged to behold,

How doth it wrap my soul with sway o’erpowering!

Hail once again! I tread in pensive dream

Thy fairest refuge on the Rhine’s fair stream.

Thou still art here! In weeds of cloister plain,

Through colored panes thou gazest on me sadly,

Outlawed thou art by Reason and her train,

Alas! the wisdom of this age were fain

To banish thee forevermore most gladly!

In river strongholds, tottering and decayed,

Thou hidest tremblingly, O wondrous maid!

In churches, ah! so desolate and bare,

Yon is the place where loud thy soul is wailing!

In empty churches, thou, with streaming hair,

Dost weeping kneel with many a broken prayer,

And fervent clinging to the altar’s railing,

Within whose shadow’s ever sacred calm

Dost seek devout a sanctuary’s balm!

Yet thou art she, whom oft in days of yore

A nation’s best with rapt delight praised loudly,

Whom Ludwig Tieck’s white palfrey ofttimes bore,

Who, through the wood of poesy, before

Didst dash,—Brentano, Arnim following proudly;

Glows bright the forest, silver-springs around,

And like a dream the Fairy Horn doth sound.

Days long since past! Adown the shore strode I,—

Not Volker saw the Rhine more limpid racing,—

A steamboat on its way went rushing by,

The wheel ploughed deep, and threw the foam on high,

Upon the deck one of thy priests was pacing;

The youngest sure,—and yet already now

Gray are the locks that float round Uhland’s brow!

We recognition waved; my lonely town

He soon passed by, o’erlooking the swift river;

Upon us twain the Lorelei gazed down,—

Upon my lips a cry of joy I drown,

But in my eyes hot tears all trembling quiver;

A mournful song into my memory came,

“Three Students crossed the Rhine,”—this was its name!

Yes, this the Rhine, whose wave doth hide the gold

Whereon old Uhland’s eyes with pleasure glistened

And yon himself!—Romance, ah! there behold

The inspired lip that truly could unfold,

With magic word, thy glamour as he listened;

Yon is the eye that in the enchanted ring,

Beside the Witch-Elm, bathed in thy clear spring!

That he was passing—ah! how well yon knew!

From crag and chink, forth through the dewy morning

You gazed on him;—a sunny smile there flew,

Just as the vessel rounded into view,

O’er thy wan features’ sad, resignéd mourning!

With mournful pleasure thou on bended knee

Upon thy river thine own bard didst see!

Yonder he fled, thy youngest, truest knight!

The last smoke fades in air, the ship retreating;

Gone too thy smile; the hills no more stand bright;

Thy last brave champion, who for thee doth fight,—

And on a steamer!—strange my heart is beating!—

Mediæval inspiration borne away

By a new age’s all-resistless sway!

A simile! It entered full my soul,

And would not thence again, my will defying!

The melancholy hence that o’er me stole!

Thou pale one, hushed and silent be thy dole!

An iron age! ’t is for thee, harsh and trying.

Heedless it undermines thy tottering throne,

Alas! not with its steamers’ keel alone!

Thy empire, lady, has departed long;

The world has changed; where, now, are thy dominions?

Another spirit than thine rules firm and strong;

It throbs in life, and flames out into song,

None e’er before it fluttered thus its pinions!

I also serve and wish it victory glad,—

But why wage war with thee, thou exile sad?

Thou, whose proud banner but from mouldering wall

Doth lonely float, through the dull air slow-sailing,

Thou the dethroned!—with agitated soul

Down at thy feet, I humbly, sadly fall,

A solemn witness of thy widow’s wailing!

A child, all feverish, of this era new,

Yet for the past piously mourning too!

Not as a boy!—Only one hour, and lo!

Stretched at thy feet, I ’ll join thee in thy sorrow!

The spirit fresh that through these times doth blow,

I ’ve promised it; it has my word and vow,

My blade must flash yet in the fight to-morrow!

Only one hour!—But that devoted quite

To thee alone, and to thy glory bright.

There, take me to thee! Take me in thy hold!

Hail, battlements, high in the air up-towering!

Hail, crumbling porches, mossy ruins old!

Hail, castle stern! Thou falcon’s eyry bold!

How do ye wrap my soul with sway o’erpowering!

Yon doth the Pfalz in fiery sunset shine,

The clouds seem castles,—yes! this land is thine!

A church!—I enter it as in a dream;

The windows, richly stained, are deeply glowing;

The foliaged pillars throw a haughty gleam,

And through the gloomy cloister’s arches dim,

Careless and wild, a garden small is showing;

Blending its azure and its verdure gay

With the cathedral’s ever sombre gray.

And, softly trembling, nods the shadow light

Of waving boughs, upon the church-wall playing;

Yon is the tomb of lady and of knight,

Their figures, carved in marble, stand upright,

Their hands are raised aloft, as if for praying;

Gently resigned their pallid faces beam,

The peace of death o’er both doth brightly stream.

A sacred lull!—Bustle and trade far gone!

Romance! behold, my mourning fast is fleeting!

That joy and peace divine, which is not known

To this new age, alas!—to thee alone!

Here I can feel it in my bosom beating;

Earth fades away, and heaven in blissful arms

Doth fold me close,—hushed are all world’s alarms!

Enough! enough! such haven not for aye!

Back to the present! Great is life’s attraction!

But what this spot into my heart doth lay

May ’t flame forever! In my pulses may

It throb unceasing, hallowing every action!

May ’t give me gladness, strength, and courage free,

When the loud day shall hoarsely summon me!

Thus will my service of the time be pure!

O exiled maid! with thee I would be grieving;

I came thy shrine to wet with teardrops, sure,

And lo! thou gav’st me power to endure;

Thy peace doth fill me; calmed, behold me leaving!

Thou shedd’st thy light around me, I depart!—

An exile,—but e’en now a queen thou art!

Farewell to-day! The sunset’s molten gold

Doth flood the aisle; deep-toned the bells are ringing!

Church-banners flutter o’er me half unrolled,—

Ye ever wise, whom all things must be told,

Who therefore ask, what now I have been singing!—

Doth glow the eternal lamp, and incense roll—

Call it a requiem for Brentano’s soul!