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


The Sorrow of the German Weaver Boy

By Ferdinand Freiligrath (1810–1876)

  • Translated by M. Howitt
  • Rübezahl, familiar to English readers as Number-nid, had his haunts among the Riesengebirge in Silesia, and was the especial friend and patron of the poor. The Legend of Rübezahl is one of the most touching and beautiful of the German popular stories.

  • “GREEN grow the budding blackberry hedges;

    What joy! a violet meets my quest;

    The blackbird seeks the last year’s sedges,

    The merry chaffinch builds her nest;

    The snow has from each vale receded,

    It only clothes the mountain’s brow.

    I from my home have stolen unheeded;

    This is the place; I ’ll venture now:


    “Hears he my call? I ’ll boldly face him:

    He is not bad. Upon this stone

    My pack of linen I will place him;

    It is a right good, heavy one,

    And fine: yes, I ’ll uphold it ever,

    I’ th’ dale no better ’s wove at all.

    He shows himself to mortal never;

    So courage, heart! once more I call:


    “No sound! Adown the wood I hasted,

    That he might help us, hard bestead.

    My mother’s face, so wan and wasted;

    Within the house no crumb of bread.

    To market, cursing, went my father;

    Might he but there a buyer meet!

    With Rübezahl I ’ll venture rather;

    Him for the third time I entreat:


    “For he so kindly helped a many,

    My grandmother oft to me has told;

    Yes, gave poor folks a good luck-penny,

    Whose woe was undeserved, of old.

    So here I am: my heart beats lightly,

    My goods are justly measured all,

    I will not beg, will sell uprightly.

    O that he would come! Rübezahl!


    “Suppose these goods should suit his taste,

    And he should order more to come:

    We could his wish fulfil with haste,

    We ’ve plenty more as fine at home.

    Suppose he took them, every piece;

    Ah! would his choice on them might fall!

    What ’s pawned I would myself release:

    That would be glorious! Rübezahl!


    “I ’d enter then our small room gayly,

    And cry, ‘Here, father, ’s gold in store!’

    He would not curse; that he wove daily

    A hunger-web, would say no more.

    Then, then again would smile my mother

    And serve a plenteous meal to all;

    Then would rejoice each little brother—

    O that he would come! Rübezahl!


    Thus spake the little weaver lonely,

    Thus stood and cried he, weak and pale.

    In vain; the casual raven only

    Flew o’er the old gnome-haunted dale.

    Thus stood he while the hours passed slowly,

    Till the night-shadows dimmed the glen,

    And with white quivering lips said lowly,

    Amid his tears, yet once again,


    Then softly from the greenwood turning,

    He trembled, sighed, took up his pack,

    And to the unassuagéd mourning

    Of his poor home went slowly back.

    Oft paused he by the way, heart-aching,

    Feeble, and by his burden bowed.

    Methinks the famished father ’s making

    For that poor youth, even now, a shroud.