15 June 2005 | Vol. 5, No. 2
Hermann and Dorothea: 8. Melpomene
HERMANN AND DOROTHEA
Towards the setting sun the two thus went on their journey:
Close he had wrapped himself round with clouds portending a tempest.
Out from the veil, now here and now there, with fiery flashes,
Gleaming over the field shot forth the ominous lightning.
"May not these threatening heavens," said Hermann, "be presently sending
Hailstones upon us and violent rains; for fair is the harvest."
And in the waving luxuriant grain they delighted together:
Almost as high it reached as the lofty shapes that moved through it.
Thereupon spoke the maiden, and said to her guide and companion:
"Friend, unto whom I soon am to owe so kindly a fortune,
Shelter and home, while many an exile's exposed to the tempest,
Tell me concerning thy parents, I pray thee, and teach me to know them,
Them whom with all my heart I desire to serve in the future.
Who understands his master, more easily gives satisfaction,
Having regard to the things which to him seem chief in importance,
And on the doing of which his firm-set mind is determined.
Tell me therefore, I pray, how to win thy father and mother."
And to her question made answer the good and intelligent Hermann:
"Ah, what wisdom thou showest, thou good, thou excellent maiden,
Asking thus first of all concerning the tastes of my parents!
Know that in vain hitherto I have labored in serving my father,
Taking upon me as were it my own, the charge of the household;
Early and late at work in the fields, and o'erseeing the vineyard.
But my mother I fully content, who can value my service;
And thou wilt also appear in her eyes the worthiest of maidens,
If for the house thou carest, as were it thine own thou wast keeping.
Otherwise is it with father, who cares for the outward appearance.
Do not regard me, good maiden, as one who is cold and unfeeling,
That unto thee a stranger I straightway discover my father.
Nay, I assure thee that never before have words such as these are
Freely dropped from my tongue, which is not accustomed to prattle;
But from out of my bosom thou lurest its every secret.
Some of the graces of life my good father covets about him,
Outward signs of affection he wishes, as well as of honor;
And an inferior servant might possibly give satisfaction,
Who could turn these to account, while he might be displeased with a better."
Thereupon said she with joy, the while her hastening footsteps
Over the darkening pathway with easy motion she quickened:
"Truly I hope to them both I shall equally give satisfaction:
For in thy mother's nature I find such an one as mine own is,
And to the outward graces I've been from my childhood accustomed.
Greatly was courtesy valued among our neighbors the Frenchmen,
During their earlier days; it was common to noble and burgher,
As to the peasant, and every one made it the rule of his household.
So, on the side of us Germans, the children were likewise accustomed
Daily to bring to their parents, with kissing of hands and with curtseys,
Morning good-wishes, and all through the day to be prettily mannered.
Every thing thus that I learned, and to which I've been used from my childhood,
All that my heart shall suggest, shall be brought into play for thy father.
But who shall tell me of thee, and how thyself shouldst be treated,
Thou the only son of the house, and henceforth my master?"
Thus she said, and e'en as she spoke they stood under the pear-tree.
Down from the heavens the moon at her full was shedding her splendor.
Night had come on, and wholly obscured was the last gleam of sunlight,
So that contrasting masses lay side by side with each other,
Clear and bright as the day, and black with the shadows of midnight;
Gratefully fell upon Hermann's ear the kindly asked question
Under the shade of the glorious tree, the spot he so treasured,
Which but this morning had witnessed the tears he had shed for the exile.
And while they sat themselves down to rest them here for a little,
Thus spoke the amorous youth, as he grasped the hand of the maiden:
"Suffer thy heart to make answer, and follow it freely in all things."
Yet naught further he ventured to say although so propitious
Seemed the hour: he feared he should only haste on a refusal.
Ah, and he felt besides the ring on her finger, sad token!
Therefore they sat there, silent and still, beside one another.
First was the maiden to speak: "How sweet is this glorious moonlight!"
Said she at length: "It is as the light of the day in its brightness.
There in the city I plainly can see the houses and courtyards,
And in the gable—methinks I can number its panes-is a window."
"What thou seest," the modest youth thereupon made her answer,—
"What thou seest is our dwelling, to which I am leading thee downward,
And that window yonder belongs to my room in the attic,
Which will be thine perhaps, for various changes are making.
All these fields, too, are ours; they are ripe for the harvest to-morrow.
Here in the shade we will rest, and partake of our noontide refreshment.
But it is time we began our descent through the vineyard and garden;
For dost thou mark how yon threatening storm-cloud comes nearer and nearer,
Charged with lightning, and ready our fair full moon to extinguish?"
So they arose from their seats, and over the cornfields descended,
Through the luxuriant grain, enjoying the brightness of evening,
Until they came to the vineyard, and so entered into its shadow.
Then he guided her down o'er the numerous blocks that were lying,
Rough and unhewn on the pathway, and served as the steps of the alley.
Slowly the maiden descended, and leaning her hands on his shoulder,
While with uncertain beams, the moon through the leaves overlooked them,
Ere she was veiled by the cloud, and so left the couple in darkness.
Carefully Hermann's strength supported the maid that hung o'er him;
But, not knowing the path and the rough-hewn steps that led down it,
Missed she her footing, her ankle turned, and she surely had fallen,
Had not the dexterous youth his arm outstretched in an instant,
And his beloved upheld. She gently sank on his shoulder;
Breast was pressed against breast, and cheek against cheek. Thus he stood there
Fixed as a marble statue, the force of will keeping him steadfast,
Drew her not to him more closely, but braced himself under her pressure.
Thus he the glorious burden felt, the warmth of her bosom,
And the perfume of her breath, that over his lips was exhaling;
Bore with the heart of a man the majestic form of the woman.
But she with playfulness said, concealing the pain that she suffered:
"That is a sign of misfortune, so timorous persons would tell us,
When on approaching a house we stumble not far from the threshold;
And for myself, I confess, I could wish for a happier omen.
Let us here linger awhile that thy parents may not have to blame thee,
Seeing a limping maid, and thou seem an incompetent landlord."
About the author:
1749-1832. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe is widely considered the greatest of German writers. Learn more about Goethe at Wikipedia.
For further reading:
See the complete list of work by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe at 42opus. Browse the contents of 42opus Vol. 5, No. 2, where "Hermann and Dorothea: 8. Melpomene" ran on June 15, 2005. List other work with these same labels: poetry, classic, translation.