Hermann and Dorothea
By Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (translated by Ellen Frothingham)
Public Domain Books
Fate and Sympathy
“Truly, I never have seen the market and street so deserted! How as if it were swept looks the town, or had perished! Not fifty Are there, methinks, of all our inhabitants in it remaining, What will not curiosity do! here is every one running, Hurrying to gaze on the sad procession of pitiful exiles. Fully a league it must be to the causeway they have to pass over, Yet all are hurrying down in the dusty heat of the noonday. I, in good sooth, would not stir from my place to witness the sorrows Borne by good, fugitive people, who now, with their rescued possessions, Driven, alas! from beyond the Rhine, their beautiful country, Over to us are coming, and through the prosperous corner Roam of this our luxuriant valley, and traverse its windings. Well hast thou done, good wife, our son in thus kindly dispatching, Laden with something to eat and to drink, and with store of old linen, ’Mongst the poor folk to distribute; for giving belongs to the wealthy. How the youth drives, to be sure! What control he has over the horses! Makes not our carriage a handsome appearance,the new one? With comfort, Four could be seated within, with a place on the box for the coachman. This time, he drove by himself. How lightly it rolled round the corner!" Thus, as he sat at his ease in the porch of his house on the market, Unto his wife was speaking mine host of the Golden Lion.
Thereupon answered and said the prudent, intelligent housewife: “Father, I am not inclined to be giving away my old linen: Since it serves many a purpose; and cannot be purchased for money, When we may want it. To-day, however, I gave, and with pleasure, Many a piece that was better, indeed, in shirts and in bed-clothes; For I was told of the aged and children who had to go naked. But wilt thou pardon me, father? thy wardrobe has also been plundered. And, in especial, the wrapper that has the East-Indian flowers, Made of the finest of chintz, and lined with delicate flannel, Gave I away: it was thin and old, and quite out of the fashion.”
Thereupon answered and said, with a smile, the excellent landlord: “Faith! I am sorry to lose it, my good old calico wrapper, Real East-Indian stuff: I never shall get such another. Well, I had given up wearing it: nowadays, custom compels us Always to go in surtout, and never appear but in jacket; Always to have on our boots; forbidden are night-cap and slippers.”
“See!” interrupted the wife; “even now some are yonder returning, Who have beheld the procession: it must, then, already be over. Look at the dust on their shoes! and see how their faces are glowing! Every one carries his kerchief, and with it is wiping the sweat off. Not for a sight like that would I run so far and so suffer, Through such a heat; in sooth, enough shall I have in the telling.”
Thereupon answered and said, with emphasis, thus, the good father: “Rarely does weather like this attend such a harvest as this is. We shall be bringing our grain in dry, as the hay was before it. Not the least cloud to be seen, so perfectly clear is the heaven; And, with delicious coolness, the wind blows in from the eastward. That is the weather to last! over-ripe are the cornfields already; We shall begin on the morrow to gather our copious harvest.”
Constantly, while he thus spoke, the crowds of men and of women Grew, who their homeward way were over the market-place wending; And, with the rest, there also returned, his daughters beside him, Back to his modernized house on the opposite side of the market, Foremost merchant of all the town, their opulent neighbor, Rapidly driving his open barouche,it was builded in Landau. Lively now grew the streets, for the city was handsomely peopled. Many a trade was therein carried on, and large manufactures.
Under their doorway thus the affectionate couple were sitting, Pleasing themselves with many remarks on the wandering people. Finally broke in, however, the worthy housewife, exclaiming: “Yonder our pastor, see! is hitherward coming, and with him Comes our neighbor the doctor, so they shall every thing tell us; All they have witnessed abroad, and which ’tis a sorrow to look on.”
Cordially then the two men drew nigh, and saluted the couple; Sat themselves down on the benches of wood that were placed in the doorway, Shaking the dust from their feet, and fanning themselves with their kerchiefs. Then was the doctor, as soon as exchanged were the mutual greetings, First to begin, and said, almost in a tone of vexation: “Such is mankind, forsooth! and one man is just like another, Liking to gape and to stare when ill-luck has befallen his neighbor. Every one hurries to look at the flames, as they soar in destruction; Runs to behold the poor culprit, to execution conducted: Now all are sallying forth to gaze on the need of these exiles, Nor is there one who considers that he, by a similar fortune, May, in the future, if not indeed next, be likewise o’ertaken. Levity not to be pardoned, I deem; yet it lies in man’s nature.”
Thereupon answered and said the noble, intelligent pastor; Ornament he of the town, still young, in the prime of his manhood. He was acquainted with life,with the needs of his hearers acquainted; Deeply imbued he was with the Holy Scriptures’ importance, As they reveal man’s destiny to us, and man’s disposition; Thoroughly versed, besides, in best of secular writings. “I should be loath,” he replied, “to censure an innocent instinct, Which to mankind by good mother Nature has always been given. What understanding and reason may sometimes fail to accomplish, Oft will such fortunate impulse, that bears us resistlessly with it. Did curiosity draw not man with its potent attraction, Say, would he ever have learned how harmoniously fitted together Worldly experiences are? For first what is novel he covets; Then with unwearying industry follows he after the useful; Finally longs for the good by which he is raised and ennobled. While he is young, such lightness of mind is a joyous companion, Traces of pain-giving evil effacing as soon as ’tis over. He is indeed to be praised, who, out of this gladness of temper, Has in his ripening years a sound understanding developed; Who, in good fortune or ill, with zeal and activity labors: Such an one bringeth to pass what is good, and repaireth the evil.”
Then broke familiarly in the housewife impatient, exclaiming: “Tell us of what ye have seen; for that I am longing to hear of!”
“Hardly,” with emphasis then the village doctor made answer, “Can I find spirits so soon after all the scenes I have witnessed. Oh, the manifold miseries! who shall be able to tell them? E’en before crossing the meadows, and while we were yet at a distance, Saw we the dust; but still from hill to hill the procession Passed away out of our sight, and we could distinguish but little, But when at last we were come to the street that crosses the valley, Great was the crowd and confusion of persons on foot and of wagons. There, alas! saw we enough of these poor unfortunates passing, And could from some of them learn how bitter the sorrowful flight was, Yet how joyful the feeling of life thus hastily rescued. Mournful it was to behold the most miscellaneous chattels, All those things which are housed in every well- furnished dwelling, All by the house-keeper’s care set up in their suitable places, Always ready for use; for useful is each and important.- Now these things to behold, piled up on all manner of wagons, One on the top of another, as hurriedly they had been rescued. Over the chest of drawers were the sieve and wool coverlet lying; Thrown in the kneading-trough lay the bed, and the sheets on the mirror. Danger, alas! as we learned ourselves in our great conflagration Twenty years since, will take from a man all power of reflection, So that he grasps things worthless and leaves what is precious behind him. Here, too, with unconsidering care they were carrying with them Pitiful trash, that only encumbered the horses and oxen; Such as old barrels and boards, the pen for the goose, and the bird-cage. Women and children, too, went toiling along with their bundles,
Panting ’neath baskets and tubs, full of things of no manner of value: So unwilling is man to relinquish his meanest possession. Thus on the dusty road the crowded procession moved forward, All confused and disordered. The one whose beasts were the weaker, Wanted more slowly to drive, while faster would hurry another. Presently went up a scream from the closely squeezed women and children, And with the yelping of dogs was mingled the lowing of cattle, Cries of distress from the aged and sick, who aloft on the wagon, Heavy and thus overpacked, upon beds were sitting and swaying. Pressed at last from the rut and out to the edge of the highway, Slipped the creaking wheel; the cart lost its balance, and over Fell in the ditch. In the swing the people were flung to a distance, Far off into the field, with horrible screams; by good fortune Later the boxes were thrown and fell more near to the wagon. Verily all who had witnessed the fall, expected to see them Crushed into pieces beneath the weight of trunks and of presses. So lay the cart all broken to fragments, and helpless the people. Keeping their onward way, the others drove hastily by them, Each thinking only of self, and carried away by the current. Then we ran to the spot, and found the sick and the aged, Those who at home and in bed could before their lingering ailments Scarcely endure,lying bruised on the ground, complaining and groaning, Choked by the billowing dust, and scorched by the heat of the noonday.”
Thereupon answered and said the kind-hearted landlord, with feeling: “Would that our Hermann might meet them and give them refreshment and clothing! Loath should I be to behold them: the looking on suffering pains me. Touched by the earliest tidings of their so cruel afflictions, Hastily sent we a mite from out of our super-abundance, Only that some might be strengthened, and we might ourselves be made easy. But let us now no longer renew these sorrowful pictures Knowing how readily fear steals into the heart of us mortals, And anxiety, worse to me than the actual evil. Come with me into the room behind, our cool little parlor, Where no sunbeam e’er shines, and no sultry breath ever enters Through its thickness of wall. There mother will bring us a flagon Of our old eighty-three, with which we may banish our fancies. Here ’tis not cosey to drink: the flies so buzz round the glasses." Thither adjourned they then, and all rejoiced in the coolness.
Carefully brought forth the mother the clear and glorious vintage, Cased in a well-polished flask, on a waiter of glittering pewter, Set round with large green glasses, the drinking cups meet for the Rhine Wine. So sat the three together about the highly waxed table, Gleaming and round and brown, that on mighty feet was supported, Joyously rang at once the glasses of landlord and pastor, But his motionless held the third, and sat lost in reflection, Until with words of good-humor the landlord challenged him, saying, “Come, sir neighbor, empty your glass, for God in his mercy Thus far has kept us from evil, and so in the future will keep us. For who acknowledges not, that since our dread conflagration, When he so hardly chastised us, he now is continually blessing, Constantly shielding, as man the apple of his eye watches over, Holding it precious and dear above all the rest of his members? Shall he in time to come not defend us and furnish us succor? Only when danger is nigh do we see how great is his power. Shall he this blooming town which he once by industrious burghers Built up afresh from its ashes, and afterwards blessed with abundance, Now demolish again, and bring all the labor to nothing? “
Cheerfully said in reply the excellent pastor, and kindly: “Keep thyself firm in the faith, and firm abide in this temper; For it makes steadfast and wise when fortune is fair, and when evil, Furnishes sweet consolation and animates hopes the sublimest.”
Then made answer the landlord, with thoughts judicious and manly: “Often the Rhine’s broad stream have I with astonishment greeted, As I have neared it again, after travelling abroad upon business. Always majestic it seemed, and my mind and spirit exalted. But I could never imagine its beautiful banks would so shortly Be to a rampart transformed, to keep from our borders the Frenchman, And its wide-spreading bed be a moat all passage to hinder. See! thus nature protects, the stout-hearted Germans protect us, And thus protects us the Lord, who then will he weakly despondent? Weary already the combatants, all indications are peaceful. Would it might be that when that festival, ardently longed for, Shall in our church be observed, when the sacred Te Deum is rising, Swelled by the pealing of organ and bells, and the blaring of trumpets, Would it might be that that day should behold my Hermann, sir pastor, Standing, his choice now made, with his bride before thee at the altar, Making that festal day, that through every land shall be honored, My anniversary, too, henceforth of domestic rejoicing! But I observe with regret, that the youth so efficient and active Ever in household affairs, when abroad is timid and backward. Little enjoyment he finds in going about among others; Nay, he will even avoid young ladies’ society wholly; Shuns the enlivening dance which all young persons delight in.”
Thus he spoke and listened; for now was heard in the distance Clattering of horses’ hoofs drawing near, and the roll of the wagon, Which, with furious haste, came thundering under the gateway.