[Goethe describes this much-admired Poem, which
he wrote in honour of his love Lily, as being “designed to change
his surrender of her into despair, by drolly-fretful images.”]
THERE’S no menagerie, I vow,
Excels my Lily’s at this minute;
She keeps the strangest creatures in it,
And catches them, she knows not how.
Oh, how they hop, and run, and rave,
And their clipp’d pinions wildly wave,–
Poor princes, who must all endure
The pangs of love that nought can cure.
What is the fairy’s name?–Is’t Lily?–Ask not me!
Give thanks to Heaven if she’s unknown to thee.
Oh what a cackling, what a shrieking,
When near the door she takes her stand,
With her food-basket in her hand!
Oh what a croaking, what a squeaking!
Alive all the trees and the bushes appear,
While to her feet whole troops draw near;
The very fish within, the water clear
Splash with impatience and their heads protrude;
And then she throws around the food
With such a look!–the very gods delighting
(To say nought of beasts). There begins, then, a biting,
A picking, a pecking, a sipping,
And each o’er the legs of another is tripping,
And pushing, and pressing, and flapping,
And chasing, and fuming, and snapping,
And all for one small piece of bread,
To which, though dry, her fair hands give a taste,
As though it in ambrosia had been plac’d.
And then her look! the tone
With which she calls: Pipi! Pipi!
Would draw Jove’s eagle from his throne;
Yes, Venus’ turtle doves, I wean,
And the vain peacock e’en,
Would come, I swear,
Soon as that tone had reach’d them through the air.
E’en from a forest dark had she
Enticed a bear, unlick’d, ill-bred,
And, by her wiles alluring, led
To join the gentle company,
Until as tame as they was he:
(Up to a certain point, be’t understood!)
How fair, and, ah, how good
She seem’d to be! I would have drain’d my blood
To water e’en her flow’rets sweet.
“Thou sayest: I! Who? How? And where?”–
Well, to be plain, good Sirs–I am the bear;
In a net-apron, caught, alas!
Chain’d by a silk-thread at her feet.
But how this wonder came to pass
I’ll tell some day, if ye are curious;
Just now, my temper’s much too furious.
Ah, when I’m in the corner plac’d,
And hear afar the creatures snapping,
And see the flipping and the flapping,
I turn around
With growling sound,
And backward run a step in haste,
And look around
With growling sound.
Then run again a step in haste,
And to my former post go round.
But suddenly my anger grows,
A mighty spirit fills my nose,
My inward feelings all revolt.
A creature such as thou! a dolt!
Pipi, a squirrel able nuts to crack!
I bristle up my shaggy back
Unused a slave to be.
I’m laughed at by each trim and upstart tree
To scorn. The bowling-green I fly,
With neatly-mown and well-kept grass:
The box makes faces as I pass,–
Into the darkest thicket hasten I,
Hoping to ‘scape from the ring,
Over the palings to spring!
Vainly I leap and climb;
I feel a leaden spell.
That pinions me as well,
And when I’m fully wearied out in time,
I lay me down beside some mock-cascade,
And roll myself half dead, and foam, and cry,
And, ah! no Oreads hear my sigh,
Excepting those of china made!
But, ah, with sudden power
In all my members blissful feelings reign!
‘Tis she who singeth yonder in her bower!
I hear that darling, darling voice again.
The air is warm, and teems with fragrance clear,
Sings she perchance for me alone to hear?
I haste, and trample down the shrubs amain;
The trees make way, the bushes all retreat,
And so–the beast is lying at her feet.
She looks at him: “The monster’s droll enough!
He’s, for a bear, too mild,
Yet, for a dog, too wild,
So shaggy, clumsy, rough!”
Upon his back she gently strokes her foot;
He thinks himself in Paradise.
What feelings through his seven senses shoot!
But she looks on with careless eyes.
I lick her soles, and kiss her shoes,
As gently as a bear well may;
Softly I rise, and with a clever ruse
Leap on her knee.–On a propitious day
She suffers it; my ears then tickles she,
And hits me a hard blow in wanton play;
I growl with new-born ecstasy;
Then speaks she in a sweet vain jest, I wot
“Allons lout doux! eh! la menotte!
Et faites serviteur
Comme un joli seigneur.”
Thus she proceeds with sport and glee;
Hope fills the oft-deluded beast;
Yet if one moment he would lazy be,
Her fondness all at once hath ceas’d.
She doth a flask of balsam-fire possess,
Sweeter than honey bees can make,
One drop of which she’ll on her finger take,
When soften’d by his love and faithfulness,
Wherewith her monster’s raging thirst to slake;
Then leaves me to myself, and flies at last,
And I, unbound, yet prison’d fast
By magic, follow in her train,
Seek for her, tremble, fly again.
The hapless creature thus tormenteth she,
Regardless of his pleasure or his woe;
Ha! oft half-open’d does she leave the door for me,
And sideways looks to learn if I will fly or no.
And I–Oh gods! your hands alone
Can end the spell that’s o’er me thrown;
Free me, and gratitude my heart will fill;
And yet from heaven ye send me down no aid–
Not quite in vain doth life my limbs pervade:
I feel it! Strength is left me still.