[First published in Schiller’s Horen, in connection
friendly contest in the art of ballad-writing between the two
great poets, to which many of their finest works are owing.]
ONCE a stranger youth to Corinth came,
Who in Athens lived, but hoped that he
From a certain townsman there might claim,
As his father’s friend, kind courtesy.
Son and daughter, they
Had been wont to say
Should thereafter bride and bridegroom be.
But can he that boon so highly prized,
Save tis dearly bought, now hope to get?
They are Christians and have been baptized,
He and all of his are heathens yet.
For a newborn creed,
Like some loathsome weed,
Love and truth to root out oft will threat.
Father, daughter, all had gone to rest,
And the mother only watches late;
She receives with courtesy the guest,
And conducts him to the room of state.
Wine and food are brought,
Ere by him besought;
Bidding him good night. she leaves him straight.
But he feels no relish now, in truth,
For the dainties so profusely spread;
Meat and drink forgets the wearied youth,
And, still dress’d, he lays him on the bed.
Scarce are closed his eyes,
When a form in-hies
Through the open door with silent tread.
By his glimmering lamp discerns he now
How, in veil and garment white array’d,
With a black and gold band round her brow,
Glides into the room a bashful maid.
But she, at his sight,
Lifts her hand so white,
And appears as though full sore afraid.
“Am I,” cries she, “such a stranger here,
That the guest’s approach they could not name?
Ah, they keep me in my cloister drear,
Well nigh feel I vanquish’d by my shame.
On thy soft couch now
Slumber calmly thou!
I’ll return as swiftly as I came.”
“Stay, thou fairest maiden!” cries the boy,
Starting from his couch with eager haste:
“Here are Ceres’, Bacchus’ gifts of joy;
Amor bringest thou, with beauty grac’d!
Thou art pale with fear!
Loved one let us here
Prove the raptures the Immortals taste.”
“Draw not nigh, O Youth! afar remain!
Rapture now can never smile on me;
For the fatal step, alas! is ta’en,
Through my mother’s sick-bed phantasy.
Cured, she made this oath:
‘Youth and nature both
Shall henceforth to Heav’n devoted be.’
“From the house, so silent now, are driven
All the gods who reign’d supreme of yore;
One Invisible now rules in heaven,
On the cross a Saviour they adore.
Victims slay they here,
Neither lamb nor steer,
But the altars reek with human gore.”
And he lists, and ev’ry word he weighs,
While his eager soul drinks in each sound:
“Can it be that now before my gaze
Stands my loved one on this silent ground?
Pledge to me thy troth!
Through our father’s oath:
With Heav’ns blessing will our love be crown’d.”
“Kindly youth, I never can be thine!
‘Tis my sister they intend for thee.
When I in the silent cloister pine,
Ah, within her arms remember me!
Thee alone I love,
While love’s pangs I prove;
Soon the earth will veil my misery.”
“No! for by this glowing flame I swear,
Hymen hath himself propitious shown:
Let us to my fathers house repair,
And thoult find that joy is not yet flown,
Sweetest, here then stay,
And without delay
Hold we now our wedding feast alone!”
Then exchange they tokens of their truth;
She gives him a golden chain to wear,
And a silver chalice would the youth
Give her in return of beauty rare.
“That is not for me;
Yet I beg of thee,
One lock only give me of thy hair.”
Now the ghostly hour of midnight knell’d,
And she seem’d right joyous at the sign;
To her pallid lips the cup she held,
But she drank of nought but blood-red wine.
For to taste the bread
There before them spread,
Nought he spoke could make the maid incline.
To the youth the goblet then she brought,–
He too quaff’d with eager joy the bowl.
Love to crown the silent feast he sought,
Ah! full love-sick was the stripling’s soul.
From his prayer she shrinks,
Till at length he sinks
On the bed and weeps without control.
And she comes, and lays her near the boy:
“How I grieve to see thee sorrowing so!
If thou think’st to clasp my form with joy,
Thou must learn this secret sad to know;
Yes! the maid, whom thou
Call’st thy loved one now,
Is as cold as ice, though white as snow.”
Then he clasps her madly in his arm,
While love’s youthful might pervades his frame:
“Thou might’st hope, when with me, to grow warm,
E’en if from the grave thy spirit came!
Breath for breath, and kiss!
Overflow of bliss!
Dost not thou, like me, feel passion’s flame?”
Love still closer rivets now their lips,
Tears they mingle with their rapture blest,
From his mouth the flame she wildly sips,
Each is with the other’s thought possess’d.
His hot ardour’s flood
Warms her chilly blood,
But no heart is beating in her breast.
In her care to see that nought went wrong,
Now the mother happen’d to draw near;
At the door long hearkens she, full long,
Wond’ring at the sounds that greet her ear.
Tones of joy and sadness,
And love’s blissful madness,
As of bride and bridegroom they appear,
From the door she will not now remove
‘Till she gains full certainty of this;
And with anger hears she vows of love,
Soft caressing words of mutual bliss.
“Hush! the cock’s loud strain!
But thoult come again,
When the night returns!”–then kiss on kiss.
Then her wrath the mother cannot hold,
But unfastens straight the lock with ease
“In this house are girls become so bold,
As to seek e’en strangers’ lusts to please?”
By her lamp’s clear glow
Looks she in,–and oh!
Sight of horror!–’tis her child she sees.
Fain the youth would, in his first alarm,
With the veil that o’er her had been spread,
With the carpet, shield his love from harm;
But she casts them from her, void of dread,
And with spirit’s strength,
In its spectre length,
Lifts her figure slowly from the bed.
“Mother! mother!”–Thus her wan lips say:
“May not I one night of rapture share?
From the warm couch am I chased away?
Do I waken only to despair?
It contents not thee
To have driven me
An untimely shroud of death to wear?
“But from out my coffin’s prison-bounds
By a wond’rous fate I’m forced to rove,
While the blessings and the chaunting sounds
That your priests delight in, useless prove.
Water, salt, are vain
Fervent youth to chain,
Ah, e’en Earth can never cool down love!
“When that infant vow of love was spoken,
Venus’ radiant temple smiled on both.
Mother! thou that promise since hast broken,
Fetter’d by a strange, deceitful oath.
Gods, though, hearken ne’er,
Should a mother swear
To deny her daughter’s plighted troth.
From my grave to wander I am forc’d,
Still to seek The Good’s long-sever’d link,
Still to love the bridegroom I have lost,
And the life-blood of his heart to drink;
When his race is run,
I must hasten on,
And the young must ‘neath my vengeance sink,
“Beauteous youth! no longer mayst thou live;
Here must shrivel up thy form so fair;
Did not I to thee a token give,
Taking in return this lock of hair?
View it to thy sorrow!
Grey thoult be to-morrow,
Only to grow brown again when there.
“Mother, to this final prayer give ear!
Let a funeral pile be straightway dress’d;
Open then my cell so sad and drear,
That the flames may give the lovers rest!
When ascends the fire
From the glowing pyre,
To the gods of old we’ll hasten, blest.”