The German Classics of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries Volume V Part 44

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Bertalda had meanwhile given herself up to a variety of strange thoughts. She knew a good deal of Undine’s origin, and yet not the whole, and the fearful Kuhleborn especially had remained to her a terrible but wholly unrevealed mystery. She had indeed never even heard his name. Musing on these strange things, she unclasped, scarcely conscious of the act; a gold necklace, which Huldbrand had lately purchased for her of a traveling trader; half dreamingly she drew it along the surface of the water, enjoying the light glimmer it cast upon the evening-tinted stream. Suddenly a huge hand was stretched out of the Danube, seizing the necklace and vanishing with it beneath the waters. Bertalda screamed aloud, and a scornful laugh resounded from the depths of the stream. The knight could now restrain his anger no longer. Starting up, he inveighed against the river; he cursed all who ventured to intrude upon his family and his life, and challenged them, be they spirits or sirens, to show themselves before his avenging sword.

Bertalda wept meanwhile for her lost ornament, which was so precious to her, and her tears added fuel to the flame of the knight’s anger, while Undine held her hand over the side of the vessel, dipping it into the water, softly murmuring to herself, and only now and then interrupting her strange mysterious whisper, as she entreated her husband, “My dearly loved one, do not scold me here; reprove others if you will, but not me here. You know why!” And indeed, he restrained the words of anger that were trembling on his tongue.

Presently in her wet hand which she had been holding under the waves she brought up a beautiful coral necklace of so much brilliancy that the eyes of all were dazzled by it. “Take this,” said she, holding it out kindly to Bertalda; “I have ordered this to be brought for you as a compensation, and don’t be grieved any more, my poor child.”

But the knight sprang between them. He tore the beautiful ornament from Undine’s hand, hurled it again into the river, exclaiming in pa.s.sionate rage, “Have you then still a connection with them? In the name of all the witches, remain among them with your presents and leave us mortals in peace, you sorceress!” Poor Undine gazed at him with fixed but tearful eyes, her hand still stretched out as when she had offered her beautiful present so lovingly to Bertalda. She then began to weep more and more violently, like a dear innocent child, bitterly afflicted. At last, wearied out, she said: “Alas, sweet friend, alas! farewell! They shall do you no harm; only remain true, so that I may be able to keep them from you. I must, alas, go away; I must go hence at this early stage of life. Oh woe, woe! What have you done! Oh woe, woe!”

She vanished over the side of the vessel. Whether she plunged into the stream or flowed away with it, they knew not; her disappearance was like both and neither. Soon, however, she was completely lost sight of in the Danube; only a few little waves kept whispering, as if sobbing, round the boat, and they almost seemed to be saying: “Oh woe, woe! Oh, remain true! Oh, woe!”

Huldbrand lay on the deck of the vessel, bathed in hot tears, and a deep swoon presently cast its veil of forgetfulness over the unhappy man.



Crimson morn, Shalt thou light me o’er Death’s bourn?

Soon will ring the trumpet’s call; Then may I be marked to fall, I and many a comrade brave!

Scarce enjoyed, Pleasure drops into the void.

Yesterday on champing stallion; Picked today for Death’s battalion; Couched tomorrow in the grave!

Ah! how soon Fleeth grace and beauty’s noon!

Hast thou pride in cheeks aglow, Whereon cream and carmine flow?

Ah! the loveliest rose turns sere!

Therefore still I respond to G.o.d’s high will.

To the last stern fight I’ll fit me; If to Death I must submit me, Dies a dauntless cavalier!

THE SENTINEL[48] (1827)

Lonely at night my watch I keep, While all the world is hush’d in sleep.

Then tow’rd my home my thoughts will rove; I think upon my distant love.

[Ill.u.s.tration: WILHELM HAUFF]

When to the wars I march’d away, My hat she deck’d with ribbons gay; She fondly press’d me to her heart, And wept to think that we must part.

[Ill.u.s.tration: THE SENTINAL]

Truly she loves me, I am sure, So ev’ry hardship I endure; My heart beats warm, though cold’s the night; Her image makes the darkness bright.

Now by the twinkling taper’s gleam, Her bed she seeks, of me to dream, But ere she sleeps she kneels to pray For one who loves her far away.

For me those tears thou needst not shed; No danger fills my heart with dread; The pow’rs who dwell in heav’n above Are ever watchful o’er thy love.

The bell peals forth from yon watch-tower; The guard it changes at this hour.

Sleep well! sleep well! my heart’s with thee; And in your dreams remember me.


BARBAROSSA[49] (Between 1814 and 1817)

The ancient Barbarossa, Friedrich, the Kaiser great, Within the castle-cavern Sits in enchanted state.

He did not die; but ever Waits in the chamber deep, Where hidden under the castle He sat himself to sleep.

The splendor of the Empire He took with him away, And back to earth will bring it When dawns the promised day.

The chair is ivory purest Whereof he makes his bed; The table is of marble Whereon he props his head.

His beard, not flax, but burning With fierce and fiery glow, Right through the marble table Beneath his chair does grow.

He nods in dreams and winketh With dull, half-open eyes, And once a page he beckons beckons– A page that standeth by.

[Ill.u.s.tration: FRIEDRICH RuCKERT]

He bids the boy in slumber “O dwarf, go up this hour, And see if still the ravens Are flying round the tower;

And if the ancient ravens Still wheel above us here, Then must I sleep enchanted For many a hundred year.”

FROM MY CHILDHOOD DAYS[50] (1817, 1818)

From my childhood days, from my childhood days, Rings an old song’s plaintive tone– Oh, how long the ways, oh, how long the ways I since have gone!

What the swallow sang, what the swallow sang, In spring or in autumn warm– Do its echoes hang, do its echoes hang About the farm?

“When I went away, when I went away, Full coffers and chests were there; When I came today, when I came today, All, all was bare!”

Childish lips so wise, childish lips so wise, With a lore as rich as gold, Knowing all birds’ cries, knowing all birds’ cries, Like the sage of old!

Ah, the dear old place–ah, the dear old place * * *

May its sweet consoling gleam Shine upon my face, shine upon my face, Once in a dream!