The Works of J. W. von Goethe/Volume 9/Alexis and Dora



[This beautiful poem was first published in Schiller's Horen.]

Farther and farther away, alas! at each moment the vessel
Hastens, as onward it glides, cleaving the foam-covered flood!
Long is the track ploughed up by the keel where dolphins are sporting,
Following fast in its rear, while it seems flying pursuit.
All forebodes a prosperous voyage; the sailor with calmness
Leans 'gainst the sail, which alone all that is needed performs.
Forward presses the heart of each seaman, like colours and streamers;
Backward one only is seen, mournfully fixed near the mast,
While on the blue-tinged mountains, which fast are receding, he gazeth,
And as they sink in the sea, joy from his bosom departs.
Vanished from thee, too, O Dora, is now the vessel that robs thee
Of thine Alexis, thy friend,—ah, thy betrothed as well!
Thou, too, art after me gazing in vain. Our hearts are still throbbing,
Though, for each other, yet, ah! 'gainst one another no more.
Oh, thou single moment wherein I found life! thou outweighest
Every day which had else coldly from memory fled.
'Twas in that moment alone, the last, that upon me descended
Life, such as deities grant, though thou perceived'st it not.
Phœbus, in vain with thy rays dost thou clothe the ether in glory:
Thine all-brightening day hateful alone is to me.
Into myself I retreat for shelter, and there, in the silence,
Strive to recover the time when she appeared with each day.
Was it possible beauty like this to see, and not feel it?
Worked not those heavenly charms e'en on a mind dull as thine?
Blame not thyself, unhappy one! Oft doth the bard an enigma
Thus propose to the throng, skilfully hidden in words.
Each one enjoys the strange commingling of images graceful,
Yet still is wanting the word which will discover the sense.
When at length it is found, the heart of each hearer is gladdened,
And in the poem he sees meaning of twofold delight.
Wherefore so late didst thou remove the bandage, O Amor,
Which thou hadst placed o'er mine eyes,—wherefore remove it so late?
Long did the vessel, when laden, lie waiting for favouring breezes,
Till in kindness the wind blew from the land o'er the sea.
Vacant times of youth! and vacant dreams of the future!
Ye all vanish, and nought, saving the moment, remains.
Yes! it remains,—my joy still remains! I hold thee, my Dora,
And thine image alone, Dora, by hope is disclosed.
Oft have I seen thee go, with modesty clad, to the temple,
While thy mother so dear solemnly went by thy side.
Eager and nimble thou wert, in bearing thy fruit to the market,
Boldly the pail from the well didst thou sustain on thy head.
Then was revealed thy neck, then seen thy shoulders so beauteous,
Then, before all things, the grace filling thy motions was seen.
Oft have I feared that the pitcher perchance was in danger of falling,
Yet it ever remained firm on the circular cloth.
Thus, fair neighbour, yes, thus I oft was wont to observe thee,
As on the stars I might gaze, as I might gaze on the moon,
Glad indeed at the sight, yet feeling within my calm bosom
Not the remotest desire ever to call them mine own.
Years thus fleeted away! Although our houses were only
Twenty paces apart, yet I thy threshold ne'er crossed.
Now by the fearful flood are we parted! Thou liest to Heaven,
Billow! thy beautiful blue seems to me dark as the night.
All were now in movement: a boy to the house of my father
Ran at full speed and exclaimed: "Hasten thee quick to the strand!
Hoisted the sail is already, e'en now in the wind it is fluttering,
While the anchor they weigh, heaving it up from the sand;
Come, Alexis, oh, come!"—My worthy stout-hearted father
Pressed, with a blessing, his hand down on my curly-locked head,
While my mother carefully reached me a newly-made bundle;
"Happy may'st thou return!" cried they—"both happy and rich!"
Then I sprang away, and under my arm held the bundle,
Running along by the wall. Standing I found thee hard by,
At the door of thy garden. Thou smilingly saidst then: "Alexis!
Say, are yon boisterous crew going thy comrades to be?
Foreign coasts wilt thou visit, and precious merchandise purchase.
Ornaments meet for the rich matrons who dwell in the town;
Bring me, also, I pray thee, a light chain; gladly I'll pay thee,
Oft have I wished to possess some such trinket as that."
There I remained, and asked, as merchants are wont, with precision
After the form and the weight which thy commission should have.
Modest, indeed, was the price thou didst name! I meanwhile was gazing
On thy neck, which deserved ornaments worn but by queens.
Loudly now rose the cry from the ship; then kindly thou spakest:—
"Take, I entreat thee, some fruit out of the garden, my friend!
Take the ripest oranges, figs of the whitest; the ocean
Beareth no fruit, and, in truth, 'tis not produced by each land."
So I entered in. Thou pluckedst the fruit from the branches,
And the burden of gold was in thine apron upheld.
Oft did I cry, enough! But fairer fruits were still falling
Into thy hand as I spake, ever obeying thy touch.
Presently didst thou reach the arbour; there lay there a basket,
Sweet blooming myrtle-trees waved, as we drew nigh, o'er our heads.
Then thou began'st to arrange the fruit with skill and in silence:
First the orange, which lay heavy as though 'twere of gold,
Then the yielding fig, by the slightest pressure disfigured,
And with myrtle the gift soon was both covered and graced.
But I raised it not up. I stood. Our eyes met together,
And my eyesight grew dim, seeming obscured by a film.
Soon I felt thy bosom on mine! Mine arm was soon twining
Round thy beautiful form; thousand times kissed I thy neck.
On my shoulder sank thy head; thy fair arms, encircling,
Soon rendered perfect the ring knitting the rapturous pair.
Amor's hands I felt: he pressed us together with ardour,
And, from the firmament clear, thrice did it thunder; then tears
Streamed from mine eyes in torrents, thou weptest, I wept, both were weeping,
And, 'mid our sorrow and bliss, even the world seemed to die.
Louder and louder they called from the strand; my feet would no longer
Bear my weight, and I cried: "Dora! and art thou not mine?"
"Thine for ever!" thou gently didst say. Then the tears we were shedding
Seemed to be wiped from our eyes, as by the breath of a god.
Nearer was heard the cry "Alexis!" The stripling who sought me
Suddenly peeped through the door. How he the basket snatched up!
How he urged me away! how pressed I thy hand! Dost thou ask me
How the vessel I reached? Drunken I seemed, well I know.
Drunken my shipmates believed me, and so had pity upon me;
And as the breeze drove us on, distance the town soon obscured.
"Thine for ever!" thou, Dora, didst murmur; it fell on my senses
With the thunder of Zeus! while by the thunderer's throne
Stood his daughter, the Goddess of Love; the Graces were standing
Close by her side! so the bond beareth an impress divine!
Oh, then hasten, thou ship, with every favouring zephyr!
Onward, thou powerful keel, cleaving the waves as they foam!
Bring me unto the foreign harbour, so that the goldsmith
May in his workshop prepare straightway the heavenly pledge!
Ay, of a truth, the chain shall indeed be a chain, O my Dora!
Nine times encircling thy neck, loosely around it entwined.
Other and manifold trinkets I'll buy thee; goldmounted bracelets,
Richly and skilfully wrought, also shall grace thy fair hand.
There shall the ruby and emerald vie, the sapphire so lovely
Be to the jacinth opposed, seeming its foil; while the gold
Holds all the jewels together, in beauteous union commingled.
Oh, how the bridegroom exults, when he adorns his betrothed!
Pearls if I see, of thee they remind me; each ring that is shown me
Brings to my mind thy fair hand's graceful and tapering form.
I will barter and buy; the fairest of all shalt thou choose thee,
Joyously would I devote all of the cargo to thee.
Yet not trinkets and jewels alone is thy loved one procuring;
With them he brings thee whate'er gives to a housewife delight.
Fine and woollen coverlets, wrought with an edging of purple,
Fit for a couch where we both, lovingly, gently may rest;
Costly pieces of linen. Thou sittest and sewest, and clothest
Me, and thyself, and, perchance, even a third with it too.
Visions of hope, deceive ye my heart! Ye kindly Immortals,
Soften this fierce-raging flame, wildly pervading my breast!
Yet how I long to feel them again, those rapturous torments,
When, in their stead, care draws nigh, coldly and fearfully calm.
Neither the Furies' torch, nor the hounds of hell with their barking
Awe the delinquent so much, down in the plains of despair,
As by the motionless spectre I'm awed, that shows me the fair one
Far away; of a truth, open the garden-door stands!
And another one cometh! For him the fruit, too, is falling,
And for him, also, the fig strengthening honey doth yield!
Doth she entice him as well to the arbour? He follows? Oh, make me
Blind, ye Immortals! efface visions like this from my mind!
Yes, she is but a maiden! And she who to one doth so quickly
Yield, to another ere long, doubtless, will turn herself round.
Smile not, Zeus, for this once, at an oath so cruelly broken!
Thunder more fearfully! Strike!—Stay—thy fierce lightnings withhold!
Hurl at me thy quivering bolt! In the darkness of midnight
Strike with thy lightning this mast, make it a pitiful wreck!
Scatter the planks all around, and give to the boisterous billows
All these wares, and let me be to the dolphins a prey!—
Now, ye Muses, enough! In vain would ye strive to depicture
How, in a love-laden breast, anguish alternates with bliss.
Ye cannot heal the wounds, it is true, that love hath inflicted;
Yet from you only proceeds, kindly ones, comfort and balm.