The Works of J. W. von Goethe/Volume 9/Explanation of an Ancient Woodcut, Representing Hans Sachs's Poetical Mission
EXPLANATION OF AN ANCIENT WOODCUT, REPRESENTING HANS SACHS'S POETICAL MISSION.
[I feel considerable hesitation in venturing to offer this version of a poem which Carlyle describes to be "a beautiful piece (a very Hans Sachs beatified, both in character and style), which we wish there was any possibility of translating." The reader will be aware that Hans Sachs was the celebrated minstrel-cobbler of Nuremberg, who wrote 208 plays, 1,700 comic tales, and between 4,000 and 5,000 lyric poems. He flourished throughout almost the whole of the sixteenth century.]
Early within his workshop here.
On Sundays stands our master dear;
His dirty apron he puts away,
And wears a cleanly doublet to-day;
Lets waxed thread, hammer, and pincers rest,
And lays his awl within his chest;
The seventh day he takes repose
From many pulls and many blows.
Soon as the spring-sun meets his view,
Repose begets him labour anew;
He feels that he holds within his brain
A little world that broods there amain,
And that begins to act and to live,
Which he unto others would gladly give.
He had a skilful eye and true,
And was full kind and loving, too.
For contemplation, clear and pure,—
For making all his own again, sure;
He had a tongue that charmed when 'twas heard,
And graceful and light flowed every word;
Which made the Muses in him rejoice,
The Master-singer of their choice.
And now a maiden entered there,
With swelling breast, and body fair;
With footing firm she took her place,
And moved with stately, noble grace;
She did not walk in wanton mood,
Nor look around with glances lewd.
She held a measure in her hand,
Her girdle was a golden band,
A wreath of corn was on her head,
Her eye the day's bright lustre shed;
Her name is honest Industry,
Else, Justice, Magnanimity.
She entered with a kindly greeting;
He felt no wonder at the meeting,
For, kind and fair as she might be,
He long had known her, fancied he.
"I have selected thee," she said,
"From all who earth's wild mazes tread,
That thou shouldst have clear-sighted sense,
And nought that's wrong should e'er commence.
When others run in strange confusion,
Thy gaze shall see through each illusion;
When others dolefully complain,
Thy cause with jesting thou shalt gain,
Honour and right shall value duly,
In everything act simply, truly,—
Virtue and godliness proclaim,
And call all evil by its name,
Nought soften down, attempt no quibble,
Nought polish up, nought vainly scribble.
The world shall stand before thee, then,
As seen by Albert Durer's ken,
In manliness and changeless life,
In inward strength and firmness rife.
Fair Nature's Genius by the hand
Shall lead thee on through every land,
Teach thee each different life to scan,
Show thee the wondrous ways of man,
His shifts, confusions, thrustings, drubbings,
Pushings, tearings, pressings, and rubbings;
The varying madness of the crew,
The ant-hill's ravings bring to view;
But thou shalt see all this expressed,
As though 'twere in a magic chest.
Write these things down for folks on earth,
In hopes they may to wit give birth."—
Then she a window opened wide,
And showed a motley crowd outside,
All kinds of beings 'neath the sky,
As in his writings one may spy.
Our master dear was after this,
On nature thinking, full of bliss,
When toward him, from the other side
He saw an aged woman glide;
The name she bears, Historia,
With footstep tottering and unstable
She dragged a large and wooden carved table.
Where, with wide sleeves and human mien,
The Lord was catechising seen;
Adam, Eve, Eden, the Serpent's seduction,
Gomorrah and Sodom's awful destruction,
The twelve illustrious women, too,
That mirror of honour brought to view;
All kinds of bloodthirstiness, murder, and sin,
The twelve wicked tyrants also were in,
And all kinds of goodly doctrine and law;
Saint Peter with his scourge you saw,
With the world's ways dissatisfied,
And by our Lord with power supplied.
Her train and dress, behind and before.
And e'en the seams, were painted o'er
With tales of worldly virtue and crime,—
Our master viewed all this for a time;
The sight right gladly he surveyed,
So useful for him in his trade,
Whence he was able to procure
Example good and precept sure,
Recounting all with truthful care,
As though he had been present there.
His spirit seemed from earth to fly,
He ne'er had turned away his eye,
Did he not just behind him hear
A rattle of bells approaching near.
And now a fool doth catch his eye.
With goat and ape's leap drawing nigh,
A merry interlude preparing
With fooleries and jests unsparing.
Behind him, in a line drawn out,
He dragged all fools, the lean and stout,
The great and little, the empty and full,
All too witty, and all too dull,
A lash he flourished overhead,
As though a dance of apes he led,
Abusing them with bitterness,
As though his wrath would ne'er grow less.
While on this sight our master gazed,
His head was growing well-nigh crazed:
What words for all could he e'er find,
Could such a medley be combined?
Could he continue with delight
For evermore to sing and write?
When lo! from out a cloud's dark bed
In at the upper window sped
The Muse, in all her majesty,
As fair as our loved maids we see.
With clearness she around him threw
Her truth, that ever stronger grew.
"I, to ordain thee come," she spake:
"So prosper, and my blessing take!
The holy fire that slumbering lies
Within thee, in bright flames shall rise;
Yet that thine ever-restless life
May still with kindly strength be rife,
I, for thine inward spirit's calm,
Have granted nourishment and balm,
That rapture may thy soul imbue,
Like some fair blossom bathed in dew."—
Behind his house then secretly
Outside the doorway pointed she,
Where in a shady garden-nook
A beauteous maid with downcast look
Was sitting where a stream was flowing,
With elder bushes near it growing;
She sat beneath an apple-tree,
And nought around her seemed to see.
Her lap was full of roses fair,
Which in a wreath she twined with care,
And with them leaves and blossoms blended:
For whom was that sweet wreath intended?
Thus sat she, modest and retired,
Her bosom throbbed, with hope inspired;
Such deep forebodings filled her mind,
No room for wishing could she find,
And with the thoughts that o'er it flew,
Perchance a sigh was mingled, too.
"But why should sorrow cloud thy brow?
That, dearest love, which fills thee now
Is fraught with joy and ecstasy,
Prepared in one alone for thee,
That he within thine eye may find
Solace when fortune proves unkind,
And be new-born through many a kiss,
That he receives with inward bliss;
Whene'er he clasps thee to his breast,
May he from all his toils find rest.
When he in thy dear arms shall sink,
May he new life and vigour drink:
Fresh joys of youth shalt thou obtain,
In merry jest rejoice again.
With raillery and roguish spite,
Thou now shalt tease him, now delight.
Thus Love will never more grow old.
Thus will the minstrel ne'er be cold."
While he thus lives, in secret blessed,
Above him in the clouds doth rest An oak-wreath, verdant and sublime,
Placed on his brow in after-time;
While they are banished to the slough,
Who their great master disavow.