The Works of J. W. von Goethe/Volume 9/The Bride of Corinth
THE BRIDE OF CORINTH.
A youth to Corinth, whilst the city slumbered,
Came from Athens: though a stranger there,
Soon among its townsmen to be numbered,
For a bride awaits him, young and fair.
From their childhood's years
They were plighted feres,
So contracted by their parents' care.
But may not his welcome there he hindered?
Dearly must he buy it, would he speed.
He is still a heathen with his kindred,
She and hers washed in the Christian creed.
When new faiths are born.
Love and troth are torn
Rudely from the heart, howe'er it bleed.
All the house is hushed;—to rest retreated
Father, daughters—not the mother quite;
She the guest with cordial welcome greeted,
Led him to a room with tapers bright;
Wine and food she brought,
Ere of them he thought,
Then departed with a fair good-night.
But he felt no hunger, and unheeded
Left the wine, and eager for the rest
Which his limbs, forspent with travel, needed,
On the couch he laid him, still undressed.
There he sleeps—when lo!
Onwards gliding slow,
At the door appears a wondrous guest.
By the waning lamp's uncertain gleaming
There he sees a youthful maiden stand,
Robed in white, of still and gentle seeming,
On her brow a black and golden band.
When she meets his eyes,
With a quick surprise
Starting, she uplifts a pallid hand.
"Is a stranger here, and nothing told me?
Am I then forgotten even in name?
Ah! 'tis thus within my cell they hold me,
And I now am covered o'er with shame!
Pillow still thy head
There upon thy bed,
I will leave thee quickly as I came."
"Maiden—darling! Stay, O stay!" and, leaping
From the couch before her stands the boy:
"Ceres—Bacchus, here their gifts are heaping.
And thou bringest Amor's gentle joy!
Why with terror pale?
Sweet one, let us hail
These bright gods their festive gifts employ."
"Oh, no—no! Young stranger, come not nigh me
Joy is not for me, nor festive cheer.
Ah! such bliss may ne'er be tasted by me,
Since my mother, in fantastic fear,
By long sickness bowed,
To heaven's service vowed
Me, and all the hopes that warmed me here.
"They have left our hearth, and left it lonely, —
The old gods, that bright and jocund train.
One, unseen, in heaven, is worshipped only.
And upon the cross a Saviour slain;
Sacrifice is here,
Not of lamb nor steer,
But of human woe and human pain."
And he asks, and all her words doth ponder,—
"Can it be that in this silent spot,
I behold thee, thou surpassing wonder!
My sweet bride, so strangely to me brought?
Be mine only now—
See, our parents' vow
Heaven's good blessing hath for us besought."
No! thou gentle heart," she cried in anguish;
"'Tis not mine, but 'tis my sister's place;
When in lonely cell I weep and languish,
Think, oh, think of me in her embrace!
I think but of thee—
Soon beneath the earth to hide my face!"
"Nay! I swear by yonder flame which burneth,
Fanned by Hymen, lost thou shalt not be;
Droop not thus, for my sweet bride returneth
To my father's mansion back with me!
Dearest, tarry here!
Taste the bridal cheer,
For our spousal spread so wondrously!"
Then with word and sigh their troth they plighted,
Golden was the chain she bade him wear,
But the cup he offered her she slighted,
Silver, wrought with cunning past compare.
"That is not for me;
All I ask of thee
Is one little ringlet of thy hair!"
Dully boomed the midnight hour unhallowed,
And then first her eyes began to shine;
Eagerly with pallid lips she swallowed
Hasty draughts of purple-tinctured wine;
But the wheaten bread,
As in shuddering dread,
Put she always by with loathing sign.
And she gave the youth the cup: he drained it,
With impetuous haste he drained it dry;
Love was in his fevered heart, and pained it,
Till it ached for joy she must deny.
But the maiden's fears
Stayed him, till in tears
On the bed he sank, with sobbing cry.
And she leans above him—"Dear one, still thee!
Ah, how sad am I to see thee so!
But, alas! these limbs of mine would chill thee:
Love! they mantle not with passion's glow;
Thou wouldst be afraid,
Didst thou find the maid
Thou hast chosen, cold as ice or snow."
Round her waist his eager arms he bended,
With the strength that youth and love inspire;
"Wert thou even from the grave ascended,
I could warm thee well with my desire!"
Panting kiss on kiss!
Overflow of bliss!
"Burn'st thou not, and feelest me on fire?"
Closer yet they cling, and intermingling.
Tears and broken sobs proclaim the rest;
His hot breath through all her frame is tingling,
There they lie, caressing and caressed.
His impassioned mood
Warms her torpid blood,
Yet there beats no heart within her breast!
Meanwhile goes the mother, softly creeping
Through the house, on needful cares intent,
Hears a murmur, and, while all are sleeping,
Wonders at the sounds, and what they meant.
Who was whispering so?—
Voices soft and low,
In mysterious converse strangely blent.
Straightway by the door herself she stations,
There to be assured what was amiss;
And she hears love's fiery protestations,
Words of ardour and endearing bliss:
"Hark, the cock! 'Tis light!
But to-morrow night
Thou wilt come again?" and kiss on kiss.
Quick the latch she raises, and, with features
Anger-flushed, into the chamber hies.
"Are there in my house such shameless creatures,
Minions to the stranger's will?" she cries.
By the dying hght.
Who is't meets her sight?
God! 'tis her own daughter she espies!
And the youth in terror sought to cover,
With her own light veil, the maiden's head,
Clasped her close; but, gliding from her lover.
Back the vestment from her brow she spread,
And her form upright,
As with ghostly might,
Long and slowly rises from the bed.
"Mother! mother! wherefore thus deprive me
Of such joy as I this night have known?
Wherefore from these warm embraces drive me?
Was I wakened up to meet thy frown?
Did it not suffice
That in virgin guise,
To an early grave you forced me down?
"Fearful is the weird that forced me hither,
From the dark-heaped chamber where I lay;
Powerless are your drowsy anthems, neither
Can your priests prevail, howe'er they pray.
Salt nor lymph can cool,
Where the pulse is full;
Love must still burn on, though wrapped in clay.
"To this youth my early troth was plighted,
Whilst yet Venus ruled within the land;
Mother! and that vow ye falsely slighted,
At your new and gloomy faith's command.
But no god will hear,
If a mother swear
Pure from love to keep her daughter's hand.
"Nightly from my narrow chamber driven,
Come I to fulfil my destined part.
Him to seek to whom my troth was given,
And to draw the life-blood from his heart.
He hath served my will;
More I yet must kill,
For another prey I now depart.
"Fair young man! thy thread of life is broken.
Human skill can bring no aid to thee.
There thou hast my chain—a ghastly token—
And this lock of thine I take with me.
Soon must thou decay,
Soon thou wilt be gray,
Dark although to-night thy tresses be!
"Mother! hear, oh, hear my last entreaty!
Let the funeral-pile arise once more;
Open up my wretched tomb for pity,
And in flames our souls to peace restore.
When the ashes glow,
When the fire-sparks flow,
To the ancient gods aloft we soar."