The Works of J. W. von Goethe/Volume 9/The Pariah



Dreaded Brama, lord of might!
All proceed from thee alone;
Thou art he who judgeth right!
Dost thou none but Brahmins own?
Do but Rajahs come from thee?
None but those of high estate?
Didst not thou the ape create,
Ay, and even such as we?

"We are not of noble kind,
For with woe our lot is rife;
And what others deadly find
Is our only source of life.
Let this be enough for men.
Let them, if they will, despise us;
But thou, Brama, thou shouldst prize us.
All are equal in thy ken.

Now that, Lord, this prayer is said.
As thy child acknowledge me;
Or let one be born instead,
Who may link me on to thee!

Didst not thou a Bayadere
As a goddess heavenward raise?
And we, too, to swell thy praise,
Such a miracle would hear.


[The successful manner in which Goethe employs the simple rhymeless, trochaic metre in this and in many other poems will perhaps be remarked by the reader.]

Water-fetching goes the noble
Brahmin's wife, so pure and lovely;
He is honoured, void of blemish,
And of justice rigid, stern.
Daily from the sacred river
Brings she back refreshment precious,—
But where is the pail and pitcher?
She of neither stands in need.
For with pure heart, hands unsullied,
She the water lifts, and rolls it
To a wondrous ball of crystal;
This she bears with gladsome bosom,
Modestly, with graceful motion,
To her husband in the house.
She to-day at dawn of morning
Praying comes to Ganges' waters,
Bends her o'er the glassy surface—
Sudden, in the waves reflected,
Flying swiftly far above her,
From the highest heavens descending,
She discerns the beauteous form
Of a youth divine, created
By the God's primeval wisdom
In his own eternal breast.
When she sees him, straightway feels she
Wondrous, new, confused sensations
In her inmost, deepest being;
Fain she'd linger o'er the vision,
Then repels it,—it returneth,—
And, perplexed, she bends her flood-wards
With uncertain hands to draw it;
But, alas, she draws no more!
For the water's sacred billows
Seem to fly, to hasten from her;
She but sees the fearful chasm
Of a whirlpool black disclosed.

Arms drop down, and footsteps stumble,
Can this be the pathway homewards?
Shall she fly, or shall she tarry?
Can she think, when thought and counsel,
When assistance, all are lost?
So before her spouse appears she—
On her looks he—look is judgment—
Proudly on the sword he seizes,
To the hill of death he drags her,
Where delinquents' blood pays forfeit.
What resistance could she offer?
What excuses could she proffer,
Guilty, knowing not her guilt?

And with bloody sword returns he,
Musing, to his silent dwelling.
When his son before him stands:
"Whose this blood? Oh, father! father!"
"The delinquent woman's!"—"Never!
For upon the sword it dries not,
Like the blood of the delinquent;
Fresh it flows, as from the wound.
Mother! mother! hither hasten;
Unjust never was my father.
Tell me what he now hath done."—
"Silence; silence! hers the blood is!"
"Whose, my father?"—"Silence! Silence!"
"What! oh, what! my mother's blood!
What her crime? What did she? Answer!
Now, the sword! the sword now hold I!
Thou thy wife perchance might'st slaughter,
But my mother might'st not slay!
Through the flames the wife is able
Her beloved spouse to follow,
And his dear and only mother
Through the sword her faithful son."
"Stay! oh, stay!" exclaimed the father:
"Yet 'tis time, so hasten, hasten!
Join the head upon the body,
With the sword then touch the figure,
And, alive, she'll follow thee."

Hastening, he, with breathless wonder,
Sees the bodies of two women
Lying crosswise; and their heads, too;
Oh, what horror! which to choose!
Then his mother's head he seizes, —
Does not kiss it, deadly pale 'tis,—
On the nearest headless body
Puts it quickly, and then blesses
With the sword the pious work.
Then a giant form uprises.—
From the dear lips of his mother,
Lips all godlike—changeless—blissful,
Sound these words with horror fraught:
"Son, oh, son! what overhastening!
Yonder is thy mother's body,
Near it lies the impious head
Of the woman who hath fallen
Victim to the judgment-sword!
To her body I am grafted
By thy hand for endless ages;
Wise in counsel, wild in action,
I shall be amongst the gods.
E'en the heavenly boy's own image,
Though in brow and eye so lovely,
Sinking downwards to the bosom
Mad and raging lust will stir.

"'Twill return again for ever,
Ever rising, ever sinking,
Now obscured, and now transfigured,
So great Brama hath ordained.
He 'twas sent the beauteous pinions,
Radiant face, and slender members
Of the only God-begotten,
That I might be proved and tempted;
For from high descends temptation.
When the gods ordain it so.
And so I, the Brahmin woman,
With my head in Heaven reclining,
Must experience, as a Pariah,
The debasing power of earth.

"Son, I send thee to thy father!
Comfort him! Let no sad penance,
Weak delay, or thought of merit.
Hold thee in the desert fast;
Wander on through ev'ry nation,
Roam abroad throughout all ages.
And proclaim to e'en the meanest,
That great Brama hears his cry!

"None is in his eyes the meanest—
He whose limbs are lame and palsied,
He whose soul is wildly riven,
Worn with sorrow, hopeless, helpless,
Be he Brahmin, be he Pariah,
If tow'rd heaven he turns his gaze,
Will perceive, will learn to know it:
Thousand eyes are glowing yonder,
Thousand ears are calmly list'ning,
From which nought below is hid.

"If I to his throne soar upward,
If he sees my fearful figure
By his might transformed to horror,
He for ever will lament it,—
May it to your good be found!
And I now will kindly warn him,
And I now will madly tell him
Whatsoe'er my mind conceiveth,
What within my bosom heaveth.
But my thoughts, my inmost feelings—
Those a secret shall remain."


Mighty Brama, now I'll bless thee!
'Tis from thee that worlds proceed!
As my ruler I confess thee,
For of all thou takest heed.

All thy thousand ears thou keepest
Open to each child of earth;
We, 'mongst mortals sunk the deepest,
Have from thee received new birth.

Bear in mind the woman's story.
Who, through grief, divine became;
Now I'll wait to view His glory,
Who omnipotence can claim.