The Works of J. W. von Goethe/Volume 9/The Water-Man


[This ballad cannot be claimed as one of Goethe's original compositions, it being a very close translation of an old Danish ballad, entitled, "The Mer-man, and Marstig's daughter." As, however, it appears in all the collections, and has often been quoted as a favourable specimen of Goethe's skill in assuming the simple style of the popular Northern ballads, we have deemed it advisable to give a version.]

"Oh, mother! rede me well, I pray;
How shall I woo me yon winsome May?"

She has built him a horse of the water clear,
The saddle and bridle of sea-sand were.

He has donned the garb of a knight so gay,
And to Mary's Kirk he has ridden away.

He tied his steed to the chancel door,
And he stepped round the Kirk three times and four.

He has boune him into the Kirk, and all
Drew near to gaze on him, great and small.

The priest he was standing in the quire;—
"What gay young gallant comes branking here?"

The winsome maid, to herself said she,
"Oh, were that gay young gallant for me!"

He stepped o'er one stool, he stepped o'er two;
"Oh, maiden, plight me thine oath so true!"

He stepped o'er three stools, he stepped o'er four;
"Wilt be mine, sweet May, for evermore?"

She gave him her hand of the drifted snow—
"Here hast thou my troth, and with thee I'll go."

They went from the Kirk with the bridal train,
They danced in glee and they danced full fain;

They danced them down to the salt-sea strand,
And they left them standing there, hand in hand.

"Now wait thee, love, with my steed so free,
And the bonniest bark I'll bring for thee."

And when they passed to the white, white sand,
The ships came sailing on to the land;

But when they were out in the midst of the sound,
Down went they all in the deep profound!

Long, long on the shore, when the winds were high,
They heard from the waters the maiden's cry.

I rede ye, damsels, as best I can—
Tread not the dance with the Water-Man!