The Works of J. W. von Goethe/Volume 9/The Cavalier's Choice

For other versions of this work, see Captain Wedderburn's Courtship.


[This lively little ballad occurs in one of Goethe's operas, very charming compositions, which probably are less read than they deserve. It is not altogether original, being evidently founded on a popular Scottish ditty, called indiscriminately "Captain Wedderburn's Courtship," or the "Laird of Roslin's Daughter," in which precisely the same questions are propounded and answered. Truth compels us to say that, in point of merit, the superiority lies with the Scottish ballad. This being a case of disputed property, or rather commonly, the translator has allowed himself more license in rendering than has been used in any other instance in the present collection.]

It was a gallant cavalier
Of honour and renown,
And all to seek a ladye-love
He rode from town to town.
Till at a widow-woman's door
He drew the rein so free;
For at her side the knight espied
Her comely daughters three.

Well might he gaze upon them,
For they were fair and tall;
Ye never have seen fairer maids,
In bower nor yet in hall.
Small marvel if the gallant's heart
Beat quicker in his breast;
'Twas hard to choose, and hard to lose—
How might he wale the best?

"Now, maidens, pretty maidens mine,
Who'll rede me riddles three?
And she who answers best of all
Shall be mine own ladye!"
I ween they blushed as maidens do,
When such rare words they hear—
"Now speak thy riddles if thou wilt,
Thou gay young cavalier!"

"What's longer than the longest path?
First tell ye that to me;
And tell me what is deeper yet,
Than is the deepest sea?
And tell me what is louder far,
Than is the loudest horn?
And tell me what hath sharper point,
Than e'en the sharpest thorn?

"And tell me what is greener yet,
Than greenest grass on hill?
And tell me what is crueller
Than a wicked woman's will?"
The eldest and the second maid,
They mused and thought awhile;
But the youngest she looked upward,
And spoke with merry smile.

"Oh, love is surely longer far,
Than the longest paths that be;
And hell, they say, is deeper yet,
Than is the deepest sea;
The roll of thunder is more loud,
Than is the loudest horn;
And hunger it is worse to bear
Than sharpest wound of thorn;

"The copper sweat is greener yet,
Than is the grass on hill;
And the foul fiend he is crueller
Than any woman's will."
He leapt so lightly from his steed,
He took her by the hand;
"Sweet maid, my riddles thou hast read,
Be lady of my land!"

The eldest and the second maid,
They pondered and were dumb,
And there, perchance, are waiting yet
Till another wooer come.
Then, maidens, take this warning word,
Be neither slow nor shy,
But always, when a lover speaks,
Look kindly, and reply.