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The Works of J. W. von Goethe/Volume 9/Three Palinodias



"Incense is but a tribute for the gods,—
To mortals 'tis but poison."

The smoke that from thine altar blows,
Can it the gods offend?
For I observe thou hold'st thy nose—
Pray what does this portend?

Mankind deem incense to excel
Each other earthly thing,
So he that cannot bear its smell,
No incense e'er should bring.

With unmoved face by thee at least
To dolls is homage given;
If not obstructed by the priest,
The scent mounts up to heaven.



Sir Wit, who is so much esteemed,
And who is worthy of all honour,
Saw Beauty his superior deemed
By folks who loved to gaze upon her;
At this he was most sorely vexed.
Then came Sir Breath (long known as fit
To represent the cause of wit),
Beginning, rudely, I admit,
To treat the lady with a text.
To this she hearkened not at all,
But hastened to his principal:
"None are so wise, they say, as you,—
Is not the world enough for two?
If you are obstinate, good-bye!
If wise, to love me you will try,
For be assured the world can ne'er
Give birth to a more handsome pair."


Fair daughters were by beauty reared,
Wit had but dull sons for his lot;
So for a season it appeared
Beauty was constant, Wit was not.

But Wit's a native of the soil,
So he returned, worked, strove amain,
And found—sweet guerdon for his toil!—
Beauty to quicken him again.



During a heavy storm it chanced
That from his room a cockney glanced
At the fierce tempest as it broke,
While to his neighbour thus he spoke:
"The thunder has our awe inspired,
Our barns by lightning have been fired,—
Our sins to punish, I suppose;
But, in return, to soothe our woes,
See how the rain in torrents fell,
Making the harvest promise well!
But is't a rainbow that I spy
Extending o'er the dark-gray sky?
With it I'm sure we may dispense,
The coloured cheat! The vain pretence!"
Dame Iris straightway thus replied:
"Dost dare my beauty to deride?
In realms of space God stationed me
A type of better worlds to be
To eyes that from life's sorrows rove
In cheerful hope to Heaven above,
And through the mists that hover here
God and His precepts blest revere.
Do thou, then, grovel like the swine,
And to the ground thy snout confine
But suffer the enlightened eye
To feast upon my majesty."