The Works of J. W. von Goethe/Volume 9/Venetian Epigrams
(Written in 1790.)
Urn and sarcophagus erst were with life adorned by the heathen;
Fauns are dancing around, while with the Bacchanal troop
Checkered circles they trace; and the goat-footed, puffy-cheeked player
Wildly produceth hoarse tones out of the clamorous horn.
Cymbals and drums resound; we see and we hear, too, the marble.
Fluttering bird! oh, how sweet tastes the ripe fruit to thy bill!
Noise there is none to disturb thee, still less to scare away Amor,
Who, in the midst of the throng, learns to delight in his torch.
Thus doth fulness overcome death; and the ashes there covered
Seem, in that silent domain, still to be gladdened with life.
Thus may the minstrel's sarcophagus be hereafter surrounded
With such a scroll, which himself richly with life has adorned.
Clasped in my arms for ever eagerly hold I my mistress,
Ever my panting heart throbs wildly against her dear breast,
And on her knees for ever is leaning my head, while I'm gazing
Now on her sweet smiling mouth, now on her bright sparkling eyes.
"Oh, thou effeminate!" spake one, "and thus, then, thy days thou art spending? "
Ah, they in sorrow are spent. List while I tell thee my tale:
Yes! I have left my only joy in life far behind me,
Twenty long days hath my car borne me away from her sight.
Vetturini defy me, while crafty chamberlains flatter,
And the sly valet de place thinks but of lies and deceit.
If I attempt to escape, the postmaster fastens upon me,
Postboys the upper hand get, custom-house duties enrage.
"Truly, I can't understand thee! thou talkest enigmas! thou seemest
Wrapped in a blissful repose, glad as Rinaldo of yore:"—
Ah, I myself understand full well; 'tis my body that travels,
And 'tis my spirit that rests still in my mistress's arms.
I would liken this gondola unto the soft-rocking cradle.
And the chest on its deck seems a vast coffin to be.
Yes! 'tween the cradle and coffin, we totter and waver for ever
On the mighty canal, careless our lifetime is spent,
Why are the people thus busily moving? For food they are seeking,
Children they fain would beget, feeding them well as they can.
Traveller, mark this well, and when thou art home, do thou likewise!
More can no mortal effect, work with what ardour he will.
I would compare to the land this anvil, its lord to the hammer,
And to the people the plate, which in the middle is bent.
Sad is the poor tin-plate's lot, when the blows are but given at random:
Ne'er will the kettle be made, while they uncertainly fall
What is the life of a man? Yet thousands are ever accustomed
Freely to talk about man,—what he has done, too, and how.
Even less is a poem; yet thousands read and enjoy it,
Thousands abuse it.—My friend, live and continue to rhyme!
Merry's the trade of a poet; but somewhat a dear one, I fear me;
For, as my book grows apace, all my sequins I lose.
If thou'rt in earnest, no longer delay, but render me happy;
Art thou in jest? Ah, sweet love! time for all jesting is past.
Art thou, then, vexed at my silence? What shall I speak of? Thou markest
Neither my sorrowful sigh, nor my soft eloquent look.
Only one goddess is able the seal of my lips to unloosen,—
When by Aurora I'm found, slumbering calm on thy breast.
Ah, then my hymn in the ears of the earliest gods shall be chanted.
As the Memnonian form breathed forth sweet secrets in song.
In the twilight of morning to climb to the top of the mountain,—
Thee to salute, kindly star, earliest herald of day,—
And to await, with impatience, the gaze of the ruler of heaven,—
Youthful delight, oh, how oft lurest thou me out in the night!
Oh, ye heralds of day, ye heavenly eyes of my mistress,
Now ye appear, and the sun evermore riseth too soon.
Thou art amazed, and dost point to the ocean. It seems to be burning;
Flame-crested billows in play dart round our nightmoving bark.
Me it astonisheth not,—of the ocean was born Aphrodite,—
Did not a flame, too, proceed from her for us, in her son?
Gleaming the ocean appeared, the beauteous billows were smihng.
While a fresh, favouring wind, filling the sails, drove us on.
Free was my bosom from yearning; yet soon my languishing glances
Turned themselves backward in haste, seeking the snow-covered hills.
Treasures unnumbered are southwards lying. Yet one to the northwards
Draws me resistlessly back, like the strong magnet in force.
Spacious and fair is the world; yet oh! how I thank the kind heavens
That I a garden possess, small though it be, yet mine own.
One which enticeth me homewards; why should a gardener wander?
Honour and pleasure he finds, when to his garden he looks.
Ah, my maiden is going! she mounts the vessel! My monarch,
Æolus! potentate dread! keep every storm far away!
"Oh, thou fool!" cried the god: "ne'er fear the blustering tempest;
When Love flutters his wings, then mayest thou dread the soft breeze."