Johann Wolfgang von Goethe Poems >>
Hermann And Dorothea - VI. Klio

THE AGE.

WHEN the pastor ask'd the foreign magistrate questions,
What the people had suffer'd, how long from their homes they had wander'd,
Then the man replied:--"By no means short are our sorrows,
For we have drunk the bitters of many a long year together,
All the more dreadful, because our fairest hopes have been blighted.
Who can deny that his heart beat wildly and high in his bosom
And that with purer pulses his breast more freely was throbbing,
When the newborn sun first rose in the whole of its glory,
When we heard of the right of man, to have all things in common,
Heard of noble Equality, and of inspiriting Freedom!
Each man then hoped to attain new life for himself, and the fetters
Which had encircled many a land appear'd to be broken,
Fetters held by the hands of sloth and selfish indulgence.
Did not all nations turn their gaze, in those days of emotion,
Tow'rds the world's capital, which so many a long year had been so,
And then more than ever deserved a name so distinguish'd?
Were not the men, who first proclaim'd so noble a message,
Names that are worthy to rank with the highest the sun ever shone on,
Did not each give to mankind his courage and genius and language?

"And we also, as neighbours, at first were warmly excited.
Presently after began the war, and the train of arm'd Frenchmen
Nearer approach'd; at first they appear'd to bring with them friendship,
And they brought it in fact; for all their souls were exalted.
And the gay trees of liberty ev'rywhere gladly they planted,
Promising unto each his own, and the government long'd for.
Greatly at this was youth, and greatly old age was delighted,
And the joyous dance began round the newly-raised standards.
In this manner the overpowering Frenchmen soon conquer'd
First the minds of the men, with their fiery lively proceedings,
Then the hearts of the women, with irresistible graces.
Even the strain of the war, with its many demands, seem'd but trifling,
For before our eyes the distance by hope was illumined,
Luring our gaze far ahead into paths now first open'd before us.
"O how joyful the time, when with his bride the glad bridegroom
Whirls in the dance, awaiting the day that will join them for ever
But more glorious far was the time when the Highest of all things
Which man's mind can conceive, close by and attainable seemed.
Then were the tongues of all loosen'd, and words of wisdom and feeling
Not by greybeards alone, but by men and by striplings were utter'd.

"But the heavens soon clouded became. For the sake of the mast'ry
Strove a contemptible crew, unfit to accomplish good actions.
Then they murder'd each other, and took to oppressing their new-found
Neighbours and brothers, and sent on missions whole herds of self