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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
From ‘The Fishers’
By Johannes Ewald (1743–1781)
 
        
Translation of William Morton Payne
  
  NOTE.—This translation of the closing scene of Ewald’s lyrical drama ‘Fiskerne’ requires a word of explanation. The characters are a group of simple fisher folk: Anders, his wife Gunild, their daughters Lise and Birthe, and the young men Knud and Svend, betrothed to the two girls. A ship has been wrecked upon the coast, and the men have rescued one of the sailors from death, but have lost their own boat and fishing-tackle in so doing. This is a serious matter, for it threatens the contemplated marriage of the young men. When the scene which we have translated opens, the whole group of fisher folk, together with the rescued seaman, have been talking over the situation; and there now appears upon the stage Odelhiem, a wealthy and philanthropic Dane, who has learned of their bravery and what it has cost them.
W. M. P.    

ODELHIEM—                        Forgive
If I, unknown to you, should claim too freely
A share, a modest share, in your rejoicings;
For joy must wait on strife o’er deeds of heroes.
By merest chance I too was made acquainted        5
With what concerns you now; the part remaining
I learned from Claus. And now I beg, I pray you,
To hear what from my inmost heart is welling;
To hear how Heaven within my soul bears witness.
  Knud—We know not who you are.
  Odelhiem—                        A Dane.
  Knud—                                Well, speak then.
        10
  Odelhiem  [addressing the rescued sailor]—
That thou, my friend, shouldst offer all thy substance
To them who saved thee was but just. Thy ardor
Ennobles thee; thy life was worth the saving.
And that these brave men blush to hear thy offer,
And rather choose the lot of poverty,        15
Is but their nature, and to be expected.
The gold that thou didst seek to force upon them
Would but oppress them, would the joy but darken
That now is theirs, and that alone they sought for,—
Thy life, thy grateful tears, thy heart’s thanksgiving.        20
Nor do I wonder that these hearts heroic
Should thrill with shame at any speech of payment;
For noble actions are their own adornment;
The very thought of profit casts a shadow
Over their splendor. This know well the righteous.        25
Yet, brothers, ’tis our duty that we spurn not
The meed unsought, on us bestowed by Heaven.
  Gunild—That has been ours.
  Odelhiem—                Noble soul, I know it!
But may we face our God, dust-shapen creatures,
And cry to him, Desist! enough of blessings!        30
And have not all of us a loving mother
Who may compel acceptance?
  Svend—                        Who?
  Knud—                            Where?
  Odelhiem—                                Denmark;
Whose right it is, whose pleasure, and whose honor,
Virtue to crown, as to condemn the wicked.
The tenderest of mothers still must loosen        35
The bonds wherewith she holds us, and all fearful,
Intrust our footsteps to ourselves and Heaven,
Ere we attain to noble deeds, the well-spring
Whence streams the light that decks her with its splendor.
Yet still she draws men to her—not the valorous,        40
They find their own way—but our weaker brothers
She draws to her with prayer and promised guerdon,
With hopes, and with report of others’ fortune.
And you whose hearts are burdened with the feeling
That this, of all your days the very fairest,        45
Should bring you unawaited grim misfortune,
The loss of wealth, the pang of hopeless passion,—
Shall you give cause for men to say reproachful:
“These folk gave glory to our haughty Denmark
By great heroic deeds, and now they languish        50
In want and woe, by Denmark unrequited”?
  Knud—My heart is Danish; he should feel its anger
Who in my hearing dared to rail at Denmark,
And what she offers, men should not hold lightly;
Yet how, and in what shape, she offers largess        55
Our losses to repair, bring cheer to others,—
That is not clear to my poor understanding.
  Odelhiem—Know that her arms outstretched are ever helpful;
All-powerful is her will; her law forever
Binds to her lofty aims her wealthy children.        60
Their joy to cherish valorous deeds, their duty
To offer in her name whatever solace,
Whatever help and strength there lies in riches.
Conscious that wealth was mine, I stood rejoicing
That I was near, and heard her voice. O brothers!        65
Do not begrudge the joy with which I hearken
To such a mother’s hest: for I have hearkened,
And with the friend whose guest I am up yonder
Have left the cost of boat and wedding outfit;
While for our Anders and the noble fellows        70
Who bravely took their part in all the danger,
Is set apart a gift of equal value.
And every year, so long as still is living
One of the five, they and their children’s children
Shall, that this day be evermore remembered,        75
Receive an equal pledge of Denmark’s bounty.
For all this I have taken care; this, brothers,
To do, your deed and our fair land command me.
  Svend—Thy words are generous and noble, stranger;
They overwhelm us.
  Knud—                    I believe, by Heaven,
        80
My soul is wax. When played I thus the woman?
Because my tears are flowing, do not scorn me!
What shall I answer thee? Speak for me, Anders!
  Anders—I know thee now, the man of noble presence
Our friend has told us of. Great soul and worthy,        85
Do what thou will’st; thou hast deserved the pleasure
Of helping honest Danes! ’Twere pride stiff-necked
In us to scorn so generous an offer.
  Gunild—Ingratitude it were, and sin toward Heaven.
  Knud—We thank thee, noble soul!
  Svend—                        We thank thee deeply!
        90
  Lise—Our tears, too, give thee thanks!
  Odelhiem—                            Not me, but Denmark!
This is its festal day; with song and gladness,
The cheerful bowl, and—for our maidens’ pleasure—
The merry dance, I trust that we may end it.
All is provided. Now, my worthy brothers,        95
We will forget the past, and but remember
The valor and the fortune of our country.
 
CHORUS
  Odelhiem—The deed that is not felt a burden,
  That leaves within the breast no smart,
Good hap be evermore its guerdon,        100
  While freedom warms the Cimbrian heart.
May Danish soil give ever birth
To deeds of ripe and lasting worth!
  All—May Danish soil give ever birth
To deeds of ripe and lasting worth!        105
  Gunild—O piety, where thy gentle leaven
  With promise fair fills young and old,
And mingles with the dreams that Heaven
  On earth bestows of joy untold;
True courage from thy strength doth spring,        110
And seeks the shadow of thy wing.
  All—True courage from thy strength doth spring,
And seeks the shadow of thy wing.
  Anders—Where smiles from Heaven shed light abiding,
  Rewarding our industrious days,        115
The sons of courage safely guiding
  Upon the old well-trodden ways:
Where brave men follow wisdom’s beck,
Heroic deeds our annals deck.
  All—Our joy to follow wisdom’s beck,        120
That noble deeds our lives may deck.
  Lise—The courage that in old days melted
  The warrior-maid’s defense of pride,
Still stirs the hero, as, unbelted,
  He lies at his beloved’s side.        125
Still loving Danish maidens start
The fire that lights the hero-heart.
  All—Still loving Danish maidens start
The fire that lights the hero-heart.
  Svend—Where countless footprints onward reaching        130
  To valiant souls a pathway ope,
The chosen way of honor teaching,
  Bidding them forward march with hope:
On Denmark’s memory-famous strand
Men win renown at danger’s hand.        135
  All—On Denmark’s memory-famous strand
Men win renown at danger’s hand.
  Birthe—Where men with unknown brothers vying
  In life and death make common cause;
Where sympathy consoles the dying,        140
  And slays despair in death’s own jaws;
Where hearts for love of Denmark swell,
Deceit and evil dare not dwell.
  All—Where hearts for love of Denmark swell,
Deceit and evil dare not dwell.        145
  Knud—Beloved Sea, thy life unresting
  We feel our inmost veins transfuse;
Our hearts grow stout thy billows breasting;
  Thy air our failing strength renews;
Our pride and joy, O Northern Sea!        150
The Danish soul takes fire from thee.
  All—Our pride and joy, O Northern Sea!
The Danish soul takes fire from thee.
  Men—Ye golden fields, rest ever smiling!
  Foam in thy pride, blue-silver wave!        155
  Women—Be, ’neath thy guard of warriors whiling,
  Ever the birth-land of the brave!
  Men—Denmark, of valor be the home!
  Women—And honored for all time to come!
  All—Denmark, of valor be the home,        160
And honored for all time to come!
        [The play ends with a dance of the fisher folk.]
 
 
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