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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Declaration and Departure
By Joseph Viktor von Scheffel (1826–1886)
 
From ‘The Trumpeter of Säkkingen’

AT his morning meal the baron
Sat, deep poring o’er a letter
Which the day before had reached him.
From afar a post had ridden,
From the Danube, deep in Suabia,        5
Where the baby river ripples
Gleeful through a narrow valley.
Lofty crags jut sharply o’er it,
And its limpid waters mirror
Clear and bright their rugged outlines,        10
And the tender green of beech-woods.
Thence the messenger had ridden.
This the purport of the letter:—
 
“My old comrade, do you ever
Think of Hans von Wildenstein?        15
Down the Rhine and down the Danube
Many drops of clearest water
Must have run to reach the ocean,
Since we lay beside our watch-fires,
In our last campaign together.        20
And I mark it by my youngster,
Who has grown a lusty fellow,
And his years count four-and-twenty.
First, as page, he went to Stuttgart,
To the duke; and then to college        25
To old Tübingen I sent him.
If I reckon by the money
He has squandered, it is certain
He must be a mighty scholar.
Now by me at home he tarries,        30
Chasing deer and hares and foxes;
And when other sport is lacking,
Chasing pretty peasant-maidens:
And ’tis time that he were broken
To the wholesome yoke of marriage.        35
Now, methinks, you have a daughter
Who a fitting bride would make him.
’Twixt old comrades, such as we are,
Many words are surely needless;
So, Sir Baron, I would ask you        40
Would it please you if my Damian
To your castle rode a-wooing,
Rode a-wooing to the Rhineland?
Send me speedy answer.—Greetings
From old Hans von Wildenstein.        45
  Postscript.—Do you still remember
That great fray we fought at Augsburg
With the horsemen of Bavaria?
And the rage of yon rich miser
And his most ungracious lady?        50
Why, ’tis two-and-thirty years since!”
 
Toilsomely the baron labored
At his comrade’s crabbed writing,
And a full half-hour he puzzled,
Ere he mastered all its import.        55
Laughing then he spake:—“These Suabians
Are in sooth most knowing devils!
They are lacking in refinement,
Somewhat coarse in grain and fibre,
Yet of wit and prudence plenty        60
In their rugged pates is garnered.
Many a brainless coxcomb’s noddle
They could stock and never miss it.
And my valiant Hans manœuvres
Rarely, like a veteran statesman.        65
His poor, mortgaged, moldering owl’s-nest
By the Danube would be bolstered
Bravely by a handsome dowry.
Yet the scheme deserves a hearing.
Far and wide throughout the kingdom        70
Are the Wildensteins respected,
Since with Kaiser Barbarossa
To the Holy Land they journeyed.
Let the varlet try his fortune!”
 
To the baron entered Werner.        75
Slow his gait and black his jerkin,
As on feast-days. Melancholy
Sat upon his pallid features.
Jestingly the other hailed him:—
“I was in the act of sending        80
Honest Anton out to seek you.
Pray you, mend your pen and write me,
As my trusty scribe, a letter,
Letter of most weighty import.
For a knight has written asking        85
Tidings of my lady daughter,
And he seeks her hand in marriage
For his son, the young Sir Damian.
Tell him, then, how Margaretha
Has grown tall and fair and stately.        90
Tell him—but you need no prompting:
Fancy you a painter—paint him,
Black on white, her living image,
Fairly, and forget no detail.
Say, if ’tis the youngster’s pleasure,        95
I shall make no opposition
If he saddle and ride hither.”
“If he saddle and ride hither—”
Spake young Werner, as if dreaming
To himself; and somewhat sharply        100
Quoth the baron, “But what ails you
That you wear a face as lengthy
As a Calvinistic preacher’s
On Good Friday? Has the fever
Once more taken hold upon you?”        105
 
Gravely made reply young Werner:—
“Sire, I cannot write the letter;
You must seek another penman,
Since I come myself to ask you
For your daughter’s hand in marriage.”        110
 
“For my—daughter’s—hand in marriage?”
Gasped the baron, sore bewildered
In his turn; and wryly twitching
Worked his mouth, as his who playeth
On a Jew’s-harp. Through his left foot        115
Shot a bitter throb of anguish.
“My young friend, the fever blazes
In your brain-pan like a furnace.
Go, I rede you, to the garden,
Where there plays a shady fountain.        120
If you dip your head beneath it
Thrice, the fever straight will vanish.”
 
“Noble sir,” rejoined young Werner,
“Spare your gibes. You may require them,
Peradventure, when the wooer        125
Out of Suabia rideth hither.
Sober come I, free from fever,
On a very sober errand;
And of Margaretha’s father
Ask, once more, her hand in marriage.”        130
 
Darkly frowning spake the baron:—
“Do you force me, then, to tell you
What your own wit should have taught you?
Sore averse am I to meet you
With harsh earnest; for the pike-thrust,        135
That so late your forehead suffered,
Have I not forgotten; neither
In whose service you received it.
Yet he only may look upward
To my child, whose noble lineage        140
Makes such union meet and fitting.
For each one of us has nature
Limits strait and wise appointed,
Where, within our proper circle,
We may fitly thrive and prosper.        145
From the Holy Roman Empire
Has come down the social order
Threefold,—Noble, Burgess, Peasant:
Each, within itself included,
From itself itself renewing,        150
Full of health abides and hearty.
Each is thus a sturdy pillar
Which the whole supports, but never
Prospers any intermixture.
Wot ye what that has for issue?        155
Grandsons who of all have something
Yet are altogether nothing;
Shallow, empty, feeble mongrels,
Tottering, unloosed and shaken
From tradition’s steadfast foothold.        160
Sharp-edged, perfect, must each man be;
And within his veins, as heirloom
From the foregone generations,
He should bear his life’s direction.
Therefore equal rank in marriage        165
Is demanded by our usage,
Which, by me, as law is honored,
And across its fast-fixed ramparts
I will have no stranger scramble.
Item: Shall no trumpet-blower        170
Dare to court a noble maiden!”
 
Thus the baron. Sorely troubled
By such serious and unwonted
Theoretic disquisition,
Had he pieced his words together.        175
By the stove the cat was lying,
Hiddigeigei, listening heedful,
With his head approval nodding
At the close. Yet, musing, pressed he
With his paw upon his forehead,        180
Deep within himself reflecting:—
“Why do people kiss each other?
Ancient question, new misgiving!
For I thought that I had solved it,—
Thought a kiss was an expedient        185
Swift another’s lips to padlock,
That no word of cruel candor
Issue forth. But this solution
Is, I fear me, quite fallacious;
Else my youthful friend most surely        190
Would long since have kissed my master.”
 
To the baron spake young Werner,
And his voice was low and muffled:—
“Sire, I thank you for your lesson.
In the glamour of the pine-woods,        195
In the May month’s radiant sunshine,
By the river’s crystal billows,
Did mine eyes o’erlook the ramparts
Raised by men, which lay between us.
Thanks for this reminder timely.        200
Thanks, too, for the hours so joyous
I have spent beneath your roof-tree.
But my span is run: the order
‘Right about!’ your words have given me.
And in sooth, I make no murmur.        205
As a suitor worthy of her
One day I return, or never.
Fare you well! Think kindly of me.”
So he said, and left the chamber,
Knowing well what lay before him.        210
Long, with troubled mien, the baron
Scanned the door through which he vanished.
“Sooth, it grieves me sore,” he muttered.
“If the brave lad’s name were only
Damian von Wildenstein!”        215
 
Parting, bitter hour of parting!
Ah, who was it first conceived thee?
Sure, some chilly-hearted mortal
By the distant Arctic Ocean.
Freezing blew the North Pole zephyrs        220
Round his nose; sore pestered was he
By his wife, unkempt and jealous.
E’en the whale’s delicious blubber
Tickled not his jaded palate.
O’er his ears a yellow sealskin        225
Drew he; in his fur-gloved right hand
Grasped his staff, and nodding curtly
To his stolid Ylaleyka,
Uttered first those words ill-omened,—
“Fare thee well, for I must leave thee.”        230
 
Parting, bitter hour of parting!
In his turret chamber, Werner
Girded up his few belongings,
Girded up his slender knapsack,
Threw a last regretful greeting        235
To the whitewashed walls familiar—
Loth to part, as from old comrades.
Farewell spake he to none other.
Margaretha’s eyes of azure
Dared he never more encounter.        240
To the castle court descending,
Saddled swift his faithful palfrey;
Then there rang an iron hoof-fall,
And a drooping, joyless rider
Left the castle’s peace behind him.        245
 
In the lowland by the river
Grows a walnut-tree. Beneath it
Once again he reined his palfrey,—
Once again he grasped his trumpet.
From his sorrow-laden spirit        250
Upward soared his farewell greeting,
Winged with saddest love and longing.
Soared—ah, dost thou know the fable
Of the song the swan sang dying?
At her heart was chill foreboding,        255
But she sought the lake’s clear waters
Yet once more, and through the roses,
Through the glistening water-lilies,
Rose her plaintive song regretful:—
“Fairest world, ’tis mine to leave thee;        260
Fairest world, I die unwilling!”
 
Thus he blew. Was that a tear-drop
Falling, glancing, on the trumpet?
Was it but a summer rain-drop?
Onward now! His spurs relentless        265
In his palfrey’s flanks he buried,
And was borne in rousing gallop
To the outskirts of the forest.
 
 
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