Reference > Anthologies > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library > Verse

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
The Minstrel’s Curse
By Johann Ludwig Uhland (1787–1862)
Translation of Walter William Skeat

THERE stood in former ages a castle high and large;
Above the slope it glistened far down to ocean’s marge;
Around it like a garland bloomed gardens of delight,
Where sparkled cooling fountains, with sun-bow glories dight.
There sat a haughty monarch, who lands in war had won;        5
With aspect pale and gloomy he sat upon the throne:
His thoughts are fraught with terrors, his glance of fury blights;
His words are galling scourges, with victims’ blood he writes.
Once moved towards this castle a noble minstrel pair,
The one with locks all golden, snow-white the other’s hair:        10
With harp in hand, the graybeard a stately courser rode;
In flower of youth, beside him his tall companion strode.
Then spake the gray-haired father: “Be well prepared, my son:
Think o’er our loftiest ballads, breathe out thy fullest tone;
Thine utmost skill now summon,—joy’s zest and sorrow’s smart;—        15
’Twere well to move with music the monarch’s stony heart.”
Now in the spacious chamber the minstrels twain are seen;
High on the throne in splendor are seated king and queen:
The king with terrors gleaming, a ruddy Northern Light;
The queen all grace and sweetness, a full moon soft and bright.        20
The graybeard swept the harp-strings,—they sounded wondrous clear;
The notes with growing fullness thrilled through the listening ear:
Pure as the tones of angels the young man’s accents flow;
The old man’s gently murmur, like spirit-voices low.
They sing of love and springtime, of happy golden days,        25
Of manly worth and freedom, of truth and holy ways;
They sing of all things lovely, that human hearts delight,
They sing of all things lofty, that human souls excite.
The courtier train around them forget their jeerings now;
The king’s defiant soldiers in adoration bow;        30
The queen to tears now melted, with rapture now possessed,
Throws down to them in guerdon a rosebud from her breast.
“Have ye misled my people, and now my wife suborn?”
Shouts out the ruthless monarch, and shakes with wrath and scorn;
He whirls his sword—like lightning the young man’s breast it smote,        35
That ’stead of golden legends, bright life-blood filled his throat.
Dispersed, as by a tempest, was all the listening swarm;
The youth sighs out his spirit upon his master’s arm,
Who round him wraps his mantle, and sets him on the steed,
There tightly binds him upright, and from the court doth speed.        40
Before the olden gateway, there halts the minstrel old;
His golden harp he seizes, above all harps extolled:
Against a marble pillar he snaps its tuneful strings;
Through castle and through garden his voice of menace rings:—
“Woe, woe to thee, proud castle! ne’er let sweet tones resound        45
Henceforward through thy chambers, nor harp’s nor voice’s sound:
Let sighs and tramp of captives and groans dwell here for aye,
Till retribution sink thee in ruin and decay.
“Woe, woe to you, fair gardens, in summer light that glow:
To you this pallid visage, deformed by death, I show,        50
That every leaf may wither, and every fount run dry,—
That ye in future ages a desert heap may lie.
“Woe, woe to thee, curst tyrant! that art the minstrel’s bane:
Be all thy savage strivings for glory’s wreath in vain!
Be soon thy name forgotten, sunk deep in endless night,        55
Or, like a last death murmur, exhaled in vapor light!”
The graybeard’s curse was uttered; heaven heard his bitter cry:
The walls are strewn in fragments, the halls in ruins lie;
Still stands one lofty column to witness olden might—
E’en this, already shivered, may crumble down to-night.        60
Where once were pleasant gardens, is now a wasted land;
No tree there lends its shadow, nor fount bedews the sand:
The monarch’s name recordeth no song, nor lofty verse;
’Tis wholly sunk—forgotten! Such is the Minstrel’s Curse!

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