Kuno Francke.

The German classics : masterpieces of German literature translated into English (Volume 20) online

. (page 19 of 34)
Online LibraryKuno FranckeThe German classics : masterpieces of German literature translated into English (Volume 20) → online text (page 19 of 34)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

From the Pa^km^^'Waim'^Ak%oib^^^^ ^ woman's needs.
And or> :^ here do not display

The spi ad magnificence in wliich


I fain had seen thee framed, but yet for me
Scant beauty dwells in what all men may have :
So from the stuffy air of chests and caskets
That, like the sandal-wood in sanctuary,
Half took my breath, I had all these removed
And placed there in thy chamber for thy service,
Where something of my mother's presence

still —
Forgive me — seems to cling. I thought in this
To show^ and teach thee something ... On

some things
There are mute symbols deeply stamped, with

The air grows laden in our quiet hours.
And fuses something with our consciousness
That could not well be said, nor was to be.

It hurts me when I see thee thus, benumbed
By all these overladen moments, that
Scarce walk upright beneath their heavy burden.
But let me say, all good things enter in
Our souls in quiet unpretentious ways.
And not with show and noise. One keeps ex-
To see Life suddenly appear somewhere
On the horizon, like a new domain,
A country yet untrodden. Yet the distance
Remains unpeopled; slowly then our eyes
Perceive its traces ling 'ring here and yonder.
And that it compasses, embraces us.
And bears us, is in us, and nowhere fails us.
The words I say can give thee little pleasure,
Too much renunciation rings in them.
But not to me, by Heaven ! My sweet child,
Not like a beggar do I feel before thee,

{With a long look at her.)
However fair thy youth's consummate glory

Vol. XX— 16



Envelop thee from top to toe . . . thouknowest
Not much about my life, thou hast but seen
A fragment of its shell, as dimly gleaming
In shadows through the op 'nings of a hedge.
I wish thine eye might pierce the heart of it :
As fully as the earth beneath my feet
Have I put from me all things low and common.
Callst thou that easy, since I now am old!
'Tis true, I've lost some friends by death ere

this —
And thou at most thy grandam — many friends,
And those that live, where are they scattered

To them was linked the long forgotten quiver
Of nights of youth, those evening hours in which
Vague fear with monstrous, sultry happiness
Was mingled, and the perfume of young locks
With darkling breezes wafted from the stars.

The glamor of the motley towns and cities.
The distant purple haze — that now is gone.
Nor could be found, though I should go to seek it ;
But here within me, when I call, there rises
A something, rules my spirit, and I feel
As if it might in thee as well —

[He changes his tone.']
Knowst thou the day, on which thou needst

must dance
Before thy father 's guests ? A smile unfading
Dwelt on thy lips, than any string of pearls
More fair, and sadder than my mother's smile.
Which thou hast ne 'er beheld. This is to blame :
That smile and dance were interlaced, like won-
Fingers of dreamlike possibilities.
Wouldst thou they ne'er had been, since they're

to blame.
My wife, that thou art standing here with me ?



SoBETDE {in such a tone that her voice is heard to strike her
Commandest thou that I should dance? If not,
Commandest thou some other thing?

Merchant. My wife,

How wild thou speakest with me, and how
strangely !

SoBEiDE. Wild? Hard, perhaps : my fate is none too soft.
Thou speakest as a good man speaks, then be
So good as not to speak with me today.
I am thy chattel, take me as thy chattel.
And let me, like a chattel, keep my thoughts
Unspoken, only uttered to myself !

[She weeps silently ivith compressed lips, her
face turned toward the darkness.']

Merchant. So many tears and in such silence. This

Is not the shudder that relieves the anguish
Of youth. Here there is deeper pain to quiet
Than inborn rigidness of timid spirits.

Sobeide. Lord, shouldst thou waken in the night and find
Me weeping thus whenas I seem to sleep.
Then wake me, lest I do what thy good right
Forbids me. For in dreams upon thy bed
I shall be seeing then another man
And longing for him; this were not becoming,
And makes me shudder at myself to think it.
Oh promise me that thou wilt then awake me !
[Pause. The Merchant is silent; deep feel-
ing darkens his face.]
No question who it is? Does that not matter?
No ? But thy face is gloomy and thou breathest
With eifort? Then I will myself confess it:
Thou hast beheld him at our house ere now,
His name is Ganem — son of old Shalnassar,
The carpet-dealer — and 'tis three years now
Since first I knew him. But since yesteryear
I have not seen him more.



This I have said, this last thing I reveal,
Because I will permit no sediment
Of secrecy and lies to lurk within me.
I care not thou shouldst know : I am no vessel
Sold off as pure, but lined with verdigris
To eat its bottom out — and then because
I wanted to be spared his frequent visits
In this abode — for that were hard to bear.

Mbec'eia'nt' {threateningly, hut soon choked hy wrath and
Thou! Thou hast . . . thou hast . . .

[He claps his hands to his face.]

SoBBiDE. Thou weepest too, then, on thy wedding-day?

And have I spoiled some dream for thee ? Look

hither :
Thou sayst, I am so young, and this, and this —

[Points to hair and cheeks.~\
Are young indeed, but weary is my spirit,
So weary, that there is no word to tell
How weary and how aged before my time.
We are one age, perhaps thou art the younger.
In conversation once thou saidst to me.
That almost all the years since I was born
Had passed for thee in sitting in thy gardens
And in the quiet tower thou hast builded.
To watch the stars from it. 'Twas on that day
It first seemed possible to me, that thy
And, more than that, my father 's fond desire
Might be . . . fulfilled. For I supposed the

In this thy house must have some lightness in it,
So light, so burdenless ! — And in our house
It was so overladen with remembrance.
The airy corpse of sleepless nights went floating
All through it, and on all the walls there hung
The burden of those fondly cherished hopes.
Once vivid, then rejected, long since faded.




The glances of my parents rested ever
Upon me, and their whole existence. — Well,
Too well I knew each quiver of an eyelash.
And over all there was the constant pressure
Of thy commanding will, that on my soul
Lay like a coverlet of heavy sleep.
'Twas common, that I yielded at the last:
I seek no other word. And yet the common
Is strong, and all our life is full of it.
How could I thrust it down and trample on it.
While I was floundering in it up to the neck?
Merchant. So my desire lay like a cruel nightmare

Upon thy breast ! Then thou must surely hate

me . . .
I hate thee not, I have not learned to hate.
And only just began to learn to love.
The lessons stopped, but I am fairly able
To do such things as, with that smile thou

To dance, with heart as heavy as the stones.
To face each heavy day, each coming evil
With smiles : the utmost power of my youth
That smile consumed, but to the bitter end
I wore it, and so here I stand with thee.
In this I see but shadowy connection.
How I connect my being forced to smile
And finally becoming wife to thee ?
Wilt thou know this? And must I tell thee all?
Then knowst thou, since thou art rich, so little
Of life, and hast no eyes for aught but stars.
And flowers in thy heated greenhouse ? Listen :
This is the cause : a poor man is my father,
Not always poor, much worse: once rich, now

And many people's debtor, most of all
Thy debtor. And his starving spirit lived
Upon my smile, as other people's hearts





On other lies. These last years, since thou

I knew my task ; till then had been my schooling.
Merchant. And so became my wife!

As quick she would have grasped her pointed

And opened up a vein and with her blood
Have let her life run out into a bath.
If that had been the price with which to

Her father's freedom from his creditor!
. . . Thus is a wish fulfilled!
SoBEmE. Be not distressed. This is the way of life.
I am myself as in a waking dream.
As one who, taken sick, no more aright
Compares his thoughts, nor any more re-
How on the day before he viewed a matter.
Nor what he then had feared or had expected:
He cannot look with eyes of yesterday . . .
So also when we reach the worser stages
Of that great illness : Life. I scarcely know
Myself how great my fear of many things.
How much I longed for others, and I feel.
When some things cross my mind, as if it were
Another woman's fate, and not my own,
Just some one that I know about, not I.
I tell thee, I am bitter, but not evil :
And if at first I was too wild for thee.
There will be no deception in me later,
When I shall sit at ease and watch thy

My head is tired out. I grow so dizzy.
When I must keep two things within myself
That fight against each other. Much too long
Have I been forced to do this. Give me peace !
Thou giv'st me this, and for that I am grateful.


Call not this little : terrible in weakness
Is everything that grows on shifting sands
Of doubt. But here is perfect certainty.

Merchant. And how of him I

SoBEiDE. That too must not distress thee.

'Twere hard to judge, had I concealed it from

I have revealed it now, so let it rest.

Merchant. Thou art not free of him!

SoBEiDE. So thinkest thou?

When is one ' ' free ? ' ' Things have no hold

on us,
Except we have in us the will to hold them.
All that is past. [Gesture.^

Merchant (after a pause).

His love was like to thine?

[Sobeide nods.']
But then, why then, how has it come to pass
That he was not the one —

Sobeide. Why, we were poor !

No, more than poor, thou knowst. His father,

Poor too. Besides, a gloomy man, as hard
As mine was all too soft, and on him weighing
As mine on me. The whole much easier
To live through than to put in words. For

It lasted. We were children when it started.
Ere long as tired as foals, too early harnessed
For drawing heavy wagons in the harvest.

Merchant. But let me tell thee, this cannot be true

About his father. I know old Shalnassar,
The carpet-dealer. Well, he is a graybeard.
And he who will may speak good of his name,
But I will not. A wicked, bad old man !

Sobeide. May be, all one. To him it is his father.

I ne'er have seen him. Ganem sees him so.











He calls him sick, is saddened when he speaks
Of him. And therefore I have never seen him,
That is, not since my childhood, when I saw
Him now and then upon the window leaning.
But he's not poor, no, anything but poor!
(sure of her facts, sadly smiling).
Thinkst thou I should be here f

And he?
What, he?

He clearly made thee feel
He thought impossible, what he and thou
Had wished for years and long held possible?
Why, for it was impossible? . . . and then
''Had wished for years" — thou seest, all

these matters
Are different, and the words we use
Are different. At one time this has ripened,
But to decay again. For there are moments
With cheeks that burn like the eternal suns —
When somewhere hovers mute an unconfessed
Confession, somewhere vanishes in air
The echo of a call that never reached
Its utterance; here in me something whispers,
* ' I yielded to him ; ' ' mark : in thought ! "I

yielded ' ' —
The following moment swallows everything,
As night the lightning flash . . . How all

And ended? Well, in this wise: first I sealed
My lips, soon then set seal upon my eye-lids,
And he —

Well, how was he?

Why, very noble.
As one who seeks to sully his own image
In other eyes, to spare that other pain —
Quite different, no longer kind as once
— It was the greatest kindness, so to act —


His spirit rent and full of mockery, that
Perhaps was bitterer to himself than me,
Just like an actor oftentimes, so strangely
With set intent. At other times again
Discoursing of the future, of the time
When I should give my hand —

Merchant (vehemently). To me?

SoBEroE (coldly).

When I should give my hand to any other; —
Describing what he knew that I should never
Endure, if life should ever take that form.
As little as himself would e 'er have borne it
A single hour, for he but made a show,
Acquaint with me, and knowing it would cost
The less of pain to wrench my heart from him,

So soon as I had come to doubt his faith.


'Twas too well acted, but what wealth of

Was there.

Merchant. The greatest goodness, if 'twas really

Naught but a pose assumed.

Sobeide (passionately).

I beg thee, husband,
This one thing: ruin not our life together.
As yet 'tis young and blind as tiny fledglings,
A single speech like this might swiftly slay it!
I shall not be an evil wife to thee :
I mean that slowly I shall find, perhaps,
In other things a little of that bliss
For which I held out eager fingers, thinking
There was a land quite full of it, both air
And earth, and one might enter into it.
I know by now that / was not to enter . . .
I shall be almost happy in that day,
All longing, painless, shared 'twixt past and


Like shining sunlight on the fresh green trees,
And like an unburdened sky behind the garden
The future : empty, yet quite full of light . . .
But we must give it time to grow :
As yet confusion everywhere prevails.
Thou must assist me, it must never happen
That with ill-chosen words thou link this

Too strongly to the life which now is over.
They must be parted by a wall of glass,
As airtight and as rigid as in dreams.

{At the window.)
That evening must not come, that should

Me sitting at this window without thee:
— Just not to be at home, not from the window
Of my long girlhood's chamber to look out
Into the darkness, has a dangerous,
Peculiar and confusing power, as if
I lay upon the open road, no man's possession,
As fully mine as never in my dreams !
A maiden's life is much more strictly ruled
By pressure of the air, than thou conceivest,
To whom it seems most natural to be free.
The evening ne'er must come, when I should

Stand here, with all the weight of heavy

My parents' eyes, all, all behind me thrust.
Involved in yon dark hangings at my back,
And this brave landscape with the golden stars.
The gentle breeze, the bushes, thus before me.

(With growing agitation.)
The evening ne'er must come, when I should see
All this with eyes like these, to say to me:
Here lies a road that shimmers in the moon-
light :


Before the gentle breeze the next light cloudlet
Impels to meet the moon, a man could run
That road unto its end, between the hedges,
Then comes a cross-road, now a planted field,
And then the shadow of the standing corn,
At last a garden ! There his hand would touch
At once a curtain, back of which is all:
All kissing, laughing, all the happiness
This world can give promiscuously flung
About like balls of golden wool, such bliss
That but a drop of it on parched lips
Suffices to be lighter than a flame,
To see no more of difficulty, nor
To understand what men call ugliness !

(Almost shrieking.)
The evening ne'er must come, that with a

Unfettered tongues should cry to me: why not?
Why hast thou never run in dark of night
That road? Thy feet were young, thy breath

sufficient :
Why hast thou saved it, that thou mightst have

To weep a thousand nights upon thy pillow ?
[She turns her back to the window, clutches
the table, collapses and falls to her knees,
and remains thus, her face pressed to the
table, her body shaken with weeping. A
long pause.']
Merchant. And if the first door I should open wide,
The only locked one on this road of love?
[7/e opens the small doorway leading into
the garden on the right; the moonlight
SoBEiDE {still kneeling by the table).

Art thou so cruel as, in this first hour.
To make a silly pastime of my weeping!



Art thou so fain to put thy scorn upon me?
Art thou so proud of holding me securely?

Merchant (with the utmost self-control) .

How much I could have wished that thou hadst

To know me otherwise, but now there is
No time for that.

Thy father, if 'tis this which so constrains thee,
Thy father owes me nothing now, indeed
Within some days agreements have been made
Between us twain, from which some little profit
And so, I hope, a much belated gleam
Of joyousness may come.

[She has crept closer to him on her knees,

So then thou mightest —
Thou mayst, I mean to say, if it was this
That lamed thee most, if in this — alien

Again thou feel the will to live, which thou
Hadst lost, if, as from heavy sleep aroused.
Yet not awake, thou feel it is this portal
That leads thee out to pulsing, waking life —
Then in the name of God and of the stars
I give thee leave to go where'er thou wilt.

SoBEiDE {still on her knees). Wliat?

Merchant. I do no more regard thee as my wife

Than any other maid who, for protection
From tempest or from robbers by the wayside,
Had entered for a space into my house.
And I renounce herewith my claim upon thee,
Just as I have no valid right to any,
Whom such a chance might cast beneath my

What sayest thou?

I say that thou art free
To pass out through this door, and where thou

Free as the wind, the butterfly, the water.




SoBEiDE {half standing).
To go?

Merchant. To go.

SoBEiDE. Where'er I will?

Merchant. Where 'er

Thou wilt, and at what time thou wilt.

SoBEroE {still half dazed, now at the door). Now? Here?

Merchant. Or now, or later. Here, or otherwhere.

SoBEiDE {doubtfully).

But to my parents only?

Merchant {in a more decided tone).

Where thou wilt.

SoBEiDE {laughing and iveeping at once).

This dost thou then? never in a dream
I ventured such a thought, in maddest dreams
I ne 'er had crept to thee upon my knees

[She falls on her knees before him.~}

With this request, lest I should see thy laughter

Upon such madness . . . yet thou doest it,

Thou doest it ! thou ! Thou good, good man !

[He raises her gently, she stands bewildered.}

Merchant {turns atvay).

When wilt thou go?

Sobeide, This very instant, now!

be not angry, think not ill of me !
Consider : can I tarry in thy house,
A stranger's house this night? Must I not go
At once to him, since I belong to him?
How may his property this night inhabit
An alien house, as it were masterless?

Merchant {bitterly).

Already his?

Sobeide. Why sir, a proper woman

Is never masterless : for from her father
Her husband takes her, she belongs to him.
Be he alive or resting in the earth.
Her next and latest master — that is Death.


Merchant. Then wilt thou not, at least till break of day.
Return to rest at home?

SoBEiDE. No, no, my friend.

All that is past. My road, once and for all,
Is not the common one, this hour divides
Me altogether from all maiden ways.
So let me walk it to its very end
In this one night, that in a later day
All this be like a dream, nor I have need
To feel ashamed.

Merchant. Then go !

SoBEiDE. I give thee pain?

[Merchant turns away.}
Permit a single draught from yonder goblet.

Merchant. It was my mother's, take it to thyself.

SoBEiDE. I cannot. Lord. But let me drink from it.


Merchant. Drain this, and never mayst thou need iu life

To quench thy thirst with wine from any goblet
Less pure than that.

SoBEiDE. Farewell.

Merchant. Farewell.

[She is already on the threshold.}
Hast thou no fear 1 Thou never yet hast walked
Alone. We dwell without the city wall.

SoBEiDE. Dear friend, I feel above all weakling fear,
And light my foot, as never in the daytime.


Merchant (after following her long with his eyes, with a
gesture of pain).
As if some plant were drawing quiet rootlets
From out my heart, to take wing after her,
And air were entering all the empty sockets !

[He steps away from the window.}
Does she not really seem to me less fair.
So hasty, so desirous to run thither,
Where scarce she knows if any wait her coming !


No : 'tis her youth that I must see aright ;
This is a part of all things beautiful,
And all this haste becomes this creature just
As mute aspects become the fairest flowers.

I think what I have done is of a part
With my conception of the world's great

I will not have one set of lofty thoughts
When I behold high up the circling stars,
And others when a young girl stands before me.
What there is truth, must be so here as well.
And I must say, if yonder wedded child
Cannot endure to harbor in her spirit
Two things, of which the one belies the other,
Am I prepared to make my acts deny
What I have learned through groping pre-
And reason from that monstrous principle
That towers upon the earth and strikes the

stars 1
I call it Life, that monstrous thing, this too
Is life — and who might venture to divide them?
And what is ripeness, if not recognizing
That men and stars have but one law to guide

And so herein I see the ha^id of fate.
That bids me live as lonely as before,
And heirless — when I speak the last good-by —
And with no loving hand in mine, to die.

Scene II

A wainscoted room in Shalnassar's house. An ascending stairway, narrow
and steep, in the right background; a descending one at the left. A
gallery of open woodwork with openings, inner balconies, runs about
the entire stage. Unshaded hanging lamps. Curtained doorways to the
left and right. Against the left wall a low bench, farther to the rear
a table and seats.



Old SHAliNASSAR sits on the bench near the left doorway, wrapped in a
cloak. Before him stands a young man, the impoverished merchant.

Shalnass. Were I as rich as you regard me — truly

I am not so, quite far from that, my friend —
I could not even then grant this postponement,
Nay, really, friend, and solely for your sake :
For too indulgent creditors, by Heaven,
Are debtors' ruin.
Debtor. Hear me now, Shalnassar !
Shalnass. No more. I can hear nothing. Yea, my deafness
But grows apace with all your talking. Go !
Go home, I say : think how you may retrench.
I know your house, 'tis overrun with vermin,
I mean the servants. Curtail the expenses
Your wife has caused : they are most unbecoming
For your position. What? I am not here
To give you counsel. Home with you, I tell you.
Debtoe. I wanted to, my heart detains me here,

This heart that swells with pain. Go home?

To me
The very door of my own house is hateful.
I cannot enter, but some creditor
Would block my way.
Shalnass. Well, what a fool you were.

Go home and join your lovely wife, be off!
Go home! Bring offspring into life. Then
starve !
[He claps his hands. The Armenian slave
comes up the stairs. Shalnassar whispers
with him, without heeding the other.']
Debtor. Not fifty florins have I in the world.

You spoke of servants ? Aye, one withered crone
To carry water, that is all. And she
How long? No wretch abandoned, fed with alms,
Feels misery like mine : for I have known
The sweets of wealth. Through every night I



Contentment round my head, and sweet was

But hush ! she loves me still, and so my failure
Is bright and golden. 0, she is my wife !

Shalnass. I beg you, go, the lamps will have to burn

So long as you are standing round. Go with him.
Here are the keys.

Debtor (overcoming his fear). A word, good Shalnassar !
I had not wished to beg you for reprieve.

Shalnass. What? Does my deafness cause me some illu-

Debtor. No, really.

Shalnass. But?

Debtor. But for another loan.

Shalnass (furious).

What do vou want?

Debtor. Not what I want, but must.

Thou never hast beheld her, thou must see her !
My heavy heart gives o'er its sullen beating
And leaps with joy, whene'er I look upon her.

(With growing agitation.)
All this must yet be altered. Her fair limbs
Are for the cult of tenderness created.
Not for the savage claws of desperation.
She cannot go a-begging, with such hair.

Online LibraryKuno FranckeThe German classics : masterpieces of German literature translated into English (Volume 20) → online text (page 19 of 34)