Argonauts without a vessel,°
That on foot traverse the mountains,
And instead of golden fleece, it's
Just a bearskin we're obtaining -
Oh! We're only sorry devils,
Heroes from a modern model,
And no poet of the classics
Shall in song immortalize us!
Nonetheless, we, too have suffered
Major hardships! Such a rainstorm
Overtook us on the summit,
Where there is no tree nor hackney!
Cloudburst! (Yes, the truss has ruptured.)
It came down on us in buckets!
Jason certainly was never
Drenched by such a squall in Colchis.°
"An umbrella! I would give you
Thirty-six good crowns," I shouted,
"Just to have a good umbrella!"
As the water beat upon us.
Deathly tired, and very peevish,
Dripping, sopping, like wet poodles,
We returned a good deal later
To the lofty witch's hut.
By the hearth there sat Uraka,
And she busied herself combing
Her obese and hefty pug-dog,
But she gave him up quite quickly,
For we also needed tending.
She prepared for me my bedding,
She undid my Espadrilles,°
That uncomfortable footwear,
Helped me out of all my clothing,
Took my pants off, that were clinging
To my legs, so close and faithful,
Like the friendship of a yokel.
"Dressing gown! Yes, thirty-six good
Crowns I'll give for one dry dressing
Gown!" I cried, and steam was rising
From the wet shirt on my body.
Shivering, teeth chattering, I
Stood a while there by the hearth.
Then, as if by fire benumbed, I
Sank at last into the straw.
Couldn't sleep. With blinking eyes, I
Saw the witch, there by the chimney,
And the upper body of her
Son, for likewise she'd disrobed it,
On her lap. And there beside her,
Upright, stood the chubby pug-dog,
And he held between his forepaws,
Cleverly, a little vessel.
From the vessel took Uraka
Reddish grease, and smeared it on her
Son's whole torso, breast and ribs,
Rubbed it hastily, and trembled.
All the while she rubbed and salved it,
Humming little lullabies, all
Faint and nasal; meanwhile, weirdly
Crackled up the blazing hearth.
Like a corpse, so gaunt and yellow,
Lay the son in mother's lap;
Deathly sad and opened widely
Stared his pale and sallow eyes.
Is he really one who's perished,
Who by mother-love is nightly,
Through the strongest witch's ointment,
With enchanted life anointed? -
Curious half-sleep of fever!
Where the limbs are tired and leaden,
As if bound, and all the senses
Overwrought and ghastly waking!
How the cabin's herbal odor
Did afflict me! Painfully I
Pondered: where had I encountered
This aroma? Brood in vain.
How the updraft in the chimney
Made me frightened! Just like groaning
Of some poor and dried-out souls -
Seemed like they were well known voices.
Yet the worst of all my torments
Were the stuffed and mounted birds,
Which, upon a plank, were standing
At my bedside, by the headboard.
Slowly, dreadfully they moved their
Wings, and also bowed to me with
Long, long beaks, that so reminded
Me of certain human noses.
Ah! Where was it, that I'd seen such
Noses once before? In Hamburg,
Or in Frankfurt, in the alley?
Dismal dawning memory!
I was overcome at last by
Sleep, and in the place of waking
Phantasms, there came upon me
One prolonged and wholesome dream.
And I dream, the witch's hut had
Suddenly become a ballroom,
That was borne by lofty columns
Brightly lit by girandoles.°
There were some unseen musicians
Playing "Robert le Diable,"°
The demented dance of nuns;
So, alone, I took to walking.
Finally the lofty portals
Opened wide, and there arrived with
Very slow and solemn footsteps
Guests that only could astonish.
All the guests were bears or spectres!
Walking upright, each among the
Bears consorted with a phantom,
Bundled white in burial garments.
Paired in such a manner, they did
Start their waltzing, up and down,
Through the hall. A curious vision!
One for terror and for laughter!
For it seemed to make the chubby
Bears quite sour, to have to keep in
Step with all the aery figures,
Who could move with swirling lightness.
Whirled about relentlessly were
Those poor beasts, and all their panting
And their wheezing almost drowned the
Rumbling deep orchestral bass notes.
Oftentimes a waltzing pair would
Bump another, and the bear would
Give the ghost who nudged him several
Well-aimed kicks in his behind.
Also, in the dancing turmoil,
Bears would tear the corpses' linen
From the heads of dancing partners;
Death's heads could be seen upon them.
Finally rejoiced the blaring
Of the trumpets and the cymbals,
And the timpani did thunder,
Time to dance the gallopade.°
My dream stopped before the ending -
For a rather uncouth bear
Tread upon my corns so rashly,
That I cried out and awakened.
Phoebus, in the solar carriage,°
Lashes on his flaming horses,
And he had completed almost
Half his daily heavens' journey -
While I lay in bed, asleep, and
Dreaming of the bears and spectres,
All fantastically embracing;
Zany arabesques, and wacky.
'Twas midday, as I awakened,
And I found myself alone.
Both my hostess and Laskaro
Left upon the hunt right early.
In the hut remained behind them
Just the pug-dog. At the hearth he
Stood upright before the cauldron,
Holding in his paws a ladle.
He seemed excellently trained, and
When the soup was boiling over,
Quickly round and round he stirred it,
And he scooped away the bubbles.
But am I myself bewitched?
Or is still the fever blazing
In my head? I hardly think I
Trust my ears - the pug is speaking!
Yes, he speaks, indeed, unhurried
Swabian° is the dialect; and
Dreaming, as if lost in thought, he
Speaks in figures like what follows:
"Oh, poor me, the Swabian poet!
In a distant land, I sadly
Languish as a curséd pug-dog
And protect the witch's cauldron!
What a shameful crime it is, this
Necromancy! Oh, how tragic
Is my fate: to feel so human
In the body of a canine!
Were I only in my homeland,
With my trusty schoolyard comrades!
Not a warlock is among them,
No one is enchanted by them.
Were I only in my homeland,
With Karl Mayer°, and the fragrant
Goldlack° of the fatherland,
And the godly sausage-soup!°
I'm so homesick, I could perish -
Would that I could see the smoke,
Rising up from out the chimney
When the noodles cook in Stukkert!"°
As I heard this, I was seized by
Deep emotion; from the bedside
I sprang up and settled by the
Chimney, where I spoke with pity:
"Noble singer, what has brought thee
Here, into this witch's dwelling?
Why have they transmogrified thee
Heartlessly into a dog?"
Then he cried aloud with gladness:
"Therefore you are not a Frenchman?
You are German, comprehending
This, my silent monologue?
Ah, my countryman, such bad luck
That the diplomat, Herr Kölle,°
Whilst conversing in the tavern
Over beer and some tobacco,
Always came back to the topic,
That one only gains through travel
That distinction he himself had
Brought back from those foreign countries!
For to shed my crude beginnings,
Find some style, and like Herr Kölle,
Polish up my worldly manners and
I took leave of my dear homeland
To experience a journey,
To the Pyrenees I travelled,
To the dwelling of Uraka.
With a note of introduction
From Justinus Kerner° came I;
Never crossed my mind, that this, my
Friend, could be in league with witches.
I at first took her for friendly,
Yet, to my alarm, this growing
Friendship soon degenerated
To the point of carnal passion.
Yes, the fornication flickered,
Nasty in the withered bosom
Of this vicious harridan,
And she wanted to debauch me.
Yet I pleaded: 'Ah, excuse me,
Madame! I am not a frivolous
Goethean,° I am a member
Of the Swabian school of poets.
Stern propriety's our muse,
And she wears the thickest leather
Underwear - Alas! I beg you,
Don't offend against my virtue!
Other poets, they have spirit,
Some have phantasy, and others
May have passion, ah, but virtue,
That is ours, the Swabian poets.
That, of all the gifts, is ours!
Do not rob me of the moral
And religious beggar's mantle,
That which hides my nakedness!'
So I spake, but yet the woman
Smiled with irony, and smiling,
Took a mistletoe and then she
Touched me with it, on my head.
I experienced a cold and
Awful feeling, as if goosebumps
Came upon my limbs. But then,
I discovered 'twas not goosebumps,
It was much more like a coat of
Dog's hair - ever since that evil
Hour, I find myself transforméd,
As you see, into a pug!"
Wretched rascal! And he sniveled
So, that he could speak no longer,
And he wept disconsolately,
So his tears could almost drown him.
"Hear me out," I said with sadness,
"Is there some way I can free thee
From the dogskin, and restore thee
Back to poetry and manhood?"
He, however, as if hopeless
And despairing, raised his paws up
Toward the heavens, and with sighing
And with groaning spake he, finally:
"'Til the end of days must I be
In this fur incarcerated,
Save for when a selfless virgin
Frees me from the malediction.
Yes, alone a pristine virgin,
Never touched by any fellow,
Who fulfills these strict requirements
Can deliver me from pugness:
This unblemished virgin must,
On the night of Saint Sylvester,
Read the poems of Gustav Pfizer° -
And not fall into a slumber!
If she stays awake while reading,
Closes not her modest eyelids,
Then I'll be unconjured, human
Once again, I'll be unpugged!"
"Ah, in this case" - I replied -
"I myself can't undertake it,
This deliverance; for firstly,
I myself am no pure virgin,
Secondly, I were not able,
Under any circumstance, to
Read the poems of Gustav Pfizer
And refrain from going to sleep."
From the spooky witch's household
We descended to the valley;
Once again we gained a foothold
On firm ground of affirmation.
Hence, ye spectres! Nightly visions!
Aery figures! Fever-dreaming!
We have more judicious business
Once again with Atta Troll.
In the cave, with all the youngsters,
Lies the elder, and he sleeps
With the snoring of the righteous;
Fin'lly, yawning, he wakes up.
Near him crouches esquire One-Ear,
And he scratches on his noggin
Like a poet, who a rhyme seeks;
And does scansion with his forepaws.
Likewise, there beside their father,
Lying dreaming on their backsides,
Innocent, four-footed lilies,
Atta Troll's belovéd daughters.
What endearing, tender musings
Languish in the blooming souls
Of these white and bearish maidens?
Tears are moistening their gazes.
One, the youngest, seems especially
Deeply moved. Within her heart, she
Feels already blesséd itching,
Hinting at the pow'r of Cupid.
Yes, the little Cupid's arrow
Has her bearskin penetrated,
As she looked at him - O heavens,
Him she loves, he is a human!
He's a man, his name's Schnapphahnski.°
On his great retreat in battle
He came running madly past her,
One fine morning in the mountains.
Hero's woe doth stir the ladies,
And upon our hero's visage
Lay, as always, pale and dismal
Sadness of financial worries.
For his war chest, altogether
Two and twenty silver groschens
That he'd brought along to Spain,
Now was Espartero's° booty.
Couldn't even save his timepiece!
It was back in Pampeluna,°
In the pawn shop. 'Twas an heirloom,
Made of silver, quite expensive.
And he ran with lengthy legs,
But unconsciously, whilst running,
He'd won something better than the
Greatest battle - yes, a heart!
Yes, she loves him, foe by nature!
Most unfortunate of she-bears!
If her father knew the secret,
Oh, his growls would be bloodcurdling.
Like the elder Odoardo,°
Who with bourgeois pride did murder
His Emilia Galotti,
Just the same were Atta Troll,
Who would rather kill his daughter,
Kill her with his own four paws,
Than to license her to gladly
Sink into a prince's arms!
Yet at this partic'lar moment
He's soft-tempered, and he doesn't
Care to pluck the rose, before the
Storm wind robs her of her petals.°
Even-tempered Atta Troll
Lies there in the cave with family.
Like foreboding, yearning for the
World hereafter creeps upon him!
"Children!" - now he sighs, and sudden
Tears have come to his big eyes,
"Children! Now my earthly sojourn's
Over, and I must depart you.
In my sleep, at midday, came to
Me a dream that's quite momentous,
For my heart enjoyed so sweetly
A presentiment of dying.
Truly, I'm not superstitious,
I'm no loony-bear - But there are
Things between our earth and heaven,
Inexplicable to thinkers.
Pondering the world and fate, I
Yawned and dropped away to sleep,
And while dreaming, I conceived I
Lay beneath a mighty tree.
From the boughs of this great tree there
Dripped adown the whitest honey,
Right into my mouth, wide open,
And I felt the sweetest rapture.
Blinking, blissful, at the heavens,
I looked up into the treetops,
And I saw there seven bear cubs,
Who did scamper upwards, downwards.
Tender, delicate young creatures,
Who had pelts of rosy colors,
Rosy red, and on their shoulders
Fluff, like little silken wings.
Yes, like little silky wings on
All these rosy-reddish bear cubs,
And with otherworldly sweet and
Flute-like voices did they sing!
As they sang, my hide did turn as
Cold as ice, and out from it my
Soul did travel, like a flame;
Radiant, it soared to heaven."
Thus did speak with soft and trembling,
Grunting tones, our Atta Troll.
He was still a while, nostalgic -
Suddenly, his ears perked up,
Perked up with the strangest tremors,
And he leapt up from the bedside,
Joy a-quivering, joy a-bellowing:
"Children, do you hear these noises?
Is that not the voice, so dulcet,
Of your mother? Oh, I know it,
That's the humming of my Mumma!
Mumma! That is my black Mumma!"
Atta Troll, with just these words, came
Rushing out, just like a madman,
From the cave, into perdition!
Ah, he rushed out to his ruin!
Posted by permission of the
translator ~ © 2005