To August Varnhagen von Ense°

"Where in Heaven, master Ludwig,
Have you picked up all this crazy
Stuff?" And so, these very words did
Cry the Cardinal of Este,°

After he had read the poem, that
Sung of all of Roland's furies,
That Ariosto dedicated
To his Eminence, obeisant.

Yes, Varnhagen, my old friend,
Yes, upon thy lips I'm seeing
Almost those same words impending,
With the same smile of refinement.

Sometimes thou dost laugh when reading!
Yet from time to time thy lofty
Forehead may most gravely furrow,
And remembrance creep upon thee: -

"Rings it not of youthful fancies,
Like I dreamt once with Chamisso
And Brentano and Fouqué,°
In the azure nights of moonshine?

Is that not the pious chiming
Of the long lost forest chapel?
And between those haunting sounds, doth
Not the well-known bell-cap jingle?

In the choir of nightingales, there
Interrupts a rumbling bear-bass,
Thumpy, grumpy, alternating
With the lisping of the spirits!

Madness, with a sage demeanor!
Wisdom, going off its rocker!
Dying sighs, that in an instant
Are transmuted into laughter!..."

Yes, my friend, this is the tinkling
Of the long forgotten dream-time;
All except that modern trilling
Often juggles 'twixt old keynotes.

And despite the wild high spirits
Thou wilt, here and there, feel sorrow -
To thy tested, proven mildness
Let this poem be recommended!

Ah, it is perhaps the final
Woods-song of Romanticism!
In these days of fire and battle
It will echo only weakly.

Other times, and other birds!
Other birds, and other birdsongs!
Such a cackling, like the geese, who
Once did save the capitol!°

Such a chirping! Those are sparrows,
Penny candles in their talons;
How they posture, like Jove's eagles,
Brandishing the thunderbolt!

Such a cooing! Turtledoves, so
Cloyed of love, they'd rather hate, and
Henceforth shall, instead of Venus',
Only pull Bellona's wagon!°

Such a buzzing, world-convulsing!
'Tis colossal, wild may-beetles°
Of the springtime of the people,
Gripped by rage of the beserkers!°

Other times, and other birds!
Other birds, and other ballads!
They perhaps might come to please me,
Had I other ears to listen!

 Posted by permission of the translator ~ © 2005

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