The City of the Dreadful Night

Attempts at Translation from Heine

James Thomson

The Pilgrimage To Kevlaar.


AT the window stood the mother,
    In bed the sick son lay;
“Will you not get up, William,
    And see them marching away?”

“I am so ill, O mother,
    That I cannot hear or see!
I think of my dead Maggie,
    And my heart is broken in me.”

“Get up; we will to Kevlaar,
    Take missal and rosarie;
The Mother of God our Saviour
    Will heal thy heart for thee.”

They wave the broad church-banners,
    They chant the holy song;
And through Cologne on the Rhine stream,
    The procession draws along.

The mother follows the pilgrims,
    And her sick son leadeth she;
And their voices join in the chorale
    “Blessèd be thou, Marie!”



The Mother of God at Kevlaar
    To-day wears her richest dress;
To-day she will be right busy,
    Such numbers come in distress.

And all the poor sick people
    Bring with them offerings meet;
They are little waxen figures,
Many waxen hands and feet.

And who a wax hand offers,
    His hand’s wound hurts no more;
And who a wax foot offers,
    His foot is healed of its sore.

To Kevlaar went many on crutches,
    Who now can dance all night;
And many now play on the viol
    Whose fingers were helpless quite.

The mother took a wax-light,
    And thereout shaped a heart
“Take that to our dear Lord’s Mother,
    And she will cure thy smart.”

Sighing he took the wax heart
    And knelt to the holy form;
The tears from his eyes outstreaming,
    And the words from his heart blood-warm

“Thou blessèd among women,
    God’s Virgin pure from taint,
Thou Queen of the highest Heaven,
    To thee I bring my plaint!

“I lived with my dear mother
    In the city of Cologne,
The city for many hundreds
    Of churches and chapels known.

“And next to us lived Maggie,
    She lived, she lives not now
Marie, I bring thee a wax heart,
    My bleeding heart heal thou!

“Heal thou my heart sore wounded,
    And early and late to thee
Will I sing and pray with fervour
    Blessèd be thou, Marie!”



The sick son and his mother
    Were sleeping from all ill,
When lo, the Mother of Jesus
    Came gliding in so still.

She bent down over the sick one,
    And softly laid her hand
Upon his heart; then vanished
    Smiling sweet and bland.

The mother saw all in her dreaming,
    And fain had seen yet more;
But she was roused from slumber,
    The dogs made such uproar.

There lay outstretched beside her
    Her son, and he was dead;
On the pallid features sparkled
    The light of the morning red.

The mother folded her hands then,
    She felt so wistfully;
Devoutly sang she softly
    “Blessèd be thou, Marie!”


The Loreley.

I KNOW not what evil is coming,
    But my heart feels sad and cold;
A song in my head keeps humming,
    A tale from the times of old.

The air is fresh and it darkles,
    And smoothly flows the Rhine
The peak of the mountain sparkles
    In the fading sunset-shine.

The loveliest wonderful Maiden
    On high is sitting there,
With golden jewels braiden,
    And she combs her golden hair.

With a golden comb sits combing,
    And ever the while sings she
A marvellous song through the gloaming
    Of magical melody.

It hath caught the boatman, and bound him
    In the spell of a wild sad love;
He sees not the rocks around him,
    He sees only her above.

The waves through the pass sweep swinging,
    But boatman or boat is none;
And this with her mighty singing
    The LORELEY hath done.

The Mountain Voice.

ALL sadly through the stern ravine rode
    There rode a horseman brave:
“Ah! draw I near to my darling’s arms,
    Or near to the gloomy grave?”
            The echo answer gave:
            “To the gloomy grave!”

And as the horseman onward rode
    A deep sigh heaved his breast:
“If I thus early go to the grave,
    Well, in the grave is rest!”
            The answering voice confessed:
            “In the grave is rest!”

Slowly adown the rider’s cheek
    A tear of sad thought fell:
“If but in the grave there is rest for me,
    For me in the grave ’tis well!”
            Whereto the echoing knell:
            “In the grave ’tis well!”

FOR many thousand ages
    The steadfast stars above
Have gazed upon each other
    With ever-mournful love.

They speak a certain language,
    So beautiful, so grand,
Which none of the philologians
    Could ever understand.

But I have learned it, learned it
    For ever, by the grace
Of studying one grammar,
    My heart’s own darling’s face.

IN the Rhine, in the beautiful river,
    The mighty shadow is thrown,
With its great cathedral,
    Of holy and great Cologne.

One picture in the cathedral,
    On gilded leather wrought,
Unto my life’s wild sorrow
    Hath gracious comfort brought:

The dear Madonna, with floating
    Angels and flowers above;
The eyes and the lips and the contours
    Are all just those of my love.

THE LOTUS-FLOWER doth languish
    Beneath the sun’s fierce light;
With drooping head she waiteth
    All dreamily for night.

The Moon is her true lover,1
    He wakes her with his glance:
To him she unveils gladly
    Her gentle countenance.

She blooms and glows and brightens,
    Intent on him above;
Exhaling, weeping, trembling,
    With ever-yearning love.

THE WORLD is dull, the world is blind,
And daily grows more silly!
It says of you, my lovely child,
You are not quite a lily.

The world is dull, the world is blind,
And judges in stupid fashion
It knows not how sweet your kisses are,
And how they burn with passion.

I BLAME thee not, a broken heart my lot,
O Love for ever lost! I blame thee not.
Though thou art splendid with the diamonds bright,
There falls no gleam within thy heart’s deep night.

I’ve known this long. I saw thee in clear dream,
And saw black night within thy soul supreme,
And saw the worm still fretting at thy heart;
I saw how wretched, O my love, thou art.

Yes, thou art wretched, and I blame thee not;—
    My Love, we both must ever wretched be!
Until death’s peace concludes our fatal lot,
    My Love, we both must ever wretched be!

I see the scorn which round thy pale lip weaves,
    And see thine eyes outlighten haughtily,
And see the pride with which thy bosom heaves;
    And wretched art thou still, wretched as I.

In secret round thy mouth a pain-thrill steals,
    Through tears held back thine eyes can scarcely see,
The haughty breast a bleeding heart conceals;
    My Love, we both must ever wretched be.

THE VIOLETS blue of the eyes divine,
And the rose of the cheeks as red as wine,
And the lilies white of the hands so fine,
They flourish and flourish from year to year,
And only the heart is withered and sere.

THE EARTH is so fair and the heaven so blue,
And the breeze is breathing so warmly too,
And the flowers of the meadow are gleaming through
The sparkling and glittering morning dew,
And the people are joyous wherever I view:
Yet would were I in the grave at rest
Folded close to my lost Love’s breast.

I GAZED upon her picture,
    Absorbed in dreams of gloom,
Till those belovèd features
    Began to breathe and bloom.

About her lips came wreathing
    That sweet, sweet smile I knew;
The eyes were softly gleaming
    With tears as fresh as dew.

And my tears sprang then also,
    The dark cloud’s rain was shed:
And, O my Love, I cannot
    Believe that thou art dead!

A PINE-TREE standeth lonely
    In the North on an upland bare;
It standeth whitely shrouded
    With snow, and sleepeth there:

It dreameth of a palm-tree,
    Which far in the East alone
In mournful silence standeth
    On its ridge of burning stone.

MY DARLING, thou art flowerlike,
    So tender, pure, and fair;
I gaze on thee, and sadness
    Steals on me unaware:

I yearn to lay my hands then
    Upon thy head in prayer,
That God will keep thee ever
    Thus tender, pure, and fair.

“SAY, where is the maiden sweet,
    Whom you once so sweetly sung,
When the flames of mighty heat
    Filled your heart and fired your tongue?”

Ah, those flames no longer burn;
    Cold and drear the heart that fed;
And this book is but the urn
    Of the ashes of love dead.

THE OLD dream comes again to me
    With May-night stars above,
We two sat under the linden-tree
    And swore eternal love.

Again and again we plighted troth,
    We chattered, and laughed, and kissed;
To make me well remember my oath
    You gave me a bite in the wrist.

O darling with the eyes serene,
    And with the teeth so white!
The vows were proper to the scene,
    Superfluous was the bite.

MY DARLING, we sat together,
    We two in our frail boat;
The night was calm o’er the wide sea
    Whereon we were afloat.

The Spectre-Island, the lovely,
    Lay dim in the moon’s mild glance;
There sounded sweetest music,
    There waved the shadowy dance.

It sounded sweet and sweeter,
    It waved there to and fro;
But we slid past forlornly
    Upon the great sea-flow.

MY HEART, my heart is mournful,
    Yet joyously shines the May;
I stand by the linden leaning,
High on the bastion grey.

The blue town-moat thereunder
    Glides peacefully along;
A boy in a boat is angling
    And whistling a careless song.

Beyond, like a well-known picture,
    All small and fair are strewed
Houses and gardens and people,
    Oxen and meadows and wood.

The maidens bleach the linen,
    And dance in the grass for glee;
The mill-wheel scatters diamonds,
    Its far hum reaches me.

Upon the hoary tower
    A sentry-box stands low;
A youth in his coat of scarlet
    There paces to and fro.

He trifles with his musket,
    Which gleams in the sunshine red;
He shoulders and presents it—
    I would he shot me dead.



BY the sea, by the desert midnight sea,
Stands a youth,
His heart full of anguish, his head full of doubt,
And with sullen lips he questions the waves:—

“Oh, Oh, solve to me the Riddle of Life,
The painful primordial riddle,
Which already has racked so many heads,
Heads in hieroglyphic caps,
Heads in turbans and black berrets,
Heads in wigs, and myriad other
Poor perspiring human heads;
What is the meaning of Man?
Whence comes he? Whither goes he?
Who dwells there above in the golden stars?”

The waves murmur their everlasting murmur,
The wind sweeps, the clouds scud,
The stars glitter indifferent and cold,
And, a fool awaits an answer.

AS I each day in the morning
    Pass by that house of thine,
It gives me joy, thou darling,
    When you at the window shine.

Your dark brown eyes they ask me,
    As only sweet eyes can
Who art thou, and what ails thee,
    Thou sickly foreign man?

I am a German poet,
    Well known beyond the Rhine;
When men the best names mention,
    Be sure they mention mine.

And what ails me, thou darling,
    Ails many beyond the Rhine;
When men the worst woes mention,2
    Be sure they mention mine.

YOU lovely fisher-maiden,
    Bring now the boat to land:
Come here and sit beside me,
    We’ll prattle hand in hand.

Your head lay on my bosom,
    Nor be afraid of me:
Do you not trust all fearless
    Daily the great wild sea?

My heart is like the sea, dear,
    Has storm, and ebb, and flow,
And many purest pearl-gems
    Within its dim depth glow.

THE MOON is fully risen,
    And shineth over the sea;
And I embrace my darling,
    Our hearts swell free.

In the arms of the lovely maiden
    I lie alone on the strand:
“What sounds in the breeze’s sighing?
    Why trembles your white hand?”

“That is no breeze’s sighing,
    That is the mermaidens’ song,
The singing of my sisters
    Whom the sea hath drowned so long.”


WHERE shall once the wanderer weary
    Meet his resting-place and shrine?
Under palm-trees by the Ganges?
    Under lindens of the Rhine?

Shall I somewhere in the desert
    Owe my grave to stranger hands?
Or upon some lonely sea-shore
    Rest at last beneath the sands?

Ever onward! God’s wide heaven
    Must surround me there as here;
And like death-lamps o’er me swinging
    Night by night the stars burn clear.


Body and Soul.

THE POOR Soul speaketh to its Clay
I cannot leave thee thus; I’ll stay
With thee, with thee in death will sink
And black Annihilation drink.
Thou still hast been my second I,
Embracing me so lovingly;
A satin feast-robe round my form
Doubled with ermine soft and warm.
Woe’s me! I dare not face the fact—
Quite disembodied, quite abstract,
To loiter as a blessèd Naught
Above there in the realm of Thought,
Through Heavenly halls immense and frigid,
Where the Immortals dumb and rigid
Yawn to me as they clatter by
With leaden clogs so wearily.
Oh, it is horrible! Oh, stay,
Stay with me, thou beloved Clay!

The Body to the poor Soul said:
Oh, murmur not, be comforted!
We all should quietly endure
The wounds of Fate, which none can cure.
I was the lamp’s wick, and to dust
Consume; but thou, the Spirit, must
Be saved with care, and lifted far
To shine in Heaven, a little star
Of purest light. I am but cinder,
Mere matter, rubbish, rotten tinder,
Losing the shape we took at birth,
Mouldering again to earth in earth.
Now, fare thee well, and grieve no more!
Perchance life is not such a bore
In Heaven, as you-expect up there.
If you should meet the old Great Bear
(Not Meyer-Bear3) i’ the starry climes,
Greet him from me a thousand times!

1. In the German, Moon, Der Mond, is masculine; and Sun, Die Sonne, feminine.    [back]

2. Not the worst instances of woe; else this would be peculiar which he has just declared common: but the worst kinds of woe; thus claiming for his people unusual sensibility, or hinting that they are inordinately oppressed.    [back]

3. Meyerbeer, the great musician. Heine in his later years lost no opportunity for a skit at him. The poet is also alluding to his own “Atta-Troll,” whose title-hero is a bear.    [back]

The City of the Dreadful Night - Contents

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