Germany. A Winter’s Tale

Text by Heinrich Heine (1797-1856)
translated into English by Joseph Massaad

Caput XIV

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Departure | I | II | III | IV | V | VI | VII | VIII | IX | X | XI | XII | XIII | XIV | XV

A moist wind, a barren land,
The coach is bogged in mire,
But through my soul it sings and rings:
“Sun, thou accusing fire!”

That’s the ending rhyme of an old song
That my nurse so often sang:
“Sun, thou accusing fire!” like the call
Of a forest horn it rang.

The song is about a murderer,
A happy, carefree fellow;
But, at the end, he’s found in a wood,
Hanged from a grey willow.

The secret avengers had nailed
On the tree-trunk, with much ire,
The murderer’s death sentence-
“Sun, thou accusing fire!”

The sun, as plaintiff, managed
The sentence of death to require.
While dying, Ottilie had screamed:
“Sun, thou accusing fire!”

When I think of that tale, I also think
Of my nurse, so dear and so old.
I see once more her brown face,
With many a wrinkle and a fold.

She was born in Münsterland,
And knew many stories in detail:
Ghost stories to raise your hair,
Many a folksong and fairy-tale.

How my heart would throb when the old lady
Told the tale of the princess fair,
Who sat lonely on the barren heath
And combed her golden hair.

Her job was to tend to the geese,
And when, at the end of the day,
She drove them through the village gate,
She sopped and cried in dismay.

For she could see a horse’s head
Nailed high over the village gate:
This was the head of the poor horse
Who bore her to her foreign fate.

The royal princess sighed deeply:
“O, Falada that you should hang so!”
The horse’s head cried down to her:
“What a pity you had to go!”

The royal princess sighed deeply:
“If only my mother knew!”
The horse’s head cried down to her:
“Her heart would break for you!”

With bated breath, I used to listen
When my nurse, ever so serious,
Softly spoke of Barbarossa,
Our Emperor so mysterious.

She assured me that he wasn’t dead,
As proclaimed the learned and smart,
He lived with his comrades-in-arms,
Hiding deep in a mountain’s heart.

Kyffhäuser is the mountain’s name,
And there’s a large cave inside;
Hanging-lamps light in a ghostly fashion
Its halls, high-vaulted and wide.

The first hall is a stable,
Quite an astonishing sight:
Standing still at their mangers,
Thousands of horses, harness bright.

Every one of these horses
Is saddled well, is bridled well.
Not a single one neighs or stamps,
As if they had a metal shell.

In the second hall, upon the straw,
One sees many lying creatures:
Thousands of soldiers, bearded men,
With warlike defiant features.

All are armed from head to toe,
Yet, out of all these men of war,
No one stirs, no one moves,
They lie asleep on the floor.

In the third hall one sees swords and spears,
Battle-axes, all in a high pile,
Helmets and armours of silver and steel
And firearms of ancient style.

Very few cannon, yet enough
To make a trophy of this stack.
A standard projects out of this heap,
Its colour is gold, red and black.

In the fourth hall lives the Emperor.
For centuries he’s been there,
His head on an arm, at a table of stone,
He sits on a stone-chair.

The beard that grew down to the floor
Is red, as vivid as fire.
Sometimes he blinks an eye,
Sometimes he raises his brows higher.

Does he sleep deep or does he brood?
This is difficult to infer;
But when the right hour comes along,
He will rouse and mightily stir.

Then, he will seize the worthy flag
And cry: “On horses! To war!”
His men will awake and leap from the ground,
With a most frightening roar.

And all will swing upon on their horse,
That’ll stamp their hoofs while neighing.
They’ll ride out into the clattering world,
With all the trumpets blaring.

They’ll ride well, they’ll fight well,
After having slept overtime.
The Emperor’s tribunal will be stern:
Murderers must pay for their crime.

Those treacherous murderers who once
Against our maiden did conspire,
Our dear, wondrous, golden-haired Germany!
“Sun, thou accusing fire!’

Many who, laughing in their castles thought
They’d be safe for the rest of their age,
Won’t escape the Emperor’s rope,
Or the Emperor’s avenging rage.

How lovely my old nurse’s tales ring!
How sweet the dreams they inspire!
My superstitious heart exults:
“Sun, thou accusing fire!”


Departure | I | II | III | IV | V | VI | VII | VIII | IX | X | XI | XII | XIII | XIV | XV