Germany. A Winter’s Tale

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

Caput XV

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

A fine icy rain comes prickling down,
Like needle-points that sting.
The horses sweat and wade through the mud,
They let their tails mournfully swing.

The coachman blows in his horn,
I know the old tune he’s blowing:
“Three horsemen ride out of the gate!”
I feel my drowsiness is growing.

I drowsed and I fell asleep,
And finally I dreamed- o suspense!
I was in the wondrous mountain,
In Barbarossa’s presence.

No more did he sit at the table of stone,
On his stony chair, as if cemented;
Nor did he have that respectful air,
As is usually expected.

He waddled with me trough the halls,
And we chatted at leisure.
Like an antiquarian, he showed me
His curio collection and treasure.

In the armoury hall he explained
The best tricks in the art of clubbing;
He polished some swords with his ermine fur,
There was rust that needed rubbing.

As many items were full of dust,
With a feather duster, he cleaned a few:
He dusted helmets and armours
And spiked headgear too.

And while he dusted his flag
He declared: “My greatest pride
Is that no moth has eaten the silk,
And the wood has no worms inside.”

And when we came to the soldier’s hall,
Where thousands, ready for action,
Laid on the floor, the old man spoke
With absolute satisfaction:

“Here, we must softly speak and tread,
For we must not awake those chaps.
Today will be payday, since again
A hundred years will elapse.”

And lo! The Emperor gently approached
Each sleeping soldier along his way,
And discretely slipped one ducat
In his pocket, for his pay.

He spoke with a grin on his face,
As I looked at him with surprise:
“I pay my men every hundred years.
And one ducat is each man’s prize.”

In the hall, where the horses stood
In long silent rows and waited,
The Emperor rubbed his hands
And seemed strangely elated.

He counted the horses one by one
And patted their ribs, approving;
He counted and counted, and all the while
His lips were eagerly moving.

“That still is not the proper count”
He said at last, with regret.
”I’ve plenty of soldiers and weapons,
But horses are difficult to get.

I’ve sent horse dealers around the world,
And their mission is to spot
And buy for me the best horses;
I already have a lot.

I’m waiting till the count is complete,
Then I’ll strike, liberating
My Fatherland, my German folk,
Who have been so loyally waiting.”

Thus spoke the Emperor, but I cried:
“Attack, old fellow, attack!
And when a man doesn’t have a horse,
Let him ride on a donkey’s back!”

“One must not rush into battle.”
Barbarossa replied with a smile.
“Rome wasn’t built in a day,
And all good things take a while.

Who comes not today, will come tomorrow,
An oak-tree takes some time to grow,
And chi va piano va sono,
Was a Roman saying, as you know.”


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