A Tramp Abroad — Volume 03 eBook: Page2

Mark Twain (1994)


  "It was on the evening before his departure, as he wished still once tovisit the Lei and offer to the Nymph of the Rhine his Sighs, thetones of his Zither, and his Songs. He went, in his boat, this timeaccompanied by a faithful squire, down the stream. The moon shed hersilvery light over the whole country; the steep bank mountains appearedin the most fantastical shapes, and the high oaks on either side bowedtheir Branches on Hermann's passing. As soon as he approached theLei, and was aware of the surf-waves, his attendant was seized with aninexpressible Anxiety and he begged permission to land; but the Knightswept the strings of his Guitar and sang:

  "Once I saw thee in dark night, In supernatural Beauty bright; Of Light-rays, was the Figure wove, To share its light, locked-hair strove.

  "Thy Garment color wave-dove By thy hand the sign of love, Thy eyes sweet enchantment, Raying to me, oh! enchantment.

  "O, wert thou but my sweetheart, How willingly thy love to part! With delight I should be bound To thy rocky house in deep ground."

  That Hermann should have gone to that place at all, was not wise; thathe should have gone with such a song as that in his mouth was a mostserious mistake. The Lorelei did not "call his name in unutterablesweet Whispers" this time. No, that song naturally worked an instantand thorough "changement" in her; and not only that, but it stirred thebowels of the whole afflicted region around about there--for--

  "Scarcely had these tones sounded, everywhere there began tumult andsound, as if voices above and below the water. On the Lei rose flames,the Fairy stood above, at that time, and beckoned with her right handclearly and urgently to the infatuated Knight, while with a staff inher left hand she called the waves to her service. They began to mountheavenward; the boat was upset, mocking every exertion; the waves roseto the gunwale, and splitting on the hard stones, the Boat broke intoPieces. The youth sank into the depths, but the squire was thrown onshore by a powerful wave."

  The bitterest things have been said about the Lorelei during manycenturies, but surely her conduct upon this occasion entitles her to ourrespect. One feels drawn tenderly toward her and is moved to forget hermany crimes and remember only the good deed that crowned and closed hercareer.

  "The Fairy was never more seen; but her enchanting tones have often beenheard. In the beautiful, refreshing, still nights of spring, when themoon pours her silver light over the Country, the listening shipperhears from the rushing of the waves, the echoing Clang of a wonderfullycharming voice, which sings a song from the crystal castle, and withsorrow and fear he thinks on the young Count Hermann, seduced by theNymph."

  Here is the music, and the German words by Heinrich Heine. This song hasbeen a favorite in Germany for forty years, and will remain a favoritealways, maybe. [Figure 5]

  I have a prejudice against people who print things in a foreign languageand add no translation. When I am the reader, and the author considersme able to do the translating myself, he pays me quite a nicecompliment--but if he would do the translating for me I would try to getalong without the compliment.

  If I were at home, no doubt I could get a translation of this poem, butI am abroad and can't; therefore I will make a translation myself. Itmay not be a good one, for poetry is out of my line, but it will servemy purpose--which is, to give the unGerman young girl a jingle of wordsto hang the tune on until she can get hold of a good version, made bysome one who is a poet and knows how to convey a poetical thought fromone language to another.

  THE LORELEI

  I cannot divine what it meaneth, This haunting nameless pain: A tale of the bygone ages Keeps brooding through my brain:

  The faint air cools in the glooming, And peaceful flows the Rhine, The thirsty summits are drinking The sunset's flooding wine;

  The loveliest maiden is sitting High-throned in yon blue air, Her golden jewels are shining, She combs her golden hair;

  She combs with a comb that is golden, And sings a weird refrain That steeps in a deadly enchantment The list'ner's ravished brain:

  The doomed in his drifting shallop, Is tranced with the sad sweet tone, He sees not the yawning breakers, He sees but the maid alone:

  The pitiless billows engulf him!-- So perish sailor and bark; And this, with her baleful singing, Is the Lorelei's gruesome work.

  I have a translation by Garnham, Bachelor of Arts, in the LEGENDS OF THERHINE, but it would not answer the purpose I mentioned above, becausethe measure is too nobly irregular; it don't fit the tune snugly enough;in places it hangs over at the ends too far, and in other places oneruns out of words before he gets to the end of a bar. Still, Garnham'stranslation has high merits, and I am not dreaming of leaving it out ofmy book. I believe this poet is wholly unknown in America and England; Itake peculiar pleasure in bringing him forward because I consider that Idiscovered him:

  THE LORELEI

  Translated by L. W. Garnham, B.A.

  I do not know what it signifies. That I am so sorrowful? A fable of old Times so terrifies, Leaves my heart so thoughtful.

  The air is cool and it darkens, And calmly flows the Rhine; The summit of the mountain hearkens In evening sunshine line.

  The most beautiful Maiden entrances Above wonderfully there, Her beautiful golden attire glances, She combs her golden hair.

  With golden comb so lustrous, And thereby a song sings, It has a tone so wondrous, That powerful melody rings.

  The shipper in the little ship It effects with woe sad might; He does not see the rocky slip, He only regards dreaded height.

  I believe the turbulent waves Swallow the last shipper and boat; She with her singing craves All to visit hermagic moat.

  No translation could be closer. He has got in all the facts; and intheir regular order, too. There is not a statistic wanting. It is assuccinct as an invoice. That is what a translation ought to be; itshould exactly reflect the thought of the original. You can't SING"Above wonderfully there," because it simply won't go to the tune,without damaging the singer; but it is a most clingingly exacttranslation of DORT OBEN WUNDERBAR--fits it like a blister. Mr.Garnham's reproduction has other merits--a hundred of them--but it isnot necessary to point them out. They will be detected.

  No one with a specialty can hope to have a monopoly of it. Even Garnhamhas a rival. Mr. X had a small pamphlet with him which he had boughtwhile on a visit to Munich. It was entitled A CATALOGUE OF PICTURES INTHE OLD PINACOTEK, and was written in a peculiar kind of English. Hereare a few extracts:

  "It is not permitted to make use of the work in question to apublication of the same contents as well as to the pirated edition ofit."

  "An evening landscape. In the foreground near a pond and a group ofwhite beeches is leading a footpath animated by travelers."

  "A learned man in a cynical and torn dress holding an open book in hishand."

  "St. Bartholomew and the Executioner with the knife to fulfil themartyr."

  "Portrait of a young man. A long while this picture was thought to beBindi Altoviti's portrait; now somebody will again have it to be theself-portrait of Raphael."

  "Susan bathing, surprised by the two old man. In the background thelapidation of the condemned."

  ("Lapidation" is good; it is much more elegant than "stoning.")

  "St. Rochus sitting in a landscape with an angel who looks at hisplague-sore, whilst the dog the bread in his mouth attents him."

  "Spring. The Goddess Flora, sitting. Behind her a fertile valleyperfused by a river."

  "A beautiful bouquet animated by May-bugs, etc."

  "A warrior in armor with a gypseous pipe in his hand leans against atable and blows the smoke far away of himself."

  "A Dutch landscape along a navigable river which perfuses it till to thebackground."

  "Some peasants singing in a cottage. A woman lets dri
nk a child out of acup."

  "St. John's head as a boy--painted in fresco on a brick." (Meaning atile.)

  "A young man of the Riccio family, his hair cut off right at the end,dressed in black with the same cap. Attributed to Raphael, but thesignation is false."

  "The Virgin holding the Infant. It is very painted in the manner ofSassoferrato."

  "A Larder with greens and dead game animated by a cook-maid and twokitchen-boys."

  However, the English of this catalogue is at least as happy as thatwhich distinguishes an inscription upon a certain picture in Rome--towit:

  "Revelations-View. St. John in Patterson's Island."

  But meanwhile the raft is moving on.

  CHAPTER XVII

  [Why Germans Wear Spectacles]

  A mile or two above Eberbach we saw a peculiar ruin projecting above thefoliage which clothed the peak of a high and very steep hill. This ruinconsisted of merely a couple of crumbling masses of masonry which borea rude resemblance to human faces; they leaned forward and touchedforeheads, and had the look of being absorbed in conversation. Thisruin had nothing very imposing or picturesque about it, and there was nogreat deal of it, yet it was called the "Spectacular Ruin."

  LEGEND OF THE "SPECTACULAR RUIN" The captain of the raft, who was asfull of history as he could stick, said that in the Middle Ages a mostprodigious fire-breathing dragon used to live in that region, and mademore trouble than a tax-collector. He was as long as a railway-train,and had the customary impenetrable green scales all over him. His breathbred pestilence and conflagration, and his appetite bred famine. He atemen and cattle impartially, and was exceedingly unpopular. The Germanemperor of that day made the usual offer: he would grant to thedestroyer of the dragon, any one solitary thing he might ask for; for hehad a surplusage of daughters, and it was customary for dragon-killersto take a daughter for pay.

  So the most renowned knights came from the four corners of the earth andretired down the dragon's throat one after the other. A panic arose andspread. Heroes grew cautious. The procession ceased. The dragon becamemore destructive than ever. The people lost all hope of succor, and fledto the mountains for refuge.

  At last Sir Wissenschaft, a poor and obscure knight, out of a farcountry, arrived to do battle with the monster. A pitiable object hewas, with his armor hanging in rags about him, and his strange-shapedknapsack strapped upon his back. Everybody turned up their noses at him,and some openly jeered him. But he was calm. He simply inquired ifthe emperor's offer was still in force. The emperor said it was--butcharitably advised him to go and hunt hares and not endanger so preciousa life as his in an attempt which had brought death to so many of theworld's most illustrious heroes.

  But this tramp only asked--"Were any of these heroes men of science?"This raised a laugh, of course, for science was despised in those days.But the tramp was not in the least ruffled. He said he might be a littlein advance of his age, but no matter--science would come to be honored,some time or other. He said he would march against the dragon in themorning. Out of compassion, then, a decent spear was offered him, buthe declined, and said, "spears were useless to men of science." Theyallowed him to sup in the servants' hall, and gave him a bed in thestables.

  When he started forth in the morning, thousands were gathered to see.The emperor said:

  "Do not be rash, take a spear, and leave off your knapsack."

  But the tramp said:

  "It is not a knapsack," and moved straight on.

  The dragon was waiting and ready. He was breathing forth vast volumesof sulphurous smoke and lurid blasts of flame. The ragged knightstole warily to a good position, then he unslung his cylindricalknapsack--which was simply the common fire-extinguisher known to moderntimes--and the first chance he got he turned on his hose and shot thedragon square in the center of his cavernous mouth. Out went the firesin an instant, and the dragon curled up and died.

  This man had brought brains to his aid. He had reared dragons from theegg, in his laboratory, he had watched over them like a mother, andpatiently studied them and experimented upon them while they grew. Thushe had found out that fire was the life principle of a dragon; put outthe dragon's fires and it could make steam no longer, and must die.He could not put out a fire with a spear, therefore he invented theextinguisher. The dragon being dead, the emperor fell on the hero's neckand said:

  "Deliverer, name your request," at the same time beckoning out behindwith his heel for a detachment of his daughters to form and advance. Butthe tramp gave them no observance. He simply said:

  "My request is, that upon me be conferred the monopoly of themanufacture and sale of spectacles in Germany."

  The emperor sprang aside and exclaimed:

  "This transcends all the impudence I ever heard! A modest demand, by myhalidome! Why didn't you ask for the imperial revenues at once, and bedone with it?"

  But the monarch had given his word, and he kept it. To everybody'ssurprise, the unselfish monopolist immediately reduced the price ofspectacles to such a degree that a great and crushing burden was removedfrom the nation. The emperor, to commemorate this generous act, and totestify his appreciation of it, issued a decree commanding everybody tobuy this benefactor's spectacles and wear them, whether they needed themor not.

  So originated the wide-spread custom of wearing spectacles in Germany;and as a custom once established in these old lands is imperishable,this one remains universal in the empire to this day. Such is the legendof the monopolist's once stately and sumptuous castle, now called the"Spectacular Ruin."

  On the right bank, two or three miles below the Spectacular Ruin, wepassed by a noble pile of castellated buildings overlooking the waterfrom the crest of a lofty elevation. A stretch of two hundred yards ofthe high front wall was heavily draped with ivy, and out of the massof buildings within rose three picturesque old towers. The place was infine order, and was inhabited by a family of princely rank. This castlehad its legend, too, but I should not feel justified in repeating itbecause I doubted the truth of some of its minor details.

  Along in this region a multitude of Italian laborers were blasting awaythe frontage of the hills to make room for the new railway. They werefifty or a hundred feet above the river. As we turned a sharp cornerthey began to wave signals and shout warnings to us to look out for theexplosions. It was all very well to warn us, but what could WE do? Youcan't back a raft upstream, you can't hurry it downstream, you can'tscatter out to one side when you haven't any room to speak of, you won'ttake to the perpendicular cliffs on the other shore when they appear tobe blasting there, too. Your resources are limited, you see. There issimply nothing for it but to watch and pray.

  For some hours we had been making three and a half or four miles an hourand we were still making that. We had been dancing right along untilthose men began to shout; then for the next ten minutes it seemed to methat I had never seen a raft go so slowly. When the first blast wentoff we raised our sun-umbrellas and waited for the result. No harmdone; none of the stones fell in the water. Another blast followed, andanother and another. Some of the rubbish fell in the water just asternof us.

  We ran that whole battery of nine blasts in a row, and it was certainlyone of the most exciting and uncomfortable weeks I ever spent, eitheraship or ashore. Of course we frequently manned the poles and shovedearnestly for a second or so, but every time one of those spurts of dustand debris shot aloft every man dropped his pole and looked up to getthe bearings of his share of it. It was very busy times along there fora while. It appeared certain that we must perish, but even that wasnot the bitterest thought; no, the abjectly unheroic nature of thedeath--that was the sting--that and the bizarre wording of the resultingobituary: "SHOT WITH A ROCK, ON A RAFT." There would be no poetrywritten about it. None COULD be written about it. Example:

  NOT by war's shock, or war's shaft,--SHOT, with a rock, on a raft.

  No poet who valued his reputation would touch such a theme as that. Ishould be distinguished as the only "distinguished dead"
who went downto the grave unsonneted, in 1878.

  But we escaped, and I have never regretted it. The last blast was apeculiarly strong one, and after the small rubbish was done rainingaround us and we were just going to shake hands over our deliverance, alater and larger stone came down amongst our little group of pedestriansand wrecked an umbrella. It did no other harm, but we took to the waterjust the same.

  It seems that the heavy work in the quarries and the new railwaygradings is done mainly by Italians. That was a revelation. We havethe notion in our country that Italians never do heavy work at all, butconfine themselves to the lighter arts, like organ-grinding, operaticsinging, and assassination. We have blundered, that is plain.

  All along the river, near every village, we saw little station-housesfor the future railway. They were finished and waiting for the rails andbusiness. They were as trim and snug and pretty as they could be. Theywere always of brick or stone; they were of graceful shape, they hadvines and flowers about them already, and around them the grass wasbright and green, and showed that it was carefully looked after. Theywere a decoration to the beautiful landscape, not an offense. Whereverone saw a pile of gravel or a pile of broken stone, it was always heapedas trimly and exactly as a new grave or a stack of cannon-balls; nothingabout those stations or along the railroad or the wagon-road wasallowed to look shabby or be unornamental. The keeping a country in suchbeautiful order as Germany exhibits, has a wise practical side toit, too, for it keeps thousands of people in work and bread who wouldotherwise be idle and mischievous.