Tuesday, July 27, 2010

''The Wild Huntsman''

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Gottfried August Bürger

Loud, loud the baron winds his horn;
      And, see, a lordly train
On horse, on foot, with defening din,
      Comes scouring o'er the plain.

O'er heath, o'er field, the yelping pack
      Dash swift, from couples freed;
O'er heath, o'er field, close on their track,
      Loud neighs the fiery steed.

And now the Sabbath's holy dawn
      Beam'd high with purple ray,
And bright each hallowed temple's dome
      Reflected back the day.

Now deep and clear the pealing bells
      Struck on the list'ning ear,
And heaven-ward rose from many a voice
      The hymn of praise and prayer.

Swift, swift along the crossway, still
      They speed with eager cry:
See! right and left, two horsemen strange
      Their rapid coursers ply.

Who were the horsemen right and left?
      That may I guess full well:
Who were the horsemen right and left?
      That may I never tell.

The right, of fair and beauteous mien,
      A milk-white steed bestrode;
Mild as the vernal skies, his face
      With heavenly radiance glow'd.

The left spurr'd fast his fiery barb,
      Red as the furnace flame;
Sullen he loured, and from his eyes
      The death-like lightning came.

"Right welcome to our noble sport;"
      The baron greets them fair;
"For well I wot ye hold it good
      To banish moping care.

"No pleasure equal to the chase,
      Or earth, or heaven can yield;"
He spoke,--he waved his cap in air,
      And foremost rushed afield.

"Turn thee!" the milder horseman cries;
      "Turn thee from horns and hounds!
Hear'st not the bells, hear'st not the quire,
      Mingle their sacred sounds?

"They drown the clamor of the chase;
      Oh! hunt not then to-day,
Nor let a fiend's advice destroy
      Thy better angel's sway."

"Hunt on, hunt on," his comrade cries,
      "Nor heed yon dotard's spell;
What is the bawling quire to us?
      Or what the jangling bell?

"Well may the chase delight thee more;
      And well may'st learn from me,
How brave, how princely is our sport,
      From bigot terrors free."

"Well said! well said! in thee I own
      A hero's kindled fire;
These pious foolries move not us,
      We reck nor priest, nor quire.

"And thou, believe me, saintlike dolt,
      Thy bigot rage is vain;
From prayers and beadrolls, what delight
      Can sportsmen hope to gain?"

Still hurry, hurry, on they speed
      O'er valley, hill and plain;
And ever at the baron's side
      Attend the horsemen twain.

See, panting, see, a milk-white hart
      Up-springs from yonder thorn:
"Now swiftly ply both horse and foot;
      Now louder wind the horn!"

See, falls a huntsman! see, his limbs
      The pangs of death distort!
"Lay there and rot: no caitiff's death
      Shall mar our princely sport."

Light bounds with deftest speed the hart,
      Wide o'er the country borne;
Now closer prest a refuge seeks
      Where waves the ripening corn.

See, the poor owner of the field
      Approach with tearful eyes;
"O pity, pity, good my lords!"
      Alas! in vain he cries.

"O spare what little store the poor
      By bitter sweat can earn!"
Now soft the milder horseman warns
      The baron to return.

Not so persuades his stern compeer,
      Best pleas'd with darkest deeds;
Tis his to sway the baron's heart,
      Reckless what mercy pleads.

"Away!" the imperious noble cries;
      "Away, and leave us free!
Off! or by all the powers of hell,
      Thou too shalt hunted be!

"Here, fellows! let this villain prove
      My threats were not in vain:
Loud lash around his piteous face
      The whips of all my train."

Tis said, tis done: swift o'er the fence
      The baron foremost springs;
Swift follow hound, and horse, and man,
      And loud the welkin rings.

Loud rings the welkin with their shouts,
      While man, and horse, and hound,
Ruthless tread down each ripening ear,
      Wide o'er the smoking ground.

O'er heath and field, o'er hill and dale,
      Scared by the approaching cries,
Still close pursued, yet still unreach'd,
      Their destin'd victim flies.

Now mid the lowing herds that graze
      Along yon verdant plain,
He hopes, concealed from every eye,
      A safe retreat to gain.

In vain, for now the savage train
      Press ravening on his heels:
See, prostrate at the baron's feet
      The affrighted herdsman kneels.

Fear for the safety of his charge
      Inspires his faltering tongue;
"O spare," he cries, "these harmless beasts,
      Nor work an orphan's wrong.

"Think, here thy fury would destroy
      A friendless widow's all!"
He spoke:--the gentle stranger strove
      To enforce soft pity's call.

Not so persuades his sullen frere,
      But pleas'd with darkest deeds;
Tis his to sway the baron's heart,
      Reckless what mercy pleads.

"Away, audacious hound!" he cries;
      "Twould do my heart's-blood good,
Might I but see thee transform'd to beasts
      Thee and thy beggar brood.

"Then, to the very gates of heaven,
      Who dare to say me nay!
With joy I'd hunt the losel fry;
      Come fellows, no delay!"

See, far and wide the murderous throng
      Deal many a deadly wound;
Mid slaughter'd numbers, see, the hart
      Sinks bleeding on the ground.

Yet still he summons all his strength
      For one poor effort more,
Staggering he flies; his silver sides
      Drop mingled sweat and gore.

And now he seeks a last retreat
      Deep in the darkling dell,
Where stands, amidst embowering oaks,
      A hermit's holy cell.

E'en here the madly eager train
      Rush swift with impious rage,
When, lo! persuasion on his tongue,
      Steps forth the reverend sage.

"O cease thy chase! nor thus invade
      Religion's free abode;
For know, the tortur'd creature's groans
      E'en now have reach'd his god.

"They cry at heaven's high mercy seat,
      For vengeance on thy head;
O turn, repentant turn, ere yet
      The avenging bolt is sped."

Once more religion's cause in vain
      The gentle stranger pleads;
Once more, alas! his sullen frere
      A willing victim leads.

"Dash on!" the harden'd sinner cries;
      "Shalt thou distrub our sport?
No! boldly would I urge the chase
      In heaven's own inmost court.

"What reck I then thy pious rage?
      No mortal man I fear:
Not god in all his terrors arm'd
      Should stay my fix'd career."

He cracks his whip, he winds his horn,
      He calls his vassal-crew;
Lo! horse and hound, and sage and cell,
      All vanish from his view.

All, all, are gone!--no single rack
      His eager eye can trace;
And silence, still as death, has hush'd
      The clamors of the chase.

In vain he spurs his courser's sides,
      Nor back nor forward borne;
He winds his horn, he calls aloud,
      But hears no sound return.

And now inclos'd in deepest night,
      Dark as the silent grave,
He hears the sullen tempest roar,
      As roars the distant wave.

Loud and louder still the storm
      Howls through the troubled air;
Ten thousand thunders from on high
      The voice of judgment bear.

"Accursed before god and man,
      Unmoved by threat or prayer;
Creator, nor created, aught
      Thy frantic rage would spare.

"Think not in vain creation's lord
      Has heard his creature's groan;
E'en now the torch of vengeance flames
      High by his awful throne.

"Now, hear thy doom! to aftertimes
      A dread example given,
For ever urge thy wild career,
      By fiendish hell-hounds driven."

The voice had ceased; the sulphurous flash
      Shot swift from either pole;
Sore shook the grove; cold horror seized
      The trembling miscreant's soul.

Again the rising tempest roars,
      Again the lightnings play;
And every limb, and every nerve
      Is frozen with dismay.

He sees a giant's swarthy arm
      Start from the yawning ground;
He feels a demon grasp his head,
      And rudely wrench it round.

In torrents now from every side,
      Pours fast a fiery flood;
On each o'erwhelming wave upborne,
      Loud howls the hellish brood.

Sullen and grisly gleams the light,
      Now red, now green, now blue;
Whilst o'er the gulf the fiendish train
      Their destined prey pursue.

In vain he shrieks with wild despair,
      In vain he strives to fly;
Still at this back the hell-born crew
      Their cursed business ply.

By day, full many a fathom deep
      Below earth's smiling face;
By night, high through the troubled air,
      They speed their endless chase.

In vain to turn his eyes aside
      He strives with wild affright;
So never may those maddening scenes
      Escape his tortured sight.

Still must he see those dogs of hell
      Close hovering on his track;
Still must he see the avenging scourge
      Uplighted at his back.

Now this is the wild baron's hunt;
      And many a village youth,
And many a sportsman (dare they speak)
      Could vouch the awful truth.

For oft benighted midst the wilds
      The fiendish troop they hear,
Now shrieking shrill, now cursing loud,
      Come thundering through the air.

No hand shall stay those dogs of hell
      Or quench that sea of fire,
Till god's own dreadful day of doom
      Shall bid the world expire!

-trans. as "The Wild Hunter" by Rambler's Magazine (1809).
-German title: Der wilde Jäger.

(Illustration is Arbo, The Wild Hunt, 1872.)

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