Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Aug. 28, 1749 - Mar. 22, 1832

 

The God And The Bayadere

by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

An Indian Legend.

I.

Mahadeh, earth's lord, descending,
To its mansions comes again,
That, like man with mortals blending,
He may feel their joy and pain;
Stoops to try life's varied changes,
And with human eyes to see,
Ere he praises or avenges,
What their fitful lot may be.
He has pass'd thro' the city, has look'd on them all;
He has watch'd o'er the great, nor forgotten the small,
And at evening went forth on his journey so free.

II.

In the outskirts of the city,
Where the straggling huts are piled,
At a casement stood a pretty
Painted thing, almost a child.
Greet thee, maiden!Thanks -- art weary?
Wait, and quickly I'll appear!

What art thou? -- A Bayadere,
And the home of love is here.

She rises; the cymbals she strikes as she dances,
And whirling, and bending with grace, she advances,
And offers him flowers, as she undulates near.

III.

O'er the threshold gliding lightly,
In she leads him to her room.
Fear not, gentle stranger; brightly
Shall my lamp dispel the gloom.
Art thou weary? I'll relieve thee --
Bathe thy feet, and soothe their smart;
All thou askest I can give thee --
Rest, or song, or joy impart.

She labours to soothe him, she labours to please;
The Deity smiles; for with pleasure he sees
Through deep degradation a right-loving heart.

IV.

And he asks for service menial,
And she only strives the more,
Nature's impulse now is genial,
Where but art prevail'd before.
As the fruit succeeds the blossom,
Swells and ripens day by day,
So, where kindness fills the bosom,
Love is never far away.
But he, whose vast motive was deeper and higher,
Selected, more keenly and clearly to try her,
Love, follow'd by anguish, and death, and dismay.

V.

And her rosy cheeks he presses,
And she feels love's torment sore,
And, thrill'd through by his caresses,
Weeps, who never wept before.
Droops beside him, not dissembling,
Or for passion or for gain,
But her limbs grow faint and trembling,
And no more their strength retain.
Meanwhile the still hours of the night stealing by
Spread their shadowy woof o'er the face of the sky,
Bringing love and its festival joys in their train.

VI.

Light she slept, her arms around him;
Waking soon from broken rest,
Dead upon her breast she found him,
Dead -- that dearly-cherish'd guest!
With a shriek, she flings her o'er him,
But he answers not her cry;
And unto the pile they bore him,
Stark of limb and cold of eye.
She hears the priests chanting -- she hears the deathsong,
And frantic she rises, and bursts through the throng.
Who is she? what seeks she? why comes she so nigh?

VII.

But the bier she falleth over,
And her shrieks are loud and shrill --
I will have my lord, my lover!
In the grave I seek him still.
Shall that godlike frame be wasted
By the fire's consuming blight?
Mine it was -- yea mine! though tasted
Only one delicious night!

But the priests, they chant ever -- We carry the old,
When their watching is over, their journeys are told;
We carry the young, when they pass from the light!

VIII.

Hear us, woman! He we carry
Was not, could not be, thy spouse.
Art thou not a Bayadere?
So hast thou no nuptial vows.
Only to death's silent hollow,
With the body goes the shade;
Only wives their husbands follow:
Thus alone is duty paid.
Strike loud the wild turmoil of drum and of gong!
Receive him, ye gods, in your glorious throng --
Receive him in garments of burning array'd!

IX.

Harsh their words, and unavailing;
Swift she threaded through the quire,
And with arms outstretch'd, unquailing
Leap'd into the crackling fire.
But the deed alone sufficeth --
Robed in might and majesty,
From the pile the god ariseth
With the ransom'd one on high.
Divinity joys in a sinner repenting,
And the lost ones of earth, by immortals relenting,
Are wafted on pinions of fire to the sky!

Source:

Poems And Ballads Of Goethe
Copyright 1859
Translator:
William Edmondstoune Aytoun, D.C.L. ("A.")
and Theodore Martin ("M.")
Delisser & Procter
508 Broadway, New York
 
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