Forest Murmurs


Stretched out under the oak, in the wood's new leaves,
I lay with my book. To me it is still the sweetest;

All the fairy tales are in it, the Goose Girl and the Juniper Tree
And the Fisherman's Wife–truly, one never gets tired of them.

The curly light flung down to me its green May-shine,
Flung on the shadowy book its mischievous illustrations.

I heard, far away, the strokes of the axe; heard the cuckoo
And the rippling of the book, a step or two beyond.

I myself felt like a fairy tale; with new-washed senses
I saw, O so clear! The forest, the cuckoo called, O so strange!

All at once the leaves rustle–isn't it Snow-White coming
Or some enchanted stag? Oh no, it's nothing miraculous:

See, my neighbor's child from the village, my good little sweetheart!
She'd nothing to do, and ran to the forest to her father.

Demurely she seats herself at my side, confidentially
We gossip of this and that; and I tell her the story

(Leaving out nothing) of the sorrows of that incomparable
Maiden her mother three times threatened with death.

Because she was so beautiful, the Queen, the vain one, hated her
Fiercely, so that she fled, made her home with dwarfs.

But soon the Queen found her; knocked at the door as a peddler,
Craftily offering the girl her wonderful things to buy;

And forgetting the words of the dwarfs, the innocent child
Let her in–and the dear thing bought, alas! the poisoned comb.

What a wailing there is that night, when the little ones come home!
What work it takes, what skill, before the sleeper awakes!

But now a second time, a third time, in disguise,
The destroyer comes. How easily she persuades the maiden;

Laces in the tender body, strangling it, till she has choked
The breath in the breast; brings, last, the deadly fruit.

Now nothing is any help; how the dwarfs weep!
The poor darling is locked in a crystal coffin, they set it

There on the mountain side in sight of all the stars–
And inside it, unfading forever, the sweet shape sleeps.

So far had I come: all at once, from the thicket behind me,
The song of the nightingale arose in radiant splendor,

Rained through the boughs like honey, sprinkling its fiery
Barbed sounds down over me; I shuddered in terror, in delight–

So one of the goddesses, flying above him unseen,
Betrays herself to a poet with her ambrosial fragrance.

But soon, alas! the singer was silent. I listened a long time
But in vain; and so I brought my story to its end.–

Just then the child pointed and cried: "She's here already,
It's Margaret! See, she's brought Father the milk, in her basket."

Through the branches I could make out her older sister;
Leaving the meadow, she had turned up into the wood.

Bronzed and stalwart, the maid; noon blazed on her cheeks.
We'd have frightened her if we could, but she greeted us first:

"Come along, if you like! Today you don't need any meat
Or soup, it's so warm. My meal is rich and cool."

And I didn't struggle. We followed the sound of the wood-axe.
How willingly I should have led, instead of the child, her sister!

Friend, you honor the Muse who, ages ago, to thousands
Told her stories, but now for a long time has been silent.

Who by winter fireside, the loom and the work-bench,
Proffered to the folk's creating with her delectable food.

Her kingdom is the impossible: impudent, frivolous, she ladles together
All that's unlikeliest, gleefully gives her prizes to half-wits.

Allowed three wishes, her hero will pick the silliest.
To honor her, now, let me make to you this confession–

How at the side of the girl, the sweet-spoken, the never-silent,
Catching me unawares, the passionate wish overwhelmed me:

If I were a hunter, a shepherd, if I were born a peasant,
If I handled an axe, a shovel–you, Margaret, would be my wife!

Never then would I complain of the heat of the day;
The plainest food, if you served it, would seem a feast.

Each morning, in its magnificence, the sun would meet me–
Each evening, in magnificence, blaze over the ripening fields.

Fresh from the woman's kiss, my blood would grow sweet as balsam;
Boisterous with children, my house would blossom on high.

But on winter nights, when the drifts pile high–by the fireside,
O Muse, maker of the stories of men! I would invoke thee.


                                                    German; trans. Randall Jarrell


Eduard Morike, German, trans. Randall Jarrell, The Complete Poems of Randall Jarrell, 1969, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc.