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C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

Alexis and Dora

By Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832)

Translation of Edgar Alfred Bowring

FARTHER and farther away, alas! at each moment the vessel

Hastens, as onward it glides, cleaving the foam-covered flood!

Long is the track plowed up by the keel where dolphins are sporting,

Following fast in its rear, while it seems flying pursuit.

All forebodes a prosperous voyage; the sailor with calmness

Leans ’gainst the sail, which alone all that is needed performs.

Forward presses the heart of each seaman, like colors and streamers;

Backward one only is seen, mournfully fixed near the mast,

While on the blue-tinged mountains, which fast are receding, he gazeth,

And as they sink in the sea, joy from his bosom departs.

Vanished from thee, too, O Dora, is now the vessel that robs thee

Of thine Alexis, thy friend,—ah, thy betrothèd as well!

Thou, too, art after me gazing in vain. Our hearts are still throbbing,

Though for each other, yet ah! ’gainst one another no more.

O thou single moment, wherein I found life! thou outweighest

Every day which had else coldly from memory fled.

’Twas in that moment alone, the last, that upon me descended

Life such as deities grant, though thou perceivèdst it not.

Phœbus, in vain with thy rays dost thou clothe the ether in glory:

Thine all-brightening day hateful alone is to me.

Into myself I retreat for shelter, and there in the silence

Strive to recover the time when she appeared with each day.

Was it possible beauty like this to see, and not feel it?

Worked not those heavenly charms e’en on a mind dull as thine?

Blame not thyself, unhappy one! Oft doth the bard an enigma

Thus propose to the throng, skillfully hidden in words;

Each one enjoys the strange commingling of images graceful,

Yet still is wanting the word which will discover the sense.

When at length it is found, the heart of each hearer is gladdened,

And in the poem he sees meaning of twofold delight.

Wherefore so late didst thou remove the bandage, O Amor,

Which thou hadst placed o’er mine eyes,—wherefore remove it so late?

Long did the vessel, when laden, lie waiting for favoring breezes,

Till in kindness the wind blew from the land o’er the sea.

Vacant times of youth! and vacant dreams of the future!

Ye all vanish, and naught, saving the moment, remains.

Yes! it remains,—my joy still remains! I hold thee, my Dora,

And thine image alone, Dora, by hope is disclosed.

Oft have I seen thee go, with modesty clad, to the temple,

While thy mother so dear solemnly went by thy side.

Eager and nimble thou wert, in bearing thy fruit to the market,

Boldly the pail from the well didst thou sustain on thy head.

Then was revealed thy neck, then seen thy shoulders so beauteous,

Then, before all things, the grace filling thy motions was seen.

Oft have I feared that the pitcher perchance was in danger of falling,

Yet it ever remained firm on the circular cloth.

Thus, fair neighbor, yes, thus I oft was wont to observe thee,

As on the stars I might gaze, as I might gaze on the moon;

Glad indeed at the sight, yet feeling within my calm bosom

Not the remotest desire ever to call them mine own.

Years thus fleeted away! Although our houses were only

Twenty paces apart, yet I thy threshold ne’er crossed.

Now by the fearful flood are we parted! Thou liest to Heaven,

Billow! thy beautiful blue seems to me dark as the night.

All were now in movement: a boy to the house of my father

Ran at full speed and exclaimed, “Hasten thee quick to the strand!

Hoisted the sail is already, e’en now in the wind it is fluttering,

While the anchor they weigh, heaving it up from the sand;

Come, Alexis, oh come!”—My worthy stout-hearted father

Pressed, with a blessing, his hand down on my curly-locked head,

While my mother carefully reached me a newly made bundle;

“Happy mayst thou return!” cried they—“both happy and rich!”

Then I sprang away, and under my arm held the bundle,

Running along by the wall. Standing I found thee hard by,

At the door of thy garden. Thou smilingly saidst then, “Alexis!

Say, are yon boisterous crew going thy comrades to be?

Foreign coasts wilt thou visit, and precious merchandise purchase,

Ornaments meet for the rich matrons who dwell in the town;

Bring me also, I pray thee, a light chain; gladly I’ll pay thee,

Oft have I wished to possess some such a trinket as that.”

There I remained, and asked, as merchants are wont, with precision

After the form and the weight which thy commission should have.

Modest indeed was the price thou didst name! I meanwhile was gazing

On thy neck, which deserved ornaments worn but by queens.

Loudly now rose the cry from the ship; then kindly thou spakest:—

“Take, I entreat thee, some fruit out of the garden, my friend!

Take the ripest oranges, figs of the whitest; the ocean

Beareth no fruit, and in truth, ’tis not produced by each land.”

So I entered in. Thou pluckedst the fruit from the branches,

And the burden of gold was in thine apron upheld.

Oft did I cry, Enough! But fairer fruits were still falling

Into thy hand as I spake, ever obeying thy touch.

Presently didst thou reach the arbor; there lay there a basket,

Sweet blooming myrtle-trees waved, as we drew nigh, o’er our heads.

Then thou began’st to arrange the fruit with skill and in silence:

First the orange, which heavy as though ’twere of gold,

Then the yielding fig, by the slightest pressure disfigured,

And with myrtle, the gift soon was both covered and graced.

But I raised it not up. I stood. Our eyes met together,

And my eyesight grew dim, seeming obscured by a film.

Soon I felt thy bosom on mine! Mine arm was soon twining

Round thy beautiful form; thousand times kissed I thy neck.

On my shoulder sank thy head; thy fair arms, encircling,

Soon rendered perfect the ring knitting a rapturous pair.

Amor’s hands I felt; he pressed us together with ardor,

And from the firmament clear, thrice did it thunder; then tears

Streamed from mine eyes in torrents, thou weptest, I wept, both were weeping,

And ’mid our sorrow and bliss, even the world seemed to die.

Louder and louder they called from the strand; my feet would no longer

Bear my weight, and I cried:—“Dora! and art thou not mine?”

“Thine forever!” thou gently didst say. Then the tears we were shedding

Seemed to be wiped from our eyes, as by the breath of a god.

Nearer was heard the cry “Alexis!” The stripling who sought me

Suddenly peeped through the door. How he the basket snatched up!

How he urged me away! how pressed I thy hand! Dost thou ask me

How the vessel I reached? Drunken I seemed, well I know,

Drunken my shipmates believed me, and so had pity upon me;

And as the breeze drove us on, distance the town soon obscured.

“Thine forever!” thou, Dora, didst murmur; it fell on my senses

With the thunder of Zeus! while by the thunderer’s throne

Stood his daughter, the goddess of Love; the Graces were standing

Close by her side! so the bond beareth an impress divine!

Oh then hasten, thou ship, with every favoring zephyr!

Onward, thou powerful keel, cleaving the waves as they foam!

Bring me unto the foreign harbor, so that the goldsmith

May in his workshop prepare straightway the heavenly pledge!

Ay, of a truth, the chain shall indeed be a chain, O my Dora!

Nine times encircling thy neck, loosely around it entwined.

Other and manifold trinkets I’ll buy thee; gold-mounted bracelets,

Richly and skillfully wrought, also shall grace thy fair hand.

There shall the ruby and emerald vie, the sapphire so lovely

Be to the jacinth opposed, seeming its foil; while the gold

Holds all the jewels together, in beauteous union commingled.

Oh, how the bridegroom exults, when he adorns his betrothed!

Pearls if I see, of thee they remind me; each ring that is shown me

Brings to my mind thy fair hand’s graceful and tapering form.

I will barter and buy; the fairest of all shalt thou choose thee;

Joyously would I devote all of the cargo to thee.

Yet not trinkets and jewels alone is thy loved one procuring;

With them he brings thee whate’er gives to a housewife delight:

Fine and woolen coverlets, wrought with an edging of purple,

Fit for a couch where we both, lovingly, gently may rest;

Costly pieces of linen. Thou sittest and sewest, and clothest

Me, and thyself, and perchance even a third with it too.

Visions of hope, deceive ye my heart! Ye kindly immortals,

Soften this fierce-raging flame, wildly pervading my breast!

Yet how I long to feel them again, those rapturous torments,

When in their stead, Care draws nigh, coldly and fearfully calm.

Neither the Furies’ torch, nor the hounds of hell with their barking,

Awe the delinquent so much, down in the plains of despair,

As by the motionless spectre I’m awed, that shows me the fair one

Far away: of a truth, open the garden door stands!

And another one cometh! For him the fruit, too, is falling,

And for him also the fig strengthening honey doth yield!

Doth she entice him as well to the arbor? He follows? Oh, make me

Blind, ye Immortals! efface visions like this from my mind!

Yes, she is but a maiden! And she who to one doth so quickly

Yield, to another erelong, doubtless, will turn herself round.

Smile not, Zeus, for this once, at an oath so cruelly broken!

Thunder more fearfully! Strike!—Stay—thy fierce lightnings withhold!

Hurl at me thy quivering bolt! In the darkness of midnight

Strike with thy lightning this mast, make it a pitiful wreck!

Scatter the planks all around, and give to the boisterous billows

All these wares, and let me be to the dolphins a prey!—

Now, ye Muses, enough! In vain would ye strive to depicture

How, in a love-laden breast, anguish alternates with bliss.

Ye cannot heal the wounds, it is true, that love hath inflicted;

Yet from you only proceeds, kindly ones, comfort and balm.