Home  »  library  »  poem  »  Fear After the Trouble

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

Fear After the Trouble

By Jacob Cats (1577–1660)

Translation through the German by Edward Irenæus Prime-Stevenson

A WHILE ago I read a tale methinks is curious.

Perhaps to every one the story may be useful;

Therefore in timeliness unto the light I drag it,

In hope that all who read, in it will find a pleasure.

A lord once lived of old, whose joy it was to wander

In field and flowery mead, quite to his heart’s contentment.

A horse he had withal, so sage that, slept the rider,

It home would wisely go, without the knight to waken.

And so it came to pass that one day forthward faring,

To dine, the cavalier by a good friend was bidden.

He met with welcome glad; good wine went freely flowing.

At last, for all such cheer, the guest must take his leave.

Himself then he prepared to climb into his saddle,

And turned his beast about, that home were soon attained.

The day was bleak and raw; the sun of light was chary;

Through clouds before its face, a pallid light descended.

The wise steed careful stepped onward along the highway,

Its sober rider borne, as custom was, unwearied.

Anon the usual drowse closed up the rider’s eyelids:

His beast walked calmly on, in faithfulness of service;

The man, profoundly sleeping, traveled as he was wonted;

The time at last brought near when he should reach his dwelling.

But lo! a friend is met, who questions him in wonder:—

“How possible it was his steed had brought him thither?”

The knight responded straight—“Why, I the way have ridden

That, during seven years, I constantly have come;

My beast on which I sit hath borne me duly houseward—

The midnight’s dark itself makes not his foot unsteady.”

“How, friend?” his questioner cried, “even when the bridge is broken?

The stream to cross at all, no other means I know:

This wondrous horse of thine old Perseus must have owned,

Who fought the dragon once, and cut its head to pieces.

Things sure are as they were! You came not flying hither!

It seems to me, belike, a ghost has been your cheater.

To take it otherwise, the joke to me seems pointless.

Not possible it is, this story that you tell me.

But that o’er such a thing no wrangling be between us,

Come to the bridge with me; I gladly will be escort.

The spot and fact themselves, in proof I straight will disclose,

That you may note how ill goes with your word the matter.”

Whereto so long a speech? The Knight was well persuaded;

The flood is reached again, the truth of things lies open!

Bridge is there none indeed—rests but a strip of planking,

Crossing the rushing wave, narrow and all unsteady.

The foot of man must needs with prudence o’er it tiptoe,

The nerve and will be firm to reach that further goal.

The foot that is not true, that left or right shall waver,

Drowns in the flood below the passenger unlucky.

When now the man of naps marks all at once the bridge,

Notes well the narrow path, marks the too slender footway,

His shock in truth is great; loud his poor heart goes beating.

In fear and shudders cold, the scene he stands and pictures;

Sees with a frightened eye just how his path has served him.

And more and more his soul sickens with tardy terror,

More to his heart the blood, driven away, goes rushing;—

That hour of fear to him brought him an endless illness.

Look now, how odd it seems! He well in peace had ridden,

Suffering no mishap, spared from the thing all mischief—

Utterly downcast is, whereas his danger’s over!

Fear makes him sick at heart, deep in his being centred.

Questions now any one what be this tale’s life-lesson?

Him shall I gladly give what in it lies, methinks;

Speak out as best I can what as a maxim’s plainest:—

Friendly is never he sparing of bread and counsel.

The man who rode his way safely and lost in slumber,

He unto whom occurred just this strange bit of fortune,

Like is he (it meseems) unto the lustful mortal,

Evil in earthly course, given to sottish living,

Wandering on, shut-eyed, lost in the way of pleasure,

Taking no slightest notice of the abyss so open:

Never with heed made blessed, not with his conscience warned:

How at his side is Death, prompt to cut off the living!

But with our Lord God’s grace, suddenly on him bestowed,

Opening wide his eye—then, not till then, he’s awakened.

Terror absorbs his soul, holy the fear that takes it;

Now is the sinner roused, sees for the first his doings.

Wondering see him stand, uttering loud his outcry:—

“Awful has been my blindness, dreadful my soul’s delusion.

How could I be so tricked? how could my sleep so grip me?

I who, in touch with death, careless my ease was taking!”

Happy in truth the man fallen in no such peril,

Since with a careful eye watches he every footstep,

Blessed in that God himself insight to him has granted

What was his danger to feel; how he has made escapement.