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

The Blind Princess

By Henrik Hertz (1798–1870)

  • From ‘King René’s Daughter’: Translation of Sir Theodore Martin
  • [The Princess Iolanthe, a lovely maid, has been brought up in complete ignorance of the fact that her beautiful eyes have ever lacked the power of sight, and in entire inability to judge of what the faculty of sight may be to others. She has never heard of it, and is so free and unconstrained in all her movements as not to need such a sense for her further happiness. Count Tristan of Vaudemont makes his way to her garden retreat, and falls passionately in love with her, unaware of her misfortune; and so ensues this dialogue.]

  • TRISTAN—Pray give me one of yonder blushing roses,

    That rear their petals, fairest ’mongst all flowers,

    As though they were the counterfeit of thee!

    Iolanthe—A rose? Oh, willingly![Plucks and gives him a white rose.]
    Tristan—Ah, it is white!

    Give me the red one, that is fair as thou!

    Iolanthe—What meanest thou?—a red one?
    Tristan[pointing]—One of these.

    Iolanthe—Take it thyself!
    Tristan—No; let me keep the rose

    Which thou hast chosen, which thy fair hand has gathered.

    And in good sooth, I do applaud thy choice.

    For the white rose, within whose calyx sleeps

    A faint and trembling ruddiness, betypes

    The dream-like beauty of this garden fair.

    Give me another rose—a white one too;

    Then with the twin flowers will I deck my cap,

    And wear them as thy colors evermore.

    Iolanthe[plucks and gives him a red rose]—Here is a rose: meanest thou one like this?

    Tristan[starts]—I asked thee for a white rose.
    Iolanthe—Well, and this?

    Tristan—Why this?[Aside.]What thought comes o’er me?

    [Aloud.]Nay, then, tell me

    [Holds up the two roses, along with another which he has himself gathered]
    How many roses have I in my hand?

    Iolanthe[stretches out her hand towards them]—Give me them, then.
    Tristan—Nay, tell me without touching.

    Iolanthe—How can I so?
    Tristan[aside]—Alas! alas! she’s blind!

    [Aloud, and with a faltering voice]—Nay, I am sure you know.
    Iolanthe—No; you mistake.

    If I would know how anything is shaped,

    Or what its number, I must touch it first.

    Is not this clear?
    Tristan[confused]—Yes, certainly; you’re right.

    And yet sometimes—
    Iolanthe—Well, well?—sometimes? Speak! speak!

    Tristan—I think there are—that there are certain things

    Which we distinguish by their hues alone,

    As various kinds of flowers, and various stuffs.

    Iolanthe—Thou mean’st by this their character, their form—

    Is it not so?
    Tristan—Nay, not exactly that.

    Iolanthe—Is it so hard, then, to distinguish flowers?

    Are not the roses round and soft and fine,

    Round to the feeling, as the zephyr’s breath,

    And soft and glowing as a summer’s eve?

    Are gilliflowers like roses? No; their scent

    Bedizzies, like the wine I gave to thee.

    And then a cactus—are its arrowy points

    Not stinging, like the wind when frosts are keen?

    [Aloud.]Have they never told thee, then,

    That objects, things, can be distinguished, though

    Placed at a distance,—with the aid—of—sight?

    Iolanthe—At distance? Yes! I by his twittering know

    The little bird that sits upon the roof,

    And in like fashion, all men by their voice.

    The sprightly steed whereon I daily ride,

    I know him in the distance by his pace,

    And by his neigh. Yet—with the help of sight?

    They told me not of that. An instrument

    Fashioned by art, or but a tool, perhaps?

    I do not know this sight. Canst teach me, then,

    Its use and purpose?
    Tristan[aside]—O Almighty powers!

    She does not know or dream that she is blind.

    Iolanthe[after a pause]—Whence art thou? Thou dost use so many words

    I find impossible to understand;

    And in thy converse, too, there is so much

    For me quite new and strange! Say, is the vale

    Which is thy home so very different

    From this of ours? Then stay, if stay thou canst,

    And teach me all that I am wanting in.

    Tristan—No, O thou sweet and gracious lady, no!

    I cannot teach what thou art wanting in.

    Iolanthe—Didst thou but choose, I do believe thou couldst.

    They tell me I am tractable and apt.

    Many who erewhile have been here have taught me

    Now this, now that, which readily I learned.

    Make but the trial! I am very sure

    Thou hat’st me not. Thy tones are mild and gentle.

    Thou wilt not say me nay, when I entreat.

    Oh speak! I’m all attention when thou speakest.

    Tristan—Alas! attention here will stead thee little.

    Yet—tell me one thing. Thou hast surely learned

    That of thy lovely frame there is no part

    Without its purpose, or without its use.

    Thy hand and fingers serve to grasp at much;

    Thy foot, so tiny as it is, with ease

    Transports thee wheresoe’er thy wishes point;

    The sound of words, the tone, doth pierce the soul

    Through the ear’s small and tortuous avenues;

    The stream of language gushes from thy lips;

    Within thy breast abides the delicate breath,

    Which heaves, unclogged with care, and sinks again.

    Iolanthe—All this I’ve noted well. Prithee, go on.

    Tristan—Then tell me, to what end dost thou suppose

    Omnipotence hath gifted thee with eyes?

    Of what avail to thee are those twin stars,

    That sparkle with such wondrous brilliancy

    They scorn to grasp the common light of day?

    Iolanthe[touches her eyes, then muses for a little]—You ask of what avail?—how can you ask?

    And yet I ne’er have given the matter thought.

    My eyes! my eyes! ’Tis easy to perceive.

    At eve, when I am weary, slumber first

    Droops heavy on my eyes, and thence it spreads

    O’er all my body, with no thought of mine,

    As feeling vibrates from each finger’s tip.

    Thus, then, I know my eyes avail me much.

    And hast not thou experience had enough,

    Wherein thine eyes can minister to thee?

    Only the other morn, as I was planting

    A little rosebush here, a nimble snake

    Leapt out and bit me in the finger; then

    With the sharp pain I wept. Another time,

    When I had pined for many tedious days,

    Because my father was detained from home,

    I wept for very gladness when he came!

    Through tears I gave my bursting heart relief,

    And at mine eyes it found a gushing vent.

    Then never ask me unto what avail

    Omnipotence hath gifted me with eyes.

    Through them when I am weary comes repose,

    Through them my sorrow’s lightened; and through them

    My joy is raised to rapture.
    Tristan—Oh, forgive me!

    The question was most foolish; for in thee

    Is such an inward radiancy of soul,

    Thou hast no need of that which by the light

    We through the eye discern. Say, shall I deem

    That thou of some unheard-of race art sprung,

    Richly endowed with other powers than we?

    Thou livest lonely here; this valley, too,

    Seems conjured forth by magic ’mongst the hills.

    Hast thou come hither from the golden East,

    With Peris in thy train? or art thou one

    Of Brahma’s daughters, and from Ind hast been

    Transported hither by a sorcerer?

    O beautiful unknown! if thou be’st sprung

    Of mortal men who call the earth their mother,

    Be thou to life’s so transitory joys

    Susceptible as I, and deign to look

    With favor on a knight’s devoted love!

    Hear this his vow: No woman shall efface

    (Stand she in birth and beauty ne’er so high)

    The image thou hast stamped upon my soul!

    Iolanthe[after a pause]—Thy words are laden with a wondrous power.

    Say, from what master didst thou learn the art

    To charm by words which yet are mysteries?

    Meseemed as though I trod some path alone,

    Which I had never trod before; and yet

    All seems to me—all, all that thou hast said—

    So godlike, so enchanting! Oh speak on—

    Yet no,—speak not! rather let me in thought

    Linger along the words which thou hast spoken,

    That mingled pain and rapture in my soul!