Home  »  library  »  poem  »  The Princely Leper

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

The Princely Leper

By Gerhart Hauptmann (1862–1946)

From ‘Henry of Auë’: Translation of Ludwig Lewisohn

HARTMANN—My lord and friend! My dear and gracious lord!

Let me beseech thee to make clear thy thoughts.

I beg of thee! If that some unknown grief

Gnaws at thy heart in such mysterious wise,

Then put an end to this secretiveness,

That I with thee, my friend and master, may

Take up my arms against this hidden foe.

What cruel blow was dealt thee?
Henry[with a calming gesture, uttering the words with difficulty]—Naught, my friend.

No blow was dealt me. Tell me: Was not Gehazi

A servant of Elisha?
Hartmann—My dear lord …

Henry—Dost thou know why I ask this of thee, Hartmann?

Hartmann—Nay, lord, I am unlearned in Holy Writ.

Henry—By Candlemas thou’lt know it well enough.

[A silence.]

Have patience with me, O my valiant friend!

’Tis a confessor’s trade. Let it suffice thee

To know that I on pilgrimage am bound.

Swiftly like unto him who Mecca seeks,

But ask not to what stead.
Hartmann—Lord Henry, not

As friend should speak to friend, thy words to me.

But ’tis my duty still to search and ask,

Nor to desist while any way is left

Of questioning, to rest not till I learn

What gnaws in secret at thy health and heart.

What blow was it, what mischief dire that thrust

Thee sudden from thy chosen path? Thou stood’st

Magnificently in the triumphant light

Of joyance. Oh, thy foot did scarcely press

The earth on which thou troddest, and it seemed

As though an angel held his shield o’er thee

In joust and battle, in all trials and deeds.

Far faring in God’s honor didst thou come

Homeward, thyself with honor richly deckt.

Fame heralded thy coming. But instead

Of gathering the glad harvest of thy deeds,

Thy golden ears rot in the abandoned field.

Was not the emperor’s hand stretched out in grace

Above thee? Did not his full heart pour forth

Its gratitude? Did not his favor grant

Thee noblest meed—a daughter of the house

Of Hohenstaufen? Speak, oh, speak at last!

Why didst thou flee, in the high name of God,

Into this solitude, spurning thy fate,

And leaving that which nevermore returns.

Henry[turns and looks at him with great and sorrowful eyes.When he begins to speak his voice is husky and he is forced to begin anew.]—Life is a brittle vessel, O my friend,

The Koran saith, and look ye, it is true.

And I have learned the truth. I would not live

In a blown egg’s void shell. Wouldst thou exalt

The glory and the grandeur that are man,

Or call him even in God’s image made?

Scratch him but with a tailor’s shears—he bleeds!

Prick him but gently with a cobbler’s awl

Where the pulse beats, or here, or there, or here,

And swiftly, irresistibly, will gush

Even like a liberated fountain, forth

His pride, his joy, his noble soul and sense,

Divine illusion, all his love and hate

And wealth and glory and guerdon of his deeds—

All, all, in brief, that he, blind error’s slave,

Did deem his very own! Be emperor, sultan, pope,

A naked body huddled in a shroud

Art thou—to-day, to-morrow, cold therein and still!

Hartmann—Thus speaks the darkest mood.
Henry—Once it was light!

Ah, dancing, well-nigh I unlearned to walk;

Echoing songs of praise my lips forgot

Almost the use of speech, and all my life

Turned heavenward in unfaltering faith—one joy,

One prayer, one brimming reverence to God!

But faring home, home, in the idle dream

Of divine nearness, my soul jubilant

With song seraphic—with the exalted deed

Behind me, with the consecrated sword—

Afar, already, lay upon my track,

Whining, the foul hounds of my fate, their maws

Snapping the empty air in greed of blood.

Find me the huntsman who did set them on,

That I exact my vengeance!

[He has arisen and walks about.Ottegebe brings in the parchments and waits in silence.]
Henry—Hear my words!

Hartmann—Henchman of priests I am not and not priest,

Thou knowest it. But into my soul thy words

So strange, so dreadful, strike like living fire.

Whatever fate has met thee, whatsoever

The Eternal Judge has unto thee decreed—

Bow in humility! Take up thy cross!

Henry—I am the emperor’s vassal and with him

Once from the Cardinal of Ostia

Took the crusader’s cross. It stayed with me.

Once it was only stitched upon my coat,

Since it has grown deep into flesh and blood,

And only death, some day—what wouldst thou more?—

Will cleave me and my cross asunder! Friend,

Spare me thy lamentations; they are lost

Upon me at this tide.

[To Ottegebe.]
Go, little spouse!

I thank thee but I do not need thee more.

If thou wouldst knit me gloves of snowy wool,

Haste thee! Easily may they come too late.

Go! What I must reveal unto this knight,

Is meet for his ears only, not for thine.[Exit Ottegebe.]

’Tis well. This parchment from my table brought

Contains whatever Henry, Count of Auë,

May still desire in your world … Be still,

My friend, break not into my speech. Be wary

To give good heed to these last words of mine;

For thou shalt be my messenger and place

This script into my Uncle Bernard’s hands.

’Tis my last will—be silent, O my friend!

Hasty and rash is man, the Koran saith.—

What has befallen me … what I have suffered …

Seek not to know. Think that new wisdom came

In vision to me; ask not what it was,

Nor how mine eyes waxed clear. Oh, take no thought!

Thy pious spirit cannot fare so far

Into life’s waste, that thou canst fathom it.

Let be! Who loves me will no farther ask.

What knowledge will avail is here set down.

Leave me what mine is, and let that suffice!

But I will set forth on my wandering,

Freely, O friend, on the appointed way,

And without faltering, straight!—For that I should

Like other cripples, line the public streets,

Or writhe, another Lazarus, in the mire,

Flaunt high my shame and glory in my sores,

And croak for dogs to lick them for mine ease,

Is not recorded in the Book of Fate.

And were it so, by God, I’d blot it out!—

Farewell! And when a year hath passed away,

Then is my sorrow dead by just that space,

And o’er my lamentable grave the rain

In many, many mild balsamic showers

Has rustled gently down.—Farewell! Farewell!

[After a brief unearthly pause, he breaks out.]

But now I bid thee gather thy clean garb

About thee, friend and flee! I tell thee, flee!

Shake from thy feet the poisoned dust and flee!

And if a man would seize thee by the coat,

Leave the rent raiment in his hand and flee

And flee and flee!
Hartmann[in utter consternation]—What words are those, dear lord?

Henry—I tell thee, flee! Look not behind but flee!

Touch not my hand, but flee! Touch not my hand!

For I have been so blessèd by high heaven,

That I must spew destruction round about!

Oh, I am such a hero that brave men

Flee my unweaponed hand; my very touch

Breeds evil more detestable than death.

The maiden whom my lightest glance has brushed

Dies of the utter loathliness thereof!

[Ottegebe has entered.Pale as a waxen image, she follows Henry’s wild outburst with quivering lips and fixed eyes.]

Hartmann—Come to thy senses, lord! Thou ravest—mad!

Henry—Grasp a tree’s heavy branch or thy sword’s hilt,

Whatever is at hand, and strike me down!

Deliver thyself and me of me at once!

What is’t ye do when a mad, slavering cur

Invades your courtyard in the light of the day?

Why do ye linger? Haste ye! Oh, be brave!

[Gottfried and Brigitta rush in.]

Henry—All of ye, all of ye, come and behold:

Henry of Auë, who thrice upon each day

Bathed his white limbs, who blew each speck of dust

From sleeve and collar—this proud prince and lord

And man and fop is with Job’s boils and soreness

Now blessèd from his sole unto his crown!

Still living he became a carrion mass,

Hurled on the loathly refuse-heap of earth,

Where he may gather him a broken shard

To scratch his scabs withal!

[In Ottegebe’s face there has gradually appeared, rising from her inmost soul, a strange, joyous, rapt ecstasy.As Henry breaks down, there is wrung from her soul a cry of the blessedness of liberation.She throws herself at Henry’s feet and covers his hands with kisses.]
Ottegebe—O dearest lord!

Lord, my dear lord! Think of the Lamb of God!

I know … I will … and I can bear thy sins!

Oh, I have vowed it! Thou shalt be redeemed!