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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 Wives of Weinsberg

By Gottfried August Bürger (1747–1794)

From ‘Representative German Poems’: Translation of Charles Timothy Brooks

WHICH way to Weinsberg? neighbor, say!

’Tis sure a famous city:

It must have cradled, in its day,

Full many a maid of noble clay,

And matrons wise and witty;

And if ever marriage should happen to me,

A Weinsberg dame my wife shall be.

King Conrad once, historians say,

Fell out with this good city;

So down he came, one luckless day,—

Horse, foot, dragoons,—in stern array,—

And cannon,—more’s the pity!

Around the walls the artillery roared,

And bursting bombs their fury poured.

But naught the little town could scare;

Then, red with indignation,

He bade the herald straight repair

Up to the gates, and thunder there

The following proclamation:—

“Rascals! when I your town do take,

No living thing shall save its neck!”

Now, when the herald’s trumpet sent

These tidings through the city,

To every house a death knell went;

Such murder-cries the hot air rent

Might move the stones to pity.

Then bread grew dear, but good advice

Could not be had for any price.

Then, “Woe is me!” “O misery!”

What shrieks of lamentation!

And “Kyrie Eleison!” cried

The pastors, and the flock replied,

“Lord! save us from starvation!”

“Oh, woe is me, poor Corydon—

My neck,—my neck! I’m gone,—I’m gone!”

Yet oft, when counsel, deed, and prayer

Had all proved unavailing,

When hope hung trembling on a hair,

How oft has woman’s wit been there!—

A refuge never failing;

For woman’s wit and Papal fraud,

Of olden time, were famed abroad.

A youthful dame, praised be her name!—

Last night had seen her plighted,—

Whether in waking hour or dream,

Conceived a rare and novel scheme,

Which all the town delighted;

Which you, if you think otherwise,

Have leave to laugh at and despise.

At midnight hour, when culverin

And gun and bomb were sleeping,

Before the camp with mournful mien,

The loveliest embassy were seen,

All kneeling low and weeping.

So sweetly, plaintively they prayed,

But no reply save this was made:—

“The women have free leave to go,

Each with her choicest treasure;

But let the knaves their husbands know

That unto them the King will show

The weight of his displeasure.”

With these sad terms the lovely train

Stole weeping from the camp again.

But when the morning gilt the sky,

What happened? Give attention:—

The city gates wide open fly,

And all the wives come trudging by,

Each bearing—need I mention?—

Her own dear husband on her back,

All snugly seated in a sack!

Full many a sprig of court, the joke

Not relishing, protested,

And urged the King; but Conrad spoke:—

“A monarch’s word must not be broke!”

And here the matter rested.

“Bravo!” he cried, “Ha, ha! Bravo!

Our lady guessed it would be so.”

He pardoned all, and gave a ball

That night at royal quarters.

The fiddles squeaked, the trumpets blew,

And up and down the dancers flew,

Court sprigs with city daughters.

The mayor’s wife—O rarest sight!—

Danced with the shoemaker that night!

Ah, where is Weinsberg, sir, I pray?

’Tis sure a famous city:

It must have cradled in its day

Full many a maid of noble clay,

And matrons wise and witty;

And if ever marriage should happen to me,

A Weinsberg dame my wife shall be.