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

William and Helen

By Gottfried August Bürger (1747–1794)

Sir Walter Scott’s Translation of ‘Lenore’

FROM heavy dreams fair Helen rose,

And eyed the dawning red:—

“Alas, my love, thou tarriest long!

O art thou false or dead?”

With gallant Frederick’s princely power

He sought the bold crusade;

But not a word from Judah’s wars

Told Helen how he sped.

With Paynim and with Saracen

At length a truce was made,

And every knight returned to dry

The tears his love had shed.

Our gallant host was homeward bound

With many a song of joy;

Green waved the laurel in each plume,

The badge of victory.

And old and young, and sire and son,

To meet them crowd the way,

With shouts, and mirth, and melody,

The debt of love to pay.

Full many a maid her true-love met,

And sobbed in his embrace,

And fluttering joy in tears and smiles

Arrayed full many a face.

Nor joy nor smile for Helen sad;

She sought the host in vain;

For none could tell her William’s fate,

If faithless or if slain.

The martial band is past and gone;

She rends her raven hair,

And in distraction’s bitter mood

She weeps with wild despair.

“O rise, my child,” her mother said,

“Nor sorrow thus in vain:

A perjured lover’s fleeting heart

No tears recall again.”

“O mother, what is gone, is gone,

What’s lost forever lorn;

Death, death alone can comfort me;

O had I ne’er been born!

“O break, my heart, O break at once!

Drink my life-blood, Despair!

No joy remains on earth for me,

For me in heaven no share.”

“O enter not in judgment, Lord!”

The pious mother prays;

Impute not guilt to thy frail child!

She knows not what she says.

“O say thy paternoster, child!

O turn to God and grace!

His will, that turned thy bliss to bale,

Can change thy bale to bliss.”

“O mother, mother, what is bliss?

O mother, what is bale?

My William’s love was heaven on earth;

Without it earth is hell.

“Why should I pray to ruthless Heaven,

Since my loved William’s slain?

I only prayed for William’s sake,

And all my prayers were vain.”

“O take the sacrament, my child,

And check these tears that flow;

By resignation’s humble prayer,

O hallowed be thy woe!”

“No sacrament can quench this fire,

Or slake this scorching pain;

No sacrament can bid the dead

Arise and live again.

“O break, my heart, O break at once!

Be thou my god, Despair!

Heaven’s heaviest blow has fallen on me,

And vain each fruitless prayer.”

“O enter not in judgment, Lord,

With thy frail child of clay!

She knows not what her tongue has spoke;

Impute it not, I pray!

“Forbear, my child, this desperate woe,

And turn to God and grace;

Well can devotion’s heavenly glow

Convert thy bale to bliss.”

“O mother, mother, what is bliss?

O mother, what is bale?

Without my William what were heaven,

Or with him what were hell?”

Wild she arraigns the eternal doom,

Upbraids each sacred Power,

Till, spent, she sought her silent room,

All in the lonely tower.

She beat her breast, she wrung her hands

Till sun and day were o’er,

And through the glimmering lattice shone

The twinkling of the star.

Then, crash! the heavy drawbridge fell

That o’er the moat was hung;

And, clatter, clatter, on its boards

The hoof of courser rung.

The clank of echoing steel was heard

As off the rider bounded;

And slowly on the winding stair

A heavy footstep sounded.

And hark! and hark! a knock—Tap! tap!

A rustling stifled noise;

Door-latch and tinkling staples ring;

At length a whispering voice:

“Awake, awake, arise, my love!

How, Helen, dost thou fare?

Wak’st thou, or sleep’st? laugh’st thou, or weep’st?

Hast thought on me, my fair?”

“My love! my love! so late at night!

I waked, I wept for thee.

Much have I borne since dawn of morn;

Where, William, couldst thou be?”

“We saddle late—from Hungary

I rode since darkness fell;

And to its bourne we both return

Before the matin bell.”

“O rest this night within my arms,

And warm thee in their fold!

Chill howls through hawthorn bush the wind;—

My love is deadly cold.”

“Let the wind howl through hawthorn bush!

This night we must away;

The steed is wight, the spur is bright;

I cannot stay till day.

“Busk, busk, and boune! Thou mount’st behind

Upon my black barb steed:

O’er stock and stile, a hundred mile,

We haste to bridal bed.”

“To-night—to-night a hundred miles!

O dearest William, stay!

The bell strikes twelve—dark, dismal hour!

O wait, my love, till day!”

“Look here, look here—the moon shines clear—

Full fast I ween we ride;

Mount and away! for ere the day

We reach our bridal bed.

“The black barb snorts, the bridle rings,

Haste, busk, and boune, and seat thee!

The feast is made, the chamber spread,

The bridal guests await thee.”

Strong love prevailed: she busks, she bounes,

She mounts the barb behind,

And round her darling William’s waist

Her lily arms she twined.

And, hurry! hurry! off they rode,

And fast as fast might be;

Spurned from the courser’s thundering heels

The flashing pebbles flee.

And on the right, and on the left,

Ere they could snatch a view,

Fast, fast each mountain, mead, and plain,

And cot and castle flew.

“Sit fast—dost fear?—The moon shines clear!—

Fleet goes my barb—keep hold!

Fear’st thou?”—“O no!” she faintly said;

“But why so stern and cold?

“What yonder rings, what yonder sings?

Why shrieks the owlet gray?”—

“’Tis death-bells’ clang, ’tis funeral song,

The body to the clay.

“With song and clang, at morrow’s dawn,

Ye may inter the dead;

To-night I ride, with my young bride,

To deck our bridal bed.

“Come with thy choir, thou coffined guest,

To swell our nuptial song!

Come, priest, to bless our marriage feast!

Come all, come all along!”

Ceased clang and song; down sunk the bier;

The shrouded corpse arose:

And hurry! hurry! all the train

The thundering steed pursues.

And forward, forward, on they go;

High snorts the straining steed;

Thick pants the rider’s laboring breath

As headlong on they speed.

“O William, why this savage haste?

And where thy bridal bed?”

“’Tis distant far,—low, damp, and chill,

And narrow,—trustless maid!”

“No room for me?”—“Enough for both;

Speed, speed, my barb, thy course!”

O’er thundering bridge, through boiling surge,

He drove the furious horse.

Tramp! tramp! along the land they rode,

Splash! splash! along the sea;

The scourge is wight, the spur is bright,

The flashing pebbles flee.

Fled past on right and left how fast

Each forest, grove, and bower!

On right and left fled past how fast

Each city, town, and tower!

“Dost fear? dost fear? The moon shines clear,

Dost fear to ride with me?

Hurrah! hurrah! the dead can ride!”—

“O William, let them be!—

“See there, see there! What yonder swings

And creaks ’mid whistling rain?”

“Gibbet and steel, th’ accursed wheel,

A murderer in his chain.

“Hollo! thou felon, follow here:

To bridal bed we ride;

And thou shalt prance a fetter dance

Before me and my bride.”

And hurry! hurry! clash, clash, clash!

The wasted form descends;

And fleet as wind through hazel bush

The wild career attends.

Tramp! tramp! along the land they rode,

Splash! splash! along the sea;

The scourge is red, the spur drops blood,

The flashing pebbles flee.

How fled what moonshine faintly showed!

How fled what darkness hid!

How fled the earth beneath their feet,

The heaven above their head!

“Dost fear? dost fear? the moon shines clear

And well the dead can ride;

Dost, faithful Helen, fear for them?”—

“O leave in peace the dead!”

“Barb! barb! methinks I hear the cock;

The sand will soon be run;

Barb! barb! I smell the morning air;

The race is well-nigh done.”

Tramp! tramp! along the land they rode,

Splash! splash! along the sea;

The scourge is red, the spur drops blood,

The flashing pebbles flee.

“Hurrah! hurrah! well ride the dead;

The bride, the bride is come;

And soon we reach the bridal bed,

For, Helen, here’s my home.”

Reluctant on its rusty hinge

Revolved an iron door,

And by the pale moon’s setting beam

Were seen a church and tower.

With many a shriek and cry whiz round

The birds of midnight, scared;

And rustling like autumnal leaves

Unhallowed ghosts were heard.

O’er many a tomb and tombstone pale

He spurred the fiery horse,

Till sudden at an open grave

He checked the wondrous course.

The falling gauntlet quits the rein,

Down drops the casque of steel,

The cuirass leaves his shrinking side,

The spur his gory heel.

The eyes desert the naked skull,

The mold’ring flesh the bone,

Till Helen’s lily arms entwine

A ghastly skeleton.

The furious barb snorts fire and foam,

And with a fearful bound,

Dissolves at once in empty air,

And leaves her on the ground.

Half seen by fits, by fits half heard,

Pale spectres flit along,

Wheel round the maid in dismal dance,

And howl the funeral song:—

“E’en when the heart’s with anguish cleft,

Revere the doom of heaven.

Her soul is from her body reft;

Her spirit be forgiven!”