The Wanderer

THE WANDERER. by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
[Published in the Gottingen Musen Almanach, having been written “to express his feelings and caprices” after his separation from Frederica.]

YOUNG woman, may God bless thee,
Thee, and the sucking infant
Upon thy breast!
Let me, ‘gainst this rocky wall,
Neath the elm-tree’s shadow,
Lay aside my burden,
Near thee take my rest.

What vocation leads thee,
While the day is burning,
Up this dusty path?
Bring’st thou goods from out the town
Round the country?
Smil’st thou, stranger,
At my question?

From the town no goods I bring.
Cool is now the evening;
Show to me the fountain
‘Whence thou drinkest,
Woman young and kind!

Up the rocky pathway mount;
Go thou first! Across the thicket
Leads the pathway tow’rd the cottage
That I live in,
To the fountain
Whence I drink.

Signs of man’s arranging hand
See I ‘mid the trees!
Not by thee these stones were join’d,
Nature, who so freely scatterest!

Up, still up!

Lo, a mossy architrave is here!
I discern thee, fashioning spirit!
On the stone thou hast impress’d thy seal.

Onward, stranger!

Over an inscription am I treading!
‘Tis effaced!
Ye are seen no longer,
Words so deeply graven,
Who your master’s true devotion
Should have shown to thousand grandsons!

At these stones, why
Start’st thou, stranger?
Many stones are lying yonder
Round my cottage.


Through the thicket,
Turning to the left,

Ye Muses and ye Graces!

This, then, is my cottage.

‘Tis a ruin’d temple! *

Just below it, see,
Springs the fountain
Whence I drink.

Thou dost hover
O’er thy grave, all glowing,
Genius! while upon thee
Hath thy master-piece
Fallen crumbling,
Thou Immortal One!

Stay, a cup I’ll fetch thee
Whence to drink.

Ivy circles thy slender
Form so graceful and godlike.
How ye rise on high
From the ruins,
And thou, their lonely sister yonder,–
How thou,
Dusky moss upon thy sacred head,–
Lookest down in mournful majesty
On thy brethren’s figures
Lying scatter’d
At thy feet!
In the shadow of the bramble
Earth and rubbish veil them,
Lofty grass is waving o’er them
Is it thus thou, Nature, prizest
Thy great masterpiece’s masterpiece?
Carelessly destroyest thou
Thine own sanctuary,
Sowing thistles there?

How the infant sleeps!
Wilt thou rest thee in the cottage,
Stranger? Wouldst thou rather
In the open air still linger?
Now ’tis cool! take thou the child
While I go and draw some water.
Sleep on, darling! sleep!

Sweet is thy repose!
How, with heaven-born health imbued,
Peacefully he slumbers!
Oh thou, born among the ruins
Spread by great antiquity,
On thee rest her spirit!
He whom it encircles
Will, in godlike consciousness,
Ev’ry day enjoy.
Full, of germ, unfold,
As the smiling springtime’s
Fairest charm,
Outshining all thy fellows!
And when the blossom’s husk is faded,
May the full fruit shoot forth
From out thy breast,
And ripen in the sunshine!

God bless him!–Is he sleeping still?
To the fresh draught I nought can add,
Saving a crust of bread for thee to eat.

I thank thee well.
How fair the verdure all around!
How green!

My husband soon
Will home return
From labour. Tarry, tarry, man,
And with us eat our evening meal.

Is’t here ye dwell?

Yonder, within those walls we live.
My father ’twas who built the cottage
Of tiles and stones from out the ruins.
‘Tis here we dwell.
He gave me to a husbandman,
And in our arms expired.–
Hast thou been sleeping, dearest heart
How lively, and how full of play!
Sweet rogue!

Nature, thou ever budding one,
Thou formest each for life’s enjoyments,
And, like a mother, all thy children dear,
Blessest with that sweet heritage,–a home
The swallow builds the cornice round,
Unconscious of the beauties
She plasters up.
The caterpillar spins around the bough,
To make her brood a winter house;
And thou dost patch, between antiquity’s
Most glorious relics,
For thy mean use,
Oh man, a humble cot,–
Enjoyest e’en mid tombs!–
Farewell, thou happy woman!

Thou wilt not stay, then?

May God preserve thee,
And bless thy boy!

A happy journey!

Whither conducts the path
Across yon hill?

To Cuma.

How far from hence?

‘Tis full three miles.

Oh Nature, guide me on my way!
The wandering stranger guide,
Who o’er the tombs
Of holy bygone times
Is passing,
To a kind sheltering place,
From North winds safe,
And where a poplar grove
Shuts out the noontide ray!
And when I come
Home to my cot
At evening,
Illumined by the setting sun,
Let me embrace a wife like this,
Her infant in her arms!


* Compare with the beautiful description contained
in the subsequent lines, an account of a ruined temple of Ceres,
given by Chamberlayne in his Pharonnida (published in 1659)

“…. With mournful majesiy
A heap of solitary ruins lie,
Half sepulchred in dust, the bankrupt heir
To prodigal antiquity….”

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