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There are few modern poems of any country so perfect in their kind as the Hermann and Dorothea of Goethe. In clearness of characterization, in unity of tone, in the adjustment of background and foreground, in the conduct of the narrative, it conforms admirably to the strict canons of art; yet it preserves a freshness and spontaneity in its emotional appeal that are rare in works of so classical a perfection in form.
95 pages, with a reading time of ~1.5 hours (23,968 words), and first published in 1797. This DRM-Free edition published by epubBooks, 2015.
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“Truly, I never have seen the market and street so deserted! How as if it were swept looks the town, or had perished! Not fifty Are there, methinks, of all our inhabitants in it remaining, What will not curiosity do! here is every one running, Hurrying to gaze on the sad procession of pitiful exiles. Fully a league it must be to the causeway they have to pass over, Yet all are hurrying down in the dusty heat of the noonday. I, in good sooth, would not stir from my place to witness the sorrows Borne by good, fugitive people, who now, with their rescued possessions, Driven, alas! from beyond the Rhine, their beautiful country, Over to us are coming, and through the prosperous corner Roam of this our luxuriant valley, and traverse its windings. Well hast thou done, good wife, our son in thus kindly dispatching, Laden with something to eat and to drink, and with store of old linen, ‘Mongst the poor folk to distribute; for giving belongs to the wealthy. How the youth drives, to be sure! What control he has over the horses! Makes not our carriage a handsome appearance,–the new one? With comfort, Four could be seated within, with a place on the box for the coachman. This time, he drove by himself. How lightly it rolled round the corner!” Thus, as he sat at his ease in the porch of his house on the market, Unto his wife was speaking mine host of the Golden Lion.
Thereupon answered and said the prudent, intelligent housewife: “Father, I am not inclined to be giving away my old linen: Since it serves many a purpose; and cannot be purchased for money, When we may want it. To-day, however, I gave, and with pleasure, Many a piece that was better, indeed, in shirts and in bed-clothes; For I was told of the aged and children who had to go naked. But wilt thou pardon me, father? thy wardrobe has also been plundered. And, in especial, the wrapper that has the East-Indian flowers, Made of the finest of chintz, and lined with delicate flannel, Gave I away: it was thin and old, and quite out of the fashion.”
Thereupon answered and said, with a smile, the excellent landlord: “Faith! I am sorry to lose it, my good old calico wrapper, Real East-Indian stuff: I never shall get such another. Well, I had given up wearing it: nowadays, custom compels us Always to go in surtout, and never appear but in jacket; Always to have on our boots; forbidden are night-cap and slippers.”
“See!” interrupted the wife; “even now some are yonder returning, Who have beheld the procession: it must, then, already be over. Look at the dust on their shoes! and see how their faces are glowing! Every one carries his kerchief, and with it is wiping the sweat off. Not for a sight like that would I run so far and so suffer, Through such a heat; in sooth, enough shall I have in the telling.”
Thereupon answered and said, with emphasis, thus, the good father: “Rarely does weather like this attend such a harvest as this is. We shall be bringing our grain in dry, as the hay was before it. Not the least cloud to be seen, so perfectly clear is the heaven; And, with delicious coolness, the wind blows in from the eastward. That is the weather to last! over-ripe are the cornfields already; We shall begin on the morrow to gather our copious harvest.”
Constantly, while he thus spoke, the crowds of men and of women Grew, who their homeward way were over the market-place wending; And, with the rest, there also returned, his daughters beside him, Back to his modernized house on the opposite side of the market, Foremost merchant of all the town, their opulent neighbor, Rapidly driving his open barouche,–it was builded in Landau. Lively now grew the streets, for the city was handsomely peopled. Many a trade was therein carried on, and large manufactures.