Karl August Gottfried von Seckendorff
“Night Watchman’s Song At the Conclusion of the 18th Century” [*]
Hearken, good gentlemen! Hear what I say: With the final, dull, weighty toll of the bells, Does a new century of our age arrive: Thanks be to the Creator, and, just as rang out, Let the watchman's wish please you all the more The more you see how well intentioned it is. That wish, may it address especially rulers, Who at the conclusion of the old might yet learn so well What it means to make one's land blessed and happy! Having yet noted well the all-too-harsh lesson: How much they destroy their own well-being When through their guilt the country's well-being is broken. Goodness and blessing be on all good princes, Who never thirst for our blood, But rather for that which flows to us from grapevines. Yes, indeed! May you — great and middle and small princes, Always thirst for that, just like the watchman — aye, so it is — Who also cozily pours it into his little glass. Number 2: may it apply to our Master Patrons; Who reward true virtue truly; As does actually suit these gentlemen. Let them not ogle and aim for stuffed money purses, Nota bene! even stuffed: all is vain, Which the priest will actually tell you better. Counts, barons, whom worms no longer torment, That so oft so murderously torture and eat away at the gentlemen, Every noble who, worthy of nobility, thinks All great persons who bestow generosity netto, Should, as they like, live great and refined. Aye, if their greatness but not oppress us ill. Being able to cure every class of worm: That remedy I would call truly "universal." And give him a political eye-opener, Through whom each hitherto eyed solely the other's mistakes, That writhed even deeper in his own muck; Which was everyone's greatest misfortune. And you, gracious ladies! if they would but Give themselves a bit less airs, And that, too, would be for us what one is wont to call you: I would then wish all the more something from the purest heart, A gracious life, quite freed from pain; I doubt any one of them could wish it better. And now to you! venerable aged ones! Be, oh, be in such an advanced age ever so wise And never again ask of us That we, like you, ought already merely to vegetate. Should you not ask this of the younger, Then they will appreciate you all the more! — And you no less, hearty matrons! Make do and spare our youth Such useless, merely antiquated lessons. If you yourselves jested earlier, then look the other way now as well, And they will wish you, too, a peaceful life. Do not forget: what they are, We were but a short time ago. Well,up, up! girls live it up! But honorably so! No one will begrudge you modest pleasures. Be attractive, such you may! For who would not want such? Spice up and sweeten this life of ours. But demand not kisses; and only rarely them bestow; But take? Oh, why not! to delight yourselves along with us. Become, along with your good suitors, Each with every day, more stable and more true — How do you understand that, friend? You doubtless ask me here: No boasting for those who seek out misdeeds, Neither shall the others make fun of, act childishly, nor giggle: Reward each other then, each of you, with love. And that which is called "spouses" shall also live! In the future, let neither he nor she come up short. Strive always to please each other mutually. Never pull the plow with others' steer and calves! But create instead your own little herd. Then I, the watchman, will wish: May you all be satisfied! And now you, you whom they call "scholars," And be it with or without a beard, Be genuinely that as which people acknowledge you. Friends! Yes! Not half, but whole scholars, And be it, as said, with or without a beard. Live happily with everything you call your work. Ditto, ditto! Poetaster and poet! Artists, and judges of the arts and sciences! May we not over time by the fruits come to see: That — oh, dear sirs! merit it! it will be given you, You and your fruits should live hale and hearty — That they were created for us solely to earn money. Serene as the day! Pure as virtue, Thus should live, grow, and blossom our good youth, To whom I, as watchman, now dedicate my wish. That none may torment himself with empty melancholy, And thereby miss the main purpose of existence: That is why I add this well-considered advice. And you, even smaller, even more innocent children, Be good, and grow stronger and healthier, Than your host of ancestors. Who, sometimes yet fools, in their gray hairs, Were stronger than the youngest of their members: Behold, for your own good, this foolishness. To this whole, dear, round world of ours, I wish that it may become happy, and more constant; But only true satisfaction truly makes happy. Since we all accordingly would often be all the happier, And blessed, were we longer so demanding. And I wish finally also: moral sobriety. Nothing, good gentlemen, nothing I have told you. If it has but pleased you all just as heartily As I truly meant it from my heart: Oh, how such would truly delight me! And in haste but a single small wish for myself: That in this New, important century you may also your watchman's friend remain!!!
Translator’s note: letters in several lines of type are concealed in an inadvertent crease in the paper on which the initial page of this poem was printed; although the subtitle seems to read “XVIIten,” the initial “I” in what was almost surely the original “XVIIIten” has been obscured by the crease; nor would Seckendorff likely have composed a poem for the turn of the seventeenth to eighteenth century in a volume of his own poems published in 1808 (volume 1: 1806).
(1) Copper engraving of a night watchman in 1799 from Johann Wolf, Neues Buchstabir- und Lesebuch: zur Beförderung der Entwiklung des Verstandes für niedere besonders aber für Landschulen, nebst einer kurzen Anweisung für Aeltern und Lehrer zum Gebrauch desselben. Mit acht illuminirten Kupfertafeln, welche die gemeinsten Giftpflanzen und Schwämme abbilden (Nürnberg, 1799 [ca. 1799]), plate VII; (2) illustration of night watchman from anonymous, Erste Lehren und Bilder oder unterhaltende Verstandesbeschäftigungen für Kinder, auch für solche, welche noch nicht lesen (Vienna 1810), no. 38, illustration following 148. Back.
Translation © 2014 Doug Stott