At a village tavern Does a wanderer appear: Sits down before the door, In the shade, on a bench; Sets his bundle down beside him, Modestly entreats the innkeeper For the refreshment of a drink. At the next table Two wild and rough louts are quaffing. "Hey, there, Herr Innkeeper! refill our drinks; What are you doing flopping round about? Tonight carousing around, Tomorrow morning early at it again! Sober up? Not we!" "Hah! brother, quite a joke, eh? Nothing like it! And though I do indeed love a full glass, Making mischief I love even more. Ah, how all the dignified Christians Will be astonished! How the pastor will rage! And now, outside, first St. Nepomuk With his seven stars, Did I push back to the edge, Soon indeed will he learn to swim! If anything shakes, he will quickly fall in, And probably row with Little Lord Jesus, Whom the fool does hold in his arms. Then down along the valley, Past the pilgrimage stations there, Thirteen stones all together With Christ's stations of the cross, All nicely smeared up, "decorated" for the festival, Such that no one can resist laughing Who kneels there to pray." Then spoke the other: "When it comes to boasting, I can top them all. The mustache on the image of the Virgin, And then the crown of burs I gave him one night, Are certainly worthy of your stories, Nor are they even the best yet. There up on the rocks, at the high cross, Instead of his pathetic visage, Now hangs — O my soul, be still! The neighbor's dead cat! So now all who go up that road And on toward the church, Will be edified but good!" The wanderer watches quietly, seriously, While they speak out thus. They at first do not know what he wants, And in their drunkenness, the louts, Both cry out at once: "Worry, you sneaky one, about yourself! Why do you stare and eavesdrop?" The wanderer says not a word, Merely peers without moving, And the louts did find his gaze Become more and more unbearable. "If you do not quit your impertinence," Said they, "then with a sound beating will we Have to chase you off!" —
"Someone other than you will beat me, You can harm not a hair on my head. I will be here but a short while, And yet you should take heed. Young blood is blasphemously bold: Continue not what you do, And be forewarned. Else a loyal pact will you make With Judas' false brood; Quite anew do you crucify the Savior With such brash mockery." "Indeed we do, and so he deserves it, Since the simpleton servant Let himself be crucified the first time." — "I know for certain you would not speak thus Had you once accompanied me; You would not, gleeful at such torment, Have beheld him hanging on the cross, When from bitter wounds did flow Full of love and mercy, His sacred divine life. Or the way round about him, without hope, His friends and mother did stand, Whilst he bore their fate in his breast, Fettered by the grim bonds of death; His head did sink in darkness, In heaven itself did a rift appear, And inwardly the earth did groan." "Aye, aye, he would make us believe He himself was there. But what he tells there, one can read In all the old pious books of devotion. But do tell us how old you are, That you could see something that happened Eons ago, and perhaps even not at all?" "I am not old, I am not young, My life is no life. Restlessly, like the sun's path, Must I myself hover here below. My hair grays not, My face wrinkles not, Which neither laughs nor weeps. I was like you: brazenly bold In my younger days. No teachings did I heed, Neither warnings nor talk helped. And when the high priests' office Hypocritically condemned the Christ, I, too, wanted to cool my modest courage. And as the crowd dragged him to the gate, He bowing under the burden of the cross, I hurried before the others And poked him in the crowd. Exhausted and thirsting, without crying out, He wanted to rest on a stone, Where I beat him with my fists. 'Go,' I cried, 'Jesus! away with you! Get yourself finally ready for death!' But the Savior looked back at me, And spoke with a quiet gaze: 'I, indeed, will soon be at rest, Whilst you will now wander, And wait for my return.'
This statement, this statement, this one, brief statement, Was now my salvation — and my ruin. Protects me from the murder of the soul, But also prevents my body's death. Drives me from country to country, Where many do know me, to their horror, The eternally wandering Jew."
Though the stranger spoke all this With an expressionless face, Yet did appear, burning, through his forehead, A blood-red cross. And when the two did see this sign, They fell into the delusion of despair, Thinking themselves already in hell itself. And yet before they even came back around To body and soul and senses sound, The wanderer had picked up his sack, And already disappeared, far away. And on top of the farthest hill, They still see, staff in hand, The eerie figure, staggering away.
Too late does it crush and bring them to regret: Trifle not with God! In loveless hearts Does this fiery cross burn, And though neither consolation from the church, Nor penitence nor prayer nor pilgrimage was spared, Yet were these mockers not long for this world.
[*] “Die Warnung. Romanze,” Musen-Almanach für das Jahr 1802, 52–58 (Sämmtliche Werke 1:223–28). Approximate prose translation. — Illustrations from La légende du juif errant, illustrated by Gustave Doré, ed. Pierre Dupont (Paris 1859). Back.
Translation © 2015 Doug Stott