Verse > Anthologies > Margarete Münsterberg, ed., trans. > A Harvest of German Verse
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Margarete Münsterberg, ed., trans.  A Harvest of German Verse.  1916.
 
Ballad of the Wall
By Börries Freiherr von Münchhausen (1874–1945)
 
MONTETON, where is thy wall?
Chalençon, where is thy sword?
Where is thy tower, Tournefort?
 
Noblemen’s swords, how their blades were all sharp and good!
Noblemen’s swords grew dull in plebeian thick blood.        5
 
Tournefort’s tower is black and burnt inside,
From the crest they banished the blazon-flag, its pride.
 
And over the wall of the castle of Monteton
“Vive le son!”
Flutter the bloody fragments of song:        10
“Vive le son del canons!”
 
This side the wall there fights a nobleman,
Rash, desperate and always in the van—
Wherefore?—Red grows the earth’s green ground hereafter,
Bitter, bitter, bitter rings his laughter.        15
That side the wall a filthy ocean raves
In greedy and grasping and cowardly waves—
 
This side, that side—who knew, when the day was spent?
The wall lay low, then rose of herbs a scent;
The battlement a sunken tombstone drear;        20
Wailing women, the clouds, on the grass wept tear on tear.
 
Flickering death-lights—balconies, towers burn on—
Cobblestones are the bier of a Monteton.
By the curs of the gutter o’ercome and wounded to death,
Bitterly, bitterly he laughs with last breath.        25
 
Monteton, where is thy wall?
Chalençon, where is thy sword?
Where is thy tower, Tournefort?
 
Our wall is the judge whom the king doth uphold,
Our sword is the army undaunted and bold,        30
Our tower the church—a steep tower and old!
 
But in Notre Dame on the altar—horrid sight!—
A naked woman performs a shameful rite,
A naked harlot bawls and screams and sings,
A wild and drunken roar through the cathedral rings.        35
 
And judges—judges, too, are by,
As never more vile saw the human eye!
A butcher with bloody apron presides
And listens to lies with his fat ear—besides
His helpers: bullies and stable-boys plain,        40
The accuser a thief—ha, he can arraign!
And sentence on sentence the scythe whirring saith:
To death!
To death what is calm and noble still,
To death, Cadore, to death d’Anville,        45
To death what better than they must be,
To death Clermont and Normandy,
To death!
Sentence on sentence the scythe whirring saith.
 
Monteton, where is thy wall?—        50
 
The dungeons of the temple are deep, so deep,
Deeper the captives’ woe till death’s last sleep!
 
Half rotten the basket where rests the Duchess old,
As proud on this castaway seat as on throne of pure gold,
About her stand marshal with bearing sure,        55
The old names of the court, the Dames d’atour,
With delicate bows and smiles free and light.
 
Past the windows above, wheels thunder with might,
The pavement rebounds,
The singing resounds:        60
“Vive le son des canons!”
 
The howling of dogs that have torn their chains madly,
The roaring of those who celebrate badly,
The scream of the vulgar who long what is noble to blight—
 
But down there all is quiet and light.        65
No forehead grows pale, no eyelashes quiver,
As their lives they have lived, they meet death with no shiver!
 
A terrible clock is the prison gate
Every half-hour with its grating invidious.
Le Coucou, the hangman, long-armed and hideous—        70
Le Coucou steps out, who does not wait,
Who counts not the years of your young life—nay,
Not even the months till your wedding-day,
Comtesse de Neuilly!
 
Before the Duchess low she bends her dainty knee,        75
And with her three or four court ladies go,
And with her the cavaliers bow low;
With smiling lips she stands, and so:
“Votre bras, Monsieur le bourreau!”
 
The way through Paris, the way of blood—        80
Red-hot now surges the song’s wild flood:
“Vive la carmagnole!”
But they are not abashed at all,
They walk into death without timid delay,
They are walking with talk and with laughter gay.        85
What holds them together fast, they know:
The wall that into the sky doth grow!
Though the stones be falling—the wall upward strives:
They smile in their death as they smiled in their lives.—
 
Monteton, that is our wall,        90
Chalençon, that is our sword,
That is our tower, Tournefort!
 
 
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