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.
 
The Minstrel’s Curse
By Ludwig Uhland (1787–1862)
 
IN olden times a castle stood towering high and free:
It gleamed far over the country, unto the deep blue sea;
The gardens round were fragrant, in glowing bloom arrayed,
And glistening like the rainbow, the limpid fountains played.
 
There sat a mighty monarch with many lands his own,        5
He sat so pale and threatening upon his mighty throne.
For what he thinks is terror and what he sees is rage
And what he speaks is torture and blood his written page.
 
There travelled to this castle a noble minstrel pair,
The one with locks of gold and the other grey of hair;        10
And with his harp the old man a comely charger rode.
While merrily beside him his young companion strode.
 
The old man to the young said: “My son, take ample care!
Our deepest songs remember, and strike thy note most rare.
With all thy might put sorrow and joy into thy tone!        15
To-day we both must conquer this monarch’s heart of stone.”
 
Before the lofty pillars the minstrel pair is seen;
Upon the throne are sitting the monarch and his queen.
The king is fiercely splendid, like bloody northern light,
The queen is mild and lovely, like full moon in the night.        20
 
The old man touched his harp strings, and—wonderful to hear!—
Chords fuller, ever fuller, were rising to the ear;
Then high the young man’s singing most heavenly limpid streamed,
The old man’s voice sonorous a ghostly chorus seemed.
 
They sing of love and springtime, of golden days to bless,        25
Of freedom, manly honour, of faith and holiness.
They sing of all the sweetness that trembles through the breast,
They sing of all that’s lofty and fills the heart with zest.
 
The courtiers round about them forget to mock and sneer;
Stern warriors before heaven all bow their knees in fear.        30
The queen in wistful gladness is overcome and throws
Down to the magic minstrels from her own breast a rose.
 
“You have beguiled my people, beguile you now my queen?”
The king is shouting fiercely, and trembling in his spleen.
He throws his sword that flashing has pierced the young man’s heart:        35
Thence no more golden ballads, but sprays of lifeblood start.
 
And scattered as by tempest is all the listening swarm.
The youth in throes is dying right in his master’s arm.
He wraps the mantle round him, then upright on his steed
Binds fast the youth and with him he leaves the hall in speed.        40
 
Before the lofty gateway the minstrel old and wise
Stands still and there he seizes his harp, of harps the prize.
Against a marble pillar this noble harp he flings.
He calls; through halls and gardens his voice uncanny rings:
 
“Woe, castle, no more music shall sweep thy halls along,        45
No harp-strings shall resound there, and no more golden song.
Nay! Only sighs and groaning and sneaking of the slave,
Till crushed by spirit of vengeance thou art a mouldy grave.
 
“Woe, fragrant gardens blooming so fair in springtime’s grace!
To you I show this dead boy’s white and distorted face,        50
That you henceforth shall wither, that every spring be dry,
That you all sere and barren in days to come shall lie.
 
“Woe, thou unholy murderer! Thou curse of minstrelsy!
Thy strife for bloodstained glory all times in vain shall be;
Thy name shall be forgotten, steeped in eternal night,        55
And, like a dying rattle, in empty air take flight!”
 
Thus cried the ancient minstrel, and heaven heard his call:
The pompous halls are ruins, low lies each mighty wall.
One lofty pillar only recalls the splendours past;
This pillar, cracked already, may fall to-night at last.        60
 
Where once were scented gardens is now a barren land,
No branches shade to scatter, no spring to pierce the sand;
No songs, no book of heroes the monarch’s name rehearse;
Dissolved in night, forgotten! That is the minstrel’s curse.
 
 
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