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 Bridge by the Tay
By Theodor Fontane (1819–1898)
 
(When shall we three meet again?—MACBETH)

“WHEN shall we three meet again?”
“The dam of the bridge at seven attain!”
    “By the pier in the middle. I’ll put out amain
The flames.”
            “I too.”        5
                    “I’ll come from the north.”
“And I from the south.”
                    “From the sea I’ll soar forth.”
“Ha, that will be a merry-go-round!
The bridge must sink into the ground.”        10
“And with the train what shall we do
That crosses the bridge at seven?”
                    “That too.”
“That must go too!”
                “A bauble, a naught,        15
What the hand of man hath wrought!”
 
The bridgekeeper’s house that stands in the north—
All windows to the south look forth,
And the inmates there without peace or rest
Are gazing southward with anxious zest.        20
They gaze and wait a light to spy
That over the water “I’m coming!” should cry,
“I’m coming—night and storm are vain—
I, from Edinburg the train!”
 
And the bridgekeeper says: “I see a gleam        25
On the other shore. That’s it, I deem.
Now, mother, away with bad dreams, for, see,
Our Johnnie is coming!—He’ll want his tree.
And what is left of candles, light
As if it were on Christmas night!        30
Twice we shall have our Christmas cheer—
In eleven minutes he must be here.”
 
It is the train, with the gale it vies
And panting by the south tower flies.
“There’s the bridge still,” says Johnnie. “But that’s all right:        35
We’ll make it surely out of spite!
A solid boiler and double steam
Should win in such a fight, ’twould seem!
Let it rave and rage and run at its bent—
We’ll put it down: this element!        40
And our bridge is our pride. I must laugh always
When I think back of the olden days,
And all the trouble and misery
That with the old boat used to be.
And many cheerful Christmas nights        45
I spent at the ferryman’s house—the lights
From our windows I’d watch and count them o’er,
And could not reach the other shore.”
 
The bridgekeeper’s house that stands in the north—
All windows to the south look forth,        50
And the inmates there without peace or rest
Are gazing southward with anxious zest:
More furious grew the wind’s wild games,
And now, as if the sky poured flames,
Comes shooting down a radiance bright        55
O’er the water below.—Then all is night.
 
“When shall we three meet again?”
“At midnight the top of the mountain attain!”
“By the alder-stem on the high moorland plain!”
“I’ll come.”        60
            “And I too.”
                    “And the number I’ll tell.”
“And I the names.”
                    “I the torture right well.”
“Whoo!        65
        “Like splinters the woodwork crashed in two.”
“A bauble—a naught.
What the hand of man hath wrought!”
 
 
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