Monday, October 08, 2007

A Translation of the "Fabeln" of Novalis

The Bear

"Where are you off to, Bre'er Bear?" said a wolf to a wandering bear. "I'm looking for a new place to live," he replied. "But you had a fine, roomy den; why did you vacate it?" "The lion claimed it as his own and took his claim to the Senate of the Beasts." "You had nothing to fear there: you had an open-and-shut case." "When a king is the plaintiff, Bre'er Wolf, no case is open-and-shut."

The Country Maid

A country maid, having abandoned her lover, appeared all but inconsolable! "Why do you cry so?" asked one of her girl-friends. "Ah! Because I left behind with him my lovely blue overcoat."

Ye swains take note!

The Mayfly
An elderly mayfly exclaimed, “I have been studying for 22 hours; my wisdom, my learning, are the greatest that an infinite being can attain.” “Wretched fool!” said a man who heard her, “a boy still wet behind the ears possesses ten times more knowledge and understanding.”
What mortal does not on occasion reason after the same fashion as the mayfly?

The Owl and the Sparrow
"You scoundrel! Stealing cherries in broad daylight, in plain view of all and sundry? What confounded cheek!" Thus cried an owl to a sparrow who was feasting himself on a cherry tree. "To be sure," replied the sparrow, "it is much nobler to go a-killing and a-thieving at night, when all the other animals are fast asleep."

The Fox
"Have you read this satire of you that the lion has written?" queried the wolf of the fox: "You should demand satisfaction of him as befits a gentleman." "I have read it, but I won't follow your counsel," said the fox, "for then the lion would demand satisfaction of me as befits a prince."

Corrupt Offerings

Jupiter was wandering in a forest, and all the trees shook loose their various fruits at his feet, and he blessed them. The poison tree likewise flung forth its fruit to Jupiter at this time. "No! I cannot accept your offering," said Jupiter, and forbore to bless the tree.

Ye princes! Smile not upon the genius who devotes his gifts to the corruption of morals!

The Tale of Hyacinth and Rosebud

(from "The Novices at Sais")

Once upon a time, well towards evening, there lived a very young man. He was most virtuous, but also odd beyond all measure.

He was forever worrying, time and again, about nothing; he passed his days in silence; he would sit by himself when others were frolicking and gay, and abandon himself to curious preoccupations. Caves and forests were his favorite haunts; and, moreover, he would unceasingly converse with the beasts of the field and the air, with trees and boulders--naturally in no intelligible language--and, more sonorously, with foolish old Zeus himself, to the point that he found himself fairly doubled up with laughter. But he remained habitually surly and serious, in spite of all the pains that the squirrels, the monkeys, the parrots, and the bullfinch took to amuse him and show him the true path. The goose told fairly tales, the brook babbled a ballad between times, a big fat rock cut droll capers, the rose genially sneaked up behind him and around him, slinking through the locks of his hair, and the ivy caressed his careworn brow. And yet his seriousness and despondency were unyielding.

His parents were quite dejected in his behalf; they hardly knew where to begin. He was healthy and well fed; they had never scolded him; he had, moreover, until a few years previous, been as merry and gay as could be, the champion in all sportive contests and the favorite of all of his female playmates. He was as pretty as a picture and as well-bred as a husband-to-be; and he danced like a true gallant.

Among these female playmates of his there numbered a certain one--a charming, picture-perfect child, a veritable wax doll--with hair like golden silk, lips of cherry red, and eyes like jet-black embers. So lovely was she that he who saw her was as good as lost. In those days, Rosebud--that was her name--bore a good will to Hyacinth--that was his name--and he was mortally in love with her. The other children knew nothing of this. A violet had first mentioned it to them; the house-kittens had taken full notice of it; their parents' houses were sited quite close to each other.

When of an evening Hyacinth was standing at his window and Rosebud at hers, and the kittens were out on the prowl for mice, they would see the two of them standing there and oftentimes laugh and giggle so loudly that they heard it and became cross. The violet had mentioned it in strictest confidence to the strawberry plant, who mentioned it in turn to her friend the gooseberry bush, who now forbore to withdraw her thorns when Hyacinth came walking by; thus presently the whole garden and forest discovered it, and whenever Hyacinth went out, all around him there would issue a murmur of
Rosebud is my sweetheart!

Hyacinth was annoyed by this, and yet he could not help laughing when the little lizard came slithering up to disport himself on a warm rock, wagging his tail and singing:

That darling infant hight Rosebud
Has eyes full newly bleared with mud.
Mistaking Hy'cinth for her mum,
She falls into his arms all dumb;
But on discov'ring her mistake,
Thinks but of him, does not fright take,
Departs, no words betok'ning aught amiss,
Now, as ever after, with a kiss.

Ah! Sic transit gloria mundi. There now arrived on the scene a man hailing from a foreign country, who was astonishingly well-traveled; he had a long beard, sunken eyes, hideous eyebrows, and a marvelous costume with strange pleats and shapes woven into it. He planted himself in front of Hyacinth's parents' house. His curiosity aroused, Hyacinth took a seat beside the man and fetched him some bread and wine. The man shook his white beard this way and that and told tales until the wee hours of the night, and Hyacinth stayed awake and never budged an inch or grew tired of listening. By all subsequent accounts, the man had much to say of of foreign parts and terrae incognitae, and of astonishingly strange events, and he remained in the area for three days, and went creeping into deep hollows of the earth with Hyacinth.

Rosebud roundly cursed the old sorcerer, for Hyacinth was absolutely smitten by his conversation and concerned himself with nothing else; he hardly even bothered to eat or drink anything. Finally the man took off, but he left behind in Hyacinth's keeping a small book that nobody knew how to read. Hyacinth, for his part, gave the man fruit, bread, and wine, and accompanied him along a good stretch of his journey. And then he returned in a pensive frame of mind, and began a new mode of life. Rosebud took great pity on him, for from that point onwards, she mattered but little to him, and he remained perpetually wrapped up in himself.

It now so happened that one day he came home and was as though newly born. He fell into the arms of his parents and began weeping. "I must set forth into foreign countries," he said; "the strange old woman in the forest told me how I must become healthy; she flung my book into the fire and urged me to go to you and seek your blessing. Perhaps I shall return soon, perhaps never. Give my regards to Rosebud. Somehow, whenever I try to think back on the old days, more powerful thoughts interpose themselves; peace lies elsewhere, together with heart and love; I must go seek them. Would that I could tell you whither; I myself do not know; yonder dwells the mother of all things, the veiled virgin. Towards her do tend all the stirrings of my soul. Farewell."

He tore himself free and set forth. His parents lamented and shed tears; Rosebud remained in her chamber and wept bitterly. Hyacinth made his way as best he could through valleys and wilds, across mountains and rivers, towards the mysterious regions of the earth. Everywhere and of everyone—men and beasts, rocks and trees—he enquired after the goddess Isis. Some of them laughed, some of them were silent; nowhere was an answer forthcoming. First, he passed through a savage, mountainous country; the road was traversed by mists and clouds; storms raged incessantly; then, he happened upon some unsightly deserts of red-hot sand; and the farther he wandered, in like proportion was his soul transformed; time slowed down for him and his inner tumult subsided; he became calmer, and the violent agitation within him by degrees became a gentle, albeit firm, urge to press on, an urge that absorbed his entire soul. He felt as though many years lay behind him.

And now the surrounding country became more fertile and varied, the air mild and blue, the road more smoothly paved; green thickets tempted him with winsome shadows, but he could not understand their language; nor did they even seem to speak, and yet they filled his heart with shades of green and a cool, silent essence. This sweet longing within him mounted ever higher, and the leaves grew ever brighter and calmer, the birds and beasts ever louder and merrier, the fruits ever more fragrant, the skies ever darker, and his love ever warmer; time passed ever more quickly, as though presaging his journey's end.

One day he encountered a crystal-clear spring and a host of flowers running alongside and between two rows of sky-scraping black columns. They saluted him in a familiar tongue.

"My beloved fellow countrymen," he said; "where may I find the sacred residence of Isis? It must lie somewhere hereabouts, and perhaps you are better acquainted with the neighborhood than I am."

"We are likewise merely passing through," replied the flowers; "a family of souls is traveling hither and beyond, and we are preparing them passage and lodging; en route, a few days ago, we happened to hear her name mentioned. Go upwards, in the direction whence we came; thus shall you surely come to learn more."

The flowers and the spring smiled as they said this, offered him a draft of fresh water, and proceeded on their way.

Hyacinth followed their counsel, kept on enquiring, and finally came to that long-sought-after dwelling, which was situated under a canopy of palms and other exquisite plants. His heart throbbed in infinite longing, and the sweetest dread pervaded him in this abode of eternal seasons. Under the auspices of a salutary celestial ether, he fell asleep, for only in his dreams could he be led into the Holy of Holies. In a most curious fashion, these dreams led him through an infinite succession of chambers full of strange objects, on rousing timbres and alternating concords. Everything seemed so familiar to him, and yet clothed in a splendor he had never before seen; then, the last trace of earthly materiality faded away, as though consumed by the air, and he stood before the celestial virgin; then, he lifted the weightless, lustrous veil and Rosebud sank into his arms.

The fond reunion, the effusions of longing, were attended and surrounded by a distant music, which banished everything alien from this enchanting place. Hyacinth lived long after with Rosebud among his joyful parents and playmates, and innumerable grandchildren gave thanks to the strange old woman for her counsel and fire; for in those days, people could have as many children as they wished.

The Mite

"Nothing is more true," said one mite to her neighbor, "than that our cheese is the center of the sublime system of the cosmos and that we are the especial favorites of the Almighty, inasmuch as He has created for us the perfect habitation." "Fool!" said a man as he devoured the cheese and the mites at one go. "You think as do many of my brothers: you of your cheese, they of theirs."

The Horse

A wolf said to a horse, "Why do you remain so loyal to man--who, after all, does nothing but harass you to the utmost--rather than seek your liberty?" "Who in the wild would defend me against you and your like?" replied the philosophical horse. "Who would take care of me if I were ill; where would I have found such good and plentiful fodder, or a warm stall? I cheerfully relinquish to you your phantom of liberty in exchange for everything that my slavery procures me. And as for the work itself: is it really such a curse?"

The Philosopher

Want of haste seldom makes waste.

"Teach Homer to my canary," said a tyrant to a philosopher, "so that he shall be able to recite the epics from memory, or hie thee hence from from my dominions; attempt the same task and fail, and thou needs must die." "I would fain teach him," said the sage, "but for this I shall require ten years." "Why were you so foolish," a friend of his subsequently asked him, "as to undertake something so impossible?" He replied with a smile: "In ten years' time, one of us--either myself or the tyrant or the bird--will be dead."

The Snail

Once upon a time, two youths went out for a walk and encountered in the middle of the road a certain snail, which they flung into a nearby bush for fear that it would otherwise be crushed under the wheels of the next passing carriage. "You wantons!" cried the snail, "Why do you disturb our tranquil repose and fling us so wantonly hither?"

Brothers and sisters, with what do you struggle when some petty misfortune befalls you? With the full weight of the world? Oh, how shortsighted you are!

The Old Sparrow

"Shame on you!" cried an old sparrow to a group of his juniors who flirted and pleasured themselves with sparrowesses of easy virtue; "You fail to understand how most unseemly and degrading this all is; you are spurning the very wisdom that elevates our soul to a state of immortality." "Keep plying your wisdom," cried the wantons to him, "and let us have our fun for now; when we are as old as you we, too, on account of our impotence, shall thus have need of recourse to wisdom, and of waxing philosophical on love and joy."

The Tiger and the Fox

"Tiger," said the lion to his favorite, "I can no longer endure the fox; he mocks and jeers incessantly; get rid of him for me." The tiger cheerfully ran off to the fox: "Villain! You have affronted the King." "When did that happen?" said the fox. "I know nothing of it." "And yet you defamed him but the day before yesterday." "That's as abominable a lie as the first one," cried the fox. "Oh! You accuse me of lying. For this I must be avenged." And with these words, he gobbled him up.

Once upon a time an ass complained: "How unlucky I am! I have no horns"; a fox standing nearby: "Really? I am still more unlucky; I have short legs." "Be silent, the pair of you!" cried the mole, "I am practically blind."
"He is without doubt a fool," said the wise horse, "who regards himself as the most unfortunate of all creatures."

Tit for Tat

In hot pursuit of the quaking dove, a hawk followed his quarry all the way to the dovecote. There he was apprehended by the squire, who expressed his intention to kill him.

"What did I do to you?" cried the hawk? "What did the dove do to you?" was the squire's reply.

Translation Copyright © 2007 by Douglas Robertson