The Works of J. W. von Goethe/Volume 9/The God and the Bayadere

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"Then She Sinks beside His Bier"

Photogravure from the painting by F. Kirchbach

Then She Sinks beside his Bier (The Works of J. W. von Goethe, Volume 9).png



[This very fine ballad was also first given in the Horen.]

Mahadeva,[1] Lord of earth,
For the sixth time comes below,
As a man of mortal birth,—
Like him, feeling joy and woe.
Hither loves he to repair.
And his power behind to leave;
If to punish or to spare,
Men as man he'd fain perceive.
And when he the town as a traveller hath seen,
Observing the mighty, regarding the mean,
He quits it, to go on his journey, at eve.

He was leaving now the place,
When an outcast met his eyes,—
Fair in form, with painted face,—
Where some straggling dwellings rise,
"Maiden, hail!"—"Thanks! welcome here!
Stay!—I'll join thee in the road."—
"Who art thou?"—"A Bayadere,
And this house is love's abode."
The cymbal she hastens to play for the dance,
Well skilled in its mazes the sight to entrance,
Then by her with grace is the nosegay bestowed.

Then she draws him, as in play,
O'er the threshold eagerly:
"Beauteous stranger, light as day,
Thou shalt soon this cottage see.

I'll refresh thee, if thou'rt tired,
And will bathe thy weary feet;
Take whate'er by thee's desired,
Toying, rest, or rapture sweet."—
She busily seeks his feigned suff'rings to ease;
Then smiles the Immortal; with pleasure he sees
That with kindness a heart so corrupted can beat.

And he makes her act the part
Of a slave; he's straight obeyed.
What at first had been but art,
Soon is nature in the maid.
By degrees the fruit we find.
Where the buds at first obtain;
When obedience fills the mind,
Love will never far remain.
But sharper and sharper the maiden to prove,
The Discerner of all things below and above.
Feigns pleasure, and horror, and maddening pain.

And her painted cheeks he kisses,
And his vows her heart enthral;
Feeling love's sharp pangs and blisses
Soon her tears begin to fall.
At his feet she now must sink,
Not with thoughts of lust or gain,—
And her slender members shrink
And devoid of power remain.
And so the bright hours with gladness prepare
Their dark, pleasing veil of a texture so fair,
And over the couch softly, tranquilly reign.

Late she falls asleep, thus blessed,—
Early wakes, her slumbers fled,
And she finds the much-loved guest
On her bosom lying dead.

Screaming falls she on him there,
But, alas, too late to save!
And his rigid limbs they bear
Straightway to their fiery grave,
Then hears she the priests and the funeral song,
Then madly she runs, and she severs the throng:
"Why press tow'rd the pile thus? Why scream thus and rave?"

Then she sinks beside his bier,
And her screams through air resound:
"I must seek my spouse so dear,
E'en if in the grave he's bound.
Shall those limbs of grace divine
Fall to ashes in my sight?
Mine he was! Yes, only mine!
Ah, one single blissful night!"
The priests chant in chorus: "We bear out the old,
When long they've been weary, and late they've grown cold;
We bear out the young, too, so thoughtless and light.

"To thy priests' command give ear!
This one was thy husband ne'er;
Live still as a Bayadere,
And no duty thou need'st share.
To death's silent realms from life,
None but shades attend man's frame,
With the husband, none but wife,—
That is duty, that is fame.
Ye trumpets, your sacred lament haste to raise!
Oh, welcome, ye gods, the bright lustre of days!
Oh, welcome to heaven the youth from the flame!"

Thus increased her torments are
By the cruel, heartless choir;

And with arms outstretching far
Leaps she on the glowing pyre.
But the youth divine outsprings
From the flame with heav'nly grace,
And on high his flight he wings,
While his arms his love embrace.
In the sinner repentant the Godhead feels joy;
Immortals delight thus their might to employ
Lost children to raise to a heavenly place.

  1. One of the numerous names of Seeva the destroyer,—the great god of the Brahmins.