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Explanation Of An Ancient Woodcut

EARLY within his workshop here,
On Sundays stands our master dear;
His dirty apron he puts away,
And wears a cleanly doublet to-day;
Lets wax'd thread, hammer, and pincers rest,
And lays his awl within his chest;
The seventh day he takes repose
From many pulls and many blows.

Soon as the spring-sun meets his view,
Repose begets him labour anew;
He feels that he holds within his brain
A little world, that broods there amain,
And that begins to act and to live,
Which he to others would gladly give.

He had a skillful eye and true,
And was full kind and loving too.
For contemplation, clear and pure,--
For making all his own again, sure;
He had a tongue that charm'd when 'twas heard,
And graceful and light flow'd ev'ry word;
Which made the Muses in him rejoice,
The Master-singer of their choice.

And now a maiden enter'd there,
With swelling breast, and body fair;
With footing firm she took her place,
And moved with stately, noble grace;
She did not walk in wanton mood,
Nor look around with glances lewd.

She held a measure in her hand,
Her girdle was a golden band,
A wreath of corn was on her head,
Her eye the day's bright lustre shed;
Her name is honest Industry,
Else, Justice, Magnanimity.

She enter'd with a kindly greeting;
He felt no wonder at the meeting,
For, kind and fair as she might be,
He long had known her, fancied he.

"I have selected thee," she said,
"From all who earth's wild mazes tread,
That thou shouldst have clear-sighted sense,
And nought that's wrong shouldst e'er commence.
When others run in strange confusion,
Thy gaze shall see through each illusion
When others dolefully complain,
Thy cause with jesting thou shalt gain,
Honour and right shalt value duly,
In everything act simply, truly,--
Virtue and godliness proclaim,
And call all evil by its name,
Nought soften down, attempt no quibble,
Nought polish up, nought vainly scribble.
The world shall stand before thee, then,
As seen by Albert Durer's ken,
In manliness and changeless life,
In inward strength, with firmness rife.
Fair Nature's Genius by the hand
Shall lead thee on through every land,
Teach thee each different life to scan,
Show thee the wondrous ways of man,
His shifts, confusions, thrustings, and drubbings,
Pushings, tearings, pressings, and rubbings;
The varying madness of the crew,
The anthill's ravings bring to view;
But thou shalt see all this express'd,
As though 'twere in a magic chest.
Write these things down for folks on earth,
In hopes they may to wit give birth."--
Then she a window open'd wide,
And show'd a motley crowd outside,
All kinds of beings 'neath the sky,
As in his writings one may spy.

Our master dear was, after this,
On Nature thinking, full of bliss,
When tow'rd him, from the other side
He saw an aged woman glide;
The name she bears, Historia,
Mythologia, Fabula;
With footstep tottering and unstable
She dragg'd a large and wooden carved-table,
Where, with wide sleeves and human mien,
The Lord was catechizing seen;
Adam, Eve, Eden, the Serpent's seduction,
Gomorrah and Sodom's awful destruction,
The twelve illustrious women, too,
That mirror of honour brought to view;
All kinds of bloodthirstiness, murder, and sin,
The twelve wicked tyrants also were in,
And all kinds of goodly doctrine and law;
Saint Peter with his scourge you saw,
With the world's ways dissatisfied,
And by our Lord with power supplied.
Her train and dress, behind and before,
And e'en the seams, were painted o'er
With tales of worldly virtue and crime.--
Our master view'd all this for a time;
The sight right gladly he survey'd,
So useful for him in his trade,
Whence he was able to procure
Example good and precept sure,
Recounting all with truthful care,
As though he had been present there.
His spirit seem'd from earth to fly,
He ne'er had turned away his eye,
Did he not just behind him hear
A rattle of bells approaching near.
And now a fool doth catch his eye,
With goat and ape's leap drawing nigh
A merry interlude preparing
With fooleries and jests unsparing.
Behind him, in a line drawn out,
He dragg'd all fools, the lean and stout,
The great and little, the empty and full,
All too witty, and all too dull,
A lash he flourish'd overhead,
As though a dance of apes he led,
Abusing them with bitterness,
As though his wrath would ne'er grow less.

While on this sight our master gazed,
His h
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Submitted on May 13, 2011

3:59 min read

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was a German writer and politician. more…

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