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Eros and Fable
Eros and Fable
From : "Henry von Ofterdingen" by
1842 Owen English Translation
At evening some guests were present ; the grandfather drank the health of the young bridal pair, and promised to give them soon a splendid marriage feast. “Of what use is long waiting ?” said the old man. “Early marriages make long love. I have always observed that marriages early contracted were the happiest. In latter years there is no longer such a devotion in the marriage relation as in youth. Youth, enjoyed in common, forms an inseparable tie. Memory is the safest ground of love.”
After the meal more people came in. Henry asked his new father to fulfil his promise. Klingsohr said to the company, “I have promised Henry to-day to relate a tale. If it would please you I am ready to do so.”
“That was a wise idea of Henry’s,” said Swaning. “We have heard nothing from you for a long time.”
All seated themselves by the fire, which was sparkling on the hearth. Henry sat by Matilda, and stole his arm around her. Klingsohr began.
“The long night had just set in. The old hero struck his shield, so that it resounded far through the solitary streets of the city. Thrice he repeated the signal. Then the lofty, many-colored windows of the palace began to shed abroad their light, and their figures were put in motion. They moved the more quickly, as the ruddy stream which began to illumine the streets became stronger. Also by degrees the immense pillars and walls began to shine. At length they stood in the purest milk-blue glimmer, and flickered with the softest colors. The whole region was now visible, and the reflection of the figures, the clashing of the spears, swords, shields, and helmets, which bowed from all sides towards crowns appearing here and there, and finally closed round a simple green garland in a wide circle, as the crowns vanished before it ; all this was reflected from the frozen sea that surrounded the hill on which the city stood,–and even the far distant mountain range, which girdled the sea, was half enwrapped with a mildly reflected splendor. Nothing could be plainly distinguished ; yet a strange sound was heard, as if from an immense workshop in the distance. The city, on the contrary, was light and clear. Its smooth transparent walls reflected the beautiful beams ; and the perfect symmetry, the noble style, and fine arrangement of all the buildings were well defined. Before every window stood earthern pots with ornaments, full of every variety of ice and snow flowers, which sparkled most brilliantly.
“But fairest of all appeared the garden upon the great square in front of the palace, consisting of metal plants and crystal trees, hung with varied jewel-blossoms and fruits. The manifold and delicate shapes, the lively lights and colors, formed a lordly spectacle, made still more magnificent by a lofty fountain, frozen in the midst of the garden. The old hero walked slowly past the palace doors. A voice from within called his name. He turned towards the door, which opened with a gentle sound, and stewed into the hall. His shield was held before his eyes.
“‘Hast thou yet discovered nothing,' plaintively cried the beautiful daughter of Arcturus. She lay on silken cushions, upon a throne artfully fashioned from a huge pyrite-crystal, and some maidens were assiduously chafing her tender limbs, which seemed a rare union of milk and purple. On all sides streamed from beneath the hands of the maidens that charming light, which so wondrously illuminated the palace. A perfumed breeze was waving through the hall. The hero was silent.
“‘Let me touch thy shield,’ said she softly.
“He approached the throne and stepped upon the costly carpet. She seized his hand, pressed it with tenderness to her heavenly bosom, and touched his shield. His armor resounded, and a penetrating force inspired his frame. His eyes flashed, and the heart beat loudly against his breastplate. The beautiful Freya appeared more serene, and the light that streamed from her became more brilliant.
“‘The king is coming,’ cried a splendid bird that was perched behind the throne. The attendants threw an azure veil over the princess, which concealed her heaving bosom. The hero lowered his shield, and looked upward to the dome, whither two broad staircases wound from each side of the hall. Soft music preceded the king, who soon appeared in the dome, and descended with a numerous train.
“The beautiful bird unfolded its shining wings, and gently fluttering, sang to the king as with a thousand voices :
“The stranger fair delay no longer maketh.
Warmth draweth near, Eternity begins.
From long and tedious dreams the Queen awaketh,
When land in eddying love with ocean spins.
Her farewell hence the chilly midnight taketh,
When Fable first the ancient title wins.
The world will kindle upon Freya’s breast,
And every longing in its longing rest.”
The King embraced his daughter with tenderness. The spirits of the stars surrounded the throne, and the hero took his place in the order. A numerous crowd of stars filled the hall in splendid groups. The attendants brought a table and a little casket, containing a heap of leaves, upon which were inscribed mystic figures of deep significance, constructed of constellations. The king reverently kissed these leaves, mixed them carefully together, and handed some to his daughter ; the rest he kept. The princess placed them in a row upon the table ; then the king closely examined his own, and chose with much reflection before he added one to them. At times he seemed forced to choose this or that leaf. But often his joy was evident, when he could complete by a lucky leaf a beautiful harmony of signs and figures. As the play commenced, tokens of the liveliest sympathy were visible among all the by-standers, accompanied by peculiar looks and gestures, as if each one had an invisible instrument in his hands which he plied diligently. At the same time a gentle but deeply moving music was heard in the air, seeming to arise from the stars gliding past each other in a wondrous motion, and from the other movements so peculiar. The stars floated round, now slowly, now quickly, in continually changing lines, and curiously imitated, to the swell of the music, the figures on the leaves. The music changed incessantly with the images upon the table; and though the transitions were often strange and intricate, yet a simple theme seemed to unite the whole. With incredible adroitness the stars flew together according to the images. Now in great confusion, but now again beautifully arranged in single clusters, and now the long train was suddenly scattered, like a ray, into innumerable sparks, but soon came together, through smaller circles and patterns ever increasing, into one great figure of surprising beauty. The varied shapes in the windows remained all this time at rest. The bird unceasingly ruffled its costly plumage in every variety of form. Hitherto the old hero had also pursued an unseen occupation, when suddenly the king full of joy exclaimed, “all is well. Iron, throw thy sword into the world, that it may know where peace rests.”
The hero snatched the sword from his thigh, raised it with the point to heaven, and hurled it from the window over the city and the icy sea. It flew through the air like a comet, and seemed to penetrate the mountain chain with a clear report, as it fell downward in brilliant flakes of fire.
At this time the beautiful child Eros lay in his cradle and slumbered gently, whilst Ginnistan his nurse rocked him, and held out her breast to his foster-sister Fable. She had spread her variegated wimple over the cradle, so that the bright lamp which stood before the scribe might not trouble the child. Busily he wrote, at times looking morosely at the children, and gloomily towards the nurse, who smiled upon him kindly and kept silence.
The father of the children walked in and out continually, at each turn gazing upon them, and greeting Ginnistan kindly. He always had something to dictate to the scribe. The latter observed his words exactly, and when he had written, handed them to an aged and venerable woman, who was leaning on an altar, where stood a dark bowl of clear water, into which she looked with serene smiles. When she dipped the leaves in the water, and found on withdrawing them, that some of the writing remained still glittering, she gave them to the scribe, who fastened them in a great book, and seemed much out of humor when his labor had been in vain, and all the writing had been obliterated. The woman turned at times towards Ginnistan and the children, and dipping her finger in the bowl, sprinkled some drops upon them, which, as soon as they touched the nurse, the child, or the cradle, dissolved into a blue vapor, exhibiting a thousand strange images, and floating and changing constantly around them. If one of these by chance touched the scribe, many figures and geometrical diagrams fell down, which he strung with much diligence upon a thread, and hung them for an ornament around his meagre neck. The child’s mother, who was sweetness and loveliness itself, often came in. She seemed to be constantly occupied, always carrying with her some domestic utensil. If the prying scribe observed it, he began a long reproof, of which no one took any notice. All seemed accustomed to his fruitless fault-finding. The mother sometimes gave the breast to little Fable, but was soon called away, and Ginnistan took the child back again, for it seemed to love her best. Suddenly the father brought in a small slender rod of iron, which he had found in the court. The scribe looked at it, twirled it round quickly, and soon discovered, that being suspended from the middle by a thread, it turned of itself to the north. Ginnistan also took it in her hand, bent it, pressed it, breathed upon it, and soon gave it the form of a serpent biting, its own tail. The scribe was soon weary of looking at it. He wrote down everything that had occurred, and was very diffuse about the utility of such a discovery. But how vexed was he when all he had written did not stand the proof, and when the paper came blank from the bowl. The nurse continued to play with it. She chanced to touch with it the
cradle ; the child awoke, threw off his covering, and holding one hand towards the light, reached after the serpent with the other. As soon as he received it, he leaped so quickly from the cradle that Ginnistan was frightened, and the scribe fell nearly out of his chair from wonder ; the child stood in the chamber, covered only by his long golden hair, and gazed with speechless joy upon the prize, which pointed in his hands, towards the North, and seemed to awake within him deep emotion. He grew visibly.
“Sophia,” said he with a touching voice to the woman, “let me drink from the bowl.”
She gave it him without delay, and he could not cease drinking ; yet the bowl continued full. At last he returned it, while embracing the good woman heartily. He pressed Ginnistan to his heart, and asked her for the variegated cloth, which he bound becomingly around his thigh. He took little Fable in his arms. She appeared greatly to delight in him, and began to prattle. Ginnistan devoted all her attention to him. She looked exceedingly charming and gay, and pressed him to herself with the tenderness of a bride. She led him with whispered words to the chamber door, but Sophia nodded earnestly and pointed to the serpent. Just then the mother entered, to whom he immediately flew, and with warm tears welcomed her. The scribe had departed in anger. The father entered: and as he saw mother and son in silent embrace, he approached the charming Ginnistan behind them and caressed her. Sophia ascended the stairs. Little Fable took the scribe’s pen and began to write. Mother and son were deeply engaged in conversation. The father availed himself of the opportunity, and lavished many a tender word and look upon Ginnistan, who returned them willingly ; and in their sweet interchange of love, both the presence or absence of any was forgotten. After some time Sophia returned, and the scribe entered. He drove little Fable with many rebukes from his seat, and took a long time to put his things in order. He handed to Sophia the leaves that Fable had written over, that they might be returned clean ; but his displeasure was extreme, when Sophia drew the writing brilliant and uneffaced from the bowl, and laid it before him. Fable clang to her mother, who took her to her breast, and put the chamber in order, opened the windows for the fresh air, and made preparations for a costly meal. A beautiful landscape was visible from the windows, and a serene sky overarched the earth. The father was busily employed in the court. When he was weary, he looked up towards the window, where Ginnistan stood and threw to him all sorts of sweetmeats. Mother and son went out in order to assist in any manner, and to prepare for the resolution they had taken. The scribe twitched his pen, and always made a wry face, when he was forced to ask any information of Ginnistan, who had a good memory and recollected everything that transpired. Eros soon returned, clad in beautiful armor, round which the variegated cloth was wound like a scarf. He asked Sophia’s advice as to when and how he should commence his journey. The scribe was very troublesome, and wanted to furnish him with a complete traveller’s guide, but his instructions were not regarded.
“You can commence your journey immediately,” said Sophia, “Ginnistan can guide you. She knows the road and is acquainted everywhere. She will take the form of your mother, that she may not lead you into temptation. If you find the king, think of me ; for then I shall soon come to assist you.”
Ginnistan exchanged forms with the mother, whereat the father seemed much pleased. The scribe was rejoiced that they were both going away ; particularly when Ginnistan on taking leave presented him with a pocket-book, in which the chronicles of the house were circumstantially recorded. Yet the little Fable remained a thorn in his eye, and he desired nothing more for his peace and content, than that she might also be among the number of the travellers. Sophia pronounced a blessing upon the two who knelt down before her, and gave them a vessel full of water from the bowl. The mother was very sad. Little Fable, would willingly have gone with them; the father was too much occupied out of doors, to concern himself much about it. It was night when they left, and the moon stood high in the sky.
“Dear Eros,” said Ginnistan, “we must hasten, that we may come to my father, who has not seen me for a long time, and has fought for me anxiously everywhere upon earth. Do you not see his emaciated face? Your testimony will cause him to recognise me in this strange form.”
Love hies along in dusky ways,
The moon his only light ;
The shadow-realm itself displays,
And all uncouthly dight.
An azure mist with golden rim
Around him floats in play,
And quickly Fancy hurries him
O’er stream and land away.
His teeming bosom beating is
In wondrous spirit-flow ;
A presagement of future bliss
Bespeaks the ardent glow.
And Longing sat and wept aloud,
Nor knew that Love was near ;
And deeper in her visage ploughed
The hopeless sorrow’s tear.
The little snake remaineth true,
It pointeth to the North,
And both in trust and courage new
Their leader follow forth.
Love hieth through the hot Simoon,
And through the vapor-land,
Enters the halo of the moon,
The daughter in his hand.
He sat upon his silver throne,
Alone with his unrest ;
When heareth he his daughter’s tone,
And sinketh on her breast.
Eros stood deeply moved by their tender embrace. At length the tottering old man collected himself and bade his guest welcome. He seized his great horn and blew a mighty blast. The ringing echo vibrated through the ancient castle. The pointed towers with their shining balls, and the deep black roofs, trembled.
The castle stood firm, for it had settled upon the mountain from beyond the deep sea.
Servants were gathering from every quarter ; their peculiar forms and dresses delighted Ginnistan infinitely, and did not frighten the brave Eros. They first greeted her old acquaintances, and all appeared before them in new strength, and in all the glory of their natures. The impetuous spirit of the flood followed the gentle ebb. The old hurricanes rested upon the beating breast of the hot, passionate earthquake. The gentle showers looked around for the many-colored bow which stood so pallid, far from the sun that most attracts it. The rude thunder resounded through the play of the lightning, behind the innumerable clouds which stood in a thousand charms, and allured the fiery youth. The two sisters Morning and Evening were especially delighted by their arrival. Tears of tenderness were mingled in their embraces. Indescribable was the appearance of this wonderful court. The old king could not gaze long enough upon his daughter. She was tenfold happy in her father’s castle, and could not grow weary of looking at the well known wonders and rarities. Her joy was unspeakable, when the king gave her the key to the treasure-chamber, and permission to arrange there a spectacle for Eros, which could entertain him until the signal for breaking up. The treasure-place was a large garden, the variety and richness of which surpassed all description. Between the immense cloud-trees lay innumerable air-castles of surprising architecture, each succeeding one more costly than the others. Large herds of little sheep with silver-white, golden, and rose-colored wool, were wandering about, and the most singular animals enlivened the grove. Remarkable pictures stood here and there, and the festive processions, the strange carriages which met the eye on every side, continually occupied the attention. The beds were filled with many-colored flowers. The buildings were crowded with every species of weapon, and furnished with the most beautiful carpets, tapestry, curtains, drinking-cups, and all kinds of furniture and utensils arranged in an endless order. From the hill they saw a romantic region overspread with cities and castles, temples and sepulchres ; every delight of inhabited plains united to the fertile charms of the wilderness and the mountain steep. The fairest colors were most happily blended. The mountain peaks shone like pyramids of fire in their hoods of ice and snow. The plain lay smiling in the freshest green. The distance was arrayed in every shade of blue, and from the sombre bosom of the sea waved countless pennons of varied hue from numerous fleets. In the distance a shipwreck was to be seen; here in the foreground a rustic cheerful meal of country people ; there the terribly grand eruption of a volcano, the desolating earthquake ; and in front beneath shady trees a loving couple in sweet caresses. Further on was a fearful battle, and beyond it a theatre full of the most ludicrous masks. In another spot of the foreground was a youthful corpse upon its bier, to which an inconsolable lover clung, and the weeping parents at its side ; beyond was seen a lovely mother with her child at her breast, and angels sitting at her feet, and gazing from the branches over head. The series were continually shifting, and at last all flowed together into one mysterious picture. Heaven and earth were in complete uproar. All terrors had broken loose. A mighty voice cried, “to arms !” A terrible host of skeletons, with black standards, rushed like a tempest from the dark mountain, and attacked the life which was feasting merrily in youthful bands among the open plains, anticipating no danger. Terrible tumults arose, the earth trembled, the tempest howled, fearful meteors lighted the gloom. With unheard of cruelty, the host of phantoms tore the tender limbs of the living. A funeral pyre towered on high, and amid shrieks which made the blood run cold, the children of life were consumed by the flames. Suddenly a milk-blue stream broke on all sides from the dark heap of ashes. The phantoms hastened to fly, but the flood visibly swelled and swallowed up the detestable brood. Soon all fear was allayed. Heaven and earth flowed together in sweet music. A flower, wonderful in beauty, floated glittering upon the gentle billows. A shining bow half circled the flood, and on both sides of it sat celestial shapes on splendid thrones. Sophia sat highest with the bowl in her hands, near a majestic man, whose locks were bound by a garland of oak leaves, and who bore in his right hand a palm of peace instead of a sceptre. A lily leaf bent over the chalice of the floating flower. The little Fable sat upon it, and sang to the harp the sweetest song. In the chalice sat Eros himself, bending over a beautiful, slumbering maiden who held him fast embraced. A smaller blossom closed around them both, so that from the thighs they seemed changed to a flower.
Eros thanked Ginnistan with thousand fold rapture. He embraced her tenderly, and she returned his caresses. Wearied by the fatigues of the journey, and by the manifold objects he had seen, he longed for quiet and rest. Ginnistan, who felt deeply attracted by the beautiful youth, took good care not to mention the draught which Sophia had given him. She led him to a retired bath, and removed his armor. Eros dipped himself in the dangerous waves, and came out again in rapture. Ginnistan chafed dry his strong limbs knit with youthful vigor. He thought with ardent longing of his beloved, and embraced the charming Ginnistan
in sweet delusion. He surrendered himself carelessly to his tenderness, and fell asleep on the fair bosom
of his guide.
In the mean time a sad change had taken place at home. The scribe had involved the domestics in a dangerous conspiracy. His fiendish mind had long sought occasion to obtain possession of the government of the house, and to shake off his yoke. Such an occasion he had found. His party first seized the mother and put her in irons. The father also was deprived of everything but bread and water. The little Fable heard the noise in the chamber. She hid herself behind the altar; and observing that there was a concealed door on its farther side, she opened it quickly, and discovered a staircase leading from it. She closed the door behind her, and descended the stairs in the dark. The scribe rushed furiously into the chamber, in order to revenge himself on the little Fable, and to take Sophia captive. Neither of them was to be found. The bowl was also missing, and in his wrath he broke the altar into a thousand pieces, without, however, discovering the secret staircase.
Fable continued to descend for a considerable time. At length she reached an open space adorned with splendid colonnades, and closed by a great door. All objects there were dark. The air was like one immense shadow; and a darkly beaming body stood in the sky. One could easily distinguish objects, because each figure exhibited a peculiar shade of black, and cast behind a pale glimmer; light and shade seemed to have changed their respective offices. Fable rejoiced to find herself in a new world. She regarded everything with childish curiosity. At length she reached the door, before which upon a massive pedestal reclined a beautiful Sphinx.
“What dost thou seek ?” said the Sphinx.
“My possession,” replied Fable.
“Whence comest thou hither ?”
“From olden times.”
“Thou art yet a child.”
“And will be a child forever.”
“Who wilt assist thee ?”
“I will assist myself. Where are my sisters ?” asked Fable.
“Everywhere, and yet nowhere,” answered the Sphinx.
“Dost thou know me ?”
“Not as yet.”
“Where is Love ?”
“In the imagination.”
“And Sophia ?”
The Sphinx murmured inaudibly to itself, and rustled its wings.
“Sophia and Love !” cried Fable triumphantly, and passed the door. She stepped into an immense cave, and joyfully reached the aged sisters, who were pursuing their wonderful occupation, by the poor light of a dimly burning lamp. They seemed not to notice their little guest, who busily hovered around them with artless caresses. At last one of them with a crabbed face roughly rebuked her.
“What wouldst thou here, idler ? Who has admitted thee ? Thy childish steps disturb the quiet flame. The oil is burning to waste. Canst thou not be seated, and occupy thyself useful ?”
“Beautiful aunt,” said Fable, “I am no idler. But I cannot help laughing at your door-keeper. She would have taken me to her breast ; but seemed to have eaten too much to rise. Let me sit before the door, and give me something to spin. I cannot see well here; and when I am spinning I must be suffered to sing and talk, which might disturb your serious cogitations.”
“Thou shalt not go outside ; but through a cleft of the rock a beam from the upper world pierces into a side-chamber, there thou mayest spin if thou knowest how. Here lie great heaps of old ends, spin them together. But have a care ; for if thou spin lazily or break the threads, they will wind round and choke thee.”
The old woman laughed maliciously and resumed her labor. Fable gathered up an armful of the threads, took distaff and spindle, and tripped singing into the chamber. She looked out through the cleft, and saw the constellation of Phoenix. Rejoicing at the happy omen, she began to spin industriously, leaving the chamber door ajar, and sang in subdued tones :
Within your cells awaken,
Children of olden time ;
Be every bed forsaken,
The morn begins to climb.
Your threadlets I am weaving
Into a single thread :
In one life be ye cleaving,–
The times of strife are sped.
Each one in all is living,
And all in each beside ;
One heart its pulses giving.
From one impelling tide.
Yet spirits only are ye.
But dream and witchery.
Into the cavern fare ye,
And vex the holy Three.
The spindle turned with incredible velocity between her little feet, while she twisted the thread with both her hands. During the song, innumerable little lights became visible, which passed through the chink of the door, and spread through the cave in hideous masks. The elders continued spinning gloomily, and in expectation of the cries of distress of little Fable. But how terrified were they when a horrible nose appeared over their shoulders, and when upon looking around they beheld the whole cave filled with fearful forms, engaged in a thousand fantastic tricks. They shrunk together, howled with frightful voices, and would have turned to stone through fear, had not the scribe entered the cave bearing with him a mandrake root. The lights concealed themselves in the rocky cleft, and the cave became entirely illuminated, while the black lamp was extinguished, having been overturned in the confusion. The old hags were glad when they heard the scribe approaching ; but were full of wrath against the little Fable. They called her forth, rebuked her terribly, and forbade her spinning longer. The scribe smiled grimly ; because he supposed that now the little Fable was in his power, and said,
“It is good that thou art here, and art kept employed. I hope that thou receivest thy share of punishment. Thy good spirit has guided me hither. I wish thee a long life and many pleasures.”
“I thank thee for thy good will,” said Fable ; “lo, what a good age is approaching thee. The hourglass and sickle only are wanting to make thee like in looks to the brother of my beautiful aunts. If thou needest quills, only pluck a handful of soft down from their cheeks.”
The scribe threatened to attack her. She smiled and said,
“If thy beautiful locks and spiritual eyes are dear to thee, beware ! Think of my nails, thou hast not much more to lose.”
He turned with stifled rage towards the old women, who were rubbing their eyes, and searching for their distaffs. They could not find them because the lamp was extinguished ; but they vented their rage against Fable.
“Do let her go,” said he spitefully, “that she may catch tarantulas to prepare your oil. I will tell you for your consolation that Eros is restlessly on the wing, and by his industry will keep your scissors busy. His mother, who has so often compelled you to spin the lengthened threads, will become a prey to the flames to-morrow.”
He laughed with joy, when he saw that Fable wept at this news, and giving a piece of the root to the old people, departed chuckling. The sisters, though supplied with oil, angrily ordered Fable to go in search of tarantulas, and Fable hastened away. She pretended to open the door, slammed it noisily, and crept stealthily to the back of the cave, where a ladder was hanging down. She ascended quickly, and soon came to an aperture, which opened into the apartment of Arcturus.
The king sat surrounded by his counsellors when Fable appeared. The Northern Crown adorned his head. He held the lily in his left hand, the balance in his right. The eagle and the lion sat at his feet.
“Monarch,” said Fable, bending reverently before him, “Hail to thine eternal throne ! Joyful news for thy wounded heart ! An early return of wisdom ! Awakening to eternal peace ! Rest to the restless love ! Glorification of the heart ! Life to antiquity and form to the future !”
The king touched her open forehead with the lily, “Whatever thou demandest shall be granted thee.”
“Three times shall I petition, and when I come the fourth time. Love will be before the door. Now give me the lyre.”
“Eridanus,” cried the king, “bring the lyre hither.”
Eridanus streamed forth murmuring from his concealment, and Fable snatched the lyre from his boiling flood.
Fable played a few prophetic strains. She sipped from the cup which the king ordered to be handed her, and hastened away with many thanks. She glided with a sweet, elastic motion over the icy sea, drawing joyful music from the strings.
The ice resounded melodiously beneath her step. She fancied the voices of the rocks of sorrow were the voices of her children seeking her, and she answered in a thousand echoes.
Fable soon reached the shore. She met her mother who appeared wasted and pale ; she had grown thin and sad, and her noble features revealed the traces of a hopeless sorrow and of touching constancy.
“What has happened to thee, dear mother ?” asked Fable ; “thou seemest to me entirely changed ; I should not know thee except by internal signs. I hoped once more to refresh myself at thy breast ; I have pined after thee for a long time.”
Ginnistan caressed her tenderly, and became calm and serene.
“I thought from the first,” said she, “that the scribe would not take thee captive. It refreshes me to see thee. Poor and pinched are my affairs now; but I console myself with hoping that it will soon end. Perhaps I am about to have a moment of rest. Eros is near; and when he sees thee and thou speakest with him, he may tarry some time. In the mean time come to my bosom. I will give thee what I have.”
She took Fable upon her lap, proffered her breast, and while smiling upon the little one who was enjoying her feast, continued, “I am myself the cause that Eros has become so wild and inconstant. But yet I repent it not, for those hours have made me immortal. I believe that his fiery caresses have strangely transformed him. Long, silver-white wings covered his glittering shoulders, and the charming fulness of his form. The strength, which swelling forth had so suddenly changed him from a youth to a man, seemed entirely to have withdrawn into his wings, and he had become again a boy. The silent glow of his face became like the dazzling fire of a will-o’-the-wisp, his holy seriousness had changed to dissembled roguishness, the significant calm to childish irresolution, the noble carriage to a droll agility. I felt irresistibly attracted to the wanton boy by an ardent passion, and suffered with pain his sneering scorn, and his indifference to my most touching prayers. I perceived that my form was changed. My careless serenity had fled, and its place filled with sorrowful anxiety and shrinking timidity. I would have hidden myself with Eros from all eyes. I had not the heart to meet his offending eye, and was overwhelmed with shame and humility. I had no thoughts but for him ; and would have given my life to free him from his wantonness. Deeply as he had hurt my feelings, I was compelled to worship him.
“Since the time when he discovered himself and escaped me, I have continually been in pursuit of him, though I have conjured him touchingly and with hot tears to remain with me. He seems really intent on persecuting me. As often as I reach him, he flies away again. On every side his bow deals destruction. I have nought to do but to console the unhappy, and yet I myself need consolation. The voices of those who call me point out to me his path, and their mournful complaints, when I am compelled to leave them, deeply cut my heart. The scribe pursues us in a terrible rage, and revenges himself upon the poor wounded ones. The fruit of that mysterious night was a multitude of strange children, who look like their grandfather, and are named after him. Being winged like their father, they ever accompany him, to torment the poor ones whom his arrow wounds. But there comes the joyous procession. I must away. Farewell, sweet child. His presence excites my passion. Be happy in thy designs.”
Eros passed on without Ginnistan, who hastened near him, beseeching but one look of tenderness. But he turned kindly towards Fable, and his little companions danced joyously around her. Fable was glad to see her foster-brother again, and sang a merry song to her lyre. Eros seemed as if desiring to recall some recollections of the past, and let fall his bow upon the ground. Ginnistan could now embrace him, and he suffered her tender caresses. At last Eros began to nod ; he clung to Ginnistan’s bosom and fell asleep, spreading over her his wings. The weary Ginnistan full of rejoicing turned not her eye from the graceful sleeper. During the song, tarantulas came forth from all sides, which drew a shining net over the blades of grass, and with sprightly movements accompanied the music upon the threads. Fable now consoled her mother, and promised to her speedy assistance. From the rocks fell back the soft echo of the music, and lulled the sleeper. From the carefully preserved vessel Ginnistan sprinkled some drops into the air, and the most delightful dreams descended upon them. Fable took the vessel and continued her journey. Her strings never were at rest, and the tarantulas followed the enchanting sounds upon their fast-woven threads.
She soon saw from afar the lofty flame of a funeral pile, which rose high above the green forest. Mournfully she gazed towards heaven ; yet rejoiced when she saw Sophia’s blue veil which was waving over the earth, forever covering the unsightly tomb. The sun stood in heaven, fiery-red with rage. The powerful flame imbibed its stolen light ; and the more fiercely the sun strove to preserve itself, ever more pale and spotted it became. The flame grew whiter and more intense, as the sun faded. It attracted the light more and more strongly ; the glory around the star of day was soon consumed, and it stood there a pale, glimmering disk, every new agitation of spite and rage aiding the escape of the flying light-waves. Finally, nought of the sun remained but a black, exhausted dross, which fell into the sea. The splendor of the flame was beyond description. It slowly ascended, and bore towards the North. Fable entered the court, which was desolate; the house had fallen. Briars were growing in the crevices of the window frames, and vermin of every kind were creeping about on the broken staircase. She heard a terrible noise in the chamber ; the scribe and his associates had been devoting her mother to the flames, but had been greatly terrified by the sudden destruction of the sun.
They had in vain struggled to extinguish the flame, and had not escaped unhurt. They vented their pain and anxiety in fearful curses and wailings. But more terrified were they, when Fable entered the chamber, and rushed upon them with a furious cry, letting her anger loose upon them. She stepped behind the cradle, and her pursuers rushed madly into the web of the tarantulas, which revenged themselves by a thousand wounds. The whole crowd commenced a frantic dance, to which Fable played a merry tune. With much laughter at their ludicrous performances, she approached the fragments of the altar, and cleared them away, in order to find the hidden staircase, which she descended with her train of tarantulas.
The Sphinx asked, “what comes more suddenly than the lightning ?”
“Revenge,” said Fable.
“What is most transient ?”
“Who knows the world ?”
“He who knows himself.”
“What is the eternal mystery ?”
"With whom does it rest ?”
The Sphinx bowed herself mournfully, and Fable entered the cave.
“Here I bring you tarantulas,” said she to the old sisters, who again had lighted their lamp and were busily employed. They were overwhelmed with fear, and one of them rushed upon her with the shears to murder her. Unwarily she stepped upon a tarantula, which stung her in the foot. She cried piteously ; the others came to her assistance, and were likewise stung by the irritated reptiles. They could not now attack Fable, and danced wildly about.
“Spin directly for us,” cried they angrily to the little one, “some light dancing dresses. We cannot move in this stiff raiment, and are nearly melted with heat. Thou must soak the thread in spider’s juice that it may not break, and interweave flowers, which have grown in fire ; otherwise thou shalt die.”
“Right willingly,” said Fable, and retired to the side-chamber.
“I will get you three fine large flies,” said she to the spiders, which had fixed their airy web about the ceiling and the walls ; “but you must spin for me immediately three beautiful light dresses. I will bring you directly the flowers which must be worked upon them.”
The spiders were ready and began to weave busily. Fable glided up the ladder, and proceeded to Arcturus.
“Monarch,” said she, “the wicked dance, the good rest. Has the flame arrived ?”
“It has come,” said the King. “Night is passed and the ice melts. My spouse appears in the distance. My enemy is overwhelmed. All things begin to exist. As yet I do not dare to show myself, for I am not alone King. Ask what thou wilt.”
“I need,” said Fable, “some flowers that have grown in fire. I know thou hast a skilful gardener, who understands rearing them.”
“Zinc,” cried the King, “give us flowers.”
The flower gardener stepped from the ranks, bringing at vessel full of fire, and sowed shining seeds therein. Soon flowers sprang up. Fable gathered them in her apron, and returned. The spiders had been industrious, and nothing more was needed but to attach the flowers, which they immediately began to do with much taste and skill. Fable took good care not to pull off the ends which were yet hanging to the weavers.
She carried the dresses to the wearied dancers, who had sunk down dripping with perspiration, and were taking a moment’s breath after their unwonted exertions. She dextrously undressed the haggard beauties, who were not backward in scolding their little servant, and put on the new dresses, which fitted excellently. While thus employed, she praised the charms and lovely character of her mistresses, who seemed really pleased with her flatteries, and the splendor of their new appearance. Having in the mean time rested themselves, they recommenced their mazy whirl, whilst they deceitfully promised little Fable a long life and great rewards. Fable returned to the chamber, and said to the spiders, “you can now eat in peace the flies which I have brought to your web.”
The spiders were soon impatient at being pulled back and forth by the distracted movements of the dancers, for the ends of the threads were still in them. They therefore ran out and attacked the dancers, who would have defended themselves with the shears, had not Fable quietly removed them. They therefore submitted to their hungry companions ; who for a long time had not tasted so rich a feast, and who sucked them to the marrow. Fable looked out from the cleft in the rock, and saw Perseus with his great shield of iron. The shears flew to it, and Fable asked him to trim with them the wings of Eros, and then with his shield to immortalize the sisters, and finish the great work.
She now left the subterraneous kingdom, and flew rejoicing to Arcturus’s palace.
“The flax is spun. The lifeless are again unsouled. The living will govern, the dead will shape and use. The Inmost is revealed, and the Outermost is hidden. The curtain will soon be lifted, and the play commence. Once more I petition thee ; then will I spin days of eternity.”
“Happy child,” cried the monarch with emotion, “thou art our deliverer.”
“I am only Sophia’s god-daughter,” said the little one. “Permit Turmaline, the flower gardener, and Gold to accompany me. I must gather up the ashes of my foster-mother ; the old Bearer must again arise, that the earth may not lie in chaos, but renew her motion.”
The king called all three, and commanded them to accompany the little Fable. The city was light, and in the streets was the bustle of business. The sea broke roaring upon the high cliff, and Fable went over in the king’s chariot with her companions. Turmaline carefully gathered the dispersing ashes. They traversed the earth till they came to the old giant, upon whose shoulders they descended. He seemed lamed by the touch, and could not move a limb. Gold placed a coin in his mouth, and the flower-gardener pushed a dish under his loins. Fable touched his eyes and poured out her vessel upon his forehead. Soon as the water flowed from his eyes into his mouth, and over his body into the dish, a flash of life made all his muscles quiver. He opened his eyes and rose vigorously. Fable jumped up to her companion on the swelling ground, and kindly bade him good morning.
“Art thou again here, dear child ?” said the old man, “thou of whom I have so continually dreamed ? I always thought that thou wouldst appear before the earth and my eyes became too heavy. I have indeed been sleeping long.”
“The earth is again light, as it always was for the good,” said Fable. “Old times are returning. Shortly thou wilt again be among thine old acquaintances. I will spin out for thee joyous days, nor shalt thou want an help-meet. Where are our old guests, the Hesperides ?”
“With Sophia. Their garden will soon bloom again, its golden fruits send forth their odor. They are now busy gathering together the fading plants.”
Fable departed, and hastened to the house. It was entirely in ruins. Ivy was winding round the walls. Tall bushes shaded the ancient court, and the soft moss enwrapt the old steps. She entered the chamber. Sophia stood by the altar which had been rebuilt. Eros was lying at her feet in full armor, more grave and noble than ever. A splendid lustre hung from the ceiling. The floor was paved with variegated stones, describing a great circle around the altar, which was graced with noble and significant figures. Ginnistan bent weeping over a couch, on which the father appeared lying in deep slumber. Her blooming grace was infinitely enhanced by an expression of devotion and love. Fable handed to the holy Sophia, who tenderly embraced her, the urn in which the ashes were gathered.
“Lovely child,” said she, “thy faithfulness and assiduity have earned for thee a place among the stars. Thou hast elected the immortal within thee. Phœnix is thine. Thou wilt be the soul of our life. Now arouse the bridegroom. The herald calls, and Eros shall seek and awaken Freya.”
Fable rejoiced unspeakably at these words. She called her companions Gold and Zinc, and approached the couch. Ginnistan awaited full of expectation the issue of her enterprise. Gold melted coin, and filled with a glittering flood the space in which the father was lying. Zinc wound a chain around Ginnistan’s bosom. The body floated upon the trembling waves. “Bow thyself, dear mother,” said Fable, “and lay thy hand upon the heart of thy beloved.”
Ginnistan bowed. She saw her image many times reflected. The chain touched the flood, her hand his heart ; he awoke and drew the enraptured bride to his bosom. The metal became a clear and liquid mirror. The father arose ; his eyes flashed lightning ; and though his shape was speakingly beautiful, yet his whole frame appeared a highly susceptible fluid, which betrayed every affection in manifold and enchanting undulations.
The happy pair approached Sophia, who pronounced the words of consecration upon them, and charged them faithfully to consult the mirror, which reflected everything, in its real shape, destroyed every delusion, and ever retained the primeval type of things. She now took the urn, and shook the ashes into a bowl upon the altar. A soft bubbling announced the dissolution, and a gentle wind waved the garments and locks of the bystanders. Sophia handed the bowl to Eros, who proffered it to the others. All tasted the divine draught, and received with unspeakable joy the Mother’s friendly greeting in their soul of souls. She appeared to each one of them, and her mysterious presence seemed to transfigure all.
Their expectations were fulfilled and surpassed. All perceived what they had wanted, and the chamber became an abode of the blessed.
Sophia said, “the great secret is revealed to all, and remains forever unfathomable. Out of pain is the new world born, and the ashes are dissolved into tears for a draught of eternal life. The heavenly mother dwells in all, that every child may be born immortal. Do you not feel the sweet birth in the beating of your heart ?”
She poured from the bowl the remainder upon the altar. The earth trembled to its centre. Sophia said, “Eros, hasten with thy sister to thy beloved. Soon shall ye see me again.”
Fable and Eros quickly departed with their train. Then was scattered over, the earth a mighty spring. Everything arose and stirred with life. The earth floated farther beneath the veil. The moon and the clouds were trailing with joyous tumult towards the North. The king’s castle beamed with a lordly splendor over the sea, and upon its battlements stood the king in full majesty with all his suite. On every side they saw dust-whirls, in which familiar shapes seemed represented. Numerous bands of young men and maidens appeared hastening to the castle, whom they welcomed with exaltation. Upon many a hill sat happy couples but just awakened, in long-lost embraces ; and they thought the new world was a dream, nor could they cease assuring themselves of its reality.
Flowers and trees sprang up in verdant vigor. All things seemed inspired. All spoke and sang. Fable saluted on all sides her old acquaintances. With friendly greeting animals approached awakened men. The plants welcomed them with fruits and odor, and arrayed themselves most tastefully. No weight lay longer on any human bosom, and all burdens became the solid ground on which men trod. They came to the sea. A ship of polished steel lay fastened to the shore. They stepped aboard, and cast off the rope. The prow turned to the north, and the ship cleaved the amorous waves as if on pinions, The sighing sedge ceased its murmur, as it glides gently to the shore. They hastened up the broad stairs. Love admired the royal city and its opulence. In the court the living fountain was sparkling ; the grove swayed to and fro in sweetest tones, and a wondrous life seemed to gush and thrive in its swelling foliage, its twinkling fruits and blossoms. The old hero received them at the door of the palace.
“Venerable man,” said Fable, “Eros needs thy sword. Gold has given him a chain, one end of which reaches down to the sea, the other encircles his breast. Take it in thy hand, and lead us to the hall where the princess rests.” Eros took the sword from the hand of the old man, pressed the handle to his breast, and pointed the blade before him. The folding doors of the hall flew open, and enraptured Eros approached the slumbering Freya. Suddenly a mighty shock was felt. A bright spark sped from the princess to the sword, the sword and the chain were illumined ; the hero supported the little Fable who was almost sinking. The crest of Eros waved on high. “Throw away thy sword,” exclaimed Fable, “and awake thy beloved.”
Eros dropped the sword, flew to the princess and kissed her sweet lips vehemently. She opened her full, dark eyes, and recognised the loved one. A long kiss sealed their eternal alliance.
The king descended from the dome, hand in hand with Sophia. The stars and the spirits of nature followed in glittering ranks. A day unspeakably serene filled the hall, the palace, the city, and the sky. An innumerable multitude poured into the spacious, royal hall, and with silent devotion saw the lovers kneel before the king and the queen, who solemnly blessed them. The king took the diadem from his head, and bound it round the golden locks of Eros, The old hero relieved him of his armor, and the king threw his mantle around him. Then he gave him the lily from his left hand, and Sophia fastened a costly bracelet around the clasped hands of the lovers, and placed her crown upon the brown locks of Freya.
“Hail to our ancient rulers !” exclaimed the people. “They have always dwelt among us, and we have not known them ! All hail ! They will ever rule over us. Bless us also !”
Sophia said to the new queen, “Throw the bracelet of your alliance into the air, that the people and world may remain devoted to you.” The bracelet dissolved in the air, and light halos were soon seen around every head; and a shining band encircled city, sea, and earth, which were celebrating an eternal Spring-festival. Perseus entered, bearing a spindle and a little basket. He carried the latter to the new king.
“Here,” said he, “are the remains of thine enemies.”
A stone slab chequered with white and black squares lay in the basket, with a number of figures of alabaster and black marble.
“It is the game of chess,” said Sophia ; “all war is confined to this slab and to these figures. It is a memento of the olden, mournful times.”
Perseus turned to Fable and gave her the spindle. “In thy hands shall this spindle make us eternally rejoice, and out of thyself shalt thou spin an indissoluble, golden thread.”
Phoenix flew with melodious rustling to her feet, and spread his wings before
her ; she placed herself upon them, and hovered over the throne, without again descending. She sang a heavenly song and began to spin, whilst the thread seemed to wind forth from her breast. The people fell into new raptures, and
all eyes were fastened on the lovely child. New shouts of exultation came from the door.
The old Moon entered with her wonderful court, and behind her the people bore in triumph Ginnistan and her bridegroom. Garlands of flowers were wound around them; The royal family received them with the most hearty tenderness, and the new royal pair proclaimed them their viceregents upon earth.
“Grant me,” said the Moon, “the Kingdom of the Fates, whose wondrous mansions have arisen from the earth, even in the court of the palace. I will delight you therein with spectacles, in which the little Fable will assist me.”
The king granted the prayer ; the little Fable nodded pleasantly, and the people rejoiced at the novel and entertaining pastime. The Hesperides congratulated them upon the new accession, and prayed that their garden might be protected. The king gave them welcome ; and so followed joyful events in rapid succession. In the mean while, the throne had imperceptibly changed to a splendid marriage-bed, over which Phœnix and the little Fable were hovering in the air. Three Caryatides of dark porphyry supported the head, while its foot rested upon a Sphinx of basalt. The king embraced his blushing bride. The people followed his example, and kissed each other. Nothing was heard but tender names and a noise of kisses.
At length Sophia said, “The Mother is among us. Her presence will render us eternally happy. Follow us into our dwelling. In the temple will we dwell forever, and treasure up the secret of the world.”
Fable spun diligently, and sang with a clear voice :
Established is Eternity’s domain,
In Love and Gladness melts the strifeful pain ;
The tedious dream of grief returneth never ;
Priestess of hearts Sophia is forever.
* * * * *
Living Waters Wellness note : This fairy tale is highly recommended for group reading and discussion. Recommended action : copy/paste text to a Word or other document for copying/distribution to such a group (it is copied here from a source free of copyright). Two sided copies recommended to save our dear trees !
The fairy tale Eros and Fable is taken from "Henry von Ofterdingen" by Novalis, where it appears as Chapter IX. Thanks to The Gutenberg Project for
making this entire book available on their website !
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