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Burger's Lenora is acknowledged, by all who are familiar with German poetry, to be the masterpiece of ballads. No composition of the kind in the German, or perhaps any other language, can be compared with it for effect. It is rather remarkable that the works of a poet who was capable of producing it, should be so scanty, and generally of so little value. With the exception of the Wild Huntsman (Wilde Jaeger), another ballad of great power, though not equal to the Lenora, the contents of his little voluine are almost wholly destitute of interest.
There is a fine translation of the Wild Huntsman by Sir Walter Scott. The Lenora has been several times attempted, but without much success. The poem, which is published in Sir Walter's works under the title of William and Helen, though founded upon that of Burger, can hardly be said with propriety to be a translation, or even an imitation of it. It was written by Scott after having heard a friend relate the substance of the ballad, as he had heard it read by a lady in the translation of Mr. Taylor, at the house of Dugald Stewart. That, with so little knowledge of the original, Scott should have approached it as nearly as he did in William and Helen, is a fact which does credit to his memory as well as to that of his relutor. There are, however, great deviations, not only in the language, but in the narration; and the poem, in general, has but little merit.
Among other alterations, Sir Walter has changed the time to that of the Crusades, and the scene from the common walks of life to those of knighthood and romance. This change, as Mr. J. Q. Adams has justly remarked in a letter to the late Dr. Follen, injures the effect. It was a part of the author's plan to give an air of reality to his wild machinery, by placing it among ordinary characters and incidents. For the same reason he makes the langunge, which is exceedingly bold, striking, and poetical, at the same time colloquial and familiar. I have attempted, to the extent of my limited powers, to combine the same classes of characteristics, and also to bring out more distinctly than is done in some of the other translations, the sneering, Mephistopheles tone of the spectre.
At the first sight of dawning light
Lenora left her bed :
To me, or art thou dead ?"
Al length, the king and empress queen,
Quite surfeited with strife,
And lead a quiet life;
And wheresoe'er they took their way,
To meet the joyous rout,
From every village out.
As on they journeyed, troop by troop,
She sought through all the train,
And questioned all in vain.
And kiss'd her o'er and o'er-
What ails my poor Lenore ?"
“Nay, dearest daughter! say not so,
Bui rather pray for grace:
And full of tenderness.”
“Oh, dearest child! thy talk is wild,
And thou art mad with grief; Partake the blessed sacrament,
And that will bring relief.” “ No, mother! no: it will not so: No sacrament will cure my wo, Unless the sacramental bread Could raise my William from the dead."
By some bright Magyar dame,
And found another flame.
“Oh, mother dear! he is not here!
Oh most unhappy morn!
That I had ne'er been born!
“Oh, gracious Father! do not heed
The poor unhappy thing!
She's mad with suffering!
XI. “Oh, what care I for future bliss ?
'Tis all an idle dream!
And hell away from him !
Thus, in her transports of despair,
She ventured to deny
The ways of the Most High;
When, hark ! a horseman, tramp! tramp! tramp!
Comes prancing to the door,
Upon the step before.
Ho! lady bright! awake!
And weep for William's sake ?"
“We mount for flight, at dead of night;
Our courser's fleet and black;
And take you with me back.”
“Blow high or low! blow sleet or snow !
Blow tempest, rack or rain!
I must not here remain.
“What, William !-ride a hundred leagues
Before the crow of cock ? Already by our village chimes
"Tis past eleven o'clock !"“Past fiddle-stick !-why let it strike! We ride, I tell you, specire-like! I'll bring thee, sweetheart,-never dread !By morning to our marriage bed.”
“Sweet William, say!-this marriage bed !
What is it you intend ?"
Across at either end."
Up sprang that lovely maiden then
Upon the steed behind,
The darling rider twined.
The horse and horseman pant for breath;
On either side, as on they ride,
Away the houses fly;
The moon is bright on high.
What sound is there upon the air ?
The crows are on the wing;
And, lo! the mourners bring
“ Enough! enough of this vile stuff!
I've other spori in quest!
And bid ye to ihe feast.
The chant is done ;--the bier is gone;
And, at the horseman's call,
They follow, one and all.
On either side, as on they ride,
The hills, and everything, Trees, houses, cities, villages,
Are all upon the wing. “Art frightened, love?-Down dale! up
dike! Hurra! we go it, spectre-like! Dost fear ibe specires, sweetheart?" "No! But, dearest William ! talk not so!"
“Stay! stay! I see the gallows tree;
And footing it about,
An airy rabble rout.
The dance is up; the rabble troop
Come after with a rush !
Or through the hazel-bush.
As on they ride, on either side,
The world is hurrying past; Moon, stars, and planets in the sky,
Are hurrying on as fast. “ Art frighiened, love ?-Down dale! up
dike! Hurra! we go it, spectre-like! Dost fear the spectres, sweetheart ?” “No! But, dearest William ! talk not so!"