E. Strauss

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E. Strauss
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Dec 31, 1891
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It has been said by a well-known German novelist of our day in one of his most recent works that as we approach our fiftieth year our hearts nearly always resemble a grave-yard, thronged with memories, a far greater share of our affection belonging by that time to those who are already at rest beneath the earth than may be claimed by those still left here to wander with us on its surface. This remark of Rosegger’s is above all true of such of us as have been accustomed from our earliest youth to stand mourning beside new-made graves, and see our nearest and dearest prematurely carried off in Death’s relentless grasp.

It is in this cemetery of mine, sacred to the memory of all whom I have loved and lost, that I would linger this day, holding commune as is my wont with my beloved dead; but for once I would not that my pilgrimage were altogether a solitary one. As in thought I stand before each grave in turn, gazing with the spirit’s eyes on the dear form so clearly recognisable under the flowers I have strewn above it, I would fain retrace for others than myself every line of the features I know so well, that all you to whom I speak may learn to know and love them also. Even the best are all too soon forgotten in this busy, restless world, but it may be that my words, coming from the depths of my heart, will strike a responsive chord in the hearts of those who read them, and kindling in their breasts a feeling like my own, will keep alive for a little space these figures I call back from the shadowy Past. My aim will be achieved if I can but convey to other souls something of the impression my own received from the noble and beautiful lives with whom I have come in contact, and which my pen will now strive with the utmost fidelity to portray.

I am about, then, to throw open the sanctuary I have so long jealously guarded from the world—the private chapel within whose niches my Penates are enshrined. Those to whom I pay a constant tribute of love and gratitude were either the idols of my early youth or the friends of riper years. I shall try to show them as they appeared to me on earth, in every varying aspect, according to season and circumstance, and to the changes of my own mood and habits of thought during the different stages of my mental development. To my youthful enthusiasm many of them became types of perfection, in whom I could discern no human weakness—to have known them was my pride and happiness. All that was best in myself I attributed to their influence, and their presence has never ceased to dwell with me since they have been removed to higher spheres. They, on whose lips I hung with such rapt attention, drinking in every word that fell from them, very possibly paid but small heed to the silent, earnest-eyed child, nor guessed how fondly those lessons of wisdom and holiness were being treasured up in that little heart. For to none of us is it ever given to know the precise hour in which our own soul has spoken most clearly and forcibly to another soul, nor to fathom the full import of the message with which we are entrusted towards our brethren. We cast our bread upon the waters of life, not knowing its destination, and the seed we scatter with a lavish hand is borne in all directions by the winds to take root it may be in the soil we should have deemed least fit for culture. Children often observe more keenly and reflect more thoughtfully than their elders would give them credit for. We need but look back each of us to our own childhood, in order rightly to understand how deep and lasting are the impressions then received, and how they may colour the whole after-current of our lives. Now, as I recall those days, I feel myself, as it were, suddenly transported into the midst of an enchanted garden, among whose rare and luxuriant blossoms I would fain gather together the fairest specimens for a garland. But they spring up around me in such wild profusion, and their beauty is so radiant, their colours so rich, their fragrance so intense, that I am embarrassed in my choice, and only stretch out my hand timidly and hesitatingly towards them, fearing lest in plucking I should injure the least of these fairest works of Creation. Well, indeed, may I feel diffident as to my own skill in selecting and grouping them aright.

THESE ever wakeful eyes are closed. They saw

Such grief, that they could see no more. The heart—

That quick'ning pulse of nations—could not bear

Another throb of pain, and could not hear

Another cry of tortur'd motherhood.

Those uncomplaining lips, they sob no more

The soundless sobs of dark and burning tears,

That none have seen; they smile no more, to breathe

A mother's comfort into aching hearts.

The patriarchal Queen, the monument

Of touching widowhood, of endless love,

And childlike purity—she sleeps. This night

Is watchful not. The restless hand, that slave

To duty, to a mastermind, to wisdom

That fathom'd history and saw beyond

The times, lies still in marble whiteness. Love

So great, so faithful, unforgetting and

Unselfish—must it sleep? Or will that veil,

That widow's veil unfold, and spread into

The dovelike wings, that long were wont to hover

In anxious care about her world-wide nest,

And now will soar and sing, as harpchords sing,

Whilst in their upward flight they breast the wind

Of Destiny. No rest for her, no tomb,

Nor ashes! Light eternal! Hymns of joy!

No silence now for her, who, ever silent,

Above misfortunes' storms and thund'ring billows,

Would stand with clear and fearless brow, so calm,

That men drew strength from out those dauntless eyes,

And quiet from that hotly beating heart,

Kept still by stern command and unbent will

Beneath those tight shut lips. Not ashes, where

A beacon e'er will burn, a fire, like

The Altar's Soma, for the strong, the weak,

The true, the brave, and for the quailing. No,

Not ashes, but a light, that o'er the times

Will shed a gentle ray, and show the haven,

When all the world, stormshaken, rudderless, will pray:

If but her century would shine again!

Oh, Lord! Why hast thou ta'en thy peaceful Queen? 

Life was a radiant maiden, the daughter of the Sun, endowed with all the charm and grace, all the power and happiness, which only such a mother could give to her child. Her hairs were sunbeams, her eyes gleaming stars. Flowers dropped from her hands, seeds sprang into life from beneath her footsteps; sweet scents and songs of birds floated around her; from her lips uncounted songs welled forth. Sounds like the gurgling of a thousand streams were heard from out her garments, and yet they were only made of flower petals and covered with tender webs, in which numberless dew-drops twinkled. Glow-worms encircled the royal brow like a diadem; birds bore her train over rough paths. When her foot touched thorns they grew green and blossomed; when she laid her soft hand upon the bare rock it became covered with moss and fern. The Sun had bestowed on her glorious child power over all things, and as companions and playfellows she had given to her Happiness and Love. In those days there was much joy and blessedness on earth, and no pen can recount, no pencil paint, how glorious it all was. It was just one eternal May day, and the august mother looked down from afar upon her daughter's glad games, and blessed the earth upon which her child was so happy.

But deep down in the earth there lived an evil spirit called Strife. The Kobolds brought him news of all the beauty that was outside, and of the young sovereign who reigned so proudly and lovingly over the whole world, and who played so sweetly with Happiness and Love. First he was angry at the tidings, for he desired to be sole ruler of all things; but after a while a great curiosity took hold of him—and something beside, something hot and wild, he knew not himself what. Only he wanted to get outside at all costs. So he began to move a mighty rock from the center of the earth, and he cast it up on high. Then he kindled a great fire, so that all the rocks and the metals above him melted and poured their glowing, scorching streams over the paradise of earth. And in the midst of these flames Strife rose up, clothed in dazzling armor, with flowing locks and contracted brows. In his hands he held a great block of stone, and he peered around him with his piercing black eyes, seeking what he should destroy first. But of a sudden he let fall the rock, crossed his arms over his breast, and stared down upon the garden of earth, like one in a dream. He stood thus a long, long while, gazing down, silent with wonder, like to a statue. Suddenly he struck his brow with his fist.

There is in Roumania a group of mountains named the Bucegi-group. Among these the two peaks of Jipi tower aloft, close together, as though gazing defiantly at one another, and between them the Urlatoare, or “roaring stream,” dashes down, a cloud-like waterfall, into the valley below, and storms onward over every barrier towards the town of Prahova.

They say that long, long ago the Jipi were twin-brothers, who loved each other so well that one could not live without the other, or eat a mouthful of bread the other did not share; nay, more—that when one was asked a question, the other answered it, and that when one did himself some hurt, the other wept and would not be comforted. They were as fair as morning and evening, as slender and straight as lances, as swift as arrows, as strong as young bears. The mother who had borne them looked upon them with pride and joy, and would say, as she stroked their curly heads, “Andrei and Mirea, my beautiful sons, may your fame become so great that even the stones shall discourse of it.”

They were of noble blood, and dwelt in a castle upon a lofty crag, where they lorded it as though the whole world belonged to them. They often jestingly declared that they should have to wed one wife only between them, since they were sure never to find two quite alike, and that the best plan would be for them never to wed at all. But of this their mother would not hear, for she longed to cradle her sons’ sons upon her knee and sing them lullabies.

She would often sing the ancient lays of their country to her boys, of an evening, while she sat spinning and the noble lads hung fondly about her. Andrei would kneel at her feet, while Mirea leant upon the arm of her chair, and drew in the sweet scent of the heavy, dark braids that shone lustrous through her delicate white veil.

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