Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE OLD WEATHERCOCK: AN IDYLL, by EDUARD FRIEDRICH MORIKE



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THE OLD WEATHERCOCK: AN IDYLL, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: At cleversulzbach in the underland
Last Line: Your hundredth year's already past.
Alternate Author Name(s): Moricke, Eduard Friedrich


AT Cleversulzbach in the Underland
A hundred and thirteen years did I stand
Up on the tower in wind and rain,
An ornament and a weathervane.
Through night and tempest gazing down,
Like a good old cock I watched the town.
The lightning oft my form has grazed,
The frost my scarlet comb o'erglazed,
And many a warm long summer's day,
In times when all seek shade who may,
The scorching sun with rage unslaked
My golden body well has baked.
So in my age all black I'd grown,
My beauteous glint and gleam was gone,
Till I at length, despised by all,
Was lifted from my pedestal.
Ah well! 'tis thus we run our race,
Another now must have my place.
Go strut, and preen, but don't forget
What court the wind will pay you yet!

Farewell, sweet landscape, mount and dell!
Vineyard and forest, fare ye well!
Belovèd tower, the roof's high ridge,
Churchyard and streamlet with its bridge;
Oh fountain, where the cattle throng
And sheep come trooping all day long,
With Hans to urge them on their way
And Eva on the piebald gray!
Ye storks and swallows with your clatter,
And sparrows, how I'll miss your chatter!
For every bit of dirt seems dear
Which o'er my form you used to smear.
Goodby, my worthy friend the pastor,
And you, poor driveling old schoolmaster.
'Tis o'er, what cheered my heart so long.
The sound of organ, bells and song.

So from my lofty perch I crew,
And would have sung much longer too,
When came a crooked devil's minion,
The slater 'twas in my opinion,
Who after many a knock and shake
Detached me wholly from my stake.
My poor old heart was broke at last
When from the roof he pulled me past
The bells which from their station glared
And on my fate in wonder stared,
But vexed themselves no more about me,
Thinking they'd hang as well without me.

Then to the scrap-heap I was brought,
For twopence by the blacksmith bought,
Which as he paid he said 'twas wonder
How much folk wanted for such plunder.
And there at noon of that same day
In grief before his hut I lay.
The time being May, a little tree
Shed snow-white blossoms over me,
While other chickens by the dozen
Unheeding cackled round their cousin.
'Twas then the pastor happened by,
Spoke to the smith, then smiling, "Hi!
And have you come to this, poor cock?
A strange bird, Andrew, for your flock!
He'll hardly do to broil or roast;
For me though, I may fairly boast
Things must go hard if I've no place
For old church servants in hard case.
Bring him along then speedily
And drink a glass of wine with me."

The sooty lout with quick assent
Laughed, picked me up, and off we went.
A little more, and from my throat
Toward heaven I'd sent a joyous note.
Within the manse the strange new guest
Astounded all from most to least;
But soon each face, before afraid,
The glowing light of joy displayed.
Wife, maids and menfolks, girls and boys
Surrounded with a seven-fold noise
The giant rooster in the hall,
Welcoming, looking, handling all.
The man of God with jealous care
Took me himself and climbed the stair
To his own study, while the pack
Came stumbling after at his back.

Within these walls is peace enshrined!
Entering, we left the world behind.
I seemed to breathe a magic air,
Essence of books and learning rare,
Geranium scent and mignonette,
And faint tobacco lingering yet.
(To me of course all this was new.)
An ancient stove I noticed, too,
In the left corner in full view.
Quite like a tower its bulk was raised
Until its peak the ceiling grazed,
With pillared strength and flowery grace,
O most delightful resting-place!
On the top wreath as on a mast
The blacksmith set me firm and fast.

Behold my stove with reverent eyes!
Cathedral-like its noble size;
With store of pictures overwrought,
And rhymes that tell of pious thought.
Of such I learned full many a word,
Would draw them forth for young and old,
When the snow fell and winds blew cold.

Here you may see where on the tile
Stands Bishop Hatto's towered isle,
While rats and mice on every side
Swim through the Rhine's opposing tide.
The armèd grooms in vain wage war,
The host of tails grows more and more,
Till thousands ranged in close array
Leap from the walls on those at bay
And seize the bishop in his room:
An awful death is now his doom;
Devourèd straightway shall he be
To pay the price of perjury.
—There too Belshazzar's banquet shines,
Voluptuous women, costly wines;
But in the amazèd sight of all
The dread hand writes upon the wall.
—Lastly the pictures represent
How Sarah listens in the tent
While God Almighty, come to earth,
Foretells to Abraham the birth
Of Isaac and his seed thereafter.
Sarah cannot restrain her laughter,
Since both are well advanced in years.
God asks when he the laughter hears:
"Doth Sarah laugh then at God's will,
And doubt if this he may fulfil?"
Her indiscretion to recall
She says, "I did not laugh at all."
Which commonly would be a lie;
But God prefers to pass it by,
Since 'tis not done with malice dark,
And she's a lady patriarch.

Now that I'm here, I think with reason
That winter is the fairest season
How smooth the daily current flows
To ev'ry week's belovèd close!
—Just about nine on Friday night,
Sole by the lamp's reposeful light
My master with a mind perplexed
Sets out to choose his Sunday text.
Before the stove a while he stands,
Walks to and fro with twisted hands,
And vainly struggles to determine
The theme on which to thread his sermon.
Now and again amid his doubt
He lifts the window and looks out.
—Oh cooling surge of starlit air,
Pour on my brow your tide so rare!
I see where Verrenberg doth glimmer,
And Shepherds' Knoll with snows a-shimmer.

He sits him down to write at last,
Dips pen and makes the A and O,
Which o'er his "Preface" always go.
I meanwhile from my post on high
Ne'er from my master turn an eye,
Look at him now, with far-off gaze
Pondering, testing every phrase;
The snuffer once he seizes quick
And cleans of soot the flaming wick;
Then oft in deep abstraction, he
Murmurs a sentence audibly,
Which I with outstretched bill peck up
And fill with lore my eager crop.
So do we come by smooth gradation
To where begins the "Application."

"Eleven!" comes the watchman's shout.
My master hears and turns about.
"Bedtime!" He rises, takes the light,
Nor ever hears my shrill "good-night!"

Alone in darkness then I'd be;
That has no terrors, though, for me.
Behind the wainscot sharply picking
I hear a while the death-clock ticking,
I hear the marten vainly scoop
The earth around the chicken-coop.
Along the eaves the night-wind brushes,
And through far trees the tempest rushes—
Bird Wood's the name that forest bears,
Where rude old Winter raves and tears.
Now splits a beech with such a crack
That all the valleys echo it back.
—My goodness! when these sounds I hear
I'm glad a pious stove's so near,
Which warms you so the long hours through
That night seems fraught with blessings too.
—Just now I well might feel afraid,
When thieves and murderers ply their trade;
'Tis lucky, faith, for those who are
Secured from harm by bolt and bar.
How could I call so men would hear me
If some one raised a ladder near me?
When thoughts like this attack my brain
The sweat runs down my back like rain.
At two, thank God! again at three,
A cock-crow rises clear and free,
And with the morning bell at five
My whole heart, now once more alive,
High in my breast with rapture springs,
When finally the watchman sings:
"Arise, good friends, for Jesus' sake,
For bright and fair the day doth break."

Soon after this, an hour at most,
My spurs are growing stiff with frost
When in comes Lisa, hums some snatches,
And rakes the fire until it catches.
Then from below, quite savory too,
I scent the steam of onion stew.
At length my master enters gay,
Fresh for the business of the day.
On Saturday a worthy priest
Should keep his room, his house at least;
Not visit or distract his brain,
Turning his thoughts to things profane.
My master was not tempted so,
But once—don't let it out, you know—
He squandered all his precious wits
Making a titmouse trap for Fritz—
Right here, and talked and had a smoke;
To me, I'll own, it seemed a joke.

The blessed Sabbath now is here.
The church-bells call both far and near,
The organ sounds so loud to me
I think I'm in the sacristy.
There's not a soul in all the house;
I hear a fly, and then a mouse.
The sunlight now the window reaches
And through the cactus stems it stretches,
Fain o'er the walnut desk to glide,
Some ancient cabinet-maker's pride.
There it beholds with searching looks
Concordances and children's books,
On wafer-box and seal it dances
And lights the inkwell with its glances;
Across the sand it strikes its wedge,
Is cut upon the penknife's edge,
Across the armchair freely roams,
Then to the bookcase with its tomes.
There clad in parchment and in leather
The Suabian Fathers stand together:
Andrea, Bengel, Riegers two,
And Oetinger are well in view.
The sun each golden name reads o'er
And with a kiss he gilds yet more.
As Hiller's "Harp" his fingers touch—
Hark! does it ring? It lacks not much.

With that a spider slim and small
Begins upon my frame to crawl,
And, never asking my goodwill,
Suspends his web from neck to bill.
I don't disturb myself a whit,
Just wait and watch him for a bit
For him it is a lucky hap
That I'm disposed to take a nap.—
But tell me now if anywhere
An old church cock might better fare.

A twinge of longing now and then
Will vex, no doubt, the happiest men.
In summer I could wish outside
Upon the dove-cote roof to bide,
With just beneath the garden bright
And stretch of greensward too in sight.
Or else again in winter time,
When, as today, the weather's prime:—
Now I've begun, I'll say it out—
We've got a sleigh here, staunch and stout,
All colored, yellow, black and green;
Just freshly painted, neat and clean;
And on the dashboard proudly strutting
A strange, new-fangled fowl is sitting.
Now if they'd have me fixed up right—
The whole expense would be but slight—
I'd stand there quite as well as he
And none need feel ashamed of me!
—Fool! I reply, accept your fate,
And be not so immoderate.
Perhaps 'twould suit your high behest
If some one, for a common jest,
Would take you, stove and all, away
And set you up there on the sleigh,
With all the family round you too:
Man, woman, child—the whole blest crew!
Old image, what! so shameless yet,
And prone on gauds your mind to set?
Think on your latter end at last!
Your hundredth year's already past.





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