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Poems of Goethe

THE SEVEN SLEEPERS.

Six among the courtiers favour'd
Fly before the Caesar's fury,
Who would as a god be worshipp'd,
Though in truth no god appearing,
For a fly prevents him ever
From enjoying food at table.
Though with fans his servants scare it,
They the fly can never banish.
It torments him, stings, and troubles,
And the festal board perplexes,
Then returning like the herald
Of the olden crafty Fly-God.
"What!"--the striplings say together--
"Shall a fly a god embarrass?

Shall a god drink, eat at table,
Like us mortals? No, the Only,
Who the sun and moon created,
And the glowing stars arch'd o'er us,
He is God,--we'll fly!"--The gentle,
Lightly shod, and dainty striplings
Did a shepherd meet, and hide them,
With himself, within a cavern.

And the sheep-dog will not leave them,--
Scared away, his foot all-mangled,
To his master still he presses,
And he joins the hidden party,
Joins the favorites of slumber.

And the prince, whom they had fled from,
Fondly-furious, thinks of vengeance,
And, discarding sword and fire,
Has them walled-up in the cavern,
Walled-up fast with bricks and mortar.

But the others slumber ever,
And the Angel, their protector,
Gives before God's throne this notice
"To the right and left alternate
Have I ever cared to turn them,
That their fair and youthful members
Be not by the mould-damp injured;
Clefts within the rocks I open'd,
That the sun may, rising, setting,
Keep their cheeks in youthful freshness."
So they lie there, bless'd by Heaven.
And, with forepaws sound and scatheless,
Sleeps the dog in gentle slumber.

Years come round, and years fly onward,
And the youths at length awaken,
And the wall, which now had moldered,
From its very age has fallen.
And Jamblika says,--whose beauty
Far exceedeth all the others,--
When the fearful shepherd lingers:--
"I will run, and food procure you,
Life and piece of gold I'll wager!"--
Ephebus had many a year now
Own'd the teaching of the Prophet
Jesus (Peace be with the Good One!)

And he ran, and at the gateway
Were the warders and the others.
Yet he to the nearest baker's,
Seeking bread, went swiftly onwards.--
"Rogue!" thus cried the baker--"hast thou,
Youth, a treasure, then, discover'd?
Give me,--for the gold betrays thee,--
Give me half, to keep thy secret!"--

And they quarrel.--To the monarch
Comes the matter; and the monarch
Fain would halve it, like the baker.

Now the miracle is proven
Slowly by a hundred tokens.
He can e'en his right establish
To the palace he erected,
For a pillar, when pierced open.

Leads to wealth he said 'twould lead to.
Soon are gather'd there whole races,
Their relationship to show him.
And as great-grandfather, nobly
Stands Jamblika's youthful figure.

As of ancestors, he hears them,
Speaking of his son and grandsons.
His great-grandsons stand around him,
Like a race of valiant mortals,
Him to honour,--him, the youngest.
And one token on another
Rises up, the proof completing;
The identity is proven
Of himself, and of his comrades.

Now returns he to the cavern,
With him go both king and people.--
Neither to the king nor people
E'er returns that chosen mortal;
For the Seven, who for ages--
Eight was, with the dog, their number--
Had from all the world been sunder'd,
Gabriel's mysterious power,
To the will of God obedient,
Hath to Paradise conducted,--
And the cave was closed for ever.

                                1814-15.