(After the German)
It’s you the fable has in mind!
It’s you the fable has in mind!
The wise men of ancient times have cleverly discovered how, without being rude to people to their faces, one could tell them the truth. For they held up to them a mysterious mirror in which all kinds of beasts and remarkable things came into view and produced a spectacle that was as amusing as it was edifying. This they called a fable, and whatever stupid or wise things the beasts happened to perform there, humans could transfer these to themselves and thereby realise: It’s you the fable has in mind! In that way, no one could feel vexed. Let us take an example:
There were once two mountains, and on top of each stood a castle. Down in the valley a dog was running, it sniffed the ground ahead of it as if, to allay its hunger, it was in search of a mouse or partridge. Suddenly, from one of the castles the sound of a trumpet rang out, announcing that dinner was ready. The dog immediately hurried up the mountain so as to get a little food too, but when it had only got half way, the trumpet stopped blowing, and a trumpet from the other castle began. Then the dog thought, they’ll have already finished eating by the time I arrive, but over there they are only getting ready to eat at the moment; so it ran down again and up the other mountain. But then the trumpet from the first place started up again, while the other one stopped. The dog ran down again, and up again, and kept on doing this until finally both trumpets fell silent, and the meal was over no matter which place the dog arrived at.
Just guess what the ancient wise men would want to say by means of this fable, and who the fool is that tires himself out running without ever winning, either here or there.
2. The Talisman
A prince and a princess were still on their honeymoon. They felt so exceptionally happy; only one thought worried them, it was this: Will we always be as happy as we are now? For that reason, they wished to own a talisman, by means of which they could protect themselves against every source of discontent in their marriage. They had often heard people speak about a man who lived deep in the forest and who was respected by everyone for his wisdom; in every distressing or troublesome situation he was able to give good counsel. The prince and the princess went to him and told him what weighed so heavily on their minds. When the wise man had heard this, he answered: ‘Travel through all the countries of the world and wherever you meet a truly contented married couple, ask for a small piece of the linen they are wearing, and when you receive it, always carry it with you. That is an effective measure.’
The prince and the princess rode off and soon they heard a knight mentioned who was said to live the happiest of lives with his wife. They came up to the castle, asked them personally if in their marriage they were so exceptionally contented as rumour had it. ‘Yes, indeed!’ was their answer, ‘except for one thing – we have no children!’ So here the talisman was not to be found, and the prince and princess had to continue their travels to find a completely contented married couple.
They then came to a city where they heard of an honest burgher who lived with his wife in the greatest harmony and contentment. They went to him and asked him likewise – if in his marriage he was really as happy as people said. ‘Oh yes, I am!’ the man answered, ‘my wife and I live the best possible life with each other, if only we didn’t have so many children that cause us much sorrow and anxiety!’ – So the talisman could not be found there either, and the prince and princess rode on further through the country, asking everywhere about contented married couples, but no one came forward.
One day, as they were riding past fields and meadows, they noticed – not far from the road – a shepherd who was blowing his shawm with great gusto. At the same time, they saw coming towards him a woman with a child on her arm, holding a little boy by the hand. As soon as the shepherd caught sight of her, he went towards her and took the infant, which he kissed and fondled. The shepherd’s dog went over to the boy, licked his little hand, barked and leapt in the air with joy. Meanwhile the woman put down the pot she had brought with her and said: ‘Husband, come and eat!’ The man sat down and took some of the food, but the first bite he gave to the little child, the second he shared with the boy and the dog. The prince and princess saw and heard all of this, they now approached, spoke to them and said: ‘Aren’t you what people call a happy and contented married couple?’
‘That we are!’ the man replied. ‘God be praised! No prince or princess could be more so than we are!’
‘Then listen,’ the prince said, ‘do us a favour that you will not come to regret. Give us a small piece of the linen you are wearing!’
When so addressed, the shepherd and his wife looked strangely at each other; finally he said: ‘God knows, we would willingly do so, and not just a small piece but the whole shirt and sark entire, had we but such – but we do not own a single thread!’
So the prince and princess had to travel on their mission unaccomplished. At last they grew tired of their futile wanderings and decided to turn homewards. When they happened to pass the wise man’s hut, they scolded him for having given them such bad advice. He was told of their entire journey.
Then the wise man smiled and said: ‘Have you really travelled completely in vain? Are you not returning home rich in experience?’
‘Yes,’ the prince replied, ‘I have experienced that contentment is a rare commodity on this earth!’
After which, the prince gave the princess his hand, they looked at each other with an expression of the most fervent love, and the wise man blessed them and said: ‘In your heart you have found the true talisman! Watch over it with great care, and never in all eternity will the evil spirit of discontent gain a hold over you!’
The old God is still alive
The old God is still alive
It was a Sunday morning. The bright, warm sun was shining into the room; the mild, refreshing air was streaming in through the open window and outside beneath God’s blue sky, where field and meadow stood green and in flower, all the small birds were rejoicing. While everything outside was joy and happiness, inside the house sorrow and misery resided. Even the wife, who was otherwise always of good heart, sat there at her breakfast and gazed down despondently, finally she got up and, without having tasted a bite, dried her eyes and went over towards the door.
And it really seemed as there was a curse upon this house. It was a time of scarcity in the land; trade was doing badly; taxes were becoming more and more oppressive; year by year housekeeping money grew less, and finally the only prospect left was poverty and misery. All of this had for some time depressed the man, who was an industrious and law-abiding citizen; now thinking of the future made him despair utterly, indeed, he even stated frequently that he would do himself a mischief and put an end to this miserable, hopeless life. Nothing helped, neither what his good-humoured wife said, nor the worldly and spiritual consolations of his friends – these only made him all the more taciturn and dismal. It is easy to grasp that his poor wife also ended up by losing heart. Although her melancholy was of a completely different nature, as we shall soon hear.
When the man saw that his wife too was sorrowful and wanted to leave the room, he held her back and said: ‘I will not let you go out before you tell me what’s wrong with you!’
She remained silent a while longer, after which she gave a deep sigh and said: ‘Ah, dear husband, last night I dreamt that the old God was dead, and that all the angels followed him to the grave!’
‘How can you possibility believe or think such utter rubbish!’ the man replied. ‘Don’t you know that God can never die!’
Then the good woman’s face lit up with joy, and as she affectionately pressed both her husband’s hands, she exclaimed: ‘So the old God is still alive, then!’
‘Of course!’ the man answered, ‘Who could possibly doubt it!’
Then she embraced him, looked at him with gracious eyes that gleamed with trust, peace and happiness, while saying: ‘But oh, dead husband! if the old God is still alive, why do we not trust in him and rely on him! he has counted every single hair on our heads, not one strand falls without his willing it, he clothes the lilies in the field, gives the sparrows their food and the ravens their prey!’
At these words the man felt as if scales had fallen from his eyes, and as if all the heavy bands around his heart had been loosened; for the first time in a long while he smiled and thanked his devout, dear wife for the ruse she had used to revive his dead belief in God and called back his trust. Then the sun shone in an even friendlier fashion into the room onto contented human faces, the air wafted even more refreshingly around the smiles on their cheeks, and the birds rejoiced even more loudly in their heartfelt gratitude to God.