Thursday, 29 March 2012

A poem by the Norwegian writer
Johan Herman Wessel (1742-85)


The smith and the baker

A small town there once was wherein a smith did dwell,
Who when irate turned dangerous as well.
He gained an enemy; (such lie in wait alway,
Myself I’ve none, and may
My reader likewise stay!)
By ill luck they not in the street
But in an inn did meet,
They drank (I too in inns imbibe;
Else to such places don’t subscribe.
None though, dear reader, rest content,
Save those of good repute frequent.)
They drank, then, both,
And after much loud shouting, many an oath,
The smith his foe’s bonce almost split.
So powerful was his clout
That his foe’s lights went out,
Nor have they since relit.

                  At once the smith they did detain.
A surgeon checked the man he’d slain
And wrote he met a violent death.
The killer, questioned, did at once confess.
He hoped his foe in th’other life
Would there forgive their erstwhile strife.
But now the fun starts! On the day
Before the judge shall have his say,
Four citizens up to him went
And of them the most eloquent
Did thus address:

                  “Oh judge most wise!
We know the city’s welfare you most prize;
This welfare though depends upon
Our smith not being dead and gone.
For can his death the dead man bring to life?
We’ll never find so competent a man again,
For whose crime we must pay so cruel a price,
If help he begs in vain.” –
“Consider though, dear friend! The price for life is life.” –
“A baker old and frail lives here.
Whom pox could take within the year.
We’ve two of them, the old one won’t be missed?
Then life’s by life repaid.” –
“Yes,” said the judge to them, “the idea’s quite well-made.
To slow things down I now must strive;
For in a case like this the arguments are rife –
If only I could spare the smith his life!
Farewell, good folk! I’ll do all that I can.” –
“Farewell, wise upright man!” –

                  He leafs through all his law books with great care;
But he finds nothing written there
Forbids him changing smith to baker, if inclined;
So he makes up his mind,
And here’s his sentence clear:
(Let all come forward who will hear!)
“’Tis true that blacksmith Jens
Can offer no defence
And has confessed here in this court
He Anders Pedersen t’eternity has brought;
But since we have but one smith in this town
I would be something of a clown
Should I desire to see him dead.
But there are two here who bake bread.”

                  “The sentence of the court:
The baker who is now of older years,
Shall for the murder with his own life pay,
A fitting punishment and one that’s clear,
A dire warning to all those that go astray.”

                  The baker cried such bitter tears,
As he was led away.


                  Of death be always circumspect!
It tends to come just when you least expect.


John Irons said...

No less than 47 people have visited this poem today, 17.09.2012.
Just what is going on?!

Anonymous said...

Someone was having an argument on another part of the internet, and to insult someone they disagreed with they compared them to the judge in the poem and linked it.

Anonymous said...

Hi John. Your poem was linked from a discussion on an internet forum. Someone was trying to point out a fallacious argument from another user, and linked this poem to demonstrate.

Quite funny that our visits caused you such befuddlement!

John Irons said...

i watch what happens to entries and suddenly this poem has shot into my 'top ten of all time'! what part of the world do you come from`your english is perfect, so i guess it's your native language.

John Irons said...

dear kenneth,

many thanks for your comment. i can't think how i came to make the mistake - and the original printed version does indeed have 'Fienden' in the Norwegian, so I have changed as you suggest. greetings! john