The Fisherman

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

The water rushed, the water rose
A fisherman by the sea
Observed his line in deep repose,
Cool to his heart was he.
And as he sits and listens well,
The billow breaks and parts,
And from the waters' churning swell
A dripping woman darts.

She sang to him, she spoke to him:
"Why lure my kind away
With human wit and cunningly
To the deadly blaze of day?
If you could know how blithe and free
The fishes thrive below,
You would descend, with us to be,
And prosperous to grow.

"Do not the sun and moon take on
Refreshment in the sea?
Do not their faces billow-drawn
Loom twice as splendidly?
This sky-like depth, it calls you not,
This dank transfigured blue?
Your mirrored form enthralls you not
To seek the endless dew?

The water rushed, the water rose
And wet his naked feet;
His heart with yearning swells and grows,
As when two lovers meet.
She spoke to him, she sang to him,
His fate became quite plain:
Half drawn by her he glided in
And was not seen again.

1779, translation by Edwin Zeydel, 1955      

Versions --> German - English:   Aytoun/Martin / Bowring / Cobb / Dyrsen
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© 1994-1999 Robert Godwin-Jones
Virginia Commonwealth University