The Fisherman

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

The water purled, the water swelled
Into the fisher's ear;
His eyes upon his angle dwelled,
His head was cool and clear.
And as he sits and forward bends.
The water moves somewhere
And slowly from below ascends
A woman wet and fair.

She sang to him, she spoke to him:
You lure my brood; but why?
Man's cunning is so hard and grim,
For all my fishes die.
If you but knew how happy may
A fish be down below,
You would not here a moment stay
But with me you would go.

Does not the moon bathe in the sea?
Does not the sun bathe there?
Arising from the waves is he
Not twice as bright and fair?
Does not the sky's reflection show
A moist and tender blue?
And your own face - is it not so? -
Enjoys undying dew.

The water purled, the water swelled;
It gently touched his feet;
His soul upon a vision dwelled
Of love and rapture sweet.
She spoke to him, she sang to him
A most seductive lore
With flattery bland and cunning grim, -
The boy was seen no more.

1779, translation by Paul Dyrsen, 1878      


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© 1994-1999 Robert Godwin-Jones
Virginia Commonwealth University