The vicar and the vagabond

The mirror of these trusting, brown eyes
Is like a reflection of gold from deep inside;
From the bosom’s depths it seems to rise
Where such gold on holy grief thrives.
In the darkness of thine eyes I bury myself,
It is thou who invites me, Unknowing Child—
Thou wouldst have me ignite the fires inside us boldly,
Thou reachest death to me smiling in a chalice of sin!

The banquet chamber already decorated.
Bright with colors on this balmy summer night
Its canopied entrance open and waiting.
Twelve brazen columns stand in pairs
With vines twined like brazen vipers
Their necks wound together
Propping and supporting
The lightly latticed roof.

Still hidden the bride waits
In the modest chamber of her house.
Finally the wedding cortege moves
Bearing torches,
In solemn silence.
And in their midst
Walks the bride clad in black
And I to her right, hand in hand.
Carefully folded a scarlet scarf
Draped round her dainty head.
Smiling she moves on; the smell of feasting in the air.

Later amid the clatter of the feast
We stole away, off to the side
To stroll in the shadowed garden
Where roses shone in the bush
Where moonlight touched the lilies
Where the Weymouth pine with its black hair
Half overhung the mirroring pond.
On a silken lawn there, oh, heart on heart
How my kisses devoured, stole the breath
of her shyer kiss!

Meanwhile the fountain, indifferent to
Our whisperings of effusive love,
Took delight in its own ceaseless gurgling;
The teasing and luring of friendly voices,
Of flutes and violins from afar,
T’was all to no avail.

Her light sweet head wearied now,
Too soon for my yearning, lay on my lap.
Playfully my eye pressing on hers
I felt for a moment her long lashes
Until sleep came to halt them,
Like butterfly wings opening and closing.

Before the break of dawn,
Before the bridal chamber lamp went out
I woke her, the sleeper,
And led that curious child into my house.

Confusion entered the moonlit gardens
Of a once holy love.
With horror did I discover the erstwhile deceit.
And with tearful eye, yet cruelly,
I ordered that slender
Enchanting girl
To depart from me.
Alas, her high forehead
Was bowed, for she loved me.
Yet she took leave wordlessly
Out into the gray world
She went.

Sick ever since,
My heart wounded and saddened.
Never to be healed!

T’is as if a magic thread spun of air
Were binding us, a fragile band,
That draws, draws me yearning towards her.
—How? As if one day I would find her at my doorstep
Like I did then, at the break of dawn,
Her bundle beside her
Her eyes looking up at me, trusting,
Saying: Here I am again,
Back from a faraway world.

Why, Beloved, do I think of thee
Suddenly now with a thousand tears,
And can be satisfied with nothing,
And would expand my breast into open space?

Ah, yesterday in that bright children’s room,
Where slender flimmering candles stood,
Where I could lose myself in clamor and jesting,
Thou didst enter, o image of kind-compassionate pain;
It was thy ghost that sat down at table,
Strangers we, sitting wordless repressing grief;
Finally it was I who broke out in loud sobbing,
And hand in hand we left that house.

Love, they say, stands bound at the stake
In the end walks ragged, shoeless and poor,
The noble soul with no place to rest her head,
With tears she wets her wounded feet.

Ah, such was the Peregrina I found!
Beautiful her madness, her glowing cheeks,
Playful even in the seething storms of spring
Her locks with wild garlands wound.

Was it possible to abandon such beauty?
—The old joy returns even more enticing now!
O come, let these arms of mine enfold you!

Woe is me! Woe! What means her glance?
She kisses me half lovingly still, yet half with hate,
She turns to leave, never again to return.
(Eduard Friedrich Mörike, Peregrina)

Maria Meyer (1802 – 1855) was born in the Schaffhausen “House of the Golden Scarf”, 21 Vordergasse, now the Reber candy shop.

Her life was anything but golden.

She was born out of wedlock, her mother a well-known prostitute in the city, and her father a journeyman from Darmstadt.

Not much is known about her childhood or youth, other than that she was not very happy.

When the courts decided to send her mother to the workhouse, Maria was given to relatives to look after.

Even at the age of 15, Maria had a bad reputation.

She was said to have “a tendency to steal and to conduct herself badly.”

In the summer of 1817 the Livonian noblewoman Madame von Krüdener turned up in Schaffhausen, as she travelled around Europe preaching a mystic doctrine of salvation.

Maria attached herself to Krüdener, so when Krüdener was expelled from Schaffhausen, Maria left too.

When Maria suddenly reappeared in Schaffhausen, she was sent to the workhouse as her mother had been, unable to escape until 1819.

She immediately travelled again, taking a job as a servant in Rheinfelden.

She fell in love with the son of the house, who introduced her to the writings of Goethe and the German Romantic Jean Paul.

A woman of remarkable and mysterious beauty, Maria was working in a tavern in Ludwigsburg when she met the poet Eduard Mörike, who fell in love with her.

Eduard saw in Maria feminine purity and virtue forced to abase herself.

He had to return to Tübingen, but the two embarked on a lively correspondence.

However since Maria’s lifestyle left much to be desired, Eduard broke off relations with her.

Nevertheless, Eduard immortalized her in poetry as Peregrina, the most dramatic love story in Eduard’s life.

His relationship with Maria was both a fairy tale and a disaster.

Eduard found himself torn between his morally and socially ordered world as a vicar and his passion for this vagabond.

Maria tried several times to get Eduard back as a lover, but never succeeded.

In 1824 she decided to settle down and learned the craft of hatmaking in Schaffhausen.

Finally she married a joiner and lived in great seclusion in the village of Wilen in Canton Thurgau until her death in 1865.

Eduard meanwhile took early retirement, age 39, for reasons of health.

After a spell of walking through the Swabian Alps, he married and became a professor of German literature in Stuttgart.

They had two daughters, Fanny and Marie.

Eduard’s poems were lyrical, often humourous, in simple and natural language. His songs are traditional in form and have been compared to those of Goethe. He wrote novels and novellas, hymns, odes and elegies as well as translations.

His work was greatly praised.

He died in 1875, “never again to return”.

I wonder if in the years that followed his break-up with Maria whether he remained “sick ever since, his heart wounded and saddened, never to be healed”.

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