Thursday, November 18, 2010


Dinner Party

Austin Dobson, Laissez Faire:
'Prophete rechts, Prophete links,
Das Weltkind in der Mitten.'

Goethe's Diné zu Coblenz.

To left, here's B., half-Communist,
  Who talks a chastened treason,
And C., a something-else in ist,
  Harangues, to right, on Reason.

B., from his 'tribune,' fulminates
  At Throne and Constitution,
Nay, with the walnuts, advocates
  Reform by revolution

While C.'s peculiar coterie
  Have now in full rehearsal
Some patent new Philosophy
  To make doubt universal.

And yet—why not? If zealots burn,
  Their zeal has not affected
My taste for salmon and Sauterne,
  Or I might have objected:—

Friend B., the argument you choose
  Has been by France refuted;
And C., mon cher, your novel views
  Are just Tom Paine, diluted;

There's but one creed,—that's Laissez faire;
  Behold its mild apostle!
My dear, declamatory pair,
  Although you shout and jostle,

Not your ephemeral hands, nor mine,
  Times' Gordian knots shall sunder,—
Will. laid three casks of this old wine:
  Who'll drink the last, I wonder?
Here is Goethe's poem, Dinner at Coblenz, translated by David Luke:
Between Lavater and Basedow I sat at table, enjoying life. Mr Curate, with unflagging zeal, mounted a black nag, seated a parson beside him, and ran a tilt at Revelation, a book well sealed with riddles for us by the prophet John; he undid the seals in no time, like someone opening jars of venom-cure, and with a holy wand he measured the Cubic City and the Pearly Gates before the amazed eyes of his disciple. I, meanwhile, had made little headway, and had devoured a chunk of salmon.

In the meantime old man Basedow got hold of a dancing-master who was sitting beside him, and was demonstrating to him the plain meaning of baptism for Christ and his disciples, and proving that it is now quite incorrect for children to have their heads wetted. The other was much riled by this, and refused to go on listening. 'Any child' (he declared) 'will tell you that that is not what the Bible says.' And I, during all this, had comfortably tucked away a chicken.

And onward thus we paced, as at Emmaus, our spirit burning within us; a prophet to the right, a prophet to the left, and the child of this world in the middle.

Zwischen Lavater und Basedow
Saß ich bei Tisch des Lebens froh.
Herr Helfer, der war gar nicht faul,
Setzt' sich auf einen schwarzen Gaul,
Nahm einen Pfarrer hinter sich
Und auf die Offenbarung strich,
Die uns Johannes, der Prophet,
Mit Rätseln wohl versiegeln tät;
Eröffnet' die Siegel kurz und gut,
Wie man Theriaksbüchsen öffnen tut,
Und maß mit einem heiligen Rohr
Die Kubusstadt und das Perlentor
Dem hocherstaunten Jünger vor.
Ich war indes nicht weit gereist,
Hatte ein Stück Salmen aufgespeist.

Vater Basedow, unter dieser Zeit,
Packt' einen Tanzmeister an seiner Seit
Und zeigt' ihm, was die Taufe klar
Bei Christ und seinen Jüngern war
Und daß sich's gar nicht ziemet jetzt,
Daß man den Kindern die Köpfe netzt.
Drob ärgert' sich der andre sehr
Und wollte gar nichts hören mehr
Und sagt': es wüßte ein jedes Kind,
Daß es in der Bibel anders stünd.
Und ich behaglich unterdessen
Hätt einen Hahnen aufgefressen.

Und, wie nach Emmaus, weiter ging's
Mit Geist- und Feuerschritten,
Prophete rechts, Prophete links,
Das Weltkind in der Mitten.

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