by: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

      IX young men of Caesar's household
      Fled before their master's anger;
      As a god he claimed their worship,
      Though a sorry god was he.
      For an insect, ever buzzing,
      Still annoyed him at the banquet,
      Still disturbed his rest and pleasure.
      All the chasing of his servants
      Could not drive away the torment.
      Ever round the head of Caesar
      Did the angry creature hover,
      Threatening with its poisoned sting
      Still it flew, and swiftly circling,
      Made confusion at the table,
      Messenger of Beelzebub,
      The infernal Lord of flies.
      "Ha!" -- so spake the youths together,
      "He a god that fears an insect!
      Can a god be thus molested?
      Does a god, like wretched mortals,
      Feast and revel at the banquet?
      Nay! to Him, the one, the only,
      Who the sun and moon created,
      Who hath made the stars in glory,
      Shall we henceforth bend the knee!"
      So they spake, and left the palace,
      Left it in their trim apparel;
      By a shepherd led, they hastened
      To a cave was in the mountain,
      And they all went gliding in.
      And the shepherd's dog came after,
      Though they strove to drive him from them;
      Thrust himself toward his master,
      Licked their hands in dumb entreaty,
      That he might remain their fellow;
      And lay down with them to sleep.
      But the wrath of Caesar kindled,
      When he knew that they had left him;
      All his former love departed,
      All his thought was vengeance only.
      Out in quest he sent his people,
      Traced them to the mountain hollow.
      Not to fire nor sword he doomed them;
      But he bade great stones be lifted
      To the entrance of the cavern;
      Saw it fastened up with mortar;
      And so left them in their tomb.
      But the youths lay calmly sleeping;
      And the angel, their protector,
      Spake before the throne of glory:
      "I have watched beside the sleepers,
      Made them turn in slumber ever,
      That the damps of yonder cavern,
      Should not cramp their youthful limbs;
      And the rocks around I've opened,
      That the sun at rising, setting,
      May give freshness to their cheeks.
      So they lie in rest and quiet,
      In the bliss of happy dreams."
      So they lay; and still beside them,
      Lay the dog in peaceful slumber,
      Never whimpering in his sleep.
      Years came on and years departed;
      Till at last the young men wakened;
      And the wall, so strongly fastened,
      Now had fallen into ruin,
      Crumbled by the touch of ages.
      Then Iamblichus, the youngest,
      And the goodliest of them all,
      Seeing that the shepherd trembled,
      Said, "I pray you now, my brothers,
      Let me go to seek provisions;
      I have gold, my life I'll venture,
      Tarry till I bring you bread."
      Ephesus, that noble city,
      Then, for many a year, had yielded
      To the faith of the Redeemer,
      Jesus. (Glory to his name!)
      And he ran into the city;
      At the gate were many wardens,
      Armed men on tower and turret,
      But he passed them all unchallenged;
      To the nearest baker's went he,
      And in haste demanded bread.
      "Ha! young rogue," exclaimed the baker,
      "Surely thou hast found a treasure;
      That old piece of gold betrays thee!
      Give me, or I shall denounce thee,
      Half the treasure thou hast found."
      And Iamblichus denied it.
      But the baker would not listen;
      Brawling till the watch came forward,
      To the king they both were taken;
      And the monarch, like the baker,
      But a higher right asserting,
      Claimed to share the treasure too.
      But at last the wondrous story,
      Which the young man told the monarch,
      Proved itself by many tokens
      Lord was he of that same palace,
      Whither he was brought for judgment;
      For he showed them to a pillar,
      In the which a stone was loosened
      Led unto a treasure chamber,
      Heaped with gold and costly jewels.
      Straightway came in haste his kindred,
      All his clan came thronging round him,
      Eager to advance their claim;
      Each was nearer than the other.
      And Iamblichus, the blooming,
      Young in face, and form, and feature,
      Stood an ancestor among them.
      All bewildered he heard legends
      Of his sons and of his grandsons,
      Fathers of the men before him.
      So amazed he stood and listened,
      Patriarch in his early manhood;
      While the crowd around him gathered,
      Stalwart men, and mighty captains,
      Him, the youngest, to acknowledge
      As the founder of their race!
      And one token with another
      Made assurance doubly certain;
      None can doubt the wondrous story
      Of himself and of his comrades.
      Shortly, to the cave returning,
      King and people all go with him,
      And they saw him enter in.
      But no more to king or people,
      Did the Chosen reappear.
      For the Seven, who long had tarried --
      Nay, but they were eight in number,
      For the faithful dog was with them --
      Thenceforth from the world were sundered.
      The most blessed Angel Gabriel,
      By the will of God Almighty,
      Walling up the cave for ever,
      Led them unto Paradise.

John Storer Cobb's English translation of 'The Seven Sleepers of Ephesus' was first published in Goethe: Poetical Works, vol. II. Boston: Francis A Niccolls & Company, 1902.




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