Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Charlotte and Werther in Verse

WERTER, loquitur.
Having promised to call,
In my way to the ball,
For Miss Charlotte, the Bailly of Walheim's fair daughter,
I went, unawares,
Down the back-kitchen stairs,
And 'twas thus the sweet soul was employed when I caught her:
Like cats in a gutter
For thick bread and butter
Six children were squeaking around her; while she
With such grace cut each slice,
That I found in a trice
She had cut a large slice from the heart of poor me!

She blush'd with confusion,
(I vow she'd no rouge on),
And swore 'twas a bore in that trim to be found:
'Twas shocking! 'twas frightful!
I vow'd 'twas delightful—
I bow’d, and she curtsied quite down to the ground.
Such beauty! such grace!
Such a figure and face!
Such a tongue too! she chatter'd, nineteen to the dozen,
About poets, and cooks,
Pictures, housemaids, and books,
And her uncles and aunts, and her ninety-ninth cousin!
We soon reach'd the ball-room,
('Twas rather a small room)
But, oh! the orchestra was simple and modest!
Two fiddles, one fife!
'Twas all spirit and life,
Though the dancers, Lord help 'em! were some of the oddest.
"Hands across ma'am"—"You're out, sir"—
"Mind what you're about, sir."
Charlotte whisper'd: "Just wait till we get to the bottom,—
"We're the best of the party,
"Then, Werter, my hearty,
"We'll waltz and astonish the natives, 'od rot 'em."
We waltz! and behold her,
Her head on my shoulder,
Cheeks meeting, eyes greeting, hearts beating, and thus
I twist her and twirl her,
And whisk her and whirl her—
We whirl round the room till the room whirls round us!
Nor seeing, nor hearing,
The lights disappearing,
Abandon'd to all the soft charms of the waltz, sir,
Oh ! had you a wife,
Let her waltz all her life,
But be sure you waltz with her yourself—mind, that's all, sir'!

An eighteenth century allemande
An early nineteenth century allemande

How it thunder'd and lighten'd;
The ladies were frighten'd,
And thought it a sin to dance jigs in bad weather:
Said Charlotte, "I wonder
They're frighten'd at thunder!
But since they wo'nt dance, we'll play forfeits together.'''
Next, we stole to the casement.
Where, mute with amazement,
We stared at the moon a full hour by a stop-clock!
But, at length, when she spoke,
'Twas the finishing stroke
To the great work of love, though she merely said—"Klopstock!"*

* Should any objection be taken to the rhyme, or rather, the no-rhyme of Stopclock and Klopstock, it is requested that it may be overlooked in favour of the reason. Klopstock is the identical name pronounced by Charlotte, for which no other could, with propriety be substituted. Had the name been Klopstick we might have contrived to make it jingle with mopstick ; but Klopstock—the thing is impossible.
(The Athenaeum; or the Spirit of the English Magazines, vol. 4, second series October-April 1825-26 Boston : John Cotton, p. 446-447)

I'm glad that the author of this poem was as struck as I by the single word that Charlotte used to describe her feelings and the growing sympathy between her and Werther. Klopstock was a German poet who wrote something that apparently described exactly what Charlotte was experiencing. Werther understood completely. For those of us in the dark, the sound of the name is at complete odds with the rest of the scene.

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