Atta Troll by Heinrich Heine

A Summer Night's Dream

I

In the valley lies attractive Cauterets. The shining houses
Gay with balconies, and on them
Stand fair ladies loudly laughing.
Laughing as they look beneath them
On the brightly swarming market,
Where are dancing bear and she-bear
To the droning of the bagpipes.
 
Atta Troll and his good lady,
Whom the people call black Mumma,
Are the dancers; the Biscayans
Shout aloud in admiration.
Atta Troll, who once paraded
Like a mighty lord of deserts,
Free upon the mountain summit,
Dances in the vale to rabble!
Both the music and the laughter
Quickly cease, and shrieking loudly,
From the market fly the people,
And the ladies they are fainting.
Yes, the slavish chain that bound him
Suddenly hath rent asunder
Atta Troll. And, wildly springing,
Up the rocks he nimbly clambers.
In the empty market standing,
All alone are left black Mumma
And the keeper. Wild with fury
On the ground his hat he dashes.
On the wretched poor black Mumma
Falls this much-enraged one's fury
Doubly down at last; he beats her,
Then he calls her Queen Christina.

II

In the vale of Ronceval
Not far off from Roland's cleft,
And by savage fir-trees hidden,
Lies the cave of Atta Troll.
 
In the bosom of his family,
There he rests from all his hardships.
Tender meeting! All his young ones
Found he in the well-loved cavern:
Well-licked, lady-like young bears,
Blonde their hair, like parson's daughters;
Brown the boys, the youngest only
With the single ear is black.
Gladly now relates the old one
What he's in the world experienced,
Of the overwhelming plaudits
Reaped by his great skill in dancing.
Overcome by self-laudation,
Now he calls on deeds to witness
That he is no wretched boaster,
That he's really great at dancing.

III

In the caverns with his offspring,
Sick at heart, upon his back lies
Atta Troll; in meditation
Licks his paws, and, licking, growls:
"Mumma, Mumma, pearl of blackness,
Whom I fished from out life's ocean,
Is it thus that in life's ocean
I am forced again to lose thee!
"Might I only once more sniffle
That sweet odour, the peculiar,
Of my black, my darling Mumma,
Fragrant as the scent of roses!
 
"But, alas! my Mumma pineth
In the fetters of those rascals,
Who, the name of Men assuming,
Call themselves Creation's lords.
"Mankind, are ye any better
Than we others, just because ye
Boiled and baked devour your victuals?
In a raw state we eat ours.
"Children," grumbles Atta Troll,
"Children, we must seize the future!
If each bear but thought as I do,
We should soon subdue the tyrants.
"Let the boar but form alliance
With the horse, the elephant
Coil his trunk with love fraternal
Round the valiant bullock's horn;
"Bear and wolf of every colour,
Goat and monkey; even hares, too,
Let them work awhile together,
And the victory cannot fail us.
"Equal rights for all God's creatures,
Be our fundamental maxim;
Absolutely no distinction
In belief, or skin, or smell.
"Strict equality! Ev'ry jackass
Competent for highest office;
On the other hand, the lion
Trotting with the corn to grind."

IV

Many an honest, virtuous burgher
Lives on earth in evil odour,
Whilst your princely people reek of
Lavender and ambergris.
Therefore do not make wry faces,
Gentle reader, if the cave of
Atta Troll should not remind you
Of the spices of Arabia.
Tarry with me in the steamy
Confines in the dismal odour,
Where the hero to his youngest
Speaks as if from out a cloud:
"Ever shun men's ways of thinking!
Not a creature that is decent
Can be found among these creatures.
Even Germans, once much better,
"In primeval times our cousins,
These alike are now degen'rate:
Traitors to their creed and godless,
Now they preach e'en atheism!
"Only be no atheist,
Like a non-bear who respects not
His great Maker—Yes, a Maker
Hath this universe created.
"Yonder in the starred pavilion,
On the golden throne of power,
World-controlling and majestic,
Sits a giant Polar bear.
 
"At his feet are sitting gentle
Sainted bears, who in their life-time
Uncomplaining suffered; in their
Paws the palm of martyrdom.
"Shall I ever, drunk with heaven,
Yonder in the starred pavilion,
With the Glory, with the palm-branch,
Dance before the throne of God?"

V

Figures twain, morose and baleful,
And on all-fours slowly creeping,
Break themselves a gloomy passage
Through the underwood at midnight.
That is Atta Troll, the father,
And his son, young Master One-Ear.
"This old stone"—growls Atta Troll—
"Is the altar, where the Druids
"In the days of superstition
Human sacrifices butchered.
Oh, the overwhelming horror!
Shedding blood to honour God!
"Now indeed far more enlightened
Are these men—they only murder
Now from selfishness and grasping.
Each one plunders for himself!
"Nature never yet created
Owners, no—for void of pockets,
Not a pocket in our fur coats,
We were born, the whole of us.
 
"Only man, that smooth-skinned being,
Could in borrowed wool, so artful,
Dress himself, or could, so artful,
Thus provide himself with pockets.
"Be the mortal foe of all such
Fierce oppressors, reconcileless,
To the end of thy existence—
Swear it, swear it here, my son!"
And the youngest swore as once did
Hannibal. The moon illumined
With her yellow light the Blood-stone,
And the pair of misanthropes.

VI

I was early one fine morning
With Lascaro setting forward
On the bear-hunt. And at mid-day
We arrived at Pont-d'Espagne.
Evening shades were dark'ning round us
When we reached the wretched hostel,
Where the Ollea-Podrida
Steamed up from the dirty soup-dish.
Corresponding to the kitchen
Was the bed. It swarmed with insects,
Just as if it had been peppered!—
Bugs are man's most mortal foe.
What a raving with these poets,
E'en the tame ones! Why, they never
Cease to sing and say, that Nature
Is the Maker's mighty temple.
 
Well, so be it, charming people!
But confess that in this temple
All the stairs are slightly awkward.
Miserably bad the stairs!
Close beside me strides Lascaro,
Pale and long, just like a taper;
Never speaking, never smiling,
He, the dead son of a witch.
Yes, 'tis said, he is a dead one,
Long defunct, although his mother,
Old Uraka, by enchantments
Keeps him living to appearance.
In the little fishing cottage,
On the Lac-de-Gobe we met with
Shelter and some trout for dinner;
And they tasted quite delicious.
If the stuff I drank was really
Wine, at this same Lac-de-Gobe,
I know not. I think in Brunswick
They would simply call it swipes.

VII

From the sunny golden background
Smile the violet mountain peaks,
On the ridge there clings a village,
Like a boldly ventured birds'-nest.
Having climbed there, 'twas apparent
That the old ones wing had taken,
And behind were tarrying only
All the young brood, not yet fledged.
 
Nearly all that day I lingered
With the children, and we chatted
Quite familiar. They were curious
Who I was, what I was doing?
"Germany, dear friends"—so said I—
"Is the land where I was born;
Bears live there in any number,
And I took to hunting bears.
"There I drew the skin for many
Over very bearish ears;
And between them I was sometimes
Roughly by their bear claws handled.
"But with merely unlicked blockheads
Every day to be contending
In my well-loved home, at last I
Found to be too much for me.
"So at last have journeyed hither,
Seeking out some better sport;
I intend to try my prowess
On the mighty Atta Troll."

VIII

Like a narrow street the valley,
And its name is Spectre Hollow;
Rugged crags rise up abruptly
Either side of giddy heights.
On a dizzy, steep projection,
Peeping downwards, like a watch-tower,
Stands Uraka's daring cottage;
Thither I Lascaro followed.
 
With his mother he took counsel,
Using secret signs as language,
How might Atta Troll be tempted,
How he might be put to death.
For right well had we his traces
Followed up. And now no longer
Dare escape be thought of. Numbered
Are thy days, O Atta Troll!
What Uraka as her lawful
Business followed, that was honest;
For she dealt in mountain simples
And she also sold stuffed birds.
Full of all these natural wonders
Was the hut. The smell was dreadful
Of the henbane, cuckoo-flowers,
Dandelion and deadmen's fingers.
Vultures, too, a large collection,
Carefully arranged on all sides,
With the wings at full extended
And the most enormous beaks.
Was't the odour of the foolish
Plants which stupefied my senses?
Strange sensations crept about me
At the sight of all these birds.

IX

Argonauts without a ship,
Who on foot the mountain traverse,
And instead of golden fleeces
Only look to win a bear-skin
 
Ah, we are but sorry devils!
Heroes of a modern pattern,
And there's not a classic poet
Would in song immortalise us!
And for all that we have suffered
Mighty hardships! What a shower
Overtook us on the summit,
And no tree and no fiacre!
Tired to death, and out of humour,
Like two well-drenched poodles, once more,
Very late at night, we clambered
To the witch's hut above.
Shivering, and with teeth a-chatter,
Near the hearth I stood awhile;
Then, as though the warmth o'ercame me,
Sank at last upon the straw.
How the roaring of the chimney
Terrified me. Like the moaning
Of poor, wretched, dried-up souls—
Quite familiar seemed the voices.
Sleep completely overcame me
In the end, and then in place of
Waking phantasm, rose before me
Quite a wholesome, firm-set dream.
And I dreamed the little cottage
Suddenly became a ballroom.
Carried up aloft on pillars
And by chandeliers illumined.
Then invisible musicians
Struck up from "Robert le Diable"
That ungodly dance of nuns;
I was walking all alone there.
 
But at last the portals open
Of themselves, and then come marching,
Measured footsteps, slow and solemn,
Most extraordinary guests.
Nothing now but bears and spectres,
Walking upright, every he-bear
On the arm a ghost conducted,
Muffled in a long white shroud.
Sometimes in the dance's bustle,
Tore a bear the burial garment
Off the head of his companion;
Lo! a death's-head came to view.
But at last sounds forth a joyous
Crashing of the horns and cymbals;
And the kettle-drums they thunder,
And there came the galopade.
This I did not dream the end of—
For a most ill-mannered bruin
Trod upon my favourite corn,
So that, shrieking out, I woke.

X

In the cavern, with his offspring,
Atta Troll lies, and he slumbers
With the snoring of the righteous;
But at last he wakes up yawning.
"Children!"—sighs he, whilst are trickling
Tears from those large eyes unbidden—
"Children! Finished is my earthly
Pilgrimage, and we must part.
 
"Just at mid-day whilst I slumbered
Came a dream, which has its meaning.
Then my spirit sweetly tasted
Omens of my coming death.
"On the world and fate reflecting,
Yawning I had fallen asleep,
When I dreamed that I was lying
Underneath a lofty tree.
"From the tree's o'erspreading branches
Dribbled down transparent honey.
Joyous blinking, up above me
Seven little bears I noticed.
"Tender, graceful little creatures,
Rosy coloured were their fur coats,
As they clambered; from their shoulders
Just like silk two wings were sprouting.
"And with soft and supernatural
Flute-like voices they were singing!
While thus singing, icy coldness
Crept throughout my skin, and flame-like
"From my skin my soul departed;
Soared in brightness up to heaven."
Thus in tender words and falt'ring
Grunted Atta Troll. His ears then
Pricked themselves and strangely worked,
And from his repose he started,
Trembling, and with rapture bellowing,
"Children, do ye hear those sounds?
"Is it not the voice melodious
Of your mother? Oh, I know it,
'Tis the growling of my Mumma!
Mumma! Yes, my own black Mumma!"
 
Atta Troll, whilst these words utt'ring,
Like a madman headlong bounded
From the cavern to destruction!
Ah! he rushed upon his doom!
In the vale of Ronceval,
On the very spot where whilom
Charlemagne's peerless nephew
Gasped away his fleeting spirit,
There fell also Atta Troll,
Fell through treason, like the other,
Whom the traitor, knighthood's Judas,
Ganelon of Mainz, betrayed.

XI

Four gigantic men in triumph
Brought along the slaughtered Bear.
Upright sat he in an armchair,
Like a patient at the hot-wells.
That same day soon after skinning
Atta Troll, they up to auction
Put the skin. For just a hundred
Francs a furrier purchased it.
Elegantly then he trimmed it,
And he edged it round with scarlet,
And again he sold it quickly
Just for double what it cost.
So, at last, third hand possessed it—
Julietta, and at Paris
It reposes in her chamber,
Serving as a bed-side carpet.
 
What of Mumma? Ah, the Mumma
Is a poor weak woman! Frailty
Is her name! Alas, the women
Are as so much porcelain frail.
When the hand of Fate had parted
Mumma from her noble husband,
Neither did she die of sorrow,
Nor succumb to melancholy.
And at last a fixed appointment,
And for life a safe provision,
Far away she found at Paris
In the famed Jardin des Plantes.
Sunday last as I was walking
In the gardens with Julietta,
By the railing round the bear-pit—
Gracious Heavens! What saw we there!
'Twas a powerful desert bear
From Siberia, snow-white coated,
Playing there an over-tender,
Amorous game with some black she-bear.
And, by Jupiter! 'twas Mumma!
'Twas the wife of Atta Troll!
I remember her distinctly
By the moist eye's tender glances.

XII

Where in heaven, Master Louis,
Have you all this crazy nonsense
Scraped together? Such the question
Of the Cardinal of Este,
 After having read the poem
Of Rolando's frenzied doings,
Which Ariosto with submission
To his Eminence dedicated.
Yes, Varnhagen, worthy friend,
Yes, I see the same words nearly
On thy lips this moment hanging
With the same sarcastic smile.
"Sounds this not like youthful visions,
Which I once dreamt with Chamisso
And Brentano and Fouqué,
On those deep-blue moonlight evenings?"
Yes, my friend, it is the echo
Of those long-forgotten dream-days;
Only that a modern trilling
Mingles with the ancient cadence.
Other seasons, other songsters!
Other songsters, other ditties!
What a cackling, as of geese, which
Once preserved the Capitol!
Other seasons, other songsters!
Other songsters, other ditties!
I might take a pleasure also
In them had I other ears!

 Heinrich Heine was born on December 13, 1797, at Düsseldorf, the son of Jewish parents. After quitting school he was sent to Frankfort to the banking establishment of an uncle, but a commercial career failed to appeal to him, and in 1819 he entered the University of Bonn, with a view of studying for law. His thoughts, however, were given to poetry; and 1822 saw the publication of his first volume of poems. Up to this time he was largely dependent upon the generosity of his uncle. Thus, in order to fulfil his obligations, he entered the University of Göttingen, where he obtained his degree of law, having previously qualified himself for practice by renouncing the Jewish faith for Christianity. A voluminous prose-writer, a wonderful satirist, and an ardent politician, Heine's present-day fame rests largely on his poetry, and especially the wonderful lyrical pieces. "Atta Troll" (1846), which has been described as the "Swan-song of Romanticism," was written in the hey-day of his activities, and admirably conveys something of the temper and genius of its many-sided author. Heine died on February 17. 1856.

Arthur Mee J. A. Hammerton