The Fairy Tale of the Green Snake and the Beautiful Lily
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Pages (PDF): 29
Publication Date: 1795
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The Green Snake and the Beautiful Lily is a fairy tale by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe published in 1795. The story revolves around the crossing and bridging of a river, which represents the divide between the outer life of the senses and the ideal aspirations of the human being. It has been claimed that it was born out of Goethe's reading of The Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz and that it is full of esoteric symbolism.
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In his little hut by the great river, which a heavy rain had swollen to overflowing, lay the ancient Ferryman, asleep, wearied by the toil of the day. In the middle of the night, loud voices awoke him; he heard that it was travellers wishing to be carried over.
Stepping out, he saw two large Will-o'-wisps, hovering to and fro on his boat, which lay moored: they said, they were in violent haste, and should have been already on the other side. The old Ferryman made no loitering; pushed off, and steered with his usual skill obliquely through the stream; while the two strangers whiffled and hissed together, in an unknown very rapid tongue, and every now and then broke out in loud laughter, hopping about, at one time on the gunwale and the seats, at another on the bottom of the boat. "The boat is keeling!" cried the old man; "if you don't be quiet, it'll overset; be seated, gentlemen of the wisp!"
At this advice they burst into a fit of laughter, mocked the old man, and were more unquiet than ever. He bore their mischief with silence, and soon reached the farther shore. "Here is for your labour!" cried the travellers; and as they shook themselves, a heap of glittering gold-pieces jingled down into the wet boat. "For Heaven's sake, what are you about?" cried the old man; "you will ruin me forever! Had a single piece of gold got into the water, the stream, which cannot suffer gold, would have risen in horrid waves, and swallowed both my skiff and me; and who knows how it might have fared with you in that case? here, take back your gold."
"We can take nothing back, which we have once shaken from us," said the Lights.
"Then you give me the trouble," said the old man, stooping down, and gathering the pieces into his cap, "of raking them together, and carrying them ashore and burying them."
The Lights had leaped from the boat, but the old man cried: "Stay; where is my fare?"
"If you take no gold, you may work for nothing," cried the Will-o'-wisps. "You must know that I am only to be paid with fruits of the earth." "Fruits of the earth? we despise them, and have never tasted them." "And yet I cannot let you go, till you have promised that you will deliver me three Cabbages, three Artichokes, and three large Onions.
The Lights were making-off with jests; but they felt themselves, in some inexplicable manner, fastened to the ground: it was the unpleasantest feeling they had ever had. They engaged to pay him his demand as soon as possible: he let them go, and pushed away. He was gone a good distance, when they called to him: "Old man! Holla, old man! the main point is forgotten!" He was off, however, and did not hear them. He had fallen quietly down that side of the River, where, in a rocky spot, which the water never reached, he meant to bury the pernicious gold. Here, between two high crags, he found a monstrous chasm; shook the metal into it, and steered back to his cottage.
Now in this chasm lay the fair green Snake, who was roused from her sleep by the gold coming chinking down. No sooner did she fix her eye on the glittering coins, than she ate them all up, with the greatest relish, on the spot; and carefully picked out such pieces as were scattered in the chinks of the rock.
Scarcely had she swallowed them, when, with extreme delight, she began to feel the metal melting in her inwards, and spreading all over her body; and soon, to her lively joy, she observed that she was grown transparent and luminous. Long ago she had been told that this was possible; but now being doubtful whether such a light could last, her curiosity and her desire to be secure against her future, drove her from her cell, that she might see who it was that had shaken in this precious metal. She found no one. The more delightful was it to admire her own appearance, and her graceful brightness, as she crawled along through roots and bushes, and spread out her light among her grass. Every leaf seemed of emerald, every flower was dyed with new glory. It was in vain that she crossed her solitary thickets; but her hopes rose high, when, on reaching her open country, she perceived from afar a brilliancy resembling her own. "Shall I find my like at last, then?" cried she, and hastened to the spot. The toil of crawling through bog and reeds gave her little thought; for though she liked best to live in dry grassy spots of the mountains, among the clefts of rocks, and for most part fed on spicy herbs, and slaked her thirst with mild dew and fresh spring water, yet for the sake of this dear gold, and in the hope of this glorious light, she would have undertaken anything you could propose to her.
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