• Translation

Legend of the Horseshoe by Wolfgang Goethe


When Jesus Christ still walked over the Earth, Outcast, and not yet known by holy birth, Though followed by many an eager youth Who seldom understood his words’ full truth, He often gathered crowds in open air, Sharing the Word with anyone who cared. He spoke under the sunny summer skies Where eager minds were freest to surmise. He stirred the deepest truth within men’s hearts, And shamed the fool who thought himself too smart. By his example and his parables He turned the markets into temples. One day he made his way across a town With his young followers gathered around, When suddenly he saw a broken horseshoe Upon the grassy ways they travelled through. Christ turned to Peter and then said, “Retrieve That little worn-out piece of iron, please.” But Peter’s thoughts were somewhere else that day, He travelled carelessly, dreaming away; His mind pictured a glorious government, The world transformed into Christ’s regiment— A dream beheld by every noble soul, That things below might be as they’re above. He paid no mind to that thing on the ground, But would have seized it, had it been a crown. For, why bend for a piece of ironwork— A minor object of so little worth? He walked right by it, as if nothing seen, keeping his sights on his heavenly dream.

But Christ the Lord, true to his suffering, Retrieved the horseshoe without muttering (Though he would never bend likewise again). Then when, after some time, they reached a town

Christ found a smithy and then sold the shoe, Which had a penny’s worth of value. As they made their way through the marketplace, His eyes fell on a giant cherry case— He bought a bundle for a penny’s worth. He gently placed the cherries in his sleeve, Gracefully hiding them, by sight unseen. They then continued on the shadeless ways, Beneath the summer’s scorching sunny rays Where but a bit of water would have fetched A hefty price—a mortal thirst to quench. Christ, virtuously Peter to deceive, Let fall a single cherry from his sleeve. St. Peter saw it fall and picked it up, As if the cherry were a golden cup. Peter relished the sweet and shining fruit, Which Christ regularly dropped right near his foot. So Christ let fall a cherry now and then, Which Peter bent for time and time again. The Lord continued letting cherries fall; The saintly Peter caught and ate them all. When this had gone on for more than a while, Christ turned to his apostle with a smile: “Had you listened to my words the first time, There would have been no need to bend and strain; The one who life’s littlest things disdains Will suffer greater still for smaller things.”


Translation © David B. Gosselin