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Theodor Fontane



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Updated: October 30, 2023

Title image

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image of J


ohn Maynard!

by Theodor Fontane
Translated by Julie and Amy Huberman © 1996

"Who is John Maynard?"

"John Maynard was our helmsman true.
To solid land he carried us through.
He saved our lives, our noble king.
He died for us; his praise we sing.
John Maynard."

From Detroit to Buffalo
As mist sprays her bow like flakes of snow
Over Lake Erie the "Swallow" takes flight
And every heart is joyful and light.
In the dusk, the passengers all
Can already make out the dim landfall,
And approaching John Maynard, their hearts free of care,
They ask of their helmsman, "Are we almost there?"
He looks around and toward the shore:
" Still 30 minutes.... a half hour more."

All hearts are happy, all hearts are light --
Then out of the hold comes a cry of fright.
" Fire!" it is, that terrified shout.
From the cabin and hatch black smoke pours out.
Smoke, then fire and flames aglow,
And still 20 minutes to Buffalo.

And the passengers, in a colorful crowd
Stand pressed together on the bow.
Up on the bow there is still air and light
But the smoke at the helm forms a thick, dark night.
" Where are we? Where?" the men must know,
And still 15 minutes to Buffalo. --

The wind grows strong but the smoke cloud stays.
To the helm the captain turns his gaze.
The helmsman is hidden by the raging fires
But through the bullhorn the captain enquires:
" Still there, John Maynard?"
" Yes, sir. I am."
" Onto the beach! Into the surf!"
" Yes, sir. That's my plan."
And the people cry: "Hold on! Hallo!"
And still 10 minutes to Buffalo.--

"Still there, John Maynard?" And the answer is clear,
Though with dying voice: "Yes, sir. I'm still here."
And in the surf, rocks, obstacles afloat,
Into their midst he plunges the boat.
To be saved, it's the only way to go.
Salvation: the shores of Buffalo!

The fire is out. The ship's run aground.
All are saved. Only one can't be found.

The bells ring out, their notes all fly
From churches and chapels to heaven on high.
The city is still but for funeral bells.
For one service only the sad sound swells:
In the procession ten thousand go by,
Or maybe more -- and not one dry eye.

With layers of flowers the grave they soften.
Under more flowers they bury the coffin.
With golden script in marble stone
The city has its tribute shown:

"Here lies John Maynard! In smoke and fire
He held fast to the wheel; he did not tire.
He saved our lives, our noble king.
He died for us; his praise we sing.
John Maynard!"

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