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Ein gegent heißt schlauraffenlant,
den faulen leuten wol bekant,
das ligt drei meil hinter weihnachten,
und welcher darein wölle trachten,
der muß sich großer ding vermeßen
und durch ein berg mit hirßbrei eßen,
der ist wol dreier meilen dick;
alsdann ist er im augenblick
in demselbing schlauraffenlant,
da aller reichtum ist bekant.
da sint die heuser deckt mit fladen,
leckkuchen die haustür und laden,
von speckkuchen dillen und went,
die dröm von schweinen braten sent.
umb jedes haus so ist ein zaun
geflochten von bratwürsten braun,
von malvasier so sint die brunnen,
kommen eim selbs ins maul gerunnen;
auf den tannen wachsen die krapfen,
wie hie zu lande die tannzapfen,
. . .
für ein groß lüg gibt man ein kron;
doch muß sich da hüten ein man,
aller vernunft ganz müßig gan;
wer sin und witz gebrauchen wolt,
dem würt kein mensch im lande holt,
und wer gern arbeit mit der hant,
dem verbeut mans schlauraffenlant;
wer zucht und erbarkeit het lieb,
denselben man des lants vertrieb;
wer unnütz ist, wil nichts nit lern,
der komt im lant zu großen ern,
wan wer der faulest wirt erkant,
derselb ist könig in dem lant,
wer wüst, wild und unsinnig ist,
grob, unverstanden alle frist,
aus dem macht man im lant ein fürstn.
wer geren ficht mit leberwürstn,
aus dem ein ritter wirt gemacht;
wer schlüchtisch ist und nichtsen acht,
dan eßn, trinken und vil schlafn,
aus dem macht man im lant ein grafn;
wer tölpisch ist und nichtsen kan,
der ist im lant ein edelman.
wer also lebt wie obgenant,
der ist gut ins schlauraffenlant,
das von den alten ist erdicht,
zu straf der jugent zugericht,
die gwönlich faul ist und gefreßig,
ungeschickt, heillos und nachleßig,
das mans weis ins lant zu schlauraffn,
darmit ir schlüchtisch weis zu straffn,
das sie haben auf arbeit acht,
weil faule weyß nie gutes bracht.
There’s a land called Schlaraffenland,
Well known to the lazy,
It lies three miles beyond Christmas,
And he who wants to seek it out
Has great feats to accomplish,
He must eat through a mountain of millet gruel –
There must be three miles of it –
And then he’ll find himself in
The selfsame Schlaraffenland,
Whose riches are so renowned.
Its houses are thick with yarns of flax,
Its doors and window sashes made of gingerbread,
The walls and floors are made of bacon bread,
Its balconies from pork sausages.
And each house is surrounded by a fence
Made of roasted sausages,
Its fountains flow with Madeira wine,
Running straight into the mouth;
Pastries hang from the fir trees,
Just where here they would bear cones.
For a big lie, one receives a crown,
Though to be clear, one should not be so seen,
For one must be moderate in his reason,
He who makes use of his reason and wit,
Will receive no respect in this land.
A man who shows cultivation and honor
Will be driven from the land,
And he who works diligently with his hands,
Will be forbidden from entering Schlaraffenland.
He who’s worthless and has no will to learn,
Will be a big success in this realm,
And the laziest of all will, when recognized,
Be crowned king of the land.
He who is wasteful, wild and stupid,
Crude and senseless at every occasion,
He will be made into a prince.
He who proudly battles with a Leberwurst,
He will be elevated to a knighthood.
And he who pays attention to nothing more
Than eating, drinking and sleeping,
He will be turned into a Count.
He who is foolish and incompetent,
Will in this land be an aristocrat
He who lives in such a way,
Will go far in Schlaraffenland.
Thus it was written in olden times,
For the improvement of the youth,
So often grown indolent and gluttonous,
Inartful, without vision, and forgetful,
So that you understand the real Schlaraffenland,
You know to punish the indolent,
That you learn the value of work,
For laziness brings you nothing good.
–Hans Sachs, Das Schlauraffenlant (1530) in: Werke in zwei Bänden, vol. 1, pp. 297-300 (K.M. Schiller ed. 1966)(S.H. transl.)
“Peasant’s Heaven,” the “Land of Cockaigne,” the Germans call it “Schlaraffenland” and the Dutch “Luilekkerland”–it is a fixture of the mythmaking of the early pre-modern era. But it also exists in classical antiquity, in Lucian’s story about “Saturnalia,” for instance. All of these images share common threads, essentially the notion of a utopia in which the fondest dreams of those of a primitive mentality are realized, and the world they produce is exposed as a nightmare. Writing in the late fifteenth century, Sebastian Brant, the great Strasbourg satirist who authored the Ship of Fools, created a country that matched this myth, applying the name “Schlaraffenland” (drawing from the Middle High German word sluraff, which means “lazy oaf”) and in the next generation the Nuremberg poet and songwriter Hans Sachs composed a poem that brought the concept to a broad popular audience (including Pieter Bruegel, who only a few decades later realized Sachs’s poem in one of his best-known paintings).
Here I offer a rendering into modern English of the opening and closing thirds of Hans Sachs’s Middle High German original. This is a highly successful poem which can be appreciated at several different levels, though the language is sufficiently distant from our day to be a bit difficult to approach. But recently watching the film “Wall-E,” which has provoked such hoopla in reactionary circles, it struck me how close the material is to our current age. Sachs lived in a time of great deprivation and hardship. His homeland had been racked by famine, strife and warfare. In his works he adhered to a continuous theme, which was to advocate the great civic virtues of professional commitment to a trade or craft, respect for civil order (though preserving the essential right to complain or ridicule those in authority for their shortcomings) and a passionate commitment to peace. In this poem he certainly ridicules the false heaven of those who see happiness solely in material well-being and self-promotion and who abjure the classical values of commitment to truth and justice as much as the Christian values of love of God, fellow man and good stewardship.
Sachs writes, as he says, in “anno salvatoris 1530,” in the “year of redemption.” The Augsburg Confession has been presented, the Evangelical (i.e., Protestant) Church is in the process of formation; the peasant rebellion which had cut a path of devastation and death across the center of Germany had at length been suppressed. This figures prominently in Sachs’s writing and in his reformulation of the Schlaraffenland legend. He mocks the peasants and their ill-guided quest for power and wealth, but he understands what has driven them to rebellion. And his harshest barbs are saved for the late feudal order that persists beyond the gates of the Imperial city of Nuremberg. This is a world where “liars are crowned king,” and where those who value ignorance and indolence form the aristocracy. It is a society which values the destructive forces of arms over the creative genius of the craftsman and artist. Schlaraffenland may seem a primitive sort of paradise, but in fact it is a nightmare which lies all about us.
We would be fools to think of Schlaraffenland as a historical relic, for its false-paradise is with us still. In what land today would the people crown a liar as its king, value war over reconciliation and dialogue, and see a wealth of consumer bounty as life’s ultimate promise and reward? Hans Sachs demands that we examine carefully what we work every day to accomplish: is it truly worthy of us as individuals, communities and as a nation? Or is it not in fact the impoverishing paradise of fools?
More from Scott Horton:
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"It is an interesting and somewhat macabre parlor game to play at a large gathering of one’s acquaintances: to speculate who in a showdown would go Nazi. By now, I think I know. I have gone through the experience many times—in Germany, in Austria, and in France. I have come to know the types: the born Nazis, the Nazis whom democracy itself has created, the certain-to-be fellow-travelers. And I also know those who never, under any conceivable circumstances, would become Nazis."