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by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749 - 1832)
Translation © by Iain Sneddon

Stirbt der Fuchs, so gilt der Balg
Language: German (Deutsch) 
Available translation(s): ENG FRE
Nach Mittage saßen wir
Junges Volk im Kühlen;
Amor kam, und, stirbt der Fuchs
Wollt' er mit uns spielen.

Jeder meiner Freunde saß
Froh bei seinem Herzchen;
Amor blies die Fackel aus,
Sprach: hier ist das Kerzchen!

Und die Fackel, wie sie glomm,
Ließ man eilig wandern,
Jeder drückte sie geschwind
In die Hand des Andern.

Und mir reichte Dorilis
Sie mit Spott und Scherze;
Kaum berührt mein Finger sie,
Hell entflammt die Kerze,

Sengt mir Augen und Gesicht,
Setzt die Brust in Flammen;
Über meinem Haupte schlug
Faßt die Glut zusammen.

Löschen wollt' ich, patschte zu;
Doch es brennt beständig;
Statt zu sterben ward der Fuchs
Recht bei mir lebendig.

Note provided by Iain Sneddon: From the Deutsches Wörterbuch by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm: “He who lives long, is old” is a parlour game in which is a glowing torch is passed in turn from hand to hand, each time the recipient says those words. The person holding the taper when it glows must pay a forfeit. Goethe’s title “If the fox dies, the pelt is still of use” is the phrase spoken to delay the passing on of the torch.


Musical settings (art songs, Lieder, mélodies, (etc.), choral pieces, and other vocal works set to this text), listed by composer (not necessarily exhaustive):

Available translations, adaptations or excerpts, and transliterations (if applicable):

  • ENG English (Iain Sneddon) , "Forfeits", copyright © 2019, (re)printed on this website with kind permission
  • FRE French (Français) (Pierre Mathé) , "Si le renard meurt, sa peau vaut cher", copyright © 2012, (re)printed on this website with kind permission

Research team for this text: Emily Ezust [Administrator] , Iain Sneddon [Guest Editor]

This text was added to the website between May 1995 and September 2003.
Line count: 24
Word count: 111

Language: English  after the German (Deutsch) 
In the afternoon we sat 
Young people in the shade; 
Cupid came, wanting to play  
"The fox dies" with us.  

Every one of my friends sat 
Next to his beloved; 
Cupid blew out the torch, 
Said: "here is the taper!"

And the torch as it smouldered, 
Was quickly passed around, 
Everyone pressed it quickly 
Into the hand of the next. 

And Dorillis handed it to me 
With derision and jokes; 
Hardly had I touched her, 
Than the torch burst into flame,

It singed my eyes and face, 
Set my breast aflame; 
Over my head the blaze 
Merged to engulf me.  

Vainly I wanted to put it out; 
But the fire resisted; 
Instead of dying, the fox 
Was quite alive to me.


  • Translation from German (Deutsch) to English copyright © 2019 by Iain Sneddon, (re)printed on this website with kind permission. To reprint and distribute this author's work for concert programs, CD booklets, etc., you may ask the copyright-holder(s) directly or ask us; we are authorized to grant permission on their behalf. Please provide the translator's name when contacting us.

Based on:


This text was added to the website: 2019-04-02
Line count: 24
Word count: 121