The three holy kings with their star's bright ray,
They eat and they drink, but had rather not pay;
They like to eat and drink away,
They eat and drink, but had rather not pay.
The three holy kings have all come here,
In number not four, but three they appear;
And if a fourth join'd the other three,
Increased by one their number would be.
The first am I, the fair and the white,
I ought to be seen when the sun shines bright!
But alas! with all my spices and myrrh,
No girl now likes me, I please not her.
The next am I, the brown and the long,
Known well to women, known well to song.
Instead of spices, 'tis gold I bear,
And so I'm welcome everywhere.
The last am I, the black and small,
And fain would be right merry withal.
I like to eat and to drink full measure,
I eat and drink, and give thanks with pleasure.
The three holy kings are friendly and mild,
They seek the Mother and seek the Child;
The pious Joseph is sitting by,
The ox and the ass on their litter lie.
We're bringing gold, we're bringing myrrh,
The women incense always prefer;
And if we have wine of a worthy growth,
We three to drink like six are not loth.
As here we see fair lads and lasses,
But not a sign of oxen or asses,
We know that we have gone astray
And so go further on our way.
This poem by Goethe was written in 1781 for a Epiphany celebration in Weimar. The singer Corona Schröter played the first king. According to the Hamburg edition of Goethe's works (I, 534), the opening of the poem is taken from a folk song sung by young boys on January 6, when they dress up as the three kings. Above is a picture of a contemporary portrayal in Cologne. The beautiful illustration at the top of the post is from an Armenian manuscript of the 13th century, now in the Freer Gallery in Washington, D.C.