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Mitten im Schimmer der spiegelnden Wellen
Gleitet, wie Schwäne, der wankende Kahn:
Ach, auf der Freude sanftschimmernden Wellen
Gleitet die Seele dahin wie der Kahn;
Denn von dem Himmel herab auf die Wellen
Tanzet das Abendrot rund um den Kahn.
Über den Wipfeln des westlichen Haines
Winket uns freundlich der rötliche Schein;
Unter den Zweigen des östlichen Haines
Säuselt der Kalmus im rötlichen Schein;
Freude des Himmels und Ruhe des Haines
Atmet die Seel im errötenden Schein.
Ach, es entschwindet mit tauigem Flügel
Mir auf den wiegenden Wellen die Zeit;
Morgen entschwinde mit schimmerndem Flügel
Wieder wie gestern und heute die Zeit,
Bis ich auf höherem strahlendem Flügel
Selber entschwinde der wechselnden Zeit.
In the midst of the shimmer of the reflecting waves
Glides, swan-like, the rocking boat;
Oh on joy of these softly shimmering waves
Glides the soul along like the boat;
Then from Heavens down onto the waves
Dances the dusk all around the boat.
Over the treetops of the western grove
Waves happily toss in the reddish glow;
Under the branches of the eastern grove
The rushes murmur in the reddish gleam;
Joy of Heaven and the peace of the grove
Beathes the soul in the reddening glow.
Oh, time disappears on a dewy wing
for me, on the rocking waves;
Tomorrow, will disappear on shimmering wings
Time again as yesterday and today,
Until I, on a higher radiant wing,
Myself disappear taken by the passing time.
–Leopold Graf zu Stolberg, Lied Auf dem Wasser zu singen, für meine Agnes (1782) (S.H. transl.)
Count Stolberg was a Danish diplomat, poet and classicist, a significant star in the system that marked the transition from classicism to romanticism in late eighteenth century Middle Europe, and a man with one foot firmly planted in each camp. His poetry has been preserved largely because of Franz Schubert’s affection for it, and this Lied is surely one of Schubert’s most accomplished. He starts with a long sustained A flat minor, which warms up to an A flat major–it seems to be the movement between two different worlds, physically and emotionally. One is the red light of the day’s last glimmerings, and the other the dark afterworld that follows it. Schubert’s composition carefully marks the theme of the poem, the “shimmering” of the water, the “rocking” of the boat–note how skillfully Schubert does this, as he springs up an octave and then back down, mimicking the movement of the waves, with a quick punctuation suggesting the movement of a rudder, perhaps? But in doing this he is not just tracking the natural rhythm of the waves, but also the technique that Stolberg chose for the same purpose: note that his poem can be examined as a series of couplets, each with a line and a counter-line which contain language and images which are similar–but never quite the same. Specific words link the couplets, like a thread run through them. But the pairing technique is striking. Again, the movement of the waves, up and down. The poem suggests a state of approaching somnolence, perhaps of a dream. The world is seen in an eerily reddish light. It is a fading light. Darkness will soon close about and the image, wondrous, beautiful, soon will be lost to nightfall. The total effect of the song mirrors that of the poem. It is a curious series of juxtapositions and pairings–introspective and carefree, warmhearted and loving, straining to seize a moment of beauty and warmth, yet aware of the approach of darkness and death. Romanticist ideas have been suffused in a classical medium.
Listen to Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau sing Franz Schubert’s setting of this song, op. 72 (D. 774)(1823)
More from Scott Horton:
Six Questions — October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm
Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.
On a Friday evening in January, a thousand people at the annual California Native Plant Society conference in San Jose settled down to a banquet and a keynote speech delivered by an environmental historian named Jared Farmer. His chosen topic was the eucalyptus tree and its role in California’s ecology and history. The address did not go well. Eucalyptus is not a native plant but a Victorian import from Australia. In the eyes of those gathered at the San Jose DoubleTree, it qualified as “invasive,” “exotic,” “alien” — all dirty words to this crowd, who were therefore convinced that the tree was dangerously combustible, unfriendly to birds, and excessively greedy in competing for water with honest native species.
In his speech, Farmer dutifully highlighted these ugly attributes, but also quoted a few more positive remarks made by others over the years. This was a reckless move. A reference to the tree as “indigenously Californian” elicited an abusive roar, as did an observation that without the aromatic import, the state would be like a “home without its mother.” Thereafter, the mild-mannered speaker was continually interrupted by boos, groans, and exasperated gasps. Only when he mentioned the longhorn beetle, a species imported (illegally) from Australia during the 1990s with the specific aim of killing the eucalyptus, did he earn a resounding cheer.
Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:
An Australian entrepreneur was selling oysters raised in tanks laced with Viagra.
A tourism company in Australia announced a service that will allow users to take the “world’s biggest selfies,” and a Texas man accidentally killed himself while trying to pose for a selfie with a handgun.
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“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”