No Comment, Quotation — December 20, 2009, 8:35 am

Opitz – Ach liebste laß vns eilen

vermeer-girl-interrupted

Ach liebste laß vns eilen
Wir haben Zeit:
Es schadet das verweilen
Uns beyderseit.
Der Edlen schönheit Gaben
Fliehn fuß für fuß:
Daß alles was wir haben
Verschwinden muß.

Der Wangen Ziehr verbleichet
Das Haar wird greiß,
Der Augen Fewer weichet,
Die Brunst wird Eiß.
Das Mündlein von Corallen
Wird vngestalt,
Die Händ’ als Schnee verfallen,
Und du wirst alt.

Drumb laß vns jetzt genießen
Der Jugend Frucht,
Eh’ als wir folgen müssen
Der Jahre Flucht.
Wo du dich selber liebest,
So liebe mich,
Gieb mir das wann du giebest
Verlier auch ich.

Oh, beloved, let us make haste,
We have time,
But to tarry will injure
Both of us.
The noble gifts of beauty
Flee step by step,
And everything we have
Must pass away.

The ornament of your cheeks pale,
Your hair turns gray,
The fire of your eyes passes,
Your chest turns to ice.
Your little lips of coral
lose their shape,
Your hands melt away like snow,
As you grow old.

So let us now enjoy
Youth’s bounty,
Before we follow
With the flight of the years.
As you would love yourself,
So love me.
Give to me, so that when you give,
I will share your loss.

Martin Opitz, Ode VIII: Ach liebste laß vns eilen from Oden und Gesänge (1618)(S.H. transl.)


Ach liebste laß vns eilen” by Martin Opitz is a simple but quite beautiful love poem in the Silesian baroque style. It proceeds from the typical notion of carpe diem, the need to seize the moment of life before it passes, presented in this case as a request to the poet’s beloved, repeated several times over the 24 lines of the poem. The 24 lines can, however, be read in the form of classical Latin poetry as 12 lines, each interrupted with a cæsura or pause (as incorporated in the Nauwach setting below). The first word “ach” is more an exclamation or suggestion of worry, and it sets a tone from the outset of the effort to grasp time. It has a simple cadence that drives the work forward and makes it ultimately an easy poem to set as a song. The poet pursues this narrative using three pronouns—the narrative I, the intimate you, and the conjoined we.

The work is divided into three stanzas. The first stanza consists of an appeal to the poet’s love interest not to allow time to pass without the fulfillment of their love, because “everything” (that is, also love) fades with time. In the second stanza, beauty is itself described as the object of the powers of transformation. The physical aspects of the beloved beauty are catalogued (the fiery eyes, graceful cheeks, the coral-like lips) in a manner that reflects the esthetics of the baroque era. Consider a massive, flesh-filled painting of a master like Rubens, and you will always see prominent coloration given to lips and cheeks—much as this poem suggests, and even in the more restrained and intensely domestic settings of a master like Vermeer, as shown in his Girl Interrupted at Her Music, where the ruddy cheeks and lips are highlighted by a matching blouse. But these tokens of feminine beauty are transitory, they grow pale (verbleichen), turn soft (weichen) and finally expire (verfallen).

This sets the stage for the third stanza, beginning with the word “drumb” (wherefore), in which the poet refers to the “fruit of youth” and proposes that it be enjoyed. Youth is viewed as the age for love, beauty and sensual delights. Age marks the approach of death and the extinguishment of these earthly pleasures. The poem is a font of baroque esthetics and values, simply conceived and well executed.

The song has been taken from Johann Nauwach’s Teutsche Villanellen (1627). It is a perfect example of the Italian continuo song transformed to fit German circumstances.


Listen to a performance of the work by Andreas Scholl:

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

Conversation March 30, 2016, 3:44 pm

Burn Pits

Joseph Hickman discusses his new book, The Burn Pits, which tells the story of thousands of U.S. soldiers who, after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, have developed rare cancers and respiratory diseases.

Context, No Comment August 28, 2015, 12:16 pm

Beltway Secrecy

In five easy lessons

From the April 2015 issue

Company Men

Torture, treachery, and the CIA

Get access to 165 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

August 2016

A Sigh and a Salute

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Four in Prose

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Don the Realtor

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Atlas Aggregated

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Origins of Speech

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Four in Verse

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Post
Martin Amis on the rise of Trump, Tom Wolfe on the origins of speech, Art Spiegelman on Si Lewen, fiction by Diane Williams, and more

In Havana, the past year has been marked by a parade of bold-faced names from the north — John Kerry reopening the United States Embassy; Andrew Cuomo bringing a delegation of American business leaders; celebrities ranging from Joe Torre, traveling on behalf of Major League Baseball to oversee an exhibition game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Cuban national team, to Jimmy Buffett, said to be considering opening one of his Margaritaville restaurants there. All this culminated with a three-day trip in March by Barack Obama, the first American president to visit Cuba since Calvin Coolidge in 1928. But to those who know the city well, perhaps nothing said as much about the transformation of political relations between the United States and Cuba that began in December 2014 as a concert in the Tribuna Antiimperialista.

Illustration by Darrel Rees
Article
Don the Realtor·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"If you have ever wondered what it’s like, being a young and avaricious teetotal German-American philistine on the make in Manhattan, then your curiosity will be quenched by The Art of the Deal."
Photograph (detail) © Polly Borland/Exclusive by Getty Images
Article
The Origins of Speech·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"To Chomsky...every child’s language organ could use the 'deep structure,' 'universal grammar,' and 'language acquisition device' he was born with to express what he had to say, no matter whether it came out of his mouth in English or Urdu or Nagamese."
Illustration (detail) by Darrel Rees. Source photograph © Miroslav Dakov/Alamy Live News
Article
A Sigh and a Salute·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"Si told me that various paintings had spoken to him, but he wished they had been hung closer together 'so they could talk to each other.' This observation planted a seed that would come to fruition years later in his mature work."
Artwork (detail) by Si Lewen
Article
El Bloqueo·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"Amid the festivities and the flood of celebrities, it would be easy for Americans to miss that the central plank of the long-standing cold war against Cuba — the economic embargo — remains very much alive and well."
Photograph (detail) by Rose Marie Cromwell

Amount traders on the Philadelphia Stock Exchange can be fined for fighting, per punch:

$1,000

Philadelphian teenagers who want to lose weight also tend to drink too much soda, whereas Bostonian teenagers who drink too much soda are likelier to carry guns.

Nuremberg’s Neues Museum filed a criminal complaint against a 91-year-old woman who completed a crossword puzzle that was in fact a $116,000 piece of avant-garde Danish art.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Mississippi Drift

By

Matt was happy enough to sustain himself on the detritus of a world he saw as careening toward self-destruction, and equally happy to scam a government he despised. 'I’m glad everyone’s so wasteful,' he told me. 'It supports my lifestyle.'

Subscribe Today