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Freiligrath – O lieb, so lang du lieben kannst

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womanlying

O lieb, so lang du lieben kannst!
O lieb, so lang du lieben magst!
Die Stunde kommt, die Stunde kommt,
Wo du an Gräbern stehst und klagst!

Und sorge, daß dein Herze glüht
Und Liebe hegt und Liebe trägt,
So lang ihm noch ein ander Herz
In Liebe warm entgegenschlägt!

Und wer dir seine Brust erschließt,
O tu ihm, was du kannst, zulieb!
Und mach ihm jede Stunde froh,
Und mach ihm keine Stunde trüb!

Und hüte deine Zunge wohl,
Bald ist ein böses Wort gesagt!
O Gott, es war nicht bös gemeint –
Der Andre aber geht und klagt.

O lieb, so lang du lieben kannst!
O lieb, so lang du lieben magst!
Die Stunde kommt, die Stunde kommt,
Wo du an Gräbern stehst und klagst!

Dann kniest du nieder an der Gruft,
Und birgst die Augen, trüb und naß
– sie sehn den Andern nimmermehr –
In’s lange, feuchte Kirchhofsgras.

Und sprichst: O schau auf mich herab
Der hier an deinem Grabe weint!
Vergib, daß ich gekränkt dich hab!
O Gott, es war nicht bös gemeint!

Er aber sieht und hört dich nicht,
Kommt nicht, daß du ihn froh umfängst;
Der Mund, der oft dich küßte, spricht
Nie wieder: ich vergab dir längst!

Er that’s, vergab dir lange schon,
Doch manche heiße Träne fiel
Um dich und um dein herbes Wort –
Doch still – er ruht, er ist am Ziel!

O lieb, so lang du lieben kannst!
O lieb, so lang du lieben magst!
Die Stunde kommt, die Stunde kommt,
wo du an Gräbern stehst und klagst!

O love, as long as love you can,
O love, as long as love you may,
The time will come, the time will come
When you will stand at the grave and mourn!

Be sure that your heart burns,
And holds and keeps love
As long as another heart beats warmly
With its love for you

And if someone bears his soul to you
Love him back as best you can
Give his every hour joy,
Let him pass none in sorrow!

And guard your words with care,
Lest harm flow from your lips!
Dear God, I meant no harm,
But the loved one recoils and mourns.

O love, love as long as you can!
O love, love as long as you may!
The time will come, the time will come,
When you will stand at the grave and mourn.

You will kneel alongside the grave
And your eyes will be sorrowful and moist,
– Never will you see the beloved again –
Only the churchyard’s tall, wet grass.

You will say: Look at me from below,
I who mourn here alongside your grave!
Forgive my slights!
Dear God, I meant no harm!

Yet the beloved does not see or hear you,
He lies beyond your comfort;
The lips you kissed so often speak
Not again: I forgave you long ago!

Indeed, he did forgive you,
But tears he would freely shed,
Over you and on your unthinking word –
Quiet now! – he rests, he has passed.

O love, love as long as you can!
O love, love as long as you may!
The time will come, the time will come,
When you will stand at the grave and mourn.

Ferdinand Freiligrath, O lieb, so lang du lieben kannst (1845)(S.H. transl.)

Ferdinand Freiligrath was a tireless champion of freedom and civil liberties and a poet who sang the song of democracy in the face of repression. He was repeatedly forced into exile due to his active political engagement for democracy. In his celebrated 1977 address to the German parliament, historian Fritz Stern cited Freiligrath as a model for a little recalled but vital part of German history–the ever recurring popular rising for freedom and against the authoritarianism that held the nation in its lock for so many centuries. But this poem, one of the best known of his works, reflects a sort of sentimentalism typical for the poetry of the age. To modern ears it seems a bit trite and even saccharine. But it has a haunting quality. Franz Liszt composed what might be his best known Lied to this poem.

Listen to a reading of the Freiligrath poem by Marlene Dietrich and Maximilian Schell, from the 1984 documentary “Marlene.” She comments at the end that it is, perhaps, a bit corny and sentimental, but she clearly loves it.

Listen to a performance of Franz Liszt’s setting of the poem in a Lied from 1847, sung by Lia Origoni:

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