Sunday, June 27, 2010

Brahms/Goethe : "Harzreise im Winter"

Here as promised, is Goethe's poem, taken from "Harzreise im Winter", set to music by Brahms as the Rhapsody for alto, male chorus and orchestra (opus 53). I am sticking down the original German, and a translation that is not credited in my version, that of Kathleen Ferrier with the London Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus, conducted by Clemens Krauss.

Aber abseits, wer ist's ? / But who is that, standing apart ?
Ins Gebüsch verliert sich sein Pfad, / His steps recede into the bushes,
hinter ihm schlagen / behind him
die Straüche zusammen / the thickets close,
das Gras steht wieder auf, / the grass straightens,
die Öde verschlingt ihn. / the wilderness swallows him up.

Ach wer heilet die Schmerzen / Alas, who will heal the suffering
des, dem Balsam zu Gift ward ? / of one for whom balm has become poison ;
Der sich Menschenhass / and who sucked hatred of mankind
aus der Fülle der Liebe trank ? / from the abundance of love ?
Erst verachtet, nun ein Verächter, / Despised at first and now despising,
zehrt er heimlich auf / he secretly devours
seinen eignen Wert / his own worth
in ungnügender Selbstsucht. / in insatiable self love.

Ist auf deinem Psalter, / Father of love, if there is
Vater der Lieber, ein Ton, / a sound on your psaltery
seinem Ohre vernehmlich, / which his ear can discern,
so erquicke sein Herz ! / then quicken his heart !
Öffne den umwölkten Blick / Reveal to his clouded gaze
über die tausend Quellen / the thousand springs
neben dem Durstenden / by the side of the thirsty man
in der Wüste. / in the desert.
______________________________________________

I'm not going to do a full critical analysis of the way I read this poem right now. Maybe someday here, who knows ?
For the time being, I would like to borrow an image from Philip Pullman, in his Dark Materials Trilogy.
Pullman talks about "dust". The most spiritually rich people in his epic saga are surrounded by layers and layers of invisible to the naked eye "dust", which Pullman seems to suggest (sorry Phillip for explaining your work...) is a manifestation of the eternal love affair between spirit and matter.
This poem, for me, is surrounded with "dust", too.
Its timeless images hark back to the most powerful ideas at work in our civilization, and cristallize them in a living way.
Just a few, pointillist brush strokes for my readers...
"over there"... "standing APART"...
the grass STRAIGHTENS AFTER when he walks on it...
The wilderness "SWALLOWS him up"...
"SUCKING hatred of man from the fullness of love".
"DEVOURING one's OWN self worth in INSATIABLE SELF LOVE".

And after.. "FATHER"...
"QUICKEN HIS HEART"...
"THE THOUSAND SPRINGS"...

As I said in my last post, this is Goethe's and Brahm's manifesto, their CREDO, written with words and music FOR MODERN MAN.
Modern man who does not believe... in anything, and as a result, well... can no longer believe in himself.
And the poem describes in great detail what happens SINCE modern man can no longer believe, and have faith :"devouring one's own worth in insatiable self love" born of... self hate, of course.
"Quicken"... is the biblical word used to speak of the fetus in the womb. It means to bring to life. The first movements of the fetus in the womb. Because, of course, for us, movement IS life, and our perception of it can not be divorced from our perception of life itself.
Yes.
I suggest... that my readers listen to Brahms WITH Goethe, and let the MAGIC of the work tug gently at OUR hearts, right ??

6 comments:

Toby said...

Wonderful words and poetry. I really must get to know Goethe! Some points that struck me:

"verliert sich" comes from "sich verlieren", a verb, translated into "recedes" in the text (which is fine). "recedes" however does not capture "verlieren" which means "to lose". "Sich verlieren" implies/hints at losing one's self.

"Aus der Fülle der Liebe trank" : in the English "trank" becomes "sucked", which is an exagerated translation, since "drank" would be direct and correct. "Sucked" makes it sound hungrier of course. Perhaps the translator chose sucked because of the difficulty of translating "Selbstsucht":

"Selbstsucht" has been translated to "self love". This is artisitic licence; Liebe is love, Sucht is more like craving or addiction. Love has but one syllable, so won the day I think. Selbstsucht is a fantastic word that self love (narcissism) does not do justice to. Selbstsucht is insane, beyond obsession, a craving for the self.

The closing stanza here reminds me of The Fisher King, dying of thirst, the land dying too, his noble knights searching high and low in vain, until a fool hands the King a cup of water and so heals him. Only a fool could see there the salvation was right there at the King's bedside. We need to be fools again. The solutions are right here beside us, and in us.

On my way to work this morning the section of "The Ascent of Humanity" (BUY IT!!!) I was reading was about how money destroys community by a slow and insidious process of transforming more and more of what was once community activity (like music, cooking, hospitality, tool making, food growing etc.) into specialized money making activity. What this means over time is that we become deceived into believing we are independent, that is, not dependent on the kindness of others, but can pay for what we need from any old anonymous, faceless somebody out there. This 'independence' comes at a high price, because community breaks down, and the growth paradigm monetizes even parenting, friendship, enternatainment, and love. We pay for almost everything now, and isolate ourselves more and more as we turn more and more of our world into business transactions.

This unseen isolation leads to self-obession, to the emptiness that cannot be filled by ever more intense entertainment, or more sessions with a shrink, or more drugs etc. We are humans; we need true human relationships. We need intimacy. If we don't get it, we go mad with self-obsession, Selbstsucht. In short, money is driving us mad. Has driven us mad. We barely know how to relate to each other any more.

As the Piraha man said: "I store my food in the belly of my brother."

Debra said...

Thanks for your comments on the German, Toby.
I love the "ungnügender" that accompanies "Selbstsucht".
The shrinks translate this as narcissism, you know, but the word "narcissism" can't hold a candle to "Selbstsucht", can it, now ?
I will check out your book, Toby... and will you check out mine ?
I think that you are right about the addictive process, which is one of the reasons why I feel that our society is incredibly hypocritical about promoting addiction, and then coming down hard on it when it does not stay in the socially and politically correct channels it's SUPPOSED to stay in...
I think that translator chose "sucked" to suggest INFANT greediness, and the image of infancy returns with "quicken".
I agree with your observations about specialization, and transforming activities that were once "free" into paying ones. But I think that at the same time there are activities that are perhaps become not paid ones.
The incredible perversion being "having to EARN A LIVING.
I think that that's the greatest perversion, Toby....

Toby said...

I fully intend to read yours. I shall order it very soon (right after I've paid off my credit card bill for last month's books).

Debra said...

Careful about that... BOOK addiction, there, Toby...
;-)
Did you know that the parents of my mother in law's generation (she is 80+) were worried about their kids getting addicted on the books, and not getting enough fresh air...
Sigh. The more it changes, the more it stays the same, as the man said...

Edwardo said...

A solution to the book problem is simply to read outside with short jaunts between chapters. Now, as for modern man, or, for that matter, post modern man not believing in anything, I believe I disagree.

By my runes the "problem" could just as easily be chalked up to a condition where there are far too many about the land believing in far too many conflicting creeds, or, perhaps, that a majority belief in nothing-insofar as we can define believing in nothing, let alone nothing itself- while a small, but very determined minority believe in something- almost certainly unworthy of devotion-fervently. Those are just a few somewhat broad explanations-see the DHS daily report- for the plight of humankind presently.

Debra said...

LOL, Edwardo, ever the pragmatist.
I could get picky and say that... turning the pages is not exactly working up a sweat in a way that will get you in touch with your BODY.
Remember that Star Trek number where the aliens had spent so much time in their heads that they ended up becoming BRAINS ? And then they were really unhappy, because, well, a really nice Bordeaux millésimé wine for A BRAIN, that doesn't go very far.
Not to mention sex...
I still think that desecularization is a big problem, accompanied by the sacralization of science as a belief system.
And you can't believe in something in a vacuum either. If everyone around you points fingers and laughs at you, treating you like a mental retard, then it's hard to not get all defensive about what you believe in.
But I agree that many Christian fundamentalists are hung up in anhistorical readings of the Bible.
Populism and demagoguery are in the air, huh ?
They're... everywhere.