The last legend reminds one of the “Lorelei”—a legend of the Rhine. There is a song called “The Lorelei.”
Germany is rich in folk-songs, and the words and airs of several of them are peculiarly beautiful—but “The Lorelei” is the people’s favorite. I could not endure it at first, but by and by it began to take hold of me, and now there is no tune which I like so well.
It is not possible that it is much known in America, else I should have heard it there. The fact that I never heard it there, is evidence that there are others in my country who have fared likewise; therefore, for the sake of these, I mean to print the words and music in this chapter. And I will refresh the reader’s memory by printing the legend of the Lorelei, too. I have it by me in the Legends of the Rhine, done into English by the wildly gifted Garnham, Bachelor of Arts. I print the legend partly to refresh my own memory, too, for I have never read it before.
Lore (two syllables) was a water nymph who used to sit on a high rock called the Ley or Lei (pronounced like our word lie) in the Rhine, and lure boatmen to destruction in a furious rapid which marred the channel at that spot. She so bewitched them with her plaintive songs and her wonderful beauty that they forgot everything else to gaze up at her, and so they presently drifted among the broken reefs and were lost.
In those old, old times, the Count Bruno lived in a great castle near there with his son, the Count Hermann, a youth of twenty. Hermann had heard a great deal about the beautiful Lore, and had finally fallen very deeply in love with her without having seen her. So he used to wander to the neighborhood of the Lei, evenings, with his Zither and “Express his Longing in low Singing,” as Garnham says. On one of these occasions, “suddenly there hovered around the top of the rock a brightness of unequaled clearness and color, which, in increasingly smaller circles thickened, was the enchanting figure of the beautiful Lore.
“An unintentional cry of Joy escaped the Youth, he let his Zither fall, and with extended arms he called out the name of the enigmatical Being, who seemed to stoop lovingly to him and beckon to him in a friendly manner; indeed, if his ear did not deceive him, she called his name with unutterable sweet Whispers, proper to love. Beside himself with delight the youth lost his Senses and sank senseless to the earth.”
After that he was a changed person. He went dreaming about, thinking only of his fairy and caring for naught else in the world. “The old count saw with affliction this changement in his son,” whose cause he could not divine, and tried to divert his mind into cheerful channels, but to no purpose. Then the old count used authority. He commanded the youth to betake himself to the camp. Obedience was promised. Garnham says:
“It was on the evening before his departure, as he wished still once to visit the Lei and offer to the Nymph of the Rhine his Sighs, the tones of his Zither, and his Songs. He went, in his boat, this time accompanied by a faithful squire, down the stream. The moon shed her silvery light over the whole country; the steep bank mountains appeared in the most fantastical shapes, and the high oaks on either side bowed their Branches on Hermann’s passing. As soon as he approached the Lei, and was aware of the surf-waves, his attendant was seized with an inexpressible Anxiety and he begged permission to land; but the Knight swept the strings of his Guitar and sang:
“Once I saw thee in dark night, In supernatural Beauty bright; Of Light-rays, was the Figure wove, To share its light, locked-hair strove. “Thy Garment color wave-dove By thy hand the sign of love, Thy eyes sweet enchantment, Raying to me, oh! enchantment. “O, wert thou but my sweetheart, How willingly thy love to part! With delight I should be bound To thy rocky house in deep ground.”
That Hermann should have gone to that place at all, was not wise; that he should have gone with such a song as that in his mouth was a most serious mistake. The Lorelei did not “call his name in unutterable sweet Whispers” this time. No, that song naturally worked an instant and thorough “changement” in her; and not only that, but it stirred the bowels of the whole afflicted region around about there—for—
“Scarcely had these tones sounded, everywhere there began tumult and sound, as if voices above and below the water. On the Lei rose flames, the Fairy stood above, at that time, and beckoned with her right hand clearly and urgently to the infatuated Knight, while with a staff in her left hand she called the waves to her service. They began to mount heavenward; the boat was upset, mocking every exertion; the waves rose to the gunwale, and splitting on the hard stones, the Boat broke into Pieces. The youth sank into the depths, but the squire was thrown on shore by a powerful wave."
The bitterest things have been said about the Lorelei during many centuries, but surely her conduct upon this occasion entitles her to our respect. One feels drawn tenderly toward her and is moved to forget her many crimes and remember only the good deed that crowned and closed her career.
“The Fairy was never more seen; but her enchanting tones have often been heard. In the beautiful, refreshing, still nights of spring, when the moon pours her silver light over the Country, the listening shipper hears from the rushing of the waves, the echoing Clang of a wonderfully charming voice, which sings a song from the crystal castle, and with sorrow and fear he thinks on the young Count Hermann, seduced by the Nymph.”
Here is the music, and the German words by Heinrich Heine. This song has been a favorite in Germany for forty years, and will remain a favorite always, maybe. [Figure 5]
I have a prejudice against people who print things in a foreign language and add no translation. When I am the reader, and the author considers me able to do the translating myself, he pays me quite a nice compliment—but if he would do the translating for me I would try to get along without the compliment.
If I were at home, no doubt I could get a translation of this poem, but I am abroad and can’t; therefore I will make a translation myself. It may not be a good one, for poetry is out of my line, but it will serve my purpose—which is, to give the unGerman young girl a jingle of words to hang the tune on until she can get hold of a good version, made by some one who is a poet and knows how to convey a poetical thought from one language to another.
THE LORELEI I cannot divine what it meaneth, This haunting nameless pain: A tale of the bygone ages Keeps brooding through my brain: The faint air cools in the glooming, And peaceful flows the Rhine, The thirsty summits are drinking The sunset’s flooding wine; The loveliest maiden is sitting High-throned in yon blue air, Her golden jewels are shining, She combs her golden hair; She combs with a comb that is golden, And sings a weird refrain That steeps in a deadly enchantment The list’ner’s ravished brain: The doomed in his drifting shallop, Is tranced with the sad sweet tone, He sees not the yawning breakers, He sees but the maid alone: The pitiless billows engulf him!— So perish sailor and bark; And this, with her baleful singing, Is the Lorelei’s gruesome work.
I have a translation by Garnham, Bachelor of Arts, in the Legends of the Rhine, but it would not answer the purpose I mentioned above, because the measure is too nobly irregular; it don’t fit the tune snugly enough; in places it hangs over at the ends too far, and in other places one runs out of words before he gets to the end of a bar. Still, Garnham’s translation has high merits, and I am not dreaming of leaving it out of my book. I believe this poet is wholly unknown in America and England; I take peculiar pleasure in bringing him forward because I consider that I discovered him:
THE LORELEI Translated by L. W. Garnham, B.A. I do not know what it signifies. That I am so sorrowful? A fable of old Times so terrifies, Leaves my heart so thoughtful. The air is cool and it darkens, And calmly flows the Rhine; The summit of the mountain hearkens In evening sunshine line. The most beautiful Maiden entrances Above wonderfully there, Her beautiful golden attire glances, She combs her golden hair. With golden comb so lustrous, And thereby a song sings, It has a tone so wondrous, That powerful melody rings. The shipper in the little ship It effects with woe sad might; He does not see the rocky slip, He only regards dreaded height. I believe the turbulent waves Swallow the last shipper and boat; She with her singing craves All to visit hermagic moat.
No translation could be closer. He has got in all the facts; and in their regular order, too. There is not a statistic wanting. It is as succinct as an invoice. That is what a translation ought to be; it should exactly reflect the thought of the original. You can’t sing “Above wonderfully there,” because it simply won’t go to the tune, without damaging the singer; but it is a most clingingly exact translation of Dort Oben Wunderbar—fits it like a blister. Mr. Garnham’s reproduction has other merits—a hundred of them—but it is not necessary to point them out. They will be detected.
No one with a specialty can hope to have a monopoly of it. Even Garnham has a rival. Mr. X had a small pamphlet with him which he had bought while on a visit to Munich. It was entitled A Catalogue of Pictures in the Old Pinacotek, and was written in a peculiar kind of English. Here are a few extracts:
“It is not permitted to make use of the work in question to a publication of the same contents as well as to the pirated edition of it.”
“An evening landscape. In the foreground near a pond and a group of white beeches is leading a footpath animated by travelers.”
“A learned man in a cynical and torn dress holding an open book in his hand.”
“St. Bartholomew and the Executioner with the knife to fulfil the martyr.”
“Portrait of a young man. A long while this picture was thought to be Bindi Altoviti’s portrait; now somebody will again have it to be the self-portrait of Raphael.”
“Susan bathing, surprised by the two old man. In the background the lapidation of the condemned.”
(“Lapidation” is good; it is much more elegant than “stoning.”)
“St. Rochus sitting in a landscape with an angel who looks at his plague-sore, whilst the dog the bread in his mouth attents him.”
“Spring. The Goddess Flora, sitting. Behind her a fertile valley perfused by a river.”
“A beautiful bouquet animated by May-bugs, etc.”
“A warrior in armor with a gypseous pipe in his hand leans against a table and blows the smoke far away of himself.”
“A Dutch landscape along a navigable river which perfuses it till to the background.”
“Some peasants singing in a cottage. A woman lets drink a child out of a cup.”
“St. John’s head as a boy—painted in fresco on a brick.” (Meaning a tile.)
“A young man of the Riccio family, his hair cut off right at the end, dressed in black with the same cap. Attributed to Raphael, but the signation is false.”
“The Virgin holding the Infant. It is very painted in the manner of Sassoferrato.”
“A Larder with greens and dead game animated by a cook-maid and two kitchen-boys.”
However, the English of this catalogue is at least as happy as that which distinguishes an inscription upon a certain picture in Rome—to wit:
“Revelations-View. St. John in Patterson’s Island.”
But meanwhile the raft is moving on.