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Schubert collection

Die schöne Müllerin, Chapter 3

Posted by Richard on UTC 2015-12-03 16:15.

Part 3: poems 13-23

Where have we got to? We have a completely lovestruck and deluded young man and a girl who seems to be completely indifferent to him. All we need now is a hunter to come along and get the girl.

13 Pause (Meine Laute hab' ich gehängt an die Wand…).
The young miller is in such an emotional turmoil that he can no longer play his lute. He has hung it on the wall and draped a green ribbon around it. Sometimes the wind or the wings of a bee move the strings. The ribbon dangles on the strings and sometimes brushes against them, making a noise. Does this mark the end of his heartache or the beginning of new songs?
Notes: It now seems that the miller's certainty in the previous song 'Mein!' was misplaced. It is unclear (to me at least) whether the young man's lute is a symbol of something, perhaps his heartstrings. It only appears directly in this poem. Green is traditionally the colour of hope, so perhaps the green ribbon takes on this meaning. I have the impression that Schubert was as puzzled as we are about this poem. His piano accompaniment imitates a strange skipping lute melody at points, otherwise wanders around with the voice without purpose – to me, one of Schubert's weaker efforts.

14 Mit dem grünen Lautenbande (»Schad' um das schöne grüne Band…).
The poem opens with the miller quoting the girl. She noticed the ribbon and said to him that it was a shame that the beautiful ribbon would fade. She liked green so much. The young man unties it and sends it to her. He likes green, too: love is evergreen and the colour of hope. He wants her to tie the ribbon in her hair, so that he will know where hope and love reside.
Notes: Müller closes each of the three verses of this poem with a variant of the phrase 'gern haben' ('like'), the structure is therefore not quite 'artless'. As we shall soon see, the love of the girl and the boy for the colour green will be his downfall. Later it will be hinted that she wears the green band for someone else, not him.

15 Der Jäger (Was sucht denn der Jäger am Mühlbach hier?…).
The miller has seen the hunter hanging round the mill, where there is nothing to hunt but the miller's daughter, the 'tame little deer' who lives there and who is already spoken for as far as the miller is concerned. All the uproar he causes with his horn and his bristly beard will just drive the deer away. He should stay in the woods where he belongs. If he wanted to make himself liked by the girl it would be better if he shot the boars who come at night and damage the girl's vegetable garden.
Notes: The hunter, the young miller's love rival, seems to be a rather rough and ready chap in comparison with our sensitive miller, but there is no accounting for female taste.

16 Eifersucht und Stolz (Wohin so schnell, so kraus, so wild, mein lieber Bach?…).
The miller tells his friend the stream that he should scold the girl for her flightiness and inconstancy. She waits at the gate and looks up the road to catch a glimpse of the hunter on his jaunty way home. No demure child would stick her head out of the window for that. The stream mustn't tell the girl anything about the miller's jealousy, but should tell her that he is carving a pipe to play for the children.
Notes: In the title, Eifersucht, 'jealousy', is the miller's anguish at the light-headed infatuation of the girl with the hunter; Stolz, 'pride', his desire not to show it. A fine description of the young girl, 'her long neck craning to look up the road'. Schubert's setting at times is reminiscent of the famous accompaniment to Goethe's 'Erlkönig', representing here, however, not a galloping horse but a tumultuous stream.

17 Erster Schmerz, letzter Scherz (Nun sitz' am Bache nieder…).
The miller is left sitting at the side of the stream entertaining the children with his homemade flute. Nothing seems to have changed, except that, when he looks through the window of the mill, he can see the hunter is inside in the girl's arms. Green is the colour of the hunter's clothing (traditionally so, even today). The miller wants him to fall into the stream and be carried by his watery friend out to sea, to a distant island where there are no girls. The miller's daughter should then be able to forget the hunter and never again forget the miller.
Notes: This poem was not set by Schubert, which seems a pity, since it adds some clarity to the misery the miller is suffering. It is the only verse in the cycle in which we see that the hunter has got the girl, 'lying in her arms', but the miller's ideas for vengeance are probably unmusical. The situation is painful for the miller: the hunter and the girl are together inside, he is outside with the stream, dutifully entertaining the local children with his flute. The two worlds are separated by the glass of the window. The hunter has a gun, the miller's weapon is rose-petals. It is this poem that shows us the miller wounded by the sight of the girl cradling the hunter. That wound confirms his loss and pushes him over the edge into a suicidal depression. After this it is downhill all the way for him. It really is a pity that Schubert left this crucial turning point out.

18 Die liebe Farbe (In Grün will ich mich kleiden…).
Green thoughts of death, ironically because his darling likes green so much. He will find a cypress wood, a heath of rosemary. Go hunting! My darling likes hunting so much. The prey I hunt is Death, the wood the suffering of love. My darling likes hunting so much. Bury me under a green mound, everything green. My darling likes green so much.
Notes: The green that the girl likes is now the colour of the hunter. The miller now dressing himself in green together with the title 'The lovely colour' is therefore highly ironic. This poem is constructed in the same way as 'Mit dem grünen Lautenbande'. In this case each verse ends with a variant of 'my darling likes green/hunting so much'.
Eine Heide voll grünem Rosmarein is an interesting construction. Rosmarein is an old German variant for the modern Rosmarin 'rosemary'. There is a plant that is similar to rosemary - in German Rosmarinheide, in English 'bog rosemary'. Unlike rosemary, this plant is highly toxic. Müller's description of a heath or marsh full of green rosemary forms an interesting allusion to Rosmarinheide. The latter fits in much better with the mood of the poem than the fragrant and useful rosemary, which anyway prefers warmer drier environments than heathland. Similarly the 'cypresses' would be better understood in English as referring to yew trees, the traditional graveyard tree throughout Europe.

19 Die böse Farbe (Ich möchte ziehn in die Welt hinaus…).
If only the world were not green. The miller would pluck every green leaf. Green, the evil colour, is looking at him everywhere, proud, cheeky and with malicious pleasure. He wants to lie by the girl's door and sing quietly night and day one word 'farewell'. Whenever she hears the hunting horn she looks out of her window. She doesn't look for him, but he can look inside. Untie the green ribbon from your hair. Farewell.
Notes: At the end of the poem we are led to suspect that that girl is wearing the green band for the hunter, not for the miller from whom she got it. The ironic use of green in the previous poem 'Die liebe Farbe' is now changed around. It has become clear to the miller that green, the colour of hope, and the girl have misled him completely.

20 Blümlein Vergißmein (Was treibt mich jeden Morgen…).
The miller invents a new flower for himself. Whereas his previous flower was the forget-me-not, Vergiß mein nicht, he has now invented the flower 'forget-me', Vergiß mein, a black flower without green leaves that crawls along the ground. If you pluck it, the abyss opens.
Notes: This poem was not set by Schubert. When we come to deal with the other Müller/Schubert song-cycle, Die Winterreise, we will find much more desperate melancholy of this kind. Müller struggled with depression for much of his adult life. Confronted now with the awful blackness of these final poems it is difficult to reconcile them with the jokey prologue. We have reached a point beyond all irony.

21 Trockne Blumen (Ihr Blümlein alle, Die sie mir gab…).
All the flowers that the miller's daughter gave him should be laid with him in his grave. They are now all wilted, pale and wet [with his tears]. Tears cannot bring dead flowers to life. When the girl wanders past the mound of his grave and thinks, 'HE meant it faithfully', then the flowers should leave the grave for the meadow: May is here and the winter has gone.
Notes: It is puzzling for the reader to find out at this late stage in the cycle that the girl had given the miller flowers. So far we have heard of no reciprocation by the girl to the miller's advances. On the contrary, we have been able to think that she has not encouraged him and that the miller has imagined the girl's feelings for him. A puzzle.

22 Der Müller und der Bach (Wo ein treues Herze / In Liebe vergeht…).
The miller creates a despairing image involving lilies and angels to describe what happens when a faithful heart expires from love. The stream responds with a more positive message involving roses and angels. The miller cannot accept the version given by the stream, which does not know the pain of love. The miller longs for the cool peace under the stream and asks the stream to sing about that to him.
Notes: The miller's wish for the stream to sing to him at the end of the poem leads us directly into the next and final poem.

23 Des Baches Wiegenlied (Gute Ruh', gute Ruh'!…).
A lullaby sung by the stream. The tired wanderer should close his eyes and lie with the stream until it is swallowed up by the sea. Should a hunting horn echo, the stream will hide the sound with its rushing noise. The little blue flower must not look down and trouble the sleeper's dreams. The wicked girl should keep away from the stream in order not to wake him with her shadow, but just throw in her handkerchief to cover his eyes. Sleep until judgement day when everyone will wake. Sleep away your pleasure and pain.
Notes: The stream sings a lullaby to send the miller to the big sleep. Müller brings the main elements together for the finale: the stream, the wanderer, the forget-me-nots, the girl and the hunter. We end the song-cycle almost as we started with only the miller and his friend the stream. All else has failed him.

Conclusion, Chapter 3, poems 13-23

The poems of this second section of Die schöne Müllerin are a challenge for readers of the text as for listeners to the music. Eleven poems (nine songs) of unmitigated jealousy, assumed betrayal, hatred and misery.

The narrative progression of the first section took us through the changing scenes of a developing plot: the wandering, the stream, the happy atmosphere at the mill, the girl, the flowers.

In the second section there is only stasis as the psychological state of the young miller tumbles down through worry, rejection, jealousy, hatred to black suicidal depression. The jolly emotional crescendo of the first section has not prepared us for this rapid plunge in the opposite direction.

Some critics have been puzzled by the apparently sudden descent into the darkest abyss of rejection and misery that the second Müller/Schubert song-cycle, Die Winterreise, presents us with. 'Where did that come from?' they write. Those of us who have read Müller's poems for the second section of Die schöne Müllerin attentively know exactly where it came from.

In this section all the happy, bucolic symbols of the Romantics - the wandering, the rural trades, the streams and flowers - have gone. Rustic life is not so wonderful now: the wild boar come out at night, ravage the girl's garden and churn up the field. The stream is a powerless friend, the flowers a hateful souvenir and the hunter's horn a mockery.

Schubert left out two of Müller's poems: 17, 'Erster Schmerz, letzter Scherz' and 20, 'Blümlein Vergißmein'. As we always have to say: we have no idea why.

In my opinion the lack of 17, 'Erster Schmerz, letzter Scherz' is a real loss. It is not as though we don't already have enough misery to go on with, but this poem adds something to the continuity of the cycle. It shows the hunter in the arms of the girl and worse, the miller having to watch this through the window whilst he sits next to his only friend the stream and entertains the children on his homemade flute. Think about that. Don't tell me that Müller created this image from nothing.

The only other hint at the relationship between the hunter and the girl is in 16, 'Eifersucht und Stolz', where the girl is waiting for the hunter to come down the road, 'craning her neck' to catch a glimpse of him. It is full of the miller's violent hatred for the hunter. It is also the only time we see the miller's enemy directly. Losing poem 17 has turned the hunter into a cipher, just as the girl was turned into a cipher with the loss of 7, 'Das Mühlenleben' from the first section.

Poem 20, 'Blümlein Vergißmein', the other poem that Schubert left out, contains the transformation of the 'miller's flower', the pale blue 'forget-me-not' of poem 10, 'Des Müllers Blumen' in the first section into the black 'forget-me'. A cry of black depression and despair, it is the final step in which green, the 'miller's colour', becomes the 'hateful colour' of the preceding poem and is finally changed to black.

Because of all this the poem has an important structural function: it closes down the symbols of the miller's flowers and the miller's colour in the poem. This poem introduces the opening of the grave, a theme that will be expanded in the next poem, 21, 'Trockne Blumen' to culminate in the death wish in 22, 'Der Müller und der Bach'.

It is fair to say, I think, that Schubert did his best in setting this awful, anguished material to music. We know from his other works that he was capable of producing sublime music to texts of loss, sadness and despair. Whether the listener is prepared for what follows the thirteen songs of love and infatuation that culminate in the false joy of 12, 'Mein!' is quite another matter. Why don't you try it and see what you think?