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Die Winterreise, Chapter 2

Posted by Richard on UTC 2015-12-31 16:15.

Chapter 2: poems 1-12

An analysis of the first twelve poems of Die Winterreise. Schubert designated these as the 1. Abtheilung, 'first section'. It contains the following poems/songs.
1 Gute Nacht (Fremd bin ich eingezogen…)
2 Die Wetterfahne (Der Wind spielt mit der Wetterfahne…)
3 Gefror'ne Thränen (Gefror'ne Tropfen fallen…)
4 Erstarrung (Ich such’ im Schnee vergebens…)
5 Der Lindenbaum (Am Brunnen vor dem Thore…)
6 Wasserfluth (Manche Thrän’ aus meinen Augen…)
7 Auf dem Flusse (Der du so lustig rauschtest…)
8 Rückblick (Es brennt mir unter beiden Sohlen…)
9 Das Irrlicht (In die tiefsten Felsengründe…)
10 Rast (Nun merk’ ich erst, wie müd’ ich bin…)
11 Frühlingstraum (Ich träumte von bunten Blumen…)
12 Einsamkeit (Wie eine trübe Wolke…)
Conclusion, Chapter 2: poems 1-12

1 Gute Nacht (Fremd bin ich eingezogen…).
I was a stranger when I moved in and I am now moving out as a stranger. My love affair with the girl started in May, she spoke to me of love and her mother even talked of marriage. Now the world is dreary, the roads are covered in snow. Nevertheless, I cannot choose the time for my departure, I will have to find my own way in this darkness. My companion will be my shadow cast by the moonlight. I shall follow the tracks of wild game in the snow. Why should I wait until I am driven out? Let crazed dogs howl in front of their owner's house. Love loves wandering, God designed it so, from one [man] to another. My darling, good night. I don't want to disturb your sleep, you should not hear my footsteps, I close the doors [in the house] gently. I'll write 'Goodnight' on the front gate as I pass through it so that you can see that I have thought of you.

Notes

  1. This poem introduces or hints at many of the main themes of the cycle. It could only ever be positioned at the start of the series.
  2. The poem defines a location for the action, a family house, and specifies the time as winter. The narrator is a man, otherwise uncharacterised: we are given no name, occupation or description. In this poem we hear only of the presence of the mother and daughter in the house.
  3. The double use of the word fremd, 'as a stranger' is subtle, a play on words that might be lost to anyone other than a native speaker of German: when the man arrived he was a stranger to the girl and her family in the neutral sense of an unknown person; he is now a stranger once again but this time in the negative sense of someone expelled from the family, someone who does not belong, an alien, almost a foreign body rejected by its host. All the friendship and love that he enjoyed during the summer has been withdrawn from him.
  4. The roads are hidden by snow: the paths of human society are closed to him, he is leaving the social world and entering into the other world, the world of wild animals. His journey will not be an orderly one on marked roads and with a known destination, he will be thrown entirely onto his own devices.
  5. He tells us that he is leaving before he is thrown out, for what reason we do not yet know.
  6. The theme of aggressive, barking guard dogs is introduced here. The theme reappears only in the second section. The dogs make normal society unapproachable for him, the stranger. They are instruments of rejection.
  7. The following four lines are meant as bitter irony: Die Liebe liebt das Wandern, – / Gott hat sie so gemacht – / Von Einem zu dem Andern – / Fein Liebchen, Gute Nacht!
    Die Liebe can be read in two ways: as love itself or the female loved one. God has made her (or possibly 'it', love) with this wandering nature. The resolution of the ambiguity comes when we read that the wandering is from one man, Einem, to another, Andern. The girl betrayed him.
  8. Once the previous point has been established the bitterly ironic nature of the final verse of the poem also becomes clear. He will try not to wake her: the departure of her now unwanted beloved is not even worth disturbing her sleep for. As he moves through the house he closes the doors quietly, detaching himself further from the family with each door. Finally at the gate or main outer door of the house he leaves her a message.
  9. The message he leaves is not passionate but completely ordinary: 'Goodnight'. It is free of all superficial emotion but, considering the earlier passion of their relationship and the talk of love and marriage, it is bitingly sarcastic in its everyday tone. He is not leaving because he no longer loves her, he is being driven out, which she will realise when she reads his message.

2 Die Wetterfahne (Der Wind spielt mit der Wetterfahne…).
I see the way the wind plays with the weather-vane on my 'beautiful darling's house'. My agitated mind imagines that the weather vane is whistling derisively at me, the poor fugitive. I should have noticed the weather vane when I moved in and taken it as a sign on the house that [had I interpreted it correctly] would not have led me to expect to find a true woman inside. The wind is also playing with the hearts of those inside the house, but not as loudly as it is with the weather vane on the roof. What do they care about my pain? Their child is a rich bride.

Notes

  1. We are now outside the house. The winter wind and the weather-vane are symbols of changeability and inconstancy. The narrator is bitter at the inconstancy shown by the daughter.
  2. The idiomatic English equivalent for 'whistling someone out' is 'catcalls' or 'booing'. The weather vane is telling him to 'hit the road, Jack'.
  3. He does no more than hint obliquely at the cause of this inconstancy: 'your child is a rich bride'. From this we can work out that, although in May the girl talked of love and the mother talked of marriage, a new suitor has appeared in the meantime with much better prospects than the narrator. The bride's dowry has found a more worthwhile investment. It is sometimes asserted that class differences between the rootless narrator and the well-situated family are the cause of his rejection, but this is contradicted by the acceptance the narrator received the previous May when even the mother spoke of marriage. Whether the girl or the suitor is rich doesn't matter in the end. The narrator – the 'poor fugitive' – isn't and that's the end of it for him.
  4. We should note that for the narrator there are two sources of anguish: a social one caused by his rejection by the established, acquisitive family and an individual one caused by his loss of the girl. She, whose inconstancy we were told about in the previous poem, prefers the rich newcomer.
  5. These two sources of pain form two major themes that run throughout the entire poem: betrayal and rejection. In everything that follows we have to remember that the emotions the narrator feels have nothing to do with love for the girl, but are entirely caused by her betrayal of him.

3 Gefror'ne Thränen (Gefror'ne Tropfen fallen…).
I notice frozen tears falling from my cheeks and only then do I realise that I have been crying. I am surprised that they are only lukewarm and so turn to ice like cool morning dew, when in fact they spring from a breast that is burning hot, so hot that it seems to be trying to melt the entire winter's ice.

Notes

  1. The location is unspecified so is assumed to be close to our last position somewhere outside the house.
  2. The narrator contrasts the frozen cold of winter with the heat of his emotions. We should not assume that the breast is burning hot with passion for the girl: it is burning because of betrayal and rejection.
  3. However hot his feelings might be they have no effect on the cold.

4 Erstarrung (Ich such’ im Schnee vergebens…).
I look vainly in the snow for the footsteps of my beloved in a place where we had often strolled together. I want to kiss the earth, to melt the ice and snow with my hot tears until I can see the earth. Where can I find a flower, where green grass? The flowers are dead, the grass looks so pale. Is there no memory I can take from here? When my pain is silent, who will speak of her? My heart is frozen and her image is frozen within it: should my heart ever melt, her image will also flow away.

Notes

  1. We are still in the town and somewhere where they used to walk together.
  2. This is a location the narrator is about to leave behind. He is looking for some trace of her here, but all trace has disappeared under snow. This is the moment of physical separation from the past. As a result of the betrayal he has experienced the past has faded to a pale memory, that contains no pleasant souvenir that he can take away with him.
  3. The title, Erstarrung, means to become rigid or solid. This implies that the poem is principally about the narrator's 'frozen heart' in which the image of his loved one has also become frozen.
  4. The only thing preserving her image, the only memory he has of her, is her image in his frozen heart. If his heart is ever melted in the future her image will disappear. This statement, on the surface puzzling, becomes clear when we recall that the narrator's passion arises not from love but from betrayal and rejection, both of which we have encountered in the poems that have gone before. When his heart finally melts his memory of her will flow away like melted water. He wants to free himself from her, not regain her.

5 Der Lindenbaum (Am Brunnen vor dem Thore…).
A lime tree stands at the fountain by the town gates. I used to dream sweet dreams in its shade. I carved several loving words in its bark and was always drawn there in moments of happiness and sadness. [Leaving the town] I had to walk past it in the middle of the night. I closed my eyes so that I didn't have to see it. But I heard its branches/twigs rustling, seemingly saying 'come to me, brother, you will find peace here'. The cold wind blew straight in my face, my hat was blown off, but I did not turn back. Now I am several hours away from that place, but can still hear rustling: you would find peace there!

Notes

  1. This poem is a key structural element, in that it supplies us with important narrative information about the narrator's wandering. We are currently several hours away from the gates of the town, but first the poem gives us two flashbacks that take us back in time and place to the moment when the narrator left the town behind him.
  2. The first flashback takes us back to the lime tree that stands at the gates of the town and to the sweet times in the summer when the tree became a much-visited focal point for his love. (For many centuries right up into the present day the lime tree has been a symbol of Germanic tradition and the rural life of home and village.) Just as the love-struck miller had done in the poem 'Ungeduld' in Die schöne Müllerin during those happy times our narrator had cut his declarations of love into the lime tree at the town gate. (It can be a hard life, being a tree.)
  3. The second flashback shows the narrator having to pass by the lime tree with all its beautiful associations. This is the moment that the narrator leaves the town and all its connections with him. He becomes an outsider to human society.
  4. We note that the narrator has formed a relationship with the tree that is similar to the relationship between the miller and the stream in Die schöne Müllerin. The twigs of the tree rustle in the wind (twigs, not leaves, it is winter) and speak to him. The tree refers to the narrator as Geselle, 'comrade', 'workmate' or 'brother' (in a metaphorical sense), a title that the miller applied to the stream in 'Wohin'. The lime tree promises the narrator that 'here you will find peace', Hier findst du deine Ruh'!, just as the stream offered the miller peace in Die schöne Müllerin. The similarity of the two instances is striking, as is their great difference: in Die schöne Müllerin the 'peace' offered by the stream is death and the offer is taken up; here, in Die Winterreise, a similar offer is firmly rejected. The miller wandered, found his girl, lost her and died; the narrator here has just lost his girl, but rejects death and the wandering has only just begun.
  5. At some undefined point, possibly in the vicinity of the lime tree, the cold wind blows his hat off, but despite that he makes a deliberate decision not to turn round or return. This exit from the town, the rejection of the social world of his fellows, is a very important moment in the narrative. He is driven to this step, but he has to close his eyes and determinedly keep walking in order to free himself from that past. Some commentators have seen the hat as a symbol of something or other. It may just be that the narrator is now leaving the protection and comfort of humany society and venturing out exposed to the elements, or it may just emphasise the determination of the narrator to keep going on his journey. You are free to speculate.
  6. We note the narrative consistency between these first poems: the wind that rustles the twigs of the lime tree and later blows his hat off is the same wind that whirls the weathervane around in poem 2, 'Die Wetterfahne'.
  7. At the end of the poem we finally arrive at the present time and location, several hours away from the tree and the village. The narrator still hears in his mind a rustling speech, but in the impersonal third person es, not directly from the tree as such, which would have been ihn, now in the conditional and now with the distant 'there': Du fändest Ruhe dort!, 'You would find peace there'. This is no longer a tree speaking to him but his own inner voice. In other words, the decision has been taken and the moment of suicide and resignation has passed.

An aside: two problems

  1. Firstly, even noted singers have taken to performing 'Der Lindenbaum' as a free-standing recital piece. This seems to me to be ill-advised, given that the piece exists in a very specific narrative context in Die Winterreise . Singing the song outside that context, presumably just for its accessible tune, makes no sense at all. The words become meaningless.
  2. Secondly and much, much worse, not twenty years after Schubert's death his setting of this poem was made into a German Volkslied that has ever since grown in popularity and has been used in all manner of settings and situations. All the darkness has been taken out of the poem and replaced with the sing-song sentimental saccharine that is characteristic of the Volksmusic found in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, usually with plenty of echo-chamber and sung whilst wearing whatever variety of 'traditional' rustical costume that takes your fancy. It is an excellent tune if you want to sit at long tables with lots of other people, eat sausage, drink beer and rock from side to side to the rhythm. Chacun à son goût! But be warned: if you ever listen to the Volksmusik version (sometimes retitled Am Brunnen vor dem Tore) you will never be able to listen to Schubert's 'Der Lindenbaum' again without hearing in your head this anthem. You have been warned.

6 Wasserfluth (Manche Thrän’ aus meinen Augen…).
My tears have fallen on the snow, whose cold flakes have soaked up thirstily the hot pain. When the grasses want to put forth new shoots a warm breeze blows for that. The ice breaks into floes and the soft snow melts and runs off. The snow knows of my longing and should tell me where it will run [when it melts]. It only needs to follow my tears to find the stream. If the snow is carried by the stream through the town past cheerful streets then, when it feels my tears burning, that means it is passing my loved one's house.

Notes

  1. The narrator's current location is a snowy place upstream from the town, probably close to or alongside the stream because of the image of the ice 'breaking into floes' as it thaws.
  2. No specific time is mentioned, but we can assume that the narrator is still on his trail and several hours from the village.
  3. Most of the narrative is a monologue with the snow. It imagines the floes being carried along by the stream through the town. The image seems to be that the tears have dropped on the snow and are being carried on the floes by the stream.
  4. The hot tears pick up the 'tears on ice' theme established in the previous poems 3, 'Gefrorene Thränen' and 4, 'Erstarrung'.
  5. The 'pale grass' was an image of winter in poem 4, 'Erstarrung' and has now become the indicator that will show the end of winter. There is no mention of spring here, no flowers and no joy, simply the melting of ice.

7 Auf dem Flusse (Der du so lustig rauschtest…).
The stream that normally murmers so happily is silent and gives no farewell. It has covered itself with a hard, rigid crust of ice, under which it lies cold and motionless, stretched out in the sand. With a sharp stone I scratch the name of my loved one and some hours and dates in the ice crust: The date of the first greeting and the date I left. A broken ring wraps around the name and the numbers. I ask my heart whether it can see its image in the stream and whether under its icy crust the stream is also in as much turmoil [as my heart is].

Notes

  1. The narrator's current location is on a bank of the stream.
  2. The transformation of the stream from a 'bright, wild brook' to a frozen object parallels the psychological transformation that the narrator has undergone.
  3. We are told explicitly that the stream has covered itself in ice; an act of will, not a passive result of winter. Under the protective cover the stream lies immobile, 'stretched out' in the sand. The language of this description is that of death and burial.
  4. The time of cutting loving messages in the lime tree in summer has past. The narrator is scratching in the ice. He scratches dates and even hours, implying how important these past events were for him.
  5. The broken ring around the names symbolises the broken promise, picking up the theme of the inconstancy of his beloved in poem 2, 'Die Wetterfahne'. The language used implies that the ring he draws is not just 'broken' but zerbrochen, that is, 'broken with force', 'smashed', 'shattered'.
  6. Müller did not have far to look for the imagery of the broken ring as a symbol of betrayal. It had become a standard motif of Romantic poetry at least since the influential Joseph von Eichendorff's poem 'Das zerbrochene Ringlein', 'the broken ring': Sie hat mir Treu versprochen, / Gab mir ein'n Ring dabei, / Sie hat die Treu gebrochen, / mein Ringlein sprang entzwei, She promised me she would be faithful and gave me a ring to show it. She broke her word and my ring burst into two pieces. [1] The unfaithful girl was a miller's daughter and whenever he hears a millwheel now he just wants to die. I wonder where we have heard that tale before?
  7. The question to his heart, whether under its ice the stream is in so much turmoil, is a subtle one: Why are you, my heart, in such turmoil when the stream 'lies cold and stretched out in the sand' underneath its cover. We hear no answer.
  8. The poet Clemens Brentano, part of the literary circle that used to meet in Friedrich August von Stägemann's house in Berlin and a love rival of Müller's for Luise Hensel, used a strikingly similar formulation in a letter to his brother Christian in 1817. Talking about Luise's poems he wrote Diese Lieder haben zuerst die Rinde über meinem Herzen gebrochen, durch sie bin ich in Tränen zerflossen… These poems first broke the crust over my heart, because of them I have dissolved in tears…

8 Rückblick (Es brennt mir unter beiden Sohlen…).
I am desperate to get away from the town, my feet are 'burning' [= 'itchy feet' in English] even though I am walking on ice and snow; I don't want to take another breath until I can no longer see its towers. I was in such a hurry to leave the town that I stubbed my foot on every stone in my path. The crows threw balls [of ice] and hailstones from every house onto my hat to drive me out. How differently this town of inconstancy had welcomed me. At its clear windows the lark and the nightingale sang in competition. The round lime trees flowered, the clear streams murmered, and – Oh! – the two eyes of a girl flamed! You were done for, comrade! When I remember that day I just want to look backwards, just want to turn round and stand in front of her house.

Notes

  1. As in 'Der Lindenbaum', this poem gives us two flashbacks. Firstly, we learn more details about the narrator's departure from the town, when even the crows seemed to try to drive him out. In poem 2, 'Die Wetterfahne' we were also told that even the weathervane turning in the wind seemed as though it was 'whistling him out'. Secondly, we learn in contrast more of the joy he felt on his arrival in the town.
  2. The narrator deperately wants to get away from the town from which even the crows had driven him out. The phenomenon of crows throwing small objects at things and people is a well-known one.
  3. Not just his girl and her family are inconstant, this characteristic is now transferred to the entire town. Extending his rejection to be a broader rejection by the town as a whole is a reasonable assumption: The family will be an established part of the town. Their acceptance of the stranger who arrived meant his acceptance by the town. His subsequent rejection by them would also imply his rejection by the closed social order of the town. In poem 2, 'Die Wetterfahne', he described himself as being now the 'poor fugitive/refugee'. This is the background theme of social rejection that will arise at a number of points in the rest of the poems.
  4. The narrator's joyful arrival in the town is comparable to the arrival of the miller at his new mill in Die schöne Müllerin, 'Halt!', particularly because the windows of the mill were also 'sparkling clean': Und die Fenster, wie blank! The mill was surrounded by alder, not lime trees, but the stream there also made a rushing noise.

9 Das Irrlicht (In die tiefsten Felsengründe…).
A will o' the wisp has lured me into a deep rocky chasm. Finding an exit will not be difficult. I am used to erratic wandering, for all paths lead to the destination: all our joys, all our sorrows, all are a play of a will o' the wisp. I can zig-zag easily down the dry bed of the mountain stream – every stream gains the sea, every suffering ends in a grave.

Notes

  1. Having followed the stream upwards our location is now among the rocks of the mountains. The narrator has followed a will o' the wisp into a rocky chasm or pass. The meaning of the symbolism of the will o' the wisp is given in the second verse: our joys and sorrows, in other words our human longings.
  2. The sure way out of the chasm is offered by the dry bed of a stream. The symbolism of the dry stream bed, if there is one, is a puzzle.
  3. Note that the narrator, after climbing upstream, is now travelling downwards. He tells us that Jeder Strom wird 's Meer gewinnen, 'every stream will reach the sea' with the same confidence that the miller in Die schöne Müllerin, 'Wohin?', told us that Es gehn ja Mühlenräder / In jedem klaren Bach, 'mill wheels turn in every clear stream'.

10 Rast (Nun merk’ ich erst, wie müd’ ich bin…).
I take a rest and notice for the first time how tired I am. Wandering along barren paths has kept me going. My feet did not demand rest, it was too cold to stand still, my back did not feel the weight and the storm helped blow me along. I have found shelter in a charcoal burner's hut, but my limbs cannot rest, my wounds burn so much. I ask my heart, which has been so wild and bold in the struggle and the storm, whether in the current quiet it can now feel the sting of the reptile within it that is starting to move.

Notes

  1. The narrator has descended from the barren paths of the mountains and has arrived at a charcoal burner's hut. We can expect the hut to be in a forested area. We can also assume that it is unoccupied in winter. The narrator makes no mention of another person or being invited to stay, he simply 'found shelter' there.
  2. The narrator's wandering has been a distraction so far. The difficulties of the journey seem to have made him forget his troubles for a while. Only now that he has paused for rest does he feel the Wurm in his heart stinging him. The ancient German word can mean a 'dragon', 'reptile' or 'snake', but also insects and their larvae. However we envision it, the image of the malevolent creature now making its presence felt in his heart, like a maggot in an apple, is a very strong one. Unfortunately, Müller does not reuse this powerful image in any of the other poems.

11 Frühlingstraum (Ich träumte von bunten Blumen…).
I dreamed of colourful flowers such as those that bloom in May and of green meadows and happy birdsong. I was woken by the cocks crowing, my eyes opened and I saw it was cold and dark. The rooks screeched from the roof. But who painted the leaves on the window panes? [Was it Jack Frost,] laughing at the dreamer who saw flowers in winter? I dreamed of love, of a beautiful girl, of cuddling and of kissing, of joy and bliss. And as the cocks crowed my heart awoke. Now I sit here alone and think about the dream. I close my eyes again, the warm heart is still beating. When will the leaves in the window turn green? When will I hold love in my arms?

Notes

  1. The location is still the charcoal burner's hut (we presume).
  2. In the first part of the poem the narrator recollects the seasonal aspects of his dream. His eyes awake. We note that May was given in poem 1, 'Gute Nacht' as the moment of their love, with 'bunches of flowers'.
  3. In the second part he recollects the human aspects of his dream. His heart awakes.
  4. He has been pulled out of his dream by crowing cocks and screeching rooks. The crowing of cocks has a long history as the symbol for betrayal: it was of course used in the Biblical account of Peter's denial of his association with Jesus after Jesus' arrest.
  5. The primary mood of the poem is the feeling of the loss of his beloved. The memory of her inconstancy seems to have been repressed, as have the feelings of social rejection he has suffered that have been so prominent so far.
  6. This poem is in a puzzling location in the cycle. In Schubert's sequence it follows poem 10, 'Rast', thus providing us with a location for the dream. We could also interpret the dream as being the 'sting' of the 'reptile' in his heart which is now making its present felt.

12 Einsamkeit (Wie eine trübe Wolke…).
I am like a dark cloud moving through a friendly sky or a weak breeze moving the tips of the pine trees. I am following my path with heavy feet through bright, cheerful life, alone and without greetings. Oh, how calm the air is! How bright the world! I was never this miserable, even when storms were buffeting me.

Notes

  1. The narrator is on the move again. The winter seems to have passed, spring seems to be near.
  2. He is the dark cloud in the sky or the weak [=powerless, lacking force, as opposed to 'gentle'] breeze that passes through the trees, hardly affecting them. He travels alone and no one greets him.
  3. He now finds this miserable social rejection to be worse than the stormy feelings he has endured to far. The poem has moved from the turmoil of his rejection, exit from the family, his loss of his loved one and his social rejection by her and her family. As we were told in poem 10, 'Rast', now all these storms have died down he is left with the reptile stinging his heart, going wherever he goes,

Conclusion, Chapter 2: poems 1-12

Let us summarise the narrative line that we have followed through the poems of the first section. The narrator walks out on his loved one and her family before he was thrown out in 'Gute Nacht'. He tells us more of the situation in 'Die Wetterfahne' and of the depth of his heartbreak in 'Gefror'ne Thränen'. We are told more of his feelings of loss in 'Erstarrung'. In 'Der Lindenbaum' he remembers the happy times of his love, but then leaves the village, never to look back. 'Wasserfluth' also presents us with a memory of the town and his lost love. 'Auf dem Flusse' gives us a stream as a metaphor for his loss and in 'Rückblick' he once again looks back to the happiness he found in the town. 'Das Irrlicht', his emotions, have taken him among the rocks of the mountains, but by following the stream he descends back into the social world. In 'Rast' he finds shelter in a hut; he is out of the winter storms but his loss gnaws at his heart. In 'Frühlingstraum' he thinks back to the happy life he once had and longs for love to return to him. In 'Einsamkeit' the weather is warmer, the winter storms have subsided, but he is condemned to travel wearily through a brightening world.

It is clear that poems 1 to 12 of the Winterreise offer us a connected narrative through time and place, which also includes a progressive psychological development. The final poem of the collection, 'Einsamkeit', seems to imply that the turmoil of lost love and his separation from his former loved one has subsided, leaving him depressed, weak and apathetic to wander through the world. The twelve poems in sequence have taken us from the initial anger and pain of lost love and rejection through to apathetic dejection. The poems in this first section thoroughly deserve to be called a 'song-cycle'.

We now find ourselves at that difficult moment when Schubert discovered that Müller had written another twelve poems for the cycle and had rearranged some of the poems that he had already set. Let us continue to follow Schubert's structure for the second section.

References

  1. ^ Joseph von Eichendorff, 'Das zerbrochene Ringlein', Gedichte, 1837, p. 432.