CHAPTER XVI An Ancient Legend of the Rhine [The Lorelei]
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
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
"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
"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
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.
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
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 her magic 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
"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
"St. Bartholomew and the Executioner with the knife to fulfil the
"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
"Some peasants singing in a cottage. A woman lets drink a child out of a
"St. John's head as a boy--painted in fresco on a brick." (Meaning a
"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
"A Larder with greens and dead game animated by a cook-maid and two
However, the English of this catalogue is at least as happy as that
which distinguishes an inscription upon a certain picture in Rome--to
"Revelations-View. St. John in Patterson's Island."
But meanwhile the raft is moving on.
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