To the moon
(Poet's title: An den Mond)
Set by Schubert:
[May 17, 1815]
Geuß, lieber Mond, geuß deine Silberflimmer
Durch dieses Buchengrün,
Wo Phantasien und Traumgestalten immer
Vor mir vorüber fliehn.
Enthülle dich, dass ich die Stätte finde,
Wo oft mein Mädchen saß,
Und oft, im Wehn des Buchbaums und der Linde,
Der goldnen Stadt vergaß.
Enthülle dich, dass ich des Strauchs mich freue,
Der Kühlung ihr gerauscht,
Und einen Kranz auf jeden Anger streue,
Wo sie den Bach belauscht.
Dann, lieber Mond, dann nimm den Schleier wieder,
Und traur’ um deinen Freund,
Und weine durch den Wolkenflor hernieder,
Wie dein Verlassner weint!
Pour, dear moon, pour your silver shimmering
Through this green of the beech trees,
Where fantasies and dream-forms always
Fly past me!
Reveal yourself, so that I can find the place
Where my girl often sat
And often, in the sighing of the beech and lime trees,
Forgot the golden town!
Uncover yourself, so that I can take pleasure in the shrub
That murmured and cooled her,
And sprinkle a garland onto that meadow
Where she listened to the brook!
Then, dear moon, then put the veil back on,
And mourn for your friend,
And weep so that tears fall through the gauze of the clouds,
Just as your deserted one weeps!
All translations into English that appear on this website, unless otherwise stated, are by Malcolm Wren. You are free to use them on condition that you acknowledge Malcolm Wren as the translator and schubertsong.uk as the source. Unless otherwise stated, the comments and essays that appear after the texts and translations are by Malcolm Wren and are © Copyright.
We begin in darkness, with the moon obscured. The poet calls on the moon to pour its silver, flickering light through the foliage so that he can identify a specific place. This can only come about through a process of uncovering or revelation. However, by the end of the text, he wants the moon to cover itself again and join him in his mourning. It should now pour tears (through the veil of clouds) just as he himself weeps. Thus Hölty’s text links three clusters of imagery: 1) pouring, strewing and scattering; 2) tears and the eyes; 3) covering and uncovering, clarity and fuzziness.
It is unusual for us now to think of light as something that flows, but before Maxwell’s work on the nature of light this would not have been particularly remarkable. The poet therefore calls on the moon to pour its silver shimmering so that he can find the place where his beloved used to sit; he will then be able to scatter or strew the flowers from a garland across the meadow where she used to listen to a flowing stream. The moon can then let its tears filter through the gauze of cloud that covers it as a mourning veil (echoing his own crepe, perhaps).
Since the moon is both a source of light and of tears it is therefore seen as an eye. The poet is clearly thinking of the eye as an emitter of light in some way (the emission or extramission theory); the moon is currently an eye that is closed, but once its eyelid is open (when the clouds clear) it will be able to send out its shimmering silver light so that it can behold and reveal the hidden rural spaces that mean so much to the poet. When the heavenly eye is later covered with a veil of mourning it will cry along with the chief mourner.
The moon is asked to uncover or unveil itself. The command (‘Enthülle dich’) could equally be translated as ‘reveal yourself’ or ‘show yourself’. The poet wants clarity since he is currently subject to fantasies and dream shapes flying past. Once he is certain that he is in the very spot where the girl used to pay attention to nature and forget the town he will be able to be confident that he has a connection with her. At that point the moon should cover itself again, put on a mourning veil and weep. Its tears will blur its vision, particularly since there is a gauze of clouds getting in the way. Even without this filter the moonlight was a silver shimmering rather than a bright light leading to defined highlights and distinct outlines; with the clouds in the way, the tears / rays of light that manage to drop down to us can only offer spots of illumination and the haziest of impressions.
It is therefore appropriate that the reader comes away with only impressions, and perhaps more questions than answers about the text. In what way has the poet been abandoned or deserted? Is the language of mourning literal or the exaggeration of a jilted lover? Is the Kranz that he wants to strew a wedding garland or a funeral wreath? Is the weeping a result of grief or of affectation? How does the poet know the difference between fantasies and reality? How does he know that the girl ever forgot the town? What is a ‘golden’ town anyway, and why did she need to forget it? Why is a silver sylvan environment bathed in moonlight preferable to a sunlit golden town?
Original Spelling An den Mond Geuß, lieber Mond, geuß deine Silberflimmer Durch dieses Buchengrün, Wo Phantaseyn und Traumgestalten immer Vor mir vorüberfliehn! Enthülle dich, daß ich die Stätte finde, Wo oft mein Mädchen saß, Und oft, im Wehn des Buchbaums und der Linde, Der goldnen Stadt vergaß! Enthülle dich, daß ich des Strauchs mich freue, Der Kühlung ihr gerauscht, Und einen Kranz auf jeden Anger streue, Wo sie den Bach belauscht! Dann, lieber Mond, dann nimm den Schleier wieder, Und traur' um deinen Freund, Und weine durch den Wolkenflor hernieder, Wie dein Verlaßner weint!
Confirmed by Peter Rastl with Schubert’s source, Gedichte von L. H. Ch. Hölty. Neu besorgt und vermehrt von Johann Heinrich Voß. Wien, 1815. Bey Chr. Kaulfuß und C. Armbruster. Gedruckt bey Anton Strauß. Meisterwerke deutscher Dichter und Prosaisten. Drittes Bändchen. pages 170; with Gedichte von Ludewig Heinrich Christoph Hölty. Besorgt durch seine Freunde Friederich Leopold Grafen zu Stolberg und Johann Heinrich Voß. Hamburg, bei Carl Ernst Bohn. 1783, page 79; with Poetische Blumenlese Auf das Jahr 1775. Göttingen und Gotha bey Johann Christian Dieterich, page 107; and with Ludwig Christoph Heinrich Hölty’s Sämtliche Werke kritisch und chronologisch herausgegeben von Wilhelm Michael, Erster Band, Weimar, Gesellschaft der Bibliophilen, 1914, page 113.
The poet’s name in the first edition (Göttinger Musenalmanach 1775) is given as “T.”.
To see an early edition of the text, go to page 170 [248 von 300] here: http://digital.onb.ac.at/OnbViewer/viewer.faces?doc=ABO_%2BZ15769170X