To the apple trees where I caught sight of Julia
(Poet's title: An die Apfelbäume, wo ich Julien erblickte)
Set by Schubert:
[May 22, 1815]
Ein heilig Säuseln und ein Gesangeston
Durchzittre deine Wipfel, o Schattengang,
Wo bang und wild der ersten Liebe
Selige Taumel mein Herz berauschten.
Die Abendsonne bebte wie lichtes Gold
Durch Purpurblüten, bebte wie lichtes Gold
Um ihres Busens Silberschleier;
Und ich zerfloss in Entzückungsschauer.
Nach langer Trennung küsse mit Engelskuß
Ein treuer Jüngling hier das geliebte Weib
Und schwör in diesem Blütendunkel
Ew’ge Treue der Auserkornen!
Ein Blümchen sprosse, wenn wir gestorben sind,
Aus jedem Rasen, welchen ihr Fuß berührt,
Und trag auf jedem seiner Blätter
Meines verherrlichten Mädchens Namen.
A holy murmur and the music of a song
Are rustling through your treetops, oh shaded walk,
Where, anxiously and fiercely, first love
Intoxicated my heart in a blessed frenzy.
Like bright gold the evening sun trembled
Through the crimson blossom, trembled like bright gold
Around her breast’s silver veil;
And I dissolved in a shudder of delight.
After a long separation, with an angel’s kiss
Let a faithful lad kiss his beloved wife,
And, in the darkness of this blossom, swear
Eternal devotion to the one he has picked.
May a small flower spring up, after we have died,
Out of this lawn, which her foot touched,
And let each petal bear
The name of my honoured girl.
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.
The apple trees must have been part of some formal garden or orchard attached to a grand house if they had been designed to make a ‘shaded walk’. Since Julia’s foot was stepping on grass rather than gravel when the poet saw her, we can deduce that this was not an old-fashioned French or Dutch garden but one of the newly fashionable ‘English gardens’ (such as that at Wörlitz, laid out in the years immediately preceding Hölty’s poem). The intention in such environments was not to use order and structure to overwhelm and control the world but to tame it and maintain a tension between nature and nurture.
The poet therefore concentrates on the two competing forces: a designed walkway based on the stability of immobile tree trunks and the shaded protection offered by the branches, alongside the murmuring, swaying tree tops that are open to the elements (particularly air and light). It is the movement up there as much as the sudden appearance of Julia under the trees that sets his heart trembling. The bright (lit. light) gold of the setting sun shakes and shimmers as it filters through the apple blossom and then strikes the silver veil that Julia is wearing. Again it is the tension of the encounter between the natural (the light of the setting sun, the heavenly = gold) and the cultured or manufactured realm (the woven veil, the earthly = silver) that is presented as the crucial theme. The gold light strikes the silver cloth on Julia’s breast and causes a ripple of delight and frenzy in the poet’s heart.
Are we supposed to think of a previous meeting between a man and a woman in front of an apple tree in a glorious garden? If so, it is only to emphasise the absence of the snake and its temptation. There are no apples as yet. Nothing and noone is falling here. It is still blossom time, and the angel’s kiss that the poet imagines giving his wife at some future date is truly chaste.
The final stanza is also perhaps written in the persona of the pre-lapsarian Adam. In Genesis Chapter 2 God invites the first man to choose his own names for the creatures around him, and it may be this that is being echoed when the poet imagines a flower springing up to mark the point where Julia was treading on the grass when he caught sight of her. This flower will bear her name.
It seems strange, therefore, that the name itself (the climax of the poem) is absent (apart from in the title). Perhaps it is because she is herself absent. The title tells us that the poet is addressing the apple trees where he caught sight of Julia, not where he ‘first caught sight’ of her. He has never seen her since and he knows that he will not see her again. The moment of epiphany will never be repeated, though it will be endlessly played out as he relives the moment in his verse. This poem is the flower that has sprung up.
Original Spelling An die Apfelbäume, wo ich Julien erblickte Ein heilig Säuseln und ein Gesangeston Durchzittre deine Wipfel, o Schattengang, Wo bang' und wild der ersten Liebe Selige Taumel mein Herz berauschten. Die Abendsonne bebte wie lichtes Gold Durch Purpurblüten, bebte wie lichtes Gold Um ihres Busens Silberschleier; Und ich zerfloß in Entzückungsschauer. Nach langer Trennung küsse mit Engelskuß Ein treuer Jüngling hier das geliebte Weib, Und schwör' in diesem Blütendunkel Ewige Treue der Auserkornen. Ein Blümchen sprosse, wenn wir gestorben sind, Aus jedem Rasen, welchen ihr Fuß berührt, Und trag' auf jedem seiner Blätter Meines verherrlichten Mädchens Namen.
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. page 95; and 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, pages 178-179.
Note: This is the earlier version of Hölty’s poem; a later manuscript with the title “An die Apfelbäume, wo ich Laura erblickte” differs in some verses.
To see an early edition of the text, go to page 95 [173 von 300] here: http://digital.onb.ac.at/OnbViewer/viewer.faces?doc=ABO_%2BZ15769170X