Auf dem Strom, D 943

On the river

(Poet's title: Auf dem Strom)

Set by Schubert:

  • D 943
    for voice, horn (or cello) and piano

Text by:

Ludwig Rellstab

Text written 1821-1824.  First published August 2, 1826.

Auf dem Strom

Nimm die letzten Abschiedsküsse
Und die wehenden, die Grüße,
Die ich noch ans Ufer sende,
Eh dein Fuß sich scheidend wende!
Schon wird von des Stromes Wogen
Rasch der Nachen fortgezogen,
Doch den tränendunklen Blick
Zieht die Sehnsucht stets zurück.

Und so trägt mich denn die Welle
Fort mit unerflehter Schnelle.
Ach, schon ist die Flur verschwunden
Wo ich selig sie gefunden.
Ewig hin, ihr Wonnetage!
Hoffnungsleer verhallt die Klage
Um das schöne Heimatland,
Wo ich ihre Liebe fand.

Sieh, wie flieht der Strand vorüber,
Und wie drängt es mich hinüber,
Zieht mit unnennbaren Banden,
An der Hütte dort zu landen,
In der Laube dort zu weilen.
Doch des Stromes Wellen eilen
Weiter ohne Rast und Ruh,
Führen mich dem Weltmeer zu.

Ach, vor jener dunklen Wüste,
Fern von jeder heitern Küste,
Wo kein Eiland zu erschauen,
O, wie fasst mich zitternd Grauen.
Wehmutstränen sanft zu bringen,
Kann kein Lied vom Ufer dringen;
Nur der Sturm weht kalt daher
Durch das grau gehobne Meer.

Kann des Auges sehnend Schweifen
Keine Ufer mehr ergreifen,
Nun so schau ich zu den Sternen
Auf in jenen heil’gen Fernen.
Ach, bei ihrem milden Scheine
Nannt’ ich sie zuerst die Meine,
Dort vielleicht, o tröstend Glück!
Dort begegn’ ich ihrem Blick.

On the river

Take my last farewell kisses,
And these greetings as I wave,
Sending them off to the river bank
Before your feet turn around as you depart!
Already the waves of the river
Are rapidly carrying the boat off,
Yet my gaze, darkened with tears,
Keeps being pulled back by longing.

And thus the waves carry me
Forwards at an unwanted speed.
Alas, the meadow has already disappeared
Where I met her with such happiness.
You have gone forever, days of bliss!
My lament echoes, empty of hope,
Around the beautiful homeland
Where I found her love.

Look at how the shore flies past
And how I am pulled across,
I am drawn by nameless attachments,
I want to land there by that cottage,
I want to stay there in the foliage;
Yet the river’s waves hurry, taking me
Further, without pause or rest,
Leading me on to the ocean.

Alas, before this dark wasteland,
Far from that bright coast,
Where no island can be seen,
Oh, how I shudder as I am gripped with horror.
Tears of melancholy cannot be brought gently here,
No songs can reach me from the river-bank;
Only the cold storm blows in
Across the grey, pitching sea.

Since the yearning roving of my eyes
No longer grasps the shore,
I shall now gaze at the stars
Up in the sacred distance.
Alas, it was as they were gently shining
That I first named her as mine;
There, perhaps, oh comforting happiness!
There is where I shall encounter her gaze.



Schubert’s setting of this poem was first performed at a public concert on 26th March 1828, the first anniversary of the death of Beethoven. Since Schubert’s song quotes the Eroica Symphony there can be no doubt that the composer read the text as referring to Beethoven’s own farewell to life and his journey off to the ocean of death. It is less certain that this was Ludwig Rellstab’s explicit intention when he wrote the text, despite the apparent references to a distant beloved (‘An die ferne Geliebte’) and the line ‘Kann kein Lied vom Ufer dringen’ (No songs can reach me from the river-bank), which seems to hint at Beethoven’s deafness. It is known that Rellstab gave Beethoven a number of poems with the intention of him setting them to music. According to Anton Schindler, Beethoven died before doing so and Schindler therefore handed them over to Schubert, who proceeded to set them as part of ‘Schwanengesang’. It will never be known whether ‘Auf dem Strom’ was one of these texts that Beethoven had looked at, or whether Rellstab intended the dying composer to recognise himself as its subject.

The poem begins with the speaker saying a reluctant farewell to someone who has come to see him off, someone who is ready to turn and walk away once the boat is out on the river. We never learn who is being addressed here. All that we know is that it is someone close, who is addressed as ‘du’. It may well be that there is no such person outside of the hopes and fantasies of the speaker. It is certainly the case that in the second strophe the beloved is referred to in the third person. He is now leaving ‘her’ and the happy homeland where he met ‘her’. We are given the impression that that was at a time long ago. It is very unlikely that ‘she’ is the same person as ‘you’.

Initially it appears that the speaker has boarded the famous ferry that will take him across the River Styx towards the underworld, but then we are told more about the speed at which the boat is travelling and the strong waves that are propelling it. Although the speaker feels a strong pull back to the shore, to the location of happy memories, the pull of the river is greater as it takes the boat out onto the open ocean, the ‘world sea’. All previous attachments are now broken. No tears can offer comfort any more. No music can be heard in those grey wastes. Beyond sight of land, all that is left for the isolated traveller is to look up to the distant stars. Since the same stars were shining when he met the beloved there is a chance that he will encounter her gaze looking back at him from there. However, this is all qualified by ‘perhaps’ (vielleicht). There is no ‘certain hope’, no false promise here. On the awful bleak expanse of the merciless ocean, as it heaves up in the storm, has the departing traveller fully escaped the horror that he says gripped him when he first beheld his destination?

Original Spelling and notes on the text

Auf dem Strom

Nimm die letzten Abschiedsküsse,
Und die wehenden, die Grüße,
Die ich noch ans Ufer sende
Eh' Dein Fuß sich scheidend wende!
Schon wird von des Stromes Wogen
Rasch der Nachen fortgezogen,
Doch den thränendunklen Blick
Zieht die Sehnsucht stets zurück!

Und so trägt mich denn die Welle
Fort mit unerflehter Schnelle.
Ach, schon ist die Flur verschwunden
Wo ich selig Sie gefunden!
Ewig hin, ihr Wonnetage!
Hoffnungsleer verhallt die Klage
Um das schöne Heimathland,
Wo ich ihre Liebe fand.

Sieh, wie flieht der Strand vorüber,
Und wie drängt es mich hinüber,
Zieht mit unnennbaren Banden,
An der Hütte dort zu landen,
In der Laube dort zu weilen;
Doch des Stromes Wellen eilen
Weiter, ohne Rast und Ruh,
Führen mich dem Weltmeer zu!

Ach, vor jener dunklen Wüste,
Fern von jeder heitern Küste,
Wo kein Eiland zu erschauen,
O, wie faßt mich zitternd Grauen!
Wehmuthsthränen sanft zu bringen,
Kann kein Lied vom Ufer dringen;
Nur der Sturm weht kalt daher
Durch das grau gehob'ne Meer!

Kann des Auges sehnend Schweifen
Keine Ufer mehr ergreifen,
Nun so schau1 ich zu den Sternen
Auf2 in jenen heil'gen Fernen!
Ach bei ihrem milden Scheine
Nannt' ich sie zuerst die Meine;
Dort vielleicht, o tröstend Glück!
Dort begegn' ich ihrem Blick.

1  Schubert changed 'blick' (look) to 'schau' (gaze)
2  Schubert changed 'Dort' (there) to 'Auf' (up)

Confirmed by Peter Rastl with Gedichte von Ludwig Rellstab. Erstes Bändchen. Berlin, bei Friedrich Laue. 1827, pages 120-121; and with Mitternachtblatt für gebildete Stände. Herausgegeben von Müllner. 1826, Zweiter Band. Braunschweig, bei Friedrich Vieweg. No. 92. Braunschweig, am 2. August 1826, page 368.

To see an early edition of the text, go to page 120 [136/265] here: http://digital.ub.uni-duesseldorf.de/download/pdf/3376501