The flight of time
(Poet's title: Der Flug der Zeit)
Set by Schubert:
Es floh die Zeit im Wirbelfluge
Und trug des Lebens Plan mit sich.
Wohl stürmisch war es auf dem Zuge,
Beschwerlich oft und widerlich.
So ging es fort durch alle Zonen,
Durch Kinderjahre, Jugendglück,
Durch Täler, wo die Freuden wohnen,
Die sinnend sucht der Sehnsucht Blick.
Bis an der Freundschaft lichtem Hügel
Die Zeit nun sanfter, stiller flog,
Und endlich da die raschen Flügel
In süßer Ruh zusammenbog.
Time flew off in a whirlwind
And it carried life’s plan with it.
It was really stormy as it followed its course,
Often arduous and disturbing.
Thus it went on its way through all the stages,
Through the years of childhood, the happiness of youth,
Through valleys where joys live,
Joys that are sought for by longing’s meditative look.
Until at the bright hill of friendship
Time started to fly more gently, more quietly,
And finally there it stopped its rapid wings
And folded them up in sweet repose.
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.
“How time flies!” we say, perhaps when we notice how quickly a friend’s child has grown up or when we work out how long ago it is since we visited a particular place. However, while it is actually flying we tend not to notice it. If we are engrossed in an activity we are in a state of ‘flow’ and totally unaware of the passage of time. As events and obligations crowd in we simply have to cope. ‘The flight of time’ is therefore something we think about retrospectively.
This is why Széchényi’s poem begins in the past tense: time flew off and carried life’s plan with it. There can be very few readers who will fail to respond to this; we all make plans as children or adolescents only to find that the whirlwind of actual experience tears such plans to shreds. It is only later, though, that we can recognise what has happened. In the middle of the maelstrom we tell ourselves that we are putting things off for a while, that we are re-adjusting our priorities, that the plan is going to be fulfilled in a slightly different way or at a different pace. We are buffetted by storms and things become extremely unpleasant, but in the midst of it all we fail to pay attention to the passage of time. Even when things go well, when we are enjoying life, the paradox is that this immersion in meaningful experience means that we are still unconscious of time passing.
It is only as things slow down that we can begin to reflect and pay attention to the time that has flown by. According to Széchényi time folds up its wings and settles down only when we arrive at ‘the bright hill of friendship’. It is a shame that the author does not develop this image, which seems to raise more questions than it answers. In what way is friendship a hill? Did we not have friends with us during the fast ride that we have been on through childhood and youth? What does it mean to say that time has stopped flying?
Original Spelling Der Flug der Zeit Es floh die Zeit im Wirbelfluge Und trug des Lebens Plan mit sich. Wohl stürmisch war es auf dem Zuge, Beschwerlich oft und widerlich. So ging es fort durch alle Zonen, Durch Kinderjahre, Jugendglück, Durch Thäler, wo die Freuden wohnen, Die sinnend sucht der Sehnsucht Blick. Bis an der Freundschaft lichtem Hügel Die Zeit nun sanfter, stiller flog, Und endlich da die raschen Flügel In süßer Ruh zusammenbog.
Note by Peter Rastl: No published source of this poem is known. Most likely Schubert received the text in manuscript form from Széchényi, the dedicatee of Schubert’s op. 7.