The morning kiss
(Poet's title: Der Morgenkuss)
Set by Schubert:
[August 22, 1815]
Durch eine ganze Nacht sich nah zu sein,
So Hand in Hand, so Arm im Arme weilen,
So viel empfinden, ohne mitzuteilen,
Ist eine wonnevolle Pein!
So immer Seelenblick im Seelenblick
Auch den geheimsten Wunsch des Herzens sehen,
So wenig sprechen, und sich doch verstehen –
Ist hohes martervolles Glück!
Zum Lohn für die im Zwang verschwundne Zeit
Dann bei dem Morgenstrahl, warm, mit Entzücken
Sich Mund an Mund und Herz an Herz sich drücken,
O dies ist – Engelseligkeit!
Being close to each other through a whole night,
Hand in hand like that, being arm in arm,
Feeling so much without sharing it
Is a blissful agony.
Always looking into each other’s soul like that
And also seeing the most secret desires of the heart,
Speaking so little and yet nevertheless understanding each other
Is a high pleasure, full of martyrdom.
In payment for the time that we were forced to waste
Then comes, with the first rays of morning, warm, with delight,
The pressing of mouth to mouth and heart to heart –
O this is – the happiness of angels!
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.
When this poem appeared in the first edition of Baumberg’s verse in 1800, the title was ‘Der Morgenkuß nach einem Balle‘, the morning kiss after a ball. We therefore have to assume that the lovers had spent a long night and the early hours of the next day smiling politely and hoping that certain guests would hurry up and leave, thus allowing them to put mouth to mouth and press heart against heart. The hours of waiting served to make the kiss all the more overwhelming, giving a foretaste of heaven (though in official teaching angels are sexless and so the ecstasy of physical union should not really be described as ‘the happiness of angels’).
The hours of delay are also described in religious terms: being restricted to looks, glances and reading unspoken thoughts is said to be a happiness that is full of martyrdom (martervolles Glück); not being able to speak freely was blissful agony (eine wonnevolle Pein). This is the language of mysticism. We can almost imagine the speaker as Teresa of Avila being pierced and experiencing ‘the sweetness of excessive pain’ (as portrayed in Bellini’s famous altarpiece).
Let us hope that the speaker was not disappointed after this wonderful night. She says that they understood each other fully and that because they were not able to speak openly they were therefore able to read each other’s thoughts directly. Yet how can we know, and how could they be so sure, that the individuals were not reading what they wanted into the messages the other person was sending out? Isn’t there just a chance that one of the parties was more interested in pressing breast to breast rather than in bringing together the two hearts that were beating below the heaving bosoms? It would be interesting to hear the story told a few years later, not in the immediate aftermath of the long night and the morning kiss. It might have been like the old couple in Lerner and Loewe’s Gigi:
A tenor sang.
– A baritone.
Ah yes, I remember it well.
That dazzling April moon!
– There was none that night, and the month was June.
That’s right, that’s right.
It would be even more interesting to know if the poem was in some way autobiographical and if it reflects the early stages of the relationship between Gabriele von Baumberg and János Batsányi, who met in October 1799. If this were the case it would be particularly sad, since her devotion to him and his pro-French stance during the Napoleonic Wars led her to lose her social status and connections in Vienna and ultimately silenced her as a writer. His was the kiss of death for her.
Two people can walk hand in hand or arm in arm, and this is taken to refer to physical activity, though the suspicion in most cultures will be that the physical connection expresses or signifies a psychological connection between the two individuals. When we give someone mouth to mouth resuscitation there may be less of an inner connection than when we see eye to eye with someone we are discussing things with. In English, people sometimes say they have had a heart to heart talk (this will usually be with a sympathetic friend rather than with a lover).
It is not possible to distinguish between the literal and the metaphoric uses of many such references to our anatomy, though clearly there is a scale in the paragraph above. One hand is actually in the other but the cardiac muscles are not what we think of first when we have a heart to heart chat. Some conflicts go head to head without involving head-butting. Somewhere in the middle of the scale is the the reciprocal gaze. As lovers look deep into their partners’ eyes, the physical and the metaphorical cannot be separated.
In most human societies through most of human history obstacles have been placed in the way of young lovers, meaning that glances might be stolen but mutual gazing into the beloved’s eyes was impossible. In certain formalised and ritualised settings (such as balls) hands might be held or arms intertwined but further one on one activity was taboo. Gabriele von Baumberg’s poem expresses the frustration of being so close but so far away in such a situation. The lovers have been able to spend the night of the ball in each other’s company but the kiss that will seal their union has to be deferred until the morning. That is when they can press each other, mouth to mouth and heart to heart.
Original Spelling Der Morgenkuß Durch eine ganze Nacht sich nahe zu seyn, So Hand in Hand, so Arm im Arme weilen, So viel empfinden, ohne mitzutheilen - Ist eine wonnevolle Pein! So immer Seelenblick im Seelenblick Auch den geheimsten Wunsch des Herzens sehen, So wenig sprechen, und sich doch verstehen - Ist hohes martervolles Glück! Zum Lohn für die im Zwang verschwundne Zeit Dann bey dem Morgenstrahl, warm, mit Entzücken Sich Mund an Mund, und Herz an Herz sich drücken - O dies ist - Engelseligkeit!
Confirmed by Peter Rastl with Schubert’s probable source Sämmtliche Gedichte Gabrielens von Baumberg. Wien, gedruckt bey Joh. Thom. Edl. v. Trattnern, k.k. Hofbuchdrucker und Buchhändler, 1800, page 17; and with Gedichte von Gabriele Batsányi geb. Baumberg. Gedruckt bey J.V.Degen. Wien, 1805, page 34, with the title Schwärmerey and subtitle Nach einem Ball.
To see an early edition of the text, go to page 17 (47 von 350) here: http://digital.onb.ac.at/OnbViewer/viewer.faces?doc=ABO_%2BZ103534702