The morning star
(Poet's title: Der Morgenstern)
Set by Schubert:
[March 12, 1815]
duet for voices or horns
[May 26, 1815]
Stern der Liebe, Glanzgebilde,
Glühend wie die Himmelsbraut,
Wanderst durch die Lichtgefilde,
Kündend, dass der Morgen graut.
Freundlich kommst du angezogen,
Freundlich schwebst du himmelwärts,
Glitzernd durch des Äthers Wogen,
Strahlst du Hoffnung in das Herz.
Wie in schäumenden Pokalen
Traubenpurpur mutig schwellt,
So durchleuchten deine Strahlen
Die erwachte Frühlingswelt.
Wie im herrlichen Geschiebe
Sich des Goldes Pracht verschließt,
So erglänzt du, Stern der Liebe,
Der den Morgen still begrüßt.
Und es treibt dich nach den Sternen
Hell im Dunkel zu erglühn.
Über Berge, über Fernen
Möcht ich einmal mit dir ziehn.
Fasst mich, fasst mich, heil’ge Strahlen,
Schlingt um mich das goldne Band,
Dass ich aus den Erdenqualen
Fliehe in ein glücklich Land.
Doch ich kann dich nicht erfassen,
Nicht erreichen, stehst so fern! –
Kann ich von der Sehnsucht lassen,
Darf ich’s, heil’ger Himmelsstern?
Star of love, gleaming object,
Glowing like the bride of heaven,
You wander through the field of light,
Heralding the grey light of morning.
You come dressed in a friendly way,
You soar towards heaven in a friendly way,
Twinkling through the waves of ether,
You radiate hope into the heart.
As in foaming goblets
The crimson of grapes swells courageously,
So your beams light up
The world of spring that has woken up.
Just as wonderful ore
Traps the majesty of gold,
So you too, star of love, shine out
As you greet the morning quietly.
After the stars fade you are keen
To continue glowing brightly in the darkness.
Over mountains, over distant horizons,
I would love to go off with you for once.
Hold me, hold me, holy beams,
Throw the golden band around me,
So that I can leave the agonies of Earth
And escape to a happy land.
But I cannot grasp you,
I cannot reach you; you remain so distant!
Can I be released from longing?
May I, holy star of heaven?
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 final page of the Bible contains this reference to Christ as the morning star:
"I Jesus have sent my angel to testify unto you these things in the churches. I am the root and the offspring of David, and the bright and morning star. And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely." (Revelation XXII: 16 - 17)
These are clearly intended as words of reassurance and hope, and the opening of Körner’s text, with its reference the the bride of heaven, may involve a conscious echo of the Biblical text, encouraging the reader to believe that the new day that is dawning is going to bring about the ultimate apocalyptic fulfilment.
Even deliberately anti-religious traditions have taken up the millenial associations of the image of dawn and the morning star. From the guns of the Aurora (Dawn) triggering the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 to the re-naming of the Communist Party of Great Britain’s newspaper (The ‘Daily Worker’) as ‘Morning Star’ in 1966, socialists and communists have interpreted particular struggles or events as evidence in the present of a definitive future transformation. If Venus can be seen in the darkness before dawn, the Sun cannot be far behind.
The role of the morning star, the star of love (Venus), is to reassure us that morning is on its way. The verb that Körner chooses here is ‘grauen’ – the morning is turning grey. In English we tend to restrict this idea to hair and to ageing, but for Körner the colour grey must have had more positive associations; he used the image again at the end of his final poem, Schwertlied (set by Schubert, D 170), when the knight goes into battle, having claimed his ‘bride’, the sword that had so far only been hanging at his left side. As he raises the sword in his right hand he declares, ‘ Der Hochzeitmorgen graut’ (the wedding morning is dawning with its grey light). This is a grey that promises a brighter light to come.
Körner was writing Der Morgenstern in extremely dark times for those who shared his attitude to German culture and identity. After the Battle of Jena in 1806 and the abolition of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, resistance and revival seemed impossible. Until Napoleon’s fortunes turned (in the Peninsula and in Russia in 1812) he appeared unstoppable and invulnerable. To Germanic patriots there was no trace of grey in the blackness. Nevertheless, Körner was a teenager and a dreamer; for him this was the darkness before dawn, and the light in the darkness was not that of Venus the evening star presaging doom but Venus at the other end of its orbit, the morning star.
Five stanzas are devoted to this theme of hope. Amongst other things the light of the morning star is compared to the effects of bubbling wine and to shining gold. It therefore comes as something of a surprise that the tone of the text changes in the final two stanzas. In the final apostrophe the poet asks to be tied and lifted up by the golden beams of the morning star. He is convinced that he can be raised out of this darkness, but seems shocked to realise that it isn’t happening. He can look but he can’t touch. It is all beyond him. He and his suffering companions are left with nothing but an inescapable longing. Perhaps the greying he observed was a darkening not a lightening after all.
Original Spelling Der Morgenstern Stern der Liebe, Glanzgebilde, Glühend, wie die Himmelsbraut Wanderst durch die Lichtgefilde, Kündend, daß der Morgen graut. Freundlich kommst du angezogen, Freundlich schwebst du himmelwärts, Glitzernd durch des Äthers Wogen, Strahlst du Hoffnung in das Herz. Wie in schäumenden Pokalen Traubenpurpur muthig schwellt, So durchleuchten deine Strahlen Die erwachte Frühlingswelt. Wie im herrlichen Geschiebe Sich des Goldes Pracht verschließt, So erglänz'st du, Stern der Liebe, Der den Morgen still begrüßt. Und es treibt dich nach den Sternen Hell im Dunkel zu erglüh'n. Über Berge, über Fernen Möcht' ich einmal mit dir ziehn. Faß't mich, faß't mich, heil'ge Strahlen, Schlingt um mich das goldne Band, Daß ich aus den Erdenqualen Fliehe in ein glücklich Land. Doch ich kann dich nicht erfassen, Nicht erreichen; stehst so fern! - Kann ich von der Sehnsucht lassen? Darf ich's, heil'ger Himmelsstern?
Confirmed by Peter Rastl with Schubert’s source, Theodor Körner’s Gedichte. [Erster Theil.] Neueste Auflage. Wien 1815. Bey B. Ph. Bauer, pages 61-62; and with Knospen von Theodor Körner. Leipzig bei Georg Joachim Göschen. 1810, pages 78-79.
To see an early edition of the text, go to page 307 [Erstes Bild 377] here: https://download.digitale-sammlungen.de/BOOKS/download.pl?id=bsb10701039