The bare lime tree
(Poet's title: Die abgeblühte Linde)
Set by Schubert:
Wirst du halten, was du schwurst,
Wenn mir die Zeit die Locken bleicht?
Wie du über Berge fuhrst,
Eilt das Wiedersehn nicht leicht.
Ändrung ist das Kind der Zeit,
Womit Trennung uns bedroht,
Und was die Zukunft beut,
Ist ein blässer’s Lebensrot.
Sieh, die Linde blühet noch,
Als du heute von ihr gehst;
Wirst sie wieder finden, doch
Ihre Blüten stiehlt der West.
Einsam steht sie dann, vorbei
Geht man kalt, bemerkt sie kaum.
Nur der Gärtner bleibt ihr treu,
Denn er liebt in ihr den Baum.
Will you stick to what you have sworn
When time has bleached my hair?
Since you are setting off over the mountains
It is not going to be easy to rush to see each other again.
Change is the child of time,
Which separation threatens us with,
And what the future holds
Is a paler shade of life’s red.
Look, this lime tree is still in blossom
As you depart from it today;
When you come across it again, though,
The westerly wind will have stolen its blossoms.
It will then be standing on its own; as they pass by
People will be cold and and will barely notice it.
Only the gardener will remain faithful to it,
For he loves the tree for its own sake.
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.
Is this an expression of insecurity? The speaker seems to be worried about what time has in store, and whether the relationship with the person who is leaving can survive the forthcoming period of separation. Will either of them be the same person when they eventually meet again? Are our emotions and connections as prone to decay as our locks and our looks?
"When I get older, losing my hair, Many years from now Will you still be sending me a Valentine, Birthday greetings, bottle of wine? . . . Will you still need me, will you still feed me, When I'm sixty-four?" (Paul McCartney, 1967)
Or is the tone more knowing, more understanding of how things are going to be? The poet appears to accept the fact that as we get older life is less red, it is lived less intensely. The fact that we go pale, that our hair turns grey or white, is not something that is worth worrying about, since it is so superficial. Since we live in time, change is inevitable.
The symbol of this tension between superficial change and inner endurance is the lime tree. When it is in blossom its appearance and aroma attract the crowds, but when it is bare on a bleak winter’s day people do not even notice that it is there, they simply walk past. It takes a particular type of commitment to continue to show affection to such an unattractive tree at this time of year. Only those who truly understand its nature (‘gardeners’) are in a position to tend and protect it. The poet is therefore wondering if the person who is leaving is in fact that sort of arborealist.
It is all too true that many people in later life are as lonely as the bare linden tree. People walk past without noticing them. The lack of blossom / youth, the faded colours / grey hair, the fact that they are simply ‘there’, all of this somehow renders them invisible. How many of them will be lucky enough to have a ‘gardener’ who will love them simply for what they are, not for what they used to look like? Will the poet be looked after in such a tender way, or will he be left alone and withered as people walk past with cold indifference?
Original Spelling Die abgeblühte Linde Wirst du halten, was du schwurst, Wenn mir die Zeit die Locken bleicht? Wie du über Berge fuhrst, Eilt das Wiedersehn nicht leicht. Änd'rung ist das Kind der Zeit, Womit Trennung uns bedroht, Und was die Zukunft beut, Ist ein blässer's Lebensroth. Sieh, die Linde blühet noch, Als du heute von ihr gehst; Wirst sie wieder finden, doch Ihre Blüthen stiehlt der West. Einsam steht sie dann, vorbei Geht man kalt, bemerkt sie kaum. Nur der Gärtner bleibt ihr treu, Denn er liebt in ihr den Baum.
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.