(Poet's title: Die Liebe (Klärchens Lied))
Set by Schubert:
[June 3, 1815]
In schwebender Pein,
Zum Tode betrübt,
Ist die Seele, die liebt.
Full of joy,
Full of suffering,
Being full of thoughts;
In hovering pain;
Exulting up to heaven
Distressed to death;
The only one that is happy
Is the soul that loves.
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Being ‘thoughtful’ (considerate, reflective, contemplative etc.) is not quite the same thing as being ‘full of thoughts’ (worried, anxious, unsettled etc.). Little Klara (Klärchen) appears to be singing about what it is like to be full of thoughts (Gedankenvoll) rather than thoughtful; her ecstasy is bound up with pain and uncertainty. In some ways she is in a similar situation to Gretchen in the Cathedral:
Weh! Weh! Wär´ ich der Gedanken los, Die mir herüber und hinüber gehen Wider mich! Oh! Oh! If only I were free of these thoughts Which keep coming and going, Confusing me! Goethe, Faust Part One, 3794 - 3797
In other ways, though, her situation is not yet as serious. She is in love with an older man (beyond her station and not someone she could marry); part of her knows that things will not turn out well, but unlike Gretchen she has not yet been abandoned or ‘ruined’. There is probably more uncertainty than regret in her recurring thoughts.
The man she is in love with is Count Egmont, Prince of Gavere. At the time of the action of Goethe’s play (1566 – 1568) Egmont would have been in his 40’s (and married). There are suggestions in Goethe’s text that she is already sleeping with him: the man her mother wants her to marry, Brackenburg, says that he has heard that she regularly receives a male visitor at night and when Klärchen’s mother tells her to stop singing this love song she replies that she has often lulled a grown child to sleep with it.
This is the context in which Klärchen sings the song:
Egmont Act III Scene 2 Klärchen's home Mother: I have never seen a love like Brackenburg's; I thought such things only existed in stories about heroes. Klärchen: (goes in and out of the room, humming a song to herself) The only one that is happy Is the soul that loves. Mother: He is suspicious about your relationship with Egmont, but I believe that, if you would just be a bit friendly with him, and if you wanted it, he would still marry you. Klärchen: (sings) Full of joy, Full of suffering, Being full of thoughts; Stretching And worrying In hovering pain; Exulting up to heaven Distressed to death; The only one that is happy Is the soul that loves. Mother: Stop that babyish singing. Klärchen: Don't tell me off, it is a powerful song; I have already lulled a big child to sleep with it quite a few times. Mother: There is nothing in that head of yours but love. It makes you forget about everything else. You ought to show some respect to Brackenburg, I tell you! He could still make you happy. Klärchen: Him? Mother: Oh, yes. A time will come. You children don't look ahead and you pay no attention to what we have experienced. Youth and beautiful love, they all come to an end, and then a time comes when, thank God, you can find somewhere to crawl into. Klärchen: (shudders, is silent and gets up) Mother, let that time come like death. Thinking about it beforehand is terrible! - And if it comes! If we have to - then - let's do what we can! - Egmont, the idea of me having to do without you! - (in tears) No, it isn't possible, not possible. Enter Egmont
Klärchen’s shock at the end of this exchange and her lapse into incoherence as she begins to contemplate a realistic future suggest that although she has been singing of the state of love as making her ‘Gedankenvoll’ (full of thoughts) in fact she has not yet fully thought through the consequences of her actions. There seems to be no room in her teeming mind for this new thought.
Perhaps we should not be so prosaic (or so much like her mother) to ask how it is possible to be ‘full’ of three contradictory things at the same time (joy, suffering and thoughts: Freudvoll / Und leidvoll / Gedankenvoll sein). Perhaps the whole point is that the state of love fills us to overflowing and it is impossible to identify which is the overriding impression at any moment, or to pay attention to new ideas, given the inner torment that is let loose. Just as it is only ‘the soul that is in love’ that can know happiness, only those who do not know love (tedious people like ‘mother’ or ‘Brackenburg’) can question the compatibility of the claims that love both torments and delights us, that it takes us both to hell and to heaven. Does it not take a particular hardness of heart (‘no’, says mother, ‘just a bit of experience’) to point out that the final lines of the poem (‘Glücklich allein / Ist die Seele, die liebt’) seem to contradict all the talk earlier on about the agony of being in love and that these final words do not constitute a coherent summary of the text as a whole?
Original Spelling Die Liebe (Klärchens Lied) Freudvoll Und leidvoll, Gedankenvoll seyn; Langen Und bangen In schwebender Pein; Himmelhoch jauchzend Zum Tode betrübt; Glücklich allein Ist die Seele, die liebt.
Confirmed by Peter Rastl with Egmont. Trauerspiel von Goethe. Leipzig bei Georg Joachim Göschen 1788, page 87, and with Goethe’s Werke, Vollständige Ausgabe letzter Hand, Achter Band, Stuttgart und Tübingen, in der J.G.Cottaschen Buchhandlung, 1827, pages 231-232.
To see an early edition of the text, go to Page 87 [93 von 188] here: http://digital.onb.ac.at/OnbViewer/viewer.faces?doc=ABO_%2BZ259913204