The woman in love takes up her pen
(Poet's title: Die Liebende schreibt)
Set by Schubert:
Ein Blick von deinen Augen in die meinen,
Ein Kuss von deinem Mund auf meinem Munde,
Wer davon hat, wie ich, gewisse Kunde,
Mag dem was anders wohl erfreulich scheinen?
Entfernt von dir, entfremdet von den Meinen,
Führ ich stets die Gedanken in die Runde,
Und immer treffen sie auf jene Stunde,
Die einzige; da fang ich an zu weinen.
Die Träne trocknet wieder unversehens,
Er liebt ja, denk ich, her in diese Stille.
Und solltest du nicht in die Ferne reichen?
Vernimm das Lispeln dieses Liebewehens,
Mein einzig Glück auf Erden ist dein Wille,
Dein freundlicher zu mir; gib mir ein Zeichen!
One glance from your eyes into mine,
One kiss from your mouth onto my mouth,
For anyone who, like me, has definite knowledge about it,
Could anything appear to be more enjoyable?
Far away from you, alienated from my own people,
I let my thoughts keep going round and round,
And they always converge on that hour,
That single moment: then I begin to cry.
The tear dries up again unexpectedly:
He is in love, I think, over here in this silence,
And should you not reach out into the distance?
Accept the whispering of this loving agony;
My sole happiness on earth is what you desire,
For you to be more friendly to me; give me a sign!
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.
‘Die Liebende schreibt’ was first published as number 8 in Goethe’s one and only published collection of sonnets in 1815. One of his first attempts at the sonnet form (not included in the collection) was called ‘Natur and Kunst’ (Nature and art), which ended with the following two lines, which seem to sum up his approach to poetry in this ‘classical’ phase of his work:
In der Beschränkung zeigt sich erst der Meister,
Und das Gesetz nur kann uns Freiheit geben.
The master first shows himself in restriction,
And only law can give us freedom.
After his phenomenal success with other literary forms (ballads, lyrics, verse drama, dramatic monologues etc.) Goethe clearly relished the challenge of the sonnet. Having made his name as an enfant terrible of the Sturm und Drang (storm and stress) movement, and having unwittingly created an environment in which wilder Romantics were able to flourish, the most revolutionary move he could have made at the beginning of the 19th century was to turn to one of the most complex and formulaic of verse types which had last flourished during the Renaissance. Could he use the limitations and restrictions inherent in the form to express surprising and creative ideas? Could the rules and regulations bring about genuine freedom?
The poet’s challenge in ‘Die Liebende schreibt‘ is to give voice to someone (clearly not the poet himself) who is not allowed to speak. Well brought-up ladies in the early 1800s were not allowed to write letters to men who were not their relatives or their acknowledged fiancé. If they were in love with someone, they were not allowed to declare this; they were expected to wait for the man to make the first move. Here, though, we have the gushing utterance of just such a restricted woman, constrained within the prescribed form of a Petrarchan sonnet. The fourteen lines have to be made up of an octet and a sestet, with a crucial volta (a transformation of mood or perception) at the beginning of line 9. There has to be a clear rhyme scheme (in this case the most restrictive possible: abba abba cde cde).
One of the conventions (rather than a strict law) of the Renaissance love sonnet is that the first images should relate to specific physical elements of the beloved, and the text should then move towards more spiritual and abstract features that inspire devotion. In ‘Die Liebende schreibt‘ the initial references to the beloved’s eye and lips, connecting to the writer through a glance or gaze and a kiss, are so vivid that the reader assumes that this has already happened. The mutual love was declared in that ‘hour’. The writer’s thoughts keep returning to that decisive moment, reinforcing the idea that the poem is an act of remembering. However, it later becomes apparent that the physical connection that had seemed so ‘real’ lives only within the realm of the writer’s hopes and longings. The beloved has not yet declared himself and she is still waiting for ‘a sign’ that her feelings are reciprocated.
She has therefore persuaded herself that she has the right to write. The very thing which law and convention prevents her from doing is what she resolves to do. Her limitations have given her freedom.
Original Spelling Die Liebende schreibt Ein Blick von deinen Augen in die meinen, Ein Kuß von deinem Mund auf meinem Munde, Wer davon hat, wie ich, gewisse Kunde, Mag dem was anders wohl erfreulich scheinen? Entfernt von dir, entfremdet von den Meinen, Führ' ich stets die Gedanken in die Runde, Und immer treffen sie auf jene Stunde, Die einzige: da fang' ich an zu weinen. Die Thräne trocknet wieder unversehens: Er liebt ja, denk' ich, her in diese Stille, Und solltest du nicht in die Ferne reichen? Vernimm das Lispeln dieses Liebewehens; Mein einzig Glück auf Erden ist dein Wille, Dein freundlicher zu mir; gib mir ein Zeichen!
Confirmed by Peter Rastl with Schubert’s source, Goethe’s Werke. Zweyter Band. Original-Ausgabe. Wien, 1816. Bey Chr. Kaulfuß und C. Armbruster.Stuttgart. In der J. G. Cotta’schen Buchhandlung. Gedruckt bey Anton Strauß page 14; and with Goethe’s Werke. Vollständige Ausgabe letzter Hand. Zweyter Band. Stuttgart und Tübingen, in der J.G.Cotta’schen Buchhandlung. 1827, page 10.
To see an early edition of the text, go to page 14 [22 von 350] here: http://digital.onb.ac.at/OnbViewer/viewer.faces?doc=ABO_%2BZ223421905