The weather vane
(Poet's title: Die Wetterfahne)
Set by Schubert:
Part of Winterreise, D 911
Der Wind spielt mit der Wetterfahne
Auf meines schönen Liebchens Haus:
Da dacht’ ich schon in meinem Wahne,
Sie pfiff’ den armen Flüchtling aus.
Er hätt es eher bemerken sollen
Des Hauses aufgestecktes Schild,
So hätt er nimmer suchen wollen
Im Haus ein treues Frauenbild.
Der Wind spielt drinnen mit den Herzen,
Wie auf dem Dach, nur nicht so laut.
Was fragen sie nach meinen Schmerzen?
Ihr Kind ist eine reiche Braut.
The wind is playing with the weathervane
On the house of my beautiful beloved.
There I was already deluded enough to think
That it was driving the poor refugee out with its whistling.
He should have noticed it earlier,
That sign that had been put up over the house.
In that way he would never have expected to find
The image of a faithful woman in that house.
The wind is playing with my heart inside,
As on the roof, just not as loud.
Why do they want to know about my agonies?
Their child is a rich bride.
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.
As the speaker set off in ‘Gute Nacht‘ he became aware that there was no signpost directing him where to go (‘Muss selbst den Weg mir weisen / In dieser Dunkelheit’ – I will have to find my own way / In this darkness). His only companion was his own shadow cast by the moonlight. The path was covered in snow, so he had to trace the footprints of wild animals. It is therefore natural that he looked up to the roof of the house he was leaving for more guidance. The weathervane would at least tell him which direction the wind was coming from.
What he sees does not help. This is partly because of the gusting unpredictability of the wind, but mainly because what he sees is an image of an inner reality. He sees the weathervane as an inn-sign proclaiming what is on offer to those who accept the hospitality of the house. There is a lack of constancy and consistency in the welcome offered. Visitors are blown all over the place.
Is it outside forces that are propelling the situation? Has the wind really changed direction? Did the girl change her attitude, or was it just the speaker whose perceptions of the situation have changed? He is open to this idea. Was it perhaps his own delusion which led him to think that he was being driven out? Perhaps the whole thing is a sort of anxiety dream in which he is being booed or hissed off the stage (‘auspfeifen’ – lit. whistled out).
The idea of this being a dream is strengthened when he moves from the first person to the third person. He sees himself as a refugee or a fugitive (ein Flüchtling) being persecuted. Just as there is a double vision as he sees himself from within and from outside (‘I’ and ‘he’ at the same time), so there is ambiguity in the pronoun ‘sie’ which is doing the whistling. It is both the sound of the weathervane (die Wetterfahne) rattling and whirring on its axis and the sound of mocking derision uttered by the girl in the house. The flash of awareness that he might have been deluded is another way of interpreting the situation in two different ways at the same time, another dream-like feature of the text.
The final strophe returns to the idea of the wind ‘playing’. His inner emotions have been played with, but there is also an echo of the dream or illusion in which he was a poor player being booed off the stage. Now it is not ‘she’ that was doing the whistling, but ‘they’ who were persecuting him, who were driving him away with no concern for his inner feelings. Is there a hint of paranoia here? ‘They’ have been out to get him. ‘They’ are rich. ‘I’ might be deluded but that doesn’t mean it isn’t ‘their’ fault.
For more on weather vanes see https://www.thoughtco.com/weather-vane-history-3444409
Comments and other points of view
Malcolm, This is a very curious poem, another as unstable as the weathercock at its centre. I find this almost incomprehensible – not you, the poem. Who is the I, who the he? Who is the refugee – strong word? Is he warning the (new) visitor/suitor that he should not expect fidelity from the woman under that weathervane – she swings about just like it ? The wind playing with his heart inside is a brilliant image. Yet she enters this scene as his beautiful beloved – he is not yet bitter about her, merely excluded. One sees him staring up at the roof, feeling the wind whistle and buffet. Does he hear laughter? The child – hint of immaturity and capriciousness? – is a rich bride – the one he had to leave in Gute Nacht because he was not good enough? Your stage allusion is deeply interesting – it does ramp it up to psychodrama. The self splitting to inner and outer, to he and I. You may be right. Another expression of sickness. Mad as the wind, we say. In his paranoia (but possibly well-founded!), they are laughing at him inside the house – the absurd idea that he could ever be good enough for their child/bride! For her part, she does well to avoid such a fragile person! (It reminds me of The Blue Flower and the misplaced romance of Kleist). John
Original Spelling Die Wetterfahne Der Wind spielt mit der Wetterfahne Auf meines schönen Liebchens Haus. Da dacht' ich schon in meinem Wahne, Sie pfiff' den armen Flüchtling aus. Er hätt' es eher bemerken sollen, Des Hauses aufgestecktes Schild, So hätt' er nimmer suchen wollen Im Haus' ein treues Frauenbild. Der Wind spielt drinnen mit den Herzen, Wie auf dem Dach, nur nicht so laut. Was fragen sie nach meinen Schmerzen? Ihr Kind ist eine reiche Braut.
Confirmed by Peter Rastl with Gedichte aus den hinterlassenen Papieren eines reisenden Waldhornisten. Herausgegeben von Wilhelm Müller. Zweites Bändchen. Deßau 1824. Bei Christian Georg Ackermann, page 79; and with Urania. Taschenbuch auf das Jahr 1823. Neue Folge, fünfter Jahrgang. Leipzig: F. A. Brockhaus. 1823, page 211.
First published in Urania (see above) as no. 2 of Wanderlieder von Wilhelm Müller. Die Winterreise. In 12 Liedern.
To see an early edition of the text, go to page 211 Erstes Bild 249 here: https://download.digitale-sammlungen.de/BOOKS/download.pl?id=bsb10312443