(Poet's title: Einsamkeit)
Set by Schubert:
Part of Winterreise, D 911
Wie eine trübe Wolke
Durch heitre Lüfte geht,
Wenn in der Tanne Wipfel
Ein mattes Lüftchen weht:
So zieh ich meine Straße
Dahin mit trägem Fuß,
Durch helles, frohes Leben,
Einsam und ohne Gruß.
Ach! dass die Luft so ruhig,
Ach! dass die Welt so licht!
Als noch die Stürme tobten,
War ich so elend nicht.
Like a dark cloud
Passing through the pleasant atmosphere
When, in the top of the fir tree,
A gentle breeze stirs,
That is how I pursue my course,
Moving on with sluggish feet
Through this bright, cheerful life,
Alone and being greeted by noone.
Oh, how calm the air is!
Oh, how light the world is!
Even when the storms were still raging
I never suffered like this.
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.
Themes and images in this text:
Air  Being solitary, alone and lonely  Clouds  Feet  Greetings  Journeys  Light  Spruce trees  Storms  Wind  Winter
Müller’s simple style can be deceptive, and has led a number of commentators to underestimate his work. He had a remarkable ability to avoid cliché and predictability in his use of imagery. Throughout Winterreise there is a risk that the combination of a distressed traveller and bad weather will produce over-reliance on the ‘pathetic fallacy’, with every external storm reflecting the tempest within. Yet this never quite happens. Very often our expectations are overturned, with a frozen river turning out to be the mirror of a raging inner torrent (Auf dem Flusse), or with the discovery that there is more pain in bed than when trudging across the frozen ground or being pushed along by the wind (Rast).
So it is here, with the seemingly banal image of a single dark cloud crossing the sky on an otherwise pleasant day. It takes a very special poetic sensitivity to see this as an image of the lonely traveller passing unknown through what to others is a perfectly pleasant environment. The lack of greetings from the people around is worse than any hostility. That single detail is enough to evoke a whole series of incidents. There is no need to describe (or even refer to) all of those other people going about their decent lives. Indeed, the traveller’s solitude is such that he is so totally alienated from them that they have no independent identity. He has allowed us to see into the reality of the experience of being an alien, an outsider.
Fremd bin ich eingezogen,
Fremd zieh’ ich wieder aus.
When I moved in I was an outsider,
As I move out I am an outsider again.
This is how Winterreise began (Gute Nacht), and when Müller published his first version of the cycle here (Einsamkeit) is where it ended. The traveller has taken the reader inside the experience of ‘Entfremdung’ – alienation, becoming an outsider.
Original Spelling Einsamkeit Wie eine trübe Wolke Durch heitre Lüfte geht, Wenn in der Tanne Wipfel Ein mattes Lüftchen weht: So zieh' ich meine Straße Dahin mit trägem Fuß, Durch helles, frohes Leben, Einsam und ohne Gruß. Ach, daß die Luft so ruhig! Ach, daß die Welt so licht! Als noch die Stürme tobten, War ich so elend nicht.
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 105; and with Urania. Taschenbuch auf das Jahr 1823. Neue Folge, fünfter Jahrgang. Leipzig: F. A. Brockhaus. 1823, page 222.
First published in Urania (see above) as no. 12 of Wanderlieder von Wilhelm Müller. Die Winterreise. In 12 Liedern.
To see an early edition of the text, go to page 222 Erstes Bild 260 here: https://download.digitale-sammlungen.de/BOOKS/download.pl?id=bsb10312443