(Poet's title: Gefrorne Tränen)
Set by Schubert:
Part of Winterreise, D 911
Gefrorne Tropfen fallen
Von meinen Wangen ab:
Ob es mir denn entgangen,
Dass ich geweinet hab?
Ei Tränen, meine Tränen,
Und seid ihr gar so lau,
Dass ihr erstarrt zu Eise,
Wie kühler Morgentau?
Und dringt doch aus der Quelle
Der Brust so glühend heiß,
Als wolltet ihr zerschmelzen
Des ganzen Winters Eis.
Frozen droplets fall
Off from my cheeks:
Had it escaped my notice
That I have been crying?
Oh tears, my tears,
Does it not matter how warm you are –
Will you still turn to solid ice
Like cool dew in the morning?
And you still force yourself up out of the well
In my breast with its blazing heat,
As if you wanted to melt
All the ice from the whole of winter.
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.
Numbness is a strange sensation – since it constitutes an absence of sensation, how can we be aware of it? Similarly it seems impossible that we cannot realise that we are crying, yet this traveller’s experience is all too familiar to many of us. Our feelings become so intense that we stop feeling.
It is something to do with the disjunction between inside and outside. Outside everything is frozen. Even tears freeze as they fall down his cheeks. The world outside is a mirror of the frozen, numb reality of his inner life. But no, that cannot be right, he realises. What is inside him is a boiling, blazing cauldron, sufficient to melt all the ice produced in the course of winter. The external world is NOT a reflection or an image of his emotions but directly the opposite. The ice is there to sensitise him to the reality of his inner torment.
This is how so many of the images and symbols operate throughout Winterreise. He sees the external world both as sympathetic to his suffering and indifferent to it at the same time. He sees himself as both object and subject (as in the dream imagery of ‘Die Wetterfahne‘). He is simultaneously acutely sensitive and numb.
Comments and other points of view
Malcolm, There is such confusion here, in the poem I mean. To be crying without realising it – a sense of being not in control of one’s emotions and physical being. So what was he thinking about that so distracted him from his own tears? Numbness is, as you well explore, the central image – physical and emotional. Then the whole struggle between heat/cold, warmth/ice, liquid/solid, inner/outer – everything in contention with everything else, a world turned inside out. So strange, that warm tears can both turn to ice and then in the next moment, there is so much heat in his breast that it might melt the whole of winter. I take from this poem turbulence – very Müller, very Schubert. As you said, deceptively simple poetry. I would still (for all the above enjoyment of these opposites) prefer he did not juxtapose solid ice with cool dew – the associations of cool dew are other, (maybe cool is the problem) though of course hoar frost is precisely produced when dew freezes on grass and leaf. No doubt I’m quibbling. It is interesting to note that these days we do not experience much intense cold – so much that it numbs us – unless we seek it out in the mountains or polar regions. There’s a Jack London story called To build a fire where the man is in serious danger in the Yukon or Alaska and his fingers are so cold he does not realise they are burning when he tries to light the fire. I imagine as a child in Nawton you had some numbingly cold days? John
Original Spelling Gefrorene Thränen Gefrorne Tropfen fallen Von meinen Wangen ab: Ob es mir denn entgangen, Daß ich geweinet hab'? Ei Thränen, meine Thränen, Und seid ihr gar so lau, Daß ihr erstarrt zu Eise, Wie kühler Morgenthau? Und dringt doch aus der Quelle Der Brust so glühend heiß, Als wolltet ihr zerschmelzen Des ganzen Winters Eis.
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 80; and with Urania. Taschenbuch auf das Jahr 1823. Neue Folge, fünfter Jahrgang. Leipzig: F. A. Brockhaus. 1823, page 212.
First published in Urania (see above) as no. 3 of Wanderlieder von Wilhelm Müller. Die Winterreise. In 12 Liedern.
To see an early edition of the text, go to page 212 Erstes Bild 250 here: https://download.digitale-sammlungen.de/BOOKS/download.pl?id=bsb10312443