A feeling of sufficiency
(Poet's title: Genügsamkeit)
Set by Schubert:
Schubert omitted the words in italics
Dort raget ein Berg aus den Wolken her,
Ihn erreicht wohl mein eilender Schritt.
Doch dort ragen neue, und immer mehr,
Fort, da mich der Drang noch durchglüht.
Es treibt ihn vom schwebenden Rosenlicht
Aus dem ruhigen, heitern Azur.
Und endlich waren’s die Berge nicht,
Es war seine Sehnsucht nur.
Doch nun wird es ringsum öd und flach,
Und doch kann er nimmer zurück –
O Götter, gebt mir ein Hüttendach
Im Tal und ein friedliches Glück.
“Over there a mountain sticks out over the clouds
And my hurried steps lead me up to it.
Yet more and more of them tower up there
Since the drive is still burning inside me.”
He is propelled by the hovering crimson light
That comes out of the calm, clear azure sky.
And in the end there were no mountains,
There was only his longing.
But now all around it is ugly and flat,
And yet he can never go back.
O gods, give me the shelter of a hut
In the valley and peaceful contentment.
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.
The title, Genügsamkeit, is untranslatable. It is not quite modesty, nor is it really contentment. If you are genügsam you live modestly, you have simple needs and you probably do not worry very much about acquiring things that are out of reach; you do not complain, but that does not necessarily mean that you are fully satisfied or blissfully happy. As the grumpy Yorkshireman says when asked how things are: ‘Mustn’t grumble’. Perhaps ‘acceptance’ comes close as a translation.
Most of our English expressions of this type have these overtones of grudging or ironic acceptance: ‘enough is enough’, ‘that will do’, ‘you can have too much of a good thing’. It is as if we can only accept the limitations on our ambitions and aspirations after we have had a go at reaching them. We are more likely to listen to the voice of an old sage on the futility of ambition than the preaching of a teenager, simply because the kid has not yet had sufficient time to fail. We might even interpret such an attitude as an immature attempt to justify laziness and a lack of drive.
Franz von Schober, the author of this rather incoherent text, was just such a spoiled teenager. We do not know exactly how old he was when he wrote the poem, but since Schubert set it to music (presumably using his friend’s original manuscript) in 1815, he must have been younger than 19 (he was just over a year older than Schubert). The incoherence is so noticeable that it may be the result of an attempt at creativity. Why do we move from the third person to the first person voice at the end of the first stanza then move back again to references to ‘he’ and ‘him’ except for a final ‘mir’ (to me) in the penultimate line? Why is there a sudden shift to the past tense at the end of the second stanza? Is this an attempt to create in the reader a sense of the shock and disjunction experienced by the persona as he went on his pointless journey? In his youthful naivety he saw a mountain and headed for it. The higher he climbed the wider the horizon before him and the further he could see ahead, but what lay ahead was no simple goal, just more mountains. Higher mountains at that. So which peak is to be tackled? When we have climbed all the Munros are there not plenty of Marilyns waiting to be bagged? Let’s just give up.
After all of this manic climbing what we need is a hut in a valley. We need to be satisfied with looking at the hills without needing to ‘conquer’ them. There is something unsettlingly false about ending up here, though. We are told that the climber has come to realise that it is not about the mountains; it is all about him and his longing. Does not he still need to come to terms with this yearning? Perhaps we are convinced that he has had an epiphany and realised that what had seemed to be an external project needs to be more of an inner spiritual or psychological process, but there does not seem to be any indication in the poem that he has set out on that more important journey. I am inclined not to believe him when he says that he now only has very simple needs and modest ambitions, that he ‘mustn’t grumble’.
Comments and other points of view
Hi Malcolm! I'm very much enjoying reading these. When I read Genügsamkeit, I had a different interpretation that might be useful (or not!). 1. We're in the present tense. The narrator experiences a drive to explore, conquer, accomplish, etc., but he's getting the sneaking feeling that while that drive burns in him, the mountains will continue to tower up and beckon. He gets an inkling of unrealizable hopes. 2: Some time has passed perhaps. Or that glimmer of realization from stanza 1 has slowly come to possess him. He recognizes (or now believes) that all the mountains were only illusions created by that longing. This idea has utterly disillusioned him - or given him a new illusion: that there is and was no point to his exploration / conquest / accomplishment. He feels so demoralized by this that he refers to his former self as 'he'. (A bit condescending but human.) 3. Since he realizes (or thinks) that he can never return to that former state of joy and movement and progress, and regards his current state as hideous (ugly and flat), he prays for shelter and contentment with his lot. But we're left with the feeling that he'll find it difficult to achieve contentment or satisfaction, at least not for awhile yet. cheers, Emily
Original Spelling and notes on the text Genügsamkeit. "Dort raget ein Berg aus den Wolken her, Ihn erreicht wohl mein eilender Schritt. Doch dort ragen neue, und immer mehr - Fort, da mich der Drang noch durchglüht." Es treibt ihn vom schwebenden Rosenlicht Aus dem ruhigen, heitern Azur. - Und endlich - waren's die Berge nicht, Es war seine Sehnsucht nur. Doch nun wird es ringsum öd' und flach, Und doch kann er nimmer zurück1 - O Götter! gebt mir ein Hüttendach Im Thal und ein friedliches Glück! 1 When the text was published these two lines were: Und allgemach rings wird es öd und flach / Und doch kam er nimmer zurück.
Confirmed by Peter Rastl with Gedichte von Franz von Schober, Stuttgart und Tübingen, J.G.Cotta’scher Verlag, 1842, page 8.
To see an early edition of the text, go to page 8 [26 von 292] here: http://digital.onb.ac.at/OnbViewer/viewer.faces?doc=ABO_%2BZ20766660X