Funeral song for my mother
(Poet's title: Grablied für die Mutter)
Set by Schubert:
Hauche milder, Abendluft,
Klage sanfter, Philomele,
Eine schöne, engelreine Seele
Schläft in dieser Gruft.
Bleich und stumm am düstern Rand
Steht der Vater mit dem Sohne,
Denen ihres Lebens schönste Krone
Schnell mit ihr verschwand.
Und sie weinen in die Gruft,
Aber ihrer Liebe Zähren
Werden sich zum Perlenkranz verklären,
Wenn der Engel ruft.
Breathe more gently, evening air,
Lament more softly, Philomel,
A beautiful, angelically pure soul
Is asleep in this grave.
Pale and silent by the bleak rim
Stands the father with his son,
The most beautiful crown of their lives
Suddenly vanished along with her.
And they cry into the grave,
But the tears of their love
Will become transformed into a wreath of pearls
When the angel calls.
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.
Although it is not yet known who wrote these verses, the occasion which led to Schubert setting them to music has now been established. Josef Ludwig von Streinsberg was close to Joseph von Spaun (one of Schubert’s best friends), and Streinsberg’s memoirs report that his mother died in 1818. Since he is known to have possessed the manuscript of Schubert’s setting it can be concluded that he was the ‘son’ who was standing with his father at the rim of his mother’s grave.
There is nothing particularly unusual about the imagery here. The evening breezes are invited to slow down and the nightingales are asked to sing more quietly so that outer nature can reflect the inner state of the mourners. The mother is said not to have died, but to be ‘asleep’. So far, so pious and so conventional. However, the end of the text takes the metaphor of ‘death is sleep’ in a rather unusual direction: we are invited to consider what is going to happen when the archangel blows the last trumpet at the end of time (‘Wenn der Engel ruft’). The angel’s call has become an alarm clock!
Note that there is no promise that the final trumpet will actually awaken the dead woman, though. What IS promised is that the tears of the mourning family will be metamorphosed into a wreath of pearls, that the current agony will be turned into something of lasting value. The crown that they have lost will be replaced by a more precious garland. In the end, the words of comfort are for the living, not the dead.
Original Spelling Grablied für die Mutter Hauche milder, Abendluft, Klage sanfter, Philomele, Eine schöne, engelreine Seele Schläft in dieser Gruft. Bleich und stumm am düstern Rand Steht der Vater mit dem Sohne, Denen ihres Lebens schönste Krone Schnell mit ihr verschwand. Und sie weinen in die Gruft, Aber ihrer Liebe Zähren Werden sich zum Perlenkranz verklären, Wenn der Engel ruft.