Hermann and Thusnelda
(Poet's title: Hermann und Thusnelda)
Set by Schubert:
[October 27, 1815]
Ha, dort kömt er, mit Schweiß, mit Römerblut,
Mit dem Staube der Schlacht bedeckt. So schön war
Hermann niemals, so hat´s ihm
Nie von dem Auge geflammt.
Komm, ich bebe vor Lust, reich mir den Adler
Und das triefende Schwert. Komm, atm’ und ruh hier
Aus in meiner Umarmung,
Von der zu schrecklichen Schlacht.
Ruh hier, dass ich den Schweiß von der Stirn abtrockne,
Und der Wange das Blut! Wie glüht die Wange!
Hermann! Hermann! So hat dich
Niemals Thusnelda geliebt.
Selbst nicht, als du zuerst im Eichenschatten
Mit dem bräunlichen Arm mich wilder umfasstest!
Fliehend blieb ich, und sah dir
Schon die Unsterblichkeit an,
Die nun dein ist! Erzählt´s in allen Hainen,
Dass Augustus nun bang mit seinen Göttern
Nektar trinket. Erzählt es in allen Hainen,
Dass Hermann unsterblicher ist.
Warum lockst du mein Haar, liegt nicht der stumme
Tote Vater vor uns? O hätt’ Augustus
Seine Heere geführt, er
Läge noch blutiger da.
Lass dein sinkendes Haar mich, Hermann, heben,
Dass es über dem Kranz in Locken drohe.
Siegmar ist bei den Göttern!
Folge du, und wein ihm nicht nach.
Ha, here he comes, covered with sweat, with the blood of Romans,
Covered with the dust of battle! This is the most beautiful
Hermann has ever been! This is the first time
His eyes have been ablaze like that.
Come, I am swooning with desire, hand me the eagle
And the dripping sword! Come, breathe and rest here
In my embrace to recover
From the terrible battle.
Rest here, so that I can wipe up the sweat from your brow
And wipe the blood off your cheek! How your cheeks are glowing!
Hermann, Hermann, like this,
Thusnelda has never loved you like this before!
Not even when in the shadow of the oak tree you first
Embraced me wildly with your browinsh arms!
Even in flight I remained and saw
Immortality in you already,
And now it is yours. Proclaim it in all the groves,
That Augustus is now afraid as, with his gods,
He drinks nectar! Proclaim it in all the groves,
That Hermann is immortal!
Why are you curling my hair? Lying here, is not that my dumb
Dead father, in front of us? Oh, if Augustus
Had led his troops, it is he
Who would be lying there, even more bloody!
Hermann, let me lift your drooping hair,
So that the locks can stand up to the wreath!
Siegmar is with the gods!
It is your job to follow and not weep for him!
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 scene is set on the day of the early Roman Empire’s greatest military defeat. In the autumn of 9 AD (CE) an army under the leadership of Publius Quintilius Varus faced a number of Germanic tribes led by Arminius (Hermann), son of Segimar (Siegmar). The battle was fought at Kalkriese, near modern Osnabrück. Three Roman legions were destroyed and what became known as the Battle in the Teutoberg Forest in effect marked the end of Augustus’ attempts to extend the boundary of the Roman empire north and east of the Rhine.
Tacitus’ Annals of Ancient Rome report the later stages of the same war, when Germanicus (sent by the Emperor Tiberius to sort out the northern border) entered into an alliance with Segestes, the father of Thusnelda, Arminius’s wife. It is clear from his account that Thusnelda was a forceful character. She was handed over to the Romans as part of the proposed alliance, but she maintained her support for her husband.
She was temperamentally closer to her husband than her father. From her came no appeals, no submissive tears; she stood still, her hands clasped inside her robe, staring down at her pregnant body.Tacitus, The Annals of Imperial Rome I, 57 English translation by Michael Grant (Penguin Books)
How are we supposed to respond to Thusnelda as she welcomes her conquering husband? Are we expected to admire her strength and her seeming lack of feeling over Siegmar’s death? Should we gloat with her over the dripping sword and the captured imperial eagles? Are women readers being presented with an image of the true Germanic military wife, who is turned on by her husband rampaging against the enemy? Are male readers being exhorted to rise above Arminius’s regret over his father’s death and tell themselves that victory is worth a drop of blood?
There have been times, as we are all too aware, that this sort of simplistic, militaristic nationalism has been encouraged and has influenced the reading of Klopstock’s poem, but it is unlikely that the author would have favoured such an approach. He had a lifelong fascination with Arminius and his role in Germanic culture, and even his most apparently bombastic texts turn out to be surprisingly lacking in jingoism on closer analysis. What is most striking in ‘Hermann und Thusnelda‘ is the fact that Hermann is so laconic. He does not rush from the battlefield shouting and singing chants of victory. He is restrained to the point of taciturnity. He is taking in the death of his own father, and who knows how many others. His silence is evocative of the horrors he has been involved with, scenes his loquacious wife seemingly celebrates but can surely barely imagine.
We know that this is how combat veterans tend to react. Even famous victors, such as the Duke of Wellington at the end of the battle of Waterloo, look on in speechless horror at what has taken place. Alongside the mourning and the guilt, there is also regret. Opportunities were missed, things could have gone better. In Hermann’s case, one of his main regrets is at the front of his mind. He has only defeated Varus, Augustus himself did not come to fight. The Empire has therefore not yet been defeated, the job is not finished. Yet his wife hails him as an immortal!
Original Spelling and notes on the text Hermann und Thusnelda Thusnelda: Ha, dort kömt er, mit Schweiß, mit Römerblut, Mit dem Staube der Schlacht bedeckt! so schön war Hermann niemals! So hats ihm Nie von dem Auge geflammt! Kom! ich bebe vor Lust! reich mir den Adler Und das triefende Schwert! Kom, athm' und ruh' hier Aus in meiner Umarmung, Von der zu schrecklichen Schlacht! Ruh' hier, daß ich den Schweiß von der Stirn' abtrockne, Und der Wange das Blut! Wie glüht die Wange! Hermann, Hermann! so hat dich Niemals Thusnelda geliebt! Selbst nicht, als1 du zuerst im Eichenschatten Mit dem bräunlichen Arm mich wilder umfaßtest2! Fliehend blieb ich, und sah dir Schon die Unsterblichkeit an, Die nun dein ist! Erzählts in allen Hainen, Daß Augustus nun bang mit seinen Göttern Nektar trinket! Erzählt es in allen Hainen, Daß Hermann unsterblicher ist! Hermann: Warum lockst du mein Haar? Liegt nicht der stumme Todte Vater vor uns? O hätt' Augustus Seine Heere geführt; er Läge noch blutiger da! Thusnelda: Laß dein sinkendes Haar mich, Hermann, heben, Daß es über dem Kranz in Locken drohe! Siegmar ist bey den Göttern! Folge du, und wein' ihm nicht nach! 1 Schubert changed 'da' (where) to 'als' (when) 2 Schubert changed 'faßtest' (held) to 'umfaßtest' (embraced)
Confirmed by Peter Rastl with Klopstocks Oden. Erster Band. Leipzig bey Georg Joachim Göschen. 1798, pages 112-113; and with Oden von Klopstock. WIEN, gedruckt bey Joh. Thomas Edlen von Trattnern, k.k. Hofdruckern und Buchhändlern. 1784, pages 142-144.
To see an early edition of the text, go to page 112 [130 von 356] here: http://digital.onb.ac.at/OnbViewer/viewer.faces?doc=ABO_%2BZ223304809