Im Abendrot, D 799

At sunset

(Poet's title: Im Abendrot)

Set by Schubert:

  • D 799

    [February 1825]

Text by:

Karl Lappe

Text written probably 1818.  First published October 16, 1818.

Im Abendrot

O wie schön ist deine Welt,
Vater, wenn sie golden strahlet,
Wenn dein Glanz hernieder fällt,
Und den Staub mit Schimmer malet;
Wenn das Rot, das in der Wolke blinkt,
In mein stilles Fenster sinkt.

Könnt ich klagen? könnt ich zagen?
Irre sein an dir und mir?
Nein, ich will im Busen tragen
Deinen Himmel schon allhier.
Und dies Herz, eh es zusammenbricht,
Trinkt noch Glut und schlürft noch Licht.

At sunset

Oh, how beautiful your world is,
Father, when it shines with gold!
When your glow falls down towards us
And paints the dust with its shimmering;
When the red, as it gleams through the clouds,
Sinks into my quiet window!

Could I complain, could I be apprehensive?
Lose my faith in you or me?
No, in my breast I shall carry
All of your heaven here.
And this heart, before it collapses,
Will continue to drink the glow and savour the light.

The red glow of evening (‘Abendrot’) transforms our world. For a few moments things appear in a new light and the alchemical mystery of turning common, transitory reality into valuable, unblemished gold seems to unfold before our eyes. This is at its most impressive when the light of the sun is refracted, first of all through clouds (sunsets are never as vivid when the sky is clear) and then through glass. As the red and golden sunlight streams through our window (having already been transformed by clouds) the sensitive human soul might experience a moment of spiritual illumination. The Abbot Suger of St. Denis (1081 – 1151) was aware of the power of this phenomenon when he justified the expense of installing stained glass windows and golden doors in his abbey (the first to be built in what came to be called the Gothic style):

Whoever thou art, if thou seekest to extol the glory of these doors, 
Marvel not at the gold and the expense but at the craftsmanship of the work.
Bright is the noble work; but being nobly bright, the work
Should brighten the minds, so that they may travel, through the true lights,
To the True Light, where Christ is the true door.
In what manner it be inherent in this world the golden door defines:
The dull mind rises to truth through that which is material
And, in seeing this light, is resurrected from its former submersion.

Suger, English translation by Erwin Panofsky, quoted in E. G. Holt ed., A Documentary History of Art Volume I 1957

Lappe, the poet of Im Abendrot was writing about similar ideas but from a different background. As a northern Protestant in the early 19th century he saw no need for ecclesiastical buildings to serve as special ‘holy places’. Nor was mystical union with the divine only attainable on special feast days or mediated by sacraments. Nature itself is a cathedral, our own living room window can let in the light of heaven, and any sunset can allow the sensitive soul to open up to the mystery underlying our existence.

Lappe’s contemporary Caspar David Friedrich lived in the same area (on the island of Rügen and in the nearby town of Stralsund) and many of his paintings capture a similar awe in the face of natural light. Both the writer and the painter were interested in conveying the power of ‘the sublime’. Both are equally aware that their own artistic medium cannot contain the whole reality of what is being portrayed externally or experienced within. More senses are needed. We do not just contemplate the glowing light at sunset, we actually drink it up and savour it.

Caspar David Friedrich 1818  Kreidefelsen auf Rügen
(where Lappe wrote the poem)
Caspar David Friedrich 1818 Woman before the setting sun

Original Spelling and note on the text

Im Abendroth

O wie schön ist deine Welt,
Vater, wenn sie golden strahlet!
Wenn dein Glanz herniederfällt,
Und den Staub mit Schimmer malet;
Wenn das Roth, das in der Wolke blinkt,
In mein stilles Fenster sinkt!

Könnt' ich klagen, könnt' ich zagen?
Irre seyn an dir und mir?
Nein, ich will im Busen tragen
Deinen Himmel schon allhier .
Und dies Herz, eh' es zusammenbricht,
Trinkt noch Gluth und schlürft noch Licht.

1  Schubert appears to have changed Lappe's 'dahier' to 'allhier'. The meaning is not affected.

Confirmed Peter Rastl with Schubert’s source, Blätter von Karl Lappe. Erstes Heft. Lied und Leben. Stralsund1824. Gedruckt in der Königl. Regierungs-Buchdruckerei, page 24; with Karl Lappe’s sämmtliche poetische Werke. Ausgabe letzter Hand. Erster Theil. Rostock, Verlag von J. M. Oeberg. 1836, page 17; and with Zeitung für die elegante Welt. Herausgegeben von K. L. Methus. Müller. Achtzehnter Jahrgang. 1818. Leipzig, bei Leopold Voß. No. 203. Freitags, den 16. Oktober 1818, page 1642.

To see an early edition of the text, go to page 24 [50:24] here: