In the forest (Night in the forest)
(Poet's title: Im Walde (Waldesnacht))
Set by Schubert:
Windes Rauschen, Gottes Flügel,
Tief in kühler Waldesnacht,
Wie der Held in Rosses Bügel
Schwingt sich des Gedankens Macht.
Wie die alten Tannen sausen,
Hört man Geisteswogen brausen.
Herrlich ist der Flamme Leuchten
In des Morgenglanzes Tau,
Oder die das Feld beleuchten,
Blitze, schwanger oft von Tod.
Rasch die Flamme zuckt und lodert,
Wie zu Gott hinauf gefordert.
Ewig’s Rauschen sanfter Quellen
Zaubert Blumen aus dem Schmerz,
Trauer doch in linden Tönen
Schlägt uns lockend an das Herz;
Fernab hin der Geist gezogen,
Die uns locken, durch die Wogen.
Drang des Lebens aus der Hülle,
Kampf der starken Triebe wild,
Wird zur schönsten Liebesfülle,
Durch des Geistes Hauch gestillt.
Schöpferischer Lüfte Wehen
Fühlt man durch die Seele gehen.
Windes Rauschen, Gottes Flügel,
Tief in dunkler Waldesnacht,
Frei gegeben alle Zügel
Schwingt sich des Gedankens Macht,
Hört in Lüften ohne Grausen
Den Gesang der Geister brausen.
The roaring of the wind, God’s wings,
Deep in the cool night in the forest;
Like the hero using the horse’s stirrup
The power of thought swings itself up;
Like the whistling of the old fir trees,
The waves of spirit can be heard pounding.
The light of the flame is majestic
In the morning glow of the dew,
Or those that light up the open country,
Flashes of lightning, often pregnant with death.
The flame flashes and blazes swiftly,
As if it has been summoned up to God.
The eternal babbling of gentle springs
Conjures flowers out of the pain,
Yet with soothing notes grief
Knocks alluringly at the heart;
The spirit is pulled far away from here
By those waves that entice us.
The drive of life released from its covering,
The battle of strong, savage instincts,
Becomes the most beautiful fullness of love
Made silent by the breath of the spirit.
Creative breezes are astir
And can be felt going through the soul.
The roaring of the wind, God’s wings,
Deep in the dark night in the forest;
Released from all the reins
The power of thought swings itself up,
In the breezes can be heard, without any terror,
The song of the spirits as they pound.
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.
From the Renaissance to the Enlightenment most European nature poetry was in the Pastoral tradition: nature was seen as gently comforting, in contrast to the stresses of living in human society. Those of us who are tired of having to pursue our day to day activities alongside corrupt human beings could take pleasure in the simple life of the shepherd, where desires were simple and easily fulfilled. All threats came from civilisation and all solace derived from bountiful nature. This began to change in the 1770’s. English writers developed an interest in what they called ‘the Sublime’ (in which nature was acknowledged to be awe-inspiring and at times terrifying) and some German writers introduced what came to be known as ‘Sturm und Drang’ (storm and stress / drive).
Schlegel’s ‘Im Walde‘ has Sturm and Drang as central elements of the scene: a cold forest at night, buffetted by the wind and electrified by flashes of lightning. On one level, human beings are totally absent from the scene, we are simply in the presence of nature in all of its savagery and primal agitation. However, on another level, the poem is ONLY about stirrings within and between human souls. The spirit that has been unleashed is something that involves and connects us all. The storm (Sturm) is within us; the impulse (Drang) is the inner drive that forms our soul.
Nature here is in turmoil. We are far from the pastoral world where we were offered contemplation of unchanging reality, where the idea of beauty was connected with the need to rise above transitory turbulence and grasp a world of eternal, still perfection. Here God is not in the still small voice, but his wings are beating in the whirling wind. The human mind does not empty itself of distraction in order to contemplate divinity and beauty in tranquility; rather, it has to be like a medieval hero, jumping onto a massive, powerful horse. The spirit that will take us towards truth involves both the enormous energy of the stallion and the skillful direction of its rider. In the final strophe the image of the horse reappears to emphasise the effect of harnessing all of this energy; when the power of thought has been let off the reins the rider and the beast have become one. At that point we will have lost all terror as we join in with the song of the spirits in the roaring wind.
Between the opening and the closing strophes (so carefully varied to point to the change that can come about if we ride the storm successfully), Schlegel uses the images of lightning (fire, strophe 2) and waves (water, strophe 3) to help us grasp his central point about the spirit (air, strophe 4). The lightning can be deadly but it also has the ability to lift us up in a split second towards a higher dimension. The calmer babbling of springs is able to offer comfort in our pain, and the lapping waves, like the more violent flashes of lightning, entice us away from our current situation (‘Fernab hin’ / far away from here). All of this means that life can be liberated from its husk (´aus der Hülle´ / from its covering). The drives or impulses that are set loose fill us with love and enable the breath of ‘the spirit’ to infuse the soul.
Schlegel makes no attempt to explain what he might mean by the term ‘spirit’ or ‘spirits’ here (although he and some of his contemporaries, such as Hegel, wrote a great deal about it in other philosophical works). It is left to the readers to intuit this or to try to find what it might signify for them. We are invited to join the project of transcendental philosophy, not through rational exposition, but by opening ourselves to an inner perception of what is possible for us if we channel the elements of fire, water and air and escape from the constraints of our limiting earth.
Original Spelling and notes on the text Im Walde Windes Rauschen, Gottes Flügel, Tief in kühler Waldesnacht; Wie der Held in Rosses Bügel, Schwingt sich des Gedankens Macht. Wie die alten Tannen sausen, Hört man Geistes Wogen brausen. Herrlich ist der Flamme Leuchten In des Morgenglanzes Thau1, Oder die das Feld beleuchten2, Blitze, schwanger oft von Tod. Rasch die Flamme zuckt und lodert, Wie zu Gott hinauf gefordert. Ewig's Rauschen sanfter Quellen Zaubert Blumen aus dem Schmerz, Trauer doch in linden Tönen3 Schlägt uns lockend an das Herz; Fernab hin der Geist gezogen, Die uns locken, durch die Wogen. Drang des Lebens aus der Hülle, Kampf der starken Triebe wild, Wird zur schönsten Liebesfülle, Durch des Geistes Hauch gestillt. Schöpferischer Lüfte Wehen Fühlt man durch die Seele gehen. Windes Rauschen, Gottes Flügel, Tief in dunkler Waldesnacht, Frei gegeben alle Zügel Schwingt sich des Gedankens Macht, Hört in Lüften ohne Grausen Den Gesang der Geister brausen. 1 Schubert changed Schlegel's 'Roth' (redness) to 'Thau' (dew) 2 Schlegel: 'befeuchten' (dampen) 3 Schlegel: 'Wellen' (waves)
Confirmed by Peter Rastl with Schubert’s source, Fridrich Schlegel’s Gedichte. Zweyter Theil. Neueste Auflage. Wien 1816. Bey B. Ph. Bauer. pages 151-152; with Dichter-Garten. Erster Gang. Violen. Herausgegeben von Rostorf. Würzburg, bei Joseph Stahel, 1807, pages 3-4; and with Friedrich Schlegels sämmtliche Werke. Erster Band. Gedichte. Berlin, bei Julius Eduard Hitzig, 1809, pages 292-293.
To see an early edition of the text, go to page 151 [159 von 270] here: http://digital.onb.ac.at/OnbViewer/viewer.faces?doc=ABO_%2BZ204919502