Hunter's evening song
(Poet's title: Jägers Abendlied)
Set by Schubert:
[June 20, 1815]
Im Felde schleich ich, still und wild,
Gespannt mein Feuerrohr,
Da schwebt so licht dein liebes Bild,
Dein süßes Bild mir vor.
Du wandelst jetzt wohl still und mild
Durch Feld und liebes Tal,
Und ach mein schnell verrauschend Bild,
Stellt sich dir’s nicht einmal?
Des Menschen, der die Welt durchstreift
Voll Unmut und Verdruss,
Nach Osten und nach Westen schweift,
Weil er dich lassen muss.
Mir ist es, denk ich nur an dich,
Als in den Mond zu sehn,
Ein stiller Friede kommt auf mich,
Weiß nicht, wie mir geschehn.
I steal off to the fields, quiet and determined,
My rifle cocked.
Over there so brightly your dear image is floating,
Your sweet image appearing to me.
You must now be wandering, quietly and gently
Across fields and the dear valley,
And oh, my quickly fading image,
Doesn’t it appear before you even once?
It is a picture of a man roaming through the world,
Grumpy and full of frustration
Roving from East to West
Because he has to leave you.
For me, if I only think of you, it is
As if I am looking at the moon,
A calm peacefulness comes over me,
I do not know how it happens to me.
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 outset the two poles of this huntsman’s experience – external movement and inner stillness – are signposted clearly in the poem’s use of rhyme and assonance: ‘Im Felde schleich ich, still und wild’. The ‘schleichen / streifen / schweifen’ cluster contrasts explicitly with ‘still / wild / mild / Bild’, though the supposed inner calm might give way to an explosion at any moment. He is ‘still und wild’, both ‘quiet and fiercely determined’, as he sets out on his shooting expedition, though ‘sullen and savage’ might be a better translation given that his rifle is cocked. He has the necessary combination of energy and poise that make him as ready to fire off as is his gun.
schleichen: to creep; (secretly) to sneak, to steal; (in a vehicle) to crawl; (of time) to crawl by; um das Haus schleichen: to prowl around the house streifen: to roam, to wander, (fox) to prowl schweifen: to roam, to wander, to rove; der Schweif: the tail (inc. of a comet); der Schweifstern: comet Based on Collins German / English Dictionary ed. Peter Terrell, 2nd ed. 1991
still: quiet, silent; (air) still, stille sitzen: to keep still, stille Wasser sind tief: still waters run deep; (village, valley, street) quiet; secret; die Stille: quiet, peace, silence, calm wild: wild, savage, (e.g. beauty) rugged, boisterous, (battles, looks) fierce, furious; das Wild: game, deer, venison mild: mild, gentle; mildern: to ease, to soothe, to alleviate das Bild: picture, drawing, painting; image, reflection; metaphor (im Bild zu sprechen: to use a metaphor) Based on Collins German / English Dictionary ed. Peter Terrell, 2nd ed. 1991
It is not clear whether he has gone out to shoot birds or to track a deer, but the basic principle would be the same. He needs to move, to get into position. He has to pay attention to the wind and to his own scent. He might need to follow tracks. Before he shoots he needs utter stillness and concentration. It therefore comes as something as a shock when, at the end of the first stanza, the huntsman says that the image that is hovering before him is not that of his prey but of his beloved.
As he thinks of the beloved, he imagines her in different fields and in the valley that he has now left. He realises that she will soon lose sight of him (his image is ‘schnell verrauschend’ / ‘quickly fading’) since he has been forced away. Memories of his loss (made all the more frustrating since he once had her in his sights) make him increasingly ill-at-ease. By the end of the third stanza we are expecting the pent-up frustration to blow up; we have not forgotten that cocked rifle.
It does not happen, though. For reasons beyond the comprehension of the huntsman and the reader of the poem, the tension between movement (schleichen) and calm (still) is resolved as a calm peacefulness ‘descends’.
It may be connected with the moon. Like the huntsman, it too roams regularly from East to West, so in contemplating it he perhaps comes to realise that it is possible to remain constant despite motion and change (daily ‘roaming’ and monthly waxing and waning). Despite his separation from the beloved, the moon keeps an eye on both of them, so in the end the connection remains.
Original Spelling Jägers Abendlied Im Felde schleich´ ich, still und wild, Gespannt mein Feuerrohr. Da schwebt so licht dein liebes Bild Dein süßes Bild mir vor. Du wandelst jetzt wohl still und mild Durch Feld und liebes Thal, Und ach, mein schnell verrauschend Bild Stellt sich dir's nicht einmal? Des Menschen, der die Welt durchstreift Voll Unmuth und Verdruß, Nach Osten und nach Westen schweift, Weil er dich lassen muß. Mir ist es, denk' ich nur an dich, Als in den Mond zu sehn; Ein stiller Friede kommt auf mich, Weiß nicht wie mir geschehn.
Confirmed by Peter Rastl with Schubert’s source, Goethe’s sämmtliche Schriften. Siebenter Band. / Gedichte von Goethe. Erster Theil. Lyrische Gedichte. Wien, 1810. Verlegt bey Anton Strauß. In Commission bey Geistinger, page 88; with Goethe’s Werke, Vollständige Ausgabe letzter Hand, Erster Band, Stuttgart und Tübingen, in der J.G.Cottaschen Buchhandlung, 1827, page 110.
First anonymously published in Christoph Martin Wieland’s Der Teutsche Merkur vom Jahr 1776. Erstes Vierteljahr. Weimar, pages 8-9, with the title Jägers Nachtlied (Hunter’s night song)
To see an early edition of the text, go to page 88 [102 von 418] here: http://digital.onb.ac.at/OnbViewer/viewer.faces?doc=ABO_%2BZ163965701