Courage for life
(Poet's title: Lebensmut)
Set by Schubert:
O wie dringt das junge Leben
Kräftig mir durch Sinn und Herz,
Alles fühl ich glühn und streben,
Fühle doppelt Lust und Schmerz.
Fruchtlos such ich euch zu halten,
Geister meiner regen Brust,
Nach Gefallen mögt ihr walten,
Sei’s zum Leide, sei’s zur Lust.
Lodre nur, gewalt’ge Liebe,
Höher lodre nur empor,
Brecht, ihr vollen Blütentriebe,
Mächtig schwellend nur hervor.
Mag das Herz sich blutig färben,
Mag’s vergehn in rascher Pein,
Lieber will ich ganz verderben
Als nur halb lebendig sein.
Dieses Zagen, dieses Sehnen,
Das die Brust vergeblich schwellt,
Diese Seufzer, diese Tränen,
Die der Stolz gefangen hält,
Dieses schmerzlich eitle Ringen,
Dieses Kämpfen ohne Kraft,
Ohne Hoffnung und Vollbringen,
Hat mein bestes Mark erschlafft.
Lieber wecke rasch und mutig,
Schlachtruf, den entschlafnen Sinn!
Lange träumt’ ich, lange ruht’ ich,
Gab der Kette lang mich hin.
Hier ist Hölle nicht, noch Himmel,
Weder Frost ist hier, noch Glut,
Auf ins feindliche Getümmel,
Rüstig weiter durch die Flut.
Dass noch einmal Wunsch und Wagen,
Zorn und Liebe, Wohl und Weh
Ihre Wellen um mich schlagen
Auf des Lebens wilder See,
Und ich kühn im tapfern Streite
Mit dem Strom, der mich entrafft,
Selber meinen Nachen leite,
Freudig in geprüfter Kraft.
Oh, how this young life is penetrating
Powerfully into my mind and heart!
I can feel everything glowing and striving,
I can feel that pleasure and pain have doubled.
It is pointless for me to try to stop you,
Spirits of my animated breast;
You can follow your desires and impose
Either suffering or pleasure.
Blaze away, powerful love,
Blaze up even higher!
Break, you bursting blossoming urges,
Powerfully swelling up!
May my heart take on the colour of blood,
May it pass away in sweeping pain;
I would prefer to be destroyed completely
Than to be only half alive.
This hesitation, this longing,
Which has been pointlessly swelling my breast,
These sighs, these tears,
Which are held captive by pride,
This painful useless wrestling,
This battling without power,
Without hope or achievement,
Has drained the marrow of my being.
Better to wake up, swift and courageous,
With a battle cry rousing my sleeping mind!
I have been dreaming for a long time, I have been resting for a long time,
For a long time I allowed myself to be chained up;
Here is neither hell nor heaven,
There is neither frost nor flame here!
Up into the enemy turmoil,
Confidently pressing on through the flood!
Let them come again – desire and daring,
Rage and love, ecstasy and misery –
Let their waves beat around me
On the savage sea of life;
And I shall be bold in the courageous struggle
With the stream that is engulfing me,
I shall guide my boat myself
Joyfully using my well-tested strength.
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.
Ernst Schulze was already 26 years old when he wrote this text about the ‘young life’ that he felt was coursing through his body. Whatever it was that he was writing about was not the first stirrings of youth, though, since he had already been an enthusiastic Philosophy student at Göttingen University and he had published a volume of poetry (Elegies and Epistles). He had enrolled as a soldier and fought against Napoleon´s army. He had experienced a grand passion, but the object of his devotion, Cäcilie Tychsen, had died in December 1812 (three years previously). He was currently in the process of producing a major poetic tribute to her (Cäcilie, eine Geisterstimme).
There is something about Schulze´s personality which suggests that he had an unusual (some might say distorted) perception of the world and the course of his own life. It is this which might explain why he responded like a teenager to his inner drives in the spring of 1815. After Cäcilie’s death he had started pursuing her younger sister, even though he had previously written disparagingly about her appearance and character. It was as if he were starting each day from scratch, with no memory or awareness of the consequences of his previous experiences or behaviour. As well as this strange forgetting, there is also the acute remembering which seems similar to what happens with people suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Some triggers take people back to the trauma itself, rather than to a ‘memory’ of the trauma. It is as if they are living the awful experience for the first time, all over again. They are unable to process the trauma, with the result that the past becomes immediately present rather than something that can be recalled and escaped with the advantage of distance. Schulze seems to have experienced something of the sort, with the result that his past recurred without him being able to build on it or develop in any way.
Thus, he determines to rouse himself and go into battle as if he had never previously been to war. He determines to take on and embrace the full range of abstract nouns (teenagers have always liked Abstract Nouns, with all their Deep Significance), as if he had not already experienced the full gamut: desire and daring, rage and love, ecstasy and misery. He reverts to his 17 year old undergraduate self when he quotes Schiller, one of his literary idols at the time. Schiller’s ‘Sehnsucht‘ (D 52, D 636) had concluded with the identical image of leaping into a small boat and riding through an engulfing torrent to escape from the frustrating limitations of his previous life.
The other image that Schulze had played with was about waking up from a sort of sleep. He feels that he has been only ‘half alive’ and would prefer to be either alive or dead. He has been asleep, he has been dreaming. The feeling of youth that is bursting out in his swelling breast is waking him up. It is also a battle cry, a reveille. This must be what it was like on so many days for poor Ernst Schulze. His previous life was vaguely recalled as if it had been a dream, an illusion. Today, though, he would begin to live properly. He was now fully awake, ready to wrestle, to take on the enemy, to wade through the surging waters, to steer his small boat across the savage ocean of life.
Original Spelling Lebensmut O wie dringt das junge Leben Kräftig mir durch Sinn und Herz! Alles fühl' ich glühn und streben, Fühle doppelt Lust und Schmerz. Fruchtlos such' ich euch zu halten, Geister meiner regen Brust; Nach Gefallen mögt ihr walten, Sey's zum Leide, sey's zur Lust. Lodre nur, gewalt'ge Liebe, Höher lodre nur empor! Brecht, ihr vollen Blüthentriebe, Mächtig schwellend nur hervor! Mag das Herz sich blutig färben, Mag's vergehn in rascher Pein; Lieber will ich ganz verderben Als nur halb lebendig seyn. Dieses Zagen, dieses Sehnen, Das die Brust vergeblich schwellt, Diese Seufzer, diese Thränen, Die der Stolz gefangen hält, Dieses schmerzlich eitle Ringen, Dieses Kämpfen ohne Kraft, Ohne Hoffnung und Vollbringen, Hat mein bestes Mark erschlafft. Lieber wecke rasch und muthig, Schlachtruf, den entschlaf'nen Sinn! Lange träumt' ich, lange ruht' ich, Gab der Kette lang mich hin; Hier ist Hölle nicht, noch Himmel, Weder Frost ist hier, noch Gluth! Auf in's feindliche Getümmel, Rüstig weiter durch die Fluth! Daß noch einmal Wunsch und Wagen, Zorn und Liebe, Wohl und Weh Ihre Wellen um mich schlagen Auf des Lebens wilder See; Und ich kühn im tapfern Streite Mit dem Strom, der mich entrafft, Selber meinen Nachen leite, Freudig in geprüfter Kraft.
Confirmed by Peter Rastl with Schubert’s source, Ernst Schulze’s sämmtliche poetische Schriften. Dritter Band. I. Poetisches Tagebuch. […] Leipzig: F. A. Brockhaus. 1819, pages 100-101; and with Sämmtliche poetische Werke von Ernst Schulze. Neue Ausgabe mit sechszehn Kupfern. Dritter Theil. Leipzig: F. A. Brockhaus. 1822, pages 101-102.
To see an early edition of the text, go to page 100 [116 von 336] here: http://digital.onb.ac.at/OnbViewer/viewer.faces?doc=ABO_%2BZ170542803