Song (Far from the big town)
(Poet's title: Lied)
Set by Schubert:
Ferne von der großen Stadt,
Nimm mich auf in deine Stille,
Tal, das mit des Frühlings Fülle
Die Natur geschmücket hat!
Wo kein Lärmen, kein Getümmel
Meinen Schlummer kürzer macht,
Und ein ewig heit’rer Himmel
Über sel’gen Fluren lacht.
Freuden, die die Ruhe beut,
Will ich ungestört hier schmecken,
Hier, wo Bäume mich bedecken
Und die Linde Duft verstreut.
Diese Quelle sei mein Spiegel,
Mein Parkett der junge Klee,
Und der frisch beras’te Hügel
Sei mein grünes Kanapeh.
Deiner mütterlichen Spur,
Dem Gesetz, das ungerochen
Noch kein Sterblicher gebrochen,
Will ich folgen, o Natur!
Aus dem dunkeln Schoß der Erden
Will ich Freuden mir erziehn,
Und aus Baum und Blume werden
Seligkeiten mir erblühn.
Mein zufriednes Herz erfreut
An den selbstgepflegten Keimen,
An den hoffnungsvollen Bäumen
Sich mit Mutterzärtlichkeit.
Wenn die Blumen sich vermählen
In der Sonne mildem Licht,
Will ich jede Blüthe zählen,
Die mir süße Frucht verspricht.
Summet dort im Lindenschatten,
Bringt von blumenvollen Matten
Mir des Honigs Gold zurück;
Auf des Hügels trocknem Rasen
Halb im Schatten hingestreckt,
Seh ich meine Lämmer grasen,
Die das feinste Vlies bedeckt.
Wenn durch Fleiß und Sonnenbrand
Früh die schwächern Kräfte schwinden,
Ruh ich in des Tales Gründen
An der Felsenquelle Rand.
Ihre Lieb’ und ihren Kummer
Singt die Turteltaub’ im Hain,
Und es wiegt in sanften Schlummer
Mich der Quelle Murmeln ein.
Hebt der milde Herbst sein Haupt,
Mit dem Früchtenkranz geschmücket,
Aus den Fluren und erblicket
Rings die Gärten, halb entlaubt:
O wie laben dann den Gaumen
Trauben, die mein Weinstock trägt,
Oder blau bereifte Pflaumen
Von dem Baum, den ich gepflegt!
Endlich, wenn der Nordwind stürmt
Durch die blätterlosen Wälder
Und auf die erstarrten Felder
Ganze Schneegebirge türmt,
Dann verkürzet am Kamine
Freundschaft mir die Winternacht,
Bis, geschmückt mit frischem Grüne,
Neu der junge Lenz erwacht.
Far from the big town,
Take me up into your quietness,
Valley, which, with the fullness of spring,
Has been decorated by nature!
Where no noise, no bustle,
Will shorten my sleep,
And where an eternally cheerful sky
Laughs over blessed fields!
The joys offered by peacefulness
Are what I am going to taste here undisturbed,
Here, where trees offer me a roof
And the lime tree emits fragrance.
This well-pool can be my mirror,
My parquet floor is the fresh clover,
And the newly re-covered hill
Will serve as my sofa.
Your maternal guidance,
The law which, without being sniffed out
No mortal has yet broken,
Is what I shall follow, oh nature!
Out of the dark womb of the earth
I want to draw out joys for myself,
And from trees and flowers
Blessings will blossom for me.
My contented heart takes pleasure
In the seeds that I myself have looked after,
In the hopeful trees
That I look after with a mother’s tenderness.
When the flowers get married
In the gentle light of the sun
I shall count every blossom
Which promises me sweet fruit.
My republic of bees
Is buzzing over there in the shadow of the lime tree,
From the meadows full of flowers it is bringing
Me back the gold that is honey.
On the dry grass of the hill,
Lying out half in the shade,
I can see my little lambs grazing
Covered in the finest fleece.
When, because of hard work and the burning sun
My weak strength soon begins to fade,
I shall rest in the depths of the valley
By the edge of the spring that comes out of the rock.
Their love and their concerns
Are the subjects of the turtle doves’ singing in the grove;
And I am lulled into a gentle sleep
By the babbling of the spring.
When gentle autumn raises its head
Adorned with the garland of fruit
From the fields, and looks
Around the gardens that have lost half their leaves,
Oh, how they soothe the palate
Those grapes produced by my own vine-tree,
Or the blue plums touched with hoarfrost
From the tree which I looked after.
Finally, when the north wind blows a storm
Through the leafless forests,
And on the fields that are frozen solid
Whole mountain ranges of snow accumulate,
Then by the hearth
Friendship shortens the winter night for me,
Until, adorned with fresh green
Young Spring wakes up once more.
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.
Der Sommerabend (The Summer Evening) is the second of Carolina Pichler’s Idyllen (= Pastoral poems). It is a dialogue between two women, Lyda and Seline, who become quite competetive in their assertions about their commitment to the values of a simple, rural life. The text ends as Lyda introduces this eight stanza poem with the following words:
Aber, wir werden den Streit, den niegeschlichteten, langen, Heute nicht enden; genug, die gütigen Götter verleihe Einem Sterblichen die, dem Andern andere Gaben, Aber, weil du mich denn aufforderst, will ich zur Strafe Du Muthwillige! gleich ein langes Liedchen dir singen Von den Reizen und Freuden des Lands. Ob ichs selber gedichtet, Ob ichs gelernt, ob jetzt ein Gott in die Seele mir´s hauchte; Dieses verkünd´ ich dir nie, wie sehr auch die Neugier dich plage. Ferne von der großen Stadt . . . But this dispute will never go away, we shall continue it but We won't bring to an end today; enough, the good gods bestow Some gifts on a particular mortal and others on others, But, since you have asked for it, I shall punish you For your mischief by singing you quite a long song About the charms and the joys of the countryside. Whether I composed it myself, Whether I memorised it, or whether a god whispered it to me within my soul Is something I shall never tell you, however curious you become. Far from the big town . . .
Since Pichler’s poem is a contribution to a dialogue, with different approaches and emphases, we shall offer two contrasting readings of the text.
A deconstructionist challenge
From the first stanza onwards it is apparent that the appeal of the pastoral idyll is focused on women’s concerns and interests. Carolina Pichler had even added a footnote earlier in the Idyll pointing out how Lyda and Selina were from an older generation, when women lived different lives, so the author was undoubtedly conscious of the changing expectations of women in ‘civilised’ society.
Lyda’s song begins with a reference to the valley where she wants to live as being ‘decorated’ or ‘adorned’ (literally, ‘bejewelled’, geschmücket). This is clearly a declaration of the inferiority or the worthlessness of conventional display jewellery. It cannot be a coincidence that the same image reappears in the final stanza, as spring returns to the valley ‘adorned with fresh green’, underlining the contrast between artificial allure (to combat ‘the appearance of ageing’?) and the natural process of regeneration which happens every spring.
The second important idea in the first stanza is the promise that a woman living in a remote valley would be able to get a full night’s sleep away from the noise and bustle of the town. The source of the noise is unstated, but it is highly likely to be caused by babies (particularly since cradles tended to be by mothers’ beds), toddlers or bustling nurses and servants looking after the annoying brats.
We now look around and consider questions of interior decoration (we remain in the conventional ‘women’s domain’). The trees offer a roof (it is interesting to note that Lyda begins the poem by evoking the remote valley at the lushest time of year, high spring, when the leaves are fully out). She does not need an artificial mirror (extremely valuable objects around 1800, of course) since she can see her reflection in the pool that collects by a mineral spring. The clover is better than parquet flooring (softer and less slippery, and it does not need polishing) and she can lie or lean on her newly upholstered sofa, the green hillock.
We have to imagine her reclining on a green sofa or a grassy knoll, where she will be reading Rousseau, who will be feeding her ideas about the evils of human laws and the need to return to nature and its basic principles. One of the ways of returning to nature will be to follow Rousseau in his botanical and horticultural interests, and indeed Lyda then talks about the delight involved in planting seeds, looking after seedlings and encouraging flowering plants to reproduce. Marriage is not a matter of dusty contracts, it is not the realm of lawyers; it happens when pollen brings about fertilisation, when bees go from flower to flower.
We are still in the world of ‘traditional women’s issues’. Flowers open. They welcome the germinating seed. They swell and promise ‘fruit’. As we wait we keep an eye on the bee-hives and collect gold in the form of honey (clearly in contrast to the metal form that is of such interest to men in their towns). We also supervise our little lambs and admire their wool (another reference to women’s conventional roles and concerns, now in connection with textiles and clothing). And so spring turns to lazy summer.
Autumn then offers its rewards to gardeners and farmers, in the form of ripe fruit. Lyda looks around and sees that the trees have lost half of their leaves. They will soon be bare. The lush green meadow will be frozen and covered in white mountain ranges of snow. The nights will be long, but at least out in this rural idyll we will have friends to talk to by the fire.
Excuse me, is not something missing here? Who has shorn your sheep and turned their fleece into wool? Who has harvested the seeds that you planted, and picked your grapes? Where is the hearth that you are going to be sitting around in the middle of the frozen winter – outside under the bare linden trees? Are you still reclining on your natural sofa now that it is frozen solid? Might there not be a very good reason why human beings decided to construct artificial structures and civilisations, so that they could protect themselves from nature and control it to some extent? Might there not be something to be said for a complex society which allows work to be done efficiently? Do you really want to go out and live on your own in that valley so far away from the big city?
A constructive appreciation
In Sapiens. A Brief History of Humankind (2011) Yuval Noah Harari argues that major developments in human culture that are generally seen as stepping stones of progress inevitably involve the loss of something rich and valuable. He gives the example of the undoubted improvement in the speed and efficiency of written communication offered by email, yet the unexpected consequence of this was a marked decline in the quality of writing that used to typify letters. On a grander scale, he argues that the agricultural revolution actually represented a deterioration in the quality of life compared to what was available to hunter-gatherers. Similarly, city dwellers almost always think nostalgically about the rural life that they can no longer live.
The speaker in this Idyll is desperate to get away from the big city, where the pressures of modern life clearly outweigh the benefits. The noise and disturbance are more than a nuisance, they stop her sleeping properly. The atmosphere is gloomy and oppressive, making her long for the bright skies and cheerful prospects of open fields out in the countryside. Nor is it just the physical unpleasantness that is too much for her, the social pressures and expectations of fashionable urban living are equally oppressive. Her life is spent enclosed in polite salons and drawing rooms. She is expected to sit demurely on uncomfortable sofas and walk on hard, polished floors. Her own body has to be similarly constricted, as she has to conform to Vienna’s expectations in terms of her dress, coiffure and jewellery (all symbolised in the image of the hard, unforgiving mirror before which she has to waste so much time).
Everything seems to be so unproductive and barren. Oh for a life where she could make a difference, where she could at least tend some plants, grow some food, be in touch with what makes us fully human! She is suffering from what a later generation of sociologists and economists identified as anomie or alienation: she is so removed from the physical roots of human survival that she can no longer perceive the value of her role in society. At least miners know what they are digging for, fisherman know why they are on a boat, farmers know why they are ploughing the field. There is a direct connection between their activity and their survival; their projects make inherent sense to them. This is what so many people in complex societies are deprived of. By being cut off from their primary purposes, they lose motivation and a sense of value.
It is hardly surprising that she imagines how satisfying bee-keeping would be. Bees, unlike humans, manage to live in a complex social structure but they all have vital roles to play and none of them appear to be left with no purpose or value. Worker bees, unlike Viennese women, are allowed out. They go off in all directions to collect pollen (fertilising flowering plants in the process) and return to contribute to the stores. Although she could not have known about it, she would have been fascinated to learn that they too dance, but unlike the dances of polite Viennese society, this is not pointless display but focused, constructive communication (they are telling the others where to go to find a pollen supply). It is interesting, too, that she pictures bee society as a republic rather than a monarchy (the convention of referring to mother bees as ‘queens’ only became fully established in the early 19th century). This must be a coded rejection of the Austrian imperial system of complex hierarchies that controlled the speaker’s own life.
How much better the wine tastes if we have had a hand in its making. How much better the fruit tastes if we have had to work and wait for it to ripen. These pleasures are beyond the reach of the idle rich. The speaker might have access to the best products, but can take no real pleasure in them. What else is missing from her privileged life in her gilded cage? Ah yes, friendship. Someone to talk to properly. Someone her equal whose company is a pleasure. Would not having friends like that make the long, dark evenings of winter pass by more quickly? How tedious and lonely such evenings are without true friendship. However warm the fire or ornate the chimney piece, winter offers nothing but cold and darkness in the absence of true sympathy.
Original Spelling and note on the text Lied Ferne von der großen Stadt, Nimm mich auf in deine Stille, Thal, das mit des Frühlings Fülle Die Natur geschmücket hat! Wo kein Lärmen, kein Getümmel Meinen Schlummer kürzer macht, Und ein ewig heitrer Himmel Über sel'gen Fluren lacht! Freuden, die die Ruhe beut, Will ich ungestört hier schmecken, Hier, wo Bäume mich bedecken, Und die Linde Duft verstreut. Diese Quelle sey mein Spiegel, Mein Parkett der junge Klee, Und der frisch beras'te Hügel Sey mein grünes Kanapeh. Deiner mütterlichen Spur, Dem Gesetz, das ungerochen Noch kein Sterblicher gebrochen, Will ich folgen, o Natur! Aus dem dunkeln Schooß der Erden Will ich Freuden mir erzieh'n, Und aus Baum und Blume, werden Seligkeiten mir erblüh'n. Mein zufriednes Herz erfreut An den selbstgepflegten Keimen, An den hoffnungsvollen Bäumen Sich mit Mutterzärtlichkeit.1 Wenn die Blumen sich vermählen In der Sonne mildem Licht: Will ich jede Blüthe zählen, Die mir süße Frucht verspricht. Meine Bienenrepublik Summet dort im Lindenschatten, Bringt von blumenvollen Matten Mir des Honigs Gold zurück. Auf des Hügels trocknem Rasen Halb im Schatten hingestreckt, Seh ich meine Lämmer grasen, Die das feinste Vließ bedeckt. Wenn durch Fleiß und Sonnenbrand Früh die schwächern Kräfte schwinden, Ruh' ich in des Thales Gründen An der Felsenquelle Rand. Ihre Lieb' und ihren Kummer Singt die Turteltaub' im Hain; Und es wiegt in sanften Schlummer Mich der Quelle Murmeln ein. Hebt der milde Herbst sein Haupt, Mit dem Früchtenkranz geschmücket, Aus den Fluren, und erblicket Rings die Gärten halb entlaubt: O wie laben dann den Gaumen Trauben, die mein Weinstock trägt, Oder blau bereifte Pflaumen Von dem Baum, den ich gepflegt. Endlich, wenn der Nordwind stürmt Durch die blätterlosen Wälder, Und auf die erstarrten Felder Ganze Schneegebirge thürmt; Dann verkürzet am Kamine Freundschaft mir die Winternacht, Bis geschmückt mit frischem Grüne Neu der junge Lenz erwacht. 1 This is the wording in the 1813 edition of Pichlers Idyllen, and in Schubert's setting. In the original 1803 edition it was 'Vaterzärtlichkeit' (a father's tenderness).
Confirmed by Peter Rastl with Idyllen. von Carolina Pichler, gebornen von Greiner. Wien Im Verlage bey Anton Pichler. 1803, pages 24-27; and with Sämmtliche Werke von Caroline Pichler, gebornen von Greiner. Zwölfter Theil. Wien, 1813. Gedruckt und im Verlage bey Anton Strauß, pages 30-33.
To see an early edition of the text, go to page 30 [38 von 314] here: http://digital.onb.ac.at/OnbViewer/viewer.faces?doc=ABO_%2BZ157263208