Mut! D 911/22


(Poet's title: Mut!)

Set by Schubert:

  • D 911/22

    [October 1827]

Text by:

Wilhelm Müller

Text written 1822.  First published March 14, 1823.

Part of  Winterreise, D 911


Fliegt der Schnee mir ins Gesicht,
Schüttl’ ich ihn herunter.
Wenn mein Herz im Busen spricht,
Sing ich hell und munter.

Höre nicht, was es mir sagt,
Habe keine Ohren.
Fühle nicht, was es mir klagt,
Klagen ist für Toren.

Lustig in die Welt hinein
Gegen Wind und Wetter;
Will kein Gott auf Erden sein,
Sind wir selber Götter!


If the snow flies into my face
I shake it off.
If my heart speaks inside my breast
I sing clearly and cheerfully.

I cannot hear what it is saying to me,
I have no ears.
I cannot feel what it is complaining about,
Complaining is for fools.

Happily going out into the world
Against the wind and weather!
If there is not going to be any God on earth
We ourselves are gods.

Themes and images in this text:

Chest / breastCourageHeartsJourneysLaments, elegies and mourningSnowSongs (general)WindWinter

None of the wayfarer’s previous singing has been ‘hell und munter’ (bright and cheerful). On previous occasions when he spoke of walking in wind and bad weather he never gave the suggestion that he was ‘lustig’ (happy, full of delight, ready to take pleasure in the world). So, how does this text relate to all of the other poems in Winterreise? Has the traveller gone through a profound experience of change (meaning that we take this new found positivity seriously) or is it a temporary attempt to try out a different mood and approach (which would lead us to be more wary about taking it all at face value)? He asserts here that he does not pay attention to the ‘laments’ or ‘complaints’ coming from his heart, yet what are the other poems in the cycle if they are not an eloquent set of laments and complaints? Has he really been a fool in paying attention to these concerns and how are we meant to read his claim that he has now cast off such folly?

What are we supposed to make of the exclamation mark that Müller included as part of the title of this poem? It is not called ‘Mut’ (or ‘Muth’ in his original spelling) but ‘Mut!’. Is the exclamation a mark of surprise and disbelief, or an attempt to draw attention to the intensity and sincerity of the new mood? And what does ‘courage’ mean in the context of this individual’s winter journey? It might start with shaking off the snow that is settling on his clothes and hair, or singing cheerfully in defiance of the misery within, but he makes clear in the final strophe that it is connected with something much more profound, something to do with living in a world without a traditional god (or God).

Some non-atheists assume that there are people who want God not to exist so that they can do what they want without fear of punishment. This was not the attitude of most of those in 19th century Europe who were coming to terms with the consequence of the collapse of traditional religious world views. To them the lack of an authority figure who would establish moral norms was not an excuse to go wild; instead it left them with the terrifying freedom of having to take full responsibility for their actions. We are left having to set our own goals and priorities in life, with all of the challenges and risks which that involves. All of this was expressed clearly by the novelist George Eliot in a conversation one wet evening with a classics lecturer (F. W. H. Myers) in the heart of the Anglican Establishment, Trinity College, Cambridge:

She, stirred somewhat beyond her wont, and taking as her text the three words which have been used so often as the trumpet-calls of men – the words, God, Immortality, Duty – pronounced, with terrible earnestness, how inconceivable was the first, how unbelievable the second, and yet how peremptory and absolute the third. Never, perhaps, have sterner accents affirmed the sovereignty of impersonal and unrecompensing law.

Quoted in A. N. Wilson, God’s Funeral London 1999 page 151

Müller was writing a generation before Feuerbach’s The Essence of Christianity (usually seen as the first major theoretical challenge to theism in 19th century Europe), but he could see that any world without God or gods would represent a challenge for human beings. Facing that challenge would require a particular type of courage. Courage!

The Greek word for courage, andreía (manliness) and the Latin word fortitudo (strength) indicate the military connotation of courage. As long as the aristocracy was the group which carried arms the aristocratic and the military connotations of courage merged. When the aristocratic tradition disintegrated and courage could be defined as the universal knowledge of what is good and evil, wisdom and courage converged and true courage became distinguished from the soldier's courage. The courage of the dying Socrates was rational-democratic, not heroic-aristocratic.

But the aristocratic line was revived in the early Middle Ages. Courage became again characteristic of nobility. The knight is he who represents courage as a soldier and as a nobleman. He has what was called hohe Mut, the high, noble, and courageous spirit. The German language has two words for courageous, tapfer and mutig. Tapfer originally means firm, weighty, important, pointing to the power of being in the upper strata of feudal society. Mutig is derived from Mut, the movement of the soul suggested by the English word "mood". Thus words like Schwermut, Hochmut, Kleinmut (the heavy, the high, the small "spirit"). Mut is a matter of the "heart", the personal centre. Therefore mutig can be rendered by beherzt (as the French-English "courage" is derived from the French coeur, heart). While Mut has preserved this larger sense, Tapferkeit became more and more the special virtue of the soldier - who ceased to be identical with the knight and the nobleman. It is obvious that the terms Mut and courage directly introduce the ontological question, while Tapferkeit and fortitude in their present meanings are without such connotations.

Paul Tillich, The Courage to Be  London 1952 pp. 5-6
The courage to be is rooted in the God who appears when God has disappeared in the anxiety of doubt.

Paul Tillich, The Courage to Be  London 1952 page 180 
God is dead! God remains dead! And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off for us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?

* * *

Become what you are.

F. Nietzsche, The Gay Science (1882) English translation by Josefine Nauckhoff and Adrian Del Caro, quoted in Sue Prideaux, I am Dynamite. A Life of Friedrich Nietzsche Faber & Faber 2018
“Courage is not having no fear, but overcoming your own fear!”
Sign outside a doctor’s surgery in Flensburg, north Germany, 2015,_Mut_und_Angst_(Flensburg_2015).JPG
Kierkegaard's world, part 6: On learning to suffer

by Clare Carlisle

Kierkegaard suggests that by courageously confronting suffering, a person can find great joy in life

The Guardian Mon 19 Apr 2010

Kierkegaard experienced much suffering in his relatively short life. By the age of 25 he had lost both his parents, and five of his six siblings. In addition to this, his sensitive temperament, his tendencies to melancholy and anxiety, and his difficult relationships to his father and his one-time fiancée Regine gave him an intimate understanding of various kinds of psychological pain. Rather than avoiding or denying suffering, Kierkegaard was unusually willing to confront it and investigate it. His sensitivity to suffering extended to others: one of his friends remembered that "he gave consolation not by covering up sorrow, but by first making one genuinely aware of it, by bringing it to complete clarity".

This approach characterises Kierkegaard's philosophical work as well as his personal life. In his 1844 book The Concept of Anxiety, he writes that "Every human being must learn to be anxious in order that he might not perish either by never having been in anxiety or by succumbing in anxiety. Whoever has learned to be anxious in the right way has learned the ultimate." He expresses a similar attitude to despair in his later work The Sickness Unto Death. So, what is the "right way" to suffer, and how can this be learned?

The first point to note is that Kierkegaard regards our capacity for anxiety and despair as a mark of our spiritual nature. We suffer in these ways only because we have some awareness that we are spiritual beings who are related to God, and that in many ways we fail to be true to this religious relationship. In fact, Kierkegaard suggests that when we're not faithful to our God-relationship, we are unfaithful to ourselves. He suggests that we have a tendency to lose ourselves – and this loss, together with the suffering it brings, is what he means by despair.

In The Sickness Unto Death, this account of despair is offered as an interpretation of the Christian doctrine of original sin. In this text, Kierkegaard suggests that despair, like sin, is a condition that is shared by everyone, whether or not they are aware of it:

"Anyone who really knows mankind might say that there is not one single living human being who does not despair a little, who does not secretly harbour an unrest, an inner strife, a disharmony, an anxiety about an unknown something or a something he dare not even try to know, an anxiety about some possibility in existence or an anxiety about himself."

Because the deep existential suffering of despair signals awareness of one's spiritual nature and relationship to God, Kierkegaard regards this kind of suffering as something positive, however difficult it is to live with. It is a sign of spiritual maturity. However, he also suggests that our tendency to lose ourselves is bound up with a tendency to avoid suffering, to ignore our spiritual being and instead let ourselves be consumed by "the world". But, in Kierkegaard's view, this strategy of avoidance is doomed to fail, because we are spiritual beings, and our very evasiveness only confirms this fact.

This account of human existence leads to an emphasis on the virtue of courage in Kierkegaard's works. Courage means confronting what one fears, instead of fleeing from it. A courageous person is prepared to suffer when she knows that this is required of her. For Kierkegaard, the "requirement" of suffering arises simply from being fully human. In Fear and Trembling, for example, he praises the courage of Abraham, who did not attempt to avoid the suffering involved in taking the decision to kill his son. Instead, Abraham did what was necessary in order to honour his relationship to God.

Does Kierkegaard's insistence on suffering amount to masochism, and perhaps an unhealthy inclination to martyrdom? In response to this question, we should note that in his philosophy, the opposite of suffering is not joy, but rather cowardice and evasiveness. Since suffering is simply unavoidable, it is a matter of responding to it in the right way. In fact, Kierkegaard suggests that by courageously confronting suffering, a person can find great joy in life.

Many people regard suffering as an obstacle to religious belief, and even as an argument against the existence of God. They ask how we can believe that a loving, all-powerful God created a world like this one, so full of suffering. This presents theologians with the task of reconciling belief in God with the fact that life is so often unsatisfactory. For Kierkegaard, however, the problems posed by suffering are existential rather than intellectual: he is concerned less with the objective fact of God's existence or non-existence than with the individual's subjective relationship to a God whose existence is always an uncertainty, never a fact. Kierkegaard points out that one way of maintaining religious belief in the face of suffering is to give up hope of happiness within this life, deferring such hope to an afterlife – and he acknowledges that it is possible, but not easy, to relate to God in this way. However, he argues that the Christian's highest and most difficult task is to endure suffering while continuing to believe that she is loved by God – that God cares about the smallest details of her life – and to regard this painful, difficult life as a gift from a loving God. Even in the midst of suffering, the person who relates to God in this way feels blessed.

Original Spelling


Fliegt der Schnee mir in's Gesicht,
Schüttl' ich ihn herunter.
Wenn mein Herz im Busen spricht,
Sing' ich hell und munter.

Höre nicht, was es mir sagt,
Habe keine Ohren.
Fühle nicht, was es mir klagt,
Klagen ist für Thoren.

Lustig in die Welt hinein
Gegen Wind und Wetter!
Will kein Gott auf Erden sein,
Sind wir selber Götter.

Confirmed by Peter Rastl with Gedichte aus den hinterlassenen Papieren eines reisenden Waldhornisten. Herausgegeben von Wilhelm Müller. Zweites Bändchen. Deßau 1824. Bei Christian Georg Ackermann, page 106; and with Deutsche Blätter für Poesie, Litteratur, Kunst und Theater. Herausgegeben von Karl Schall und Karl von Holtei. Breslau 1823, bei Graß, Barth und Comp. No. XLII. 14. März 1823, pages 165-166.

First published in Deutsche Blätter (see above) as no. 9 of the installment of Die Winterreise. Lieder von Wilhelm Müller.

To see an early edition of the text, go to page 106  Erstes Bild 120 here: