(Poet's title: Rückblick)
Set by Schubert:
Part of Winterreise, D 911
Es brennt mir unter beiden Sohlen,
Tret ich auch schon auf Eis und Schnee,
Ich möcht nicht wieder Atem holen,
Bis ich nicht mehr die Türme seh,
Hab mich an jedem Stein gestoßen,
So eilt’ ich zu der Stadt hinaus,
Die Krähen warfen Bäll und Schloßen
Auf meinen Hut von jedem Haus.
Wie anders hast du mich empfangen,
Du Stadt der Unbeständigkeit,
An deinen blanken Fenstern sangen
Die Lerch und Nachtigall im Streit.
Die runden Lindenbäume blühten,
Die klaren Rinnen rauschten hell,
Und, ach, zwei Mädchenaugen glühten,
Da war’s geschehn um dich, Gesell.
Kömmt mir der Tag in die Gedanken,
Möcht ich noch einmal rückwärts sehn,
Möcht ich zurücke wieder wanken,
Vor ihrem Hause stille stehn.
I can feel burning under the soles of both my feet,
Even though I am walking across ice and snow.
I do not feel like stopping again to catch my breath
Until I can no longer see the towers.
I have tripped over every stone
Such was my hurry to get out of the town;
The crows have been throwing snowballs and hailstones
Onto my hat from every house.
How differently you received me,
You town of inconstancy!
At your shiny windows there was a song
Competition between the larks and the nightingales.
The round lime trees were in blossom,
The clear channels of water were burbling brightly,
And oh, a girl’s two eyes were glowing! –
That all happened because of you, my friend!
If ever memories of that day enter my mind,
I want to look back again,
I want to totter back
And stand quietly in front of her house.
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.
We begin in the present tense since trauma is never just in the past. We hope that looking back will give us a sense of distance, that we might be reassured that we have made some progress. Instead we are still back there; the past is still agonisingly present.
We therefore need to give up all conventional ideas about time and continuity. Time is not linear when human beings are dealing with disturbing events and perceptions. Our awareness of the world is dictated by psychological connections and triggers that are as opaque to us as they are to outsiders. There is no point pointing out seeming contradictions or improbabilities: that is to miss the point. Yes, we know there is inconsistency in what he says about his hat (he reported in ‘Der Lindenbaum‘ that it had blown off and he had not bothered to turn round to retrieve it). Yes, we know that he has already told us that he is a long way from the lime tree by the town gate, and now he is saying he is still rushing on until he can no longer see the towers around the town. We can even see that there is a contradiction (hardly a development) between his state in the first strophe here (he is desperate to get away from the town) and his declared desire in the final strophe (to go back and stand in silence outside the house he has just fled).
Müller relied on his readers’ common sense and general knowledge of the world being enough to signal that the narrator cannot be trusted, or rather that what is being described is a psychological perception not an objective description of what happened. Crows do not throw snowballs. They may scavenge on snow-covered roof tops trying to find buried bugs and they may dislodge or shatter icicles, but they are not attacking a human with hailstones. Nightingales do not sing competitively against larks; indeed they do not sing at the same time. Neither of them sits on a window sill. It does not need pointing out that we are not reading a work of ornithology, we are being offered a window into the protagonist’s mind. He is dividing nature into happy springtime (blossom, running water, larks, nightingales) and hostile winter (stones, snow, ice, crows) and he is having difficulty coming to terms with the fact that the same place can be so different at different times. He calls it (using an Old Testament hebraism) a ‘town of inconstancy’. We can see, though, that the inconstancy derives from his own incoherence, his own inability to process divergent experiences.
Original Spelling Rückblick Es brennt mir unter beiden Sohlen, Tret' ich auch schon auf Eis und Schnee. Ich möcht' nicht wieder Athem holen, Bis ich nicht mehr die Thürme seh'. Hab' mich an jedem Stein gestoßen, So eilt' ich zu der Stadt hinaus; Die Krähen warfen Bäll' und Schloßen Auf meinen Hut von jedem Haus. Wie anders hast du mich empfangen, Du Stadt der Unbeständigkeit! An deinen blanken Fenstern sangen Die Lerch' und Nachtigall im Streit. Die runden Lindenbäume blühten, Die klaren Rinnen rauschten hell, Und ach, zwei Mädchenaugen glühten! - Da war's geschehn um dich, Gesell! Kömmt mir der Tag in die Gedanken, Möcht' ich noch einmal rückwärts sehn, Möcht' ich zurücke wieder wanken, Vor i h r e m Hause stille stehn.
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, pages 89-90; and with Urania. Taschenbuch auf das Jahr 1823. Neue Folge, fünfter Jahrgang. Leipzig: F. A. Brockhaus. 1823, page 218.
First published in Urania (see above) as no. 8 of Wanderlieder von Wilhelm Müller. Die Winterreise.
To see an early edition of the text, go to page 218 Erstes Bild 256 here: https://download.digitale-sammlungen.de/BOOKS/download.pl?id=bsb10312443