To be sung every day
(Poet's title: Täglich zu singen)
Set by Schubert:
Schubert did not set the stanzas in italics
Ich danke Gott und freue mich
Wie’s Kind zur Weihnachtsgabe,
Dass ich hier bin und dass ich dich,
Schön menschlich Antlitz! habe;
Das ich die Sonne, Berg und Meer,
Und Laub und Gras kann sehen,
Und abends unterm Sternenheer
Und lieben Monde gehen.
Und dass mir denn zu Mute ist,
Als wenn wir Kinder kamen,
Und sahen, was der heil’ge Christ
Bescheeret hatte, Amen!
Ich danke Gott mit Saitenspiel,
Dass ich kein König worden,
Ich wär geschmeichelt worden viel
Und wär vielleicht verdorben.
Auch bet’ ich ihn von Herzen an,
Dass ich auf dieser Erde
Nicht bin ein grosser reicher Mann,
Und auch wohl keiner werde.
Denn Ehr’ und Reichtum treibt und bläht,
Hat mancherlei Gefahren,
Und vielen hat’s das Herz verdreht,
Die weiland wacker waren.
Und all das Geld und all das Gut
Gewährt zwar viele Sachen;
Gesundheit, Schlaf und guten Mut
Kann’s aber doch nicht machen.
Und die sind doch, bei Ja und Nein!
Ein rechter Lohn und Segen!
Drum will ich mich nicht groß kastei’n
Des vielen Geldes wegen.
Gott gebe mir nur jeden Tag,
So viel ich darf zum Leben.
Er gibt’s dem Sperling auf dem Dach;
Wie sollt’ er’s mir nicht geben!
I thank God, and I am as thrilled
As a child receiving his Christmas presents,
That I am here and that I have you,
That I have a beautiful human face!
That I can see the sun, mountains and sea,
That I can see leaves and grass,
And in the evenings under the host of stars
I can watch the dear moon moving;
And that I am just as cheerful
As when we children came
And saw what we had been
Given for Christmas, Amen!
With my stringed instrument I thank God
That I have not become a King;
I would have been tremendously flattered
And perhaps I would have been corrupted.
I also thank God with all my heart
That on this Earth I
Am not a powerful, rich man,
And I pray that I will not become one.
For fame and riches drive you on and puff you up,
They have lots of risks,
And they have twisted many hearts
Which were formerly honest.
And all that money and all those goods
Provide plenty of things;
But health, sleep and a positive attitude
Are things they cannot grant.
Whatever people say, these things are
A real reward and blessing!
I shall therefore not beat myself up
All because of a load of money.
May God give me each day
As much as I need to live on.
That is what he gives to the sparrow on the roof;
Why should he not give the same 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.
This is the sort of text which tends to be fought over in our increasingly polarised culture wars. Should we take it at face value and live by its philosophy of acceptance and gratitude, or should we read it as a form of propaganda designed to keep people in their place by discouraging criticism of the status quo?
The case for a critical reading
The title should set alarm bells ringing. If this text is going to be sung every day, it is clearly designed as part of a programme of brainwashing. The words, and the concepts they evoke, drill their way into the depths of the brain so that the ideas become part of our very being. The attitudes come to appear natural; the text simply restates how things are and should be.
The ideology of conservatism relies on the claim that defending established power structures is somehow not ‘political’. Only those that want change are presented as having a political agenda. In the UK, there are still people around who grew up singing a hymn in daily school assembly (in state schools!) which included the following stanza:
The rich man in his castle,
The poor man at his gate,
God made them high and lowly,
And ordered their estate.
By repeating it often enough we eventually come to accept that such inequalities are a reflection of order and social health rather than a moral scandal.
Claudius similarly gets children to thank God that they are not rich. They are encouraged to want no more from life than the very basics needed for survival (if sparrows can live on the bare minimum, so can they). They are urged to be thankful simply for existing. They have to be happy (every day) that they can see the world around them, but this encouragement to enjoy the basics (the sun, mountains, the sea, foliage, grass, the stars, the movement of the moon) inherently distracts their attention from what is unavailable. Nor does it do anything to encourage a sense of enquiry about how all of this works, why the leaves are green or why the moon appears to move. Perhaps even more dangerously, this is all part of an ideology that has convinced human beings that they are somehow special (‘I thank God . . . . that I have a beautiful HUMAN face’, stanza 1) and that we have been given ‘dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth’ (Genesis I: 28).
In defence of a plain reading
Human societies are complex environments and, as we grow up, we find ourselves at the mercy of competing forces and pressures. We all need to be prepared to hold our own before we are exposed to the buffetting forces of peer pressure, fashion (including intellectual and academic fashions) and the non-stop grind of having to survive or even succeed in a merciless world. To help with this, why should we not inculcate in children a set of values that will help them hold their heads above the waters of the social pressures they are about to have to swim through?
Would not the world be a much happier place if fewer of us interpreted human fulfilment as something connected with acquiring more possessions than others, or if we did not need to engage in a fight to become famous or popular? Claudius’s reminder that kings (and other leaders) are surrounded by flatterers and yes-men and that they will almost certainly become corrupted by power, far from being an uncritical acceptance of the status quo, represents a radical questioning of the values which cause so much distress in our world.
Why sneer at those who appreciate the wonders of the world around us? Without a sense of awe, there would be no motivation to understand the world. There would be no science or mathematics, no exploration and no attempt at analysis of what we do not yet understand. Human curiosity is triggered rather than hindered by us being exhorted to be grateful for the world we find ourselves in. Without an appreciation of our world we would have no motivation to protect it.
Claudius ends his text with two direct references to the Sermon on the Mount, a section of the gospels that established powers have always found uncomfortable due to the radical ideas propounded there:
Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. (Matthew VI: 11 – 12)
Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (Matthew VI: 19 – 21)
Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? (Matthew VI: 26)
Original Spelling and note on the text Täglich zu singen Ich danke Gott und freue mich Wie's Kind zur Weihnachtgabe, Daß ich hier bin und1 daß ich dich, Schön Menschlich Antlitz! habe; Daß ich die Sonne, Berg und Meer, Und Laub und Gras kann sehen, Und Abends unterm Sternenheer Und lieben Monde gehen; Und daß mir denn zu Muthe ist, Als wenn wir Kinder kamen, Und sahen, was der heil'ge Christ Bescheeret hatte, Amen! Ich danke Gott mit Saitenspiel, Daß ich kein König worden; Ich wär geschmeichelt worden viel, Und wär vielleicht verdorben. Auch bet' ich ihn von Herzen an, Daß ich auf dieser Erde Nicht bin ein grosser reicher Mann, Und auch wohl keiner werde. Denn Ehr' und Reichthum treibt und bläht, Hat mancherley Gefahren, Und vielen hat's das Herz verdreht, Die weiland wacker waren. Und all das Geld und all das Gut Gewährt zwar viele Sachen; Gesundheit, Schlaf und guten Muth Kann's aber doch nicht machen. Und die sind doch, bey Ja und Nein! Ein rechter Lohn und Segen! Drum will ich mich nicht groß kastey'n Des vielen Geldes wegen. Gott gebe mir nur jeden Tag, So viel ich darf zum Leben. Er giebt's dem Sperling auf dem Dach; Wie sollt' ers mir nicht geben! 1 Schubert changed the original 'Daß ich bin, bin! Und' (That I am, that I exist! And) to 'Daß ich hier bin und' (That I am here and)
Confirmed by Peter Rastl with Schubert’s probable source, ASMUS omnia sua SECUM portans, oder Sämmtliche Werke des Wandsbecker Bothen, III. Theil. Beym Verfasser, und in Commißion bey Fr. Perthes & Comp. in Hamburg. , pages 128-130; and with Poetische Blumenlese für das Jahr 1778. Herausgegeben von Joh. Heinr. Voß. Hamburg, bey Carl Ernst Bohn, pages 146-147.
To see an early edition of the text, go to page 128 [135 von 220] here: https://download.digitale-sammlungen.de/BOOKS/download.pl?id=bsb10924594