(Poet's title: Täuschung)
Set by Schubert:
Part of Winterreise, D 911
Ein Licht tanzt freundlich vor mir her;
Ich folg ihm nach die Kreuz und Quer.
Ich folg ihm gern, und seh’s ihm an,
Dass es verlockt den Wandersmann.
Ach, wer wie ich so elend ist,
Gibt gern sich hin der bunten List,
Die hinter Eis und Nacht und Graus
Ihm weist ein helles, warmes Haus
Und eine liebe Seele drin –
Nur Täuschung ist für mich Gewinn.
A light is dancing in a friendly way in front of me;
I follow in its path this way and that;
I am happy to follow it, and I keep an eye on it,
With the result that it entices the traveller.
Alas, anybody who has suffered as much as I have
Will willingly submit to this colourful trickery,
Which, behind ice and night and horror
Points him towards a bright, warm house
And a loving soul within it –
All that I get out of it is deception!
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.
Themes and images in this text:
Dancing  Detours and delusions  Frost and ice  Houses  Journeys  Night and the moon  Walking and wandering  Winter
If you enter the word ‘Täuschung’ into German Wikipedia you will find a list of all the statutes in the penal code which deal with fraud, impersonation and other types of deceit. There is also a discussion of some of the types of trickery that do not have legal consequences. We are left in little doubt that human beings have an astonishing capacity to be deceived. Jean Aitchison, a linguist at Oxford University, has even argued that the difference between humans and other species is that we are the only creatures that use language in order to tell lies. Where bees dance in order to convey accurate information about the location of a food source, human beings are more likely to give false directions to others so that they can exclude their competitors and obtain more benefits for themselves.
Confidence tricksters are aware of this basic desire of most human beings to accept what they are presented with at face value. Lies only work because we share the assumption that people are telling the truth. When their tricks are uncovered we often respond with admiration; we are impressed because they seem to have tapped into an aspect of human nature that intrigues us. In a similar way, we are willing dupes in watching conjuring tricks. We love watching the rabbits being pulled out of the hats and the women being sawn in half. We want to tell ourselves that we are clever enough to know that we are being tricked, whilst at the same time being reminded how very susceptible we all are all of the time.
So it is with the winter traveller. He happily follows the trick of the light, and he seems to know at the same time that it IS a trick. He is aware that he is being lured into a trap and he even knows how the trick works. He knows that he is the sort of character who is particularly susceptible. We would think this should protect him, but we also realise that we might react in the same way in his place. As he implies in the last line, he has nothing to lose.
What is truly remarkable about this winter journey, then, is that the traveller seems, in the end, to make a conscious decision to reject all of these fantasies and false hopes. He is not going to take the easy way out, into escapism or even into the delusions offered by madness. He is going to face the world as it is, with all of its ‘ice and night and horror’.
 Jean Aitchison, The Articulate Mammal: An Introduction to Psycholinguistics 4th edition London and New York 1998
Original Spelling Täuschung Ein Licht tanzt freundlich vor mir her; Ich folg' ihm nach die Kreuz und Quer; Ich folg' ihm gern, und seh's ihm an, Daß es verlockt den Wandersmann. Ach, wer wie ich so elend ist, Giebt gern sich hin der bunten List, Die hinter Eis und Nacht und Graus Ihm weist ein helles, warmes Haus, Und eine liebe Seele drin - Nur Täuschung ist für mich Gewinn!
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 96.
To see an early edition of the text, go to page 96 Erstes Bild 110 here: https://download.digitale-sammlungen.de/BOOKS/download.pl?id=bsb10115225