Totengräbers Heimwehe, D 842

Gravedigger's homesickness

(Poet's title: Totengräbers Heimwehe)

Set by Schubert:

  • D 842

    [April 1825]

Text by:

Jacob Nicolaus Craigher de Jachelutta

Text written summer 1822.  First published 1828.

Totengräbers Heimwehe

O Menschheit, o Leben,
Was soll’s? o was soll’s?
Grabe aus – scharre zu,
Tag und Nacht keine Ruh,
Das Treiben, das Drängen,
Wohin? o wohin?
»Ins Grab – tief hinab!«

O Schicksal, o traurige Pflicht,
Ich trag’s länger nicht,
Wann wirst du mir schlagen,
O Stunde der Ruh?
O Tod, komm und drücke
Die Augen mir zu.
Im Leben, da ist’s ach so schwül,
Im Grabe so friedlich, so kühl!
Doch ach! wer legt mich hinein?
Ich stehe allein, so ganz allein –

Von allen verlassen
Dem Tod nur verwandt,
Verweil ich am Rande,
Das Kreuz in der Hand,
Und starre mit sehnendem Blick
Hinab ins tiefe Grab! –

O Heimat des Friedens,
Der Seligen Land,
An dich knüpft die Seele
Ein magisches Band!
Du winkst mir von ferne,
Du ewiges Licht!
Es schwinden die Sterne –
Das Auge schon bricht,
Ich sinke – ich sinke – Ihr Lieben –
Ich komme, ich komm!

Gravedigger's homesickness

Oh humanity – oh life!
What’s the point, oh what’s the point?!
Dig it out – fill it in!
Day and night no rest!
This driving, this pushing –
Where is it going, oh where?!
“Into the grave – deep down!”

Oh fate, oh sad duty
I cannot take it any longer!
When are you going to strike for me
You hour of rest?
Oh death! come and press
My eyes closed for me.
In life, oh it is so sultry
In the grave – so peaceful, so cool!
But oh, who is going to lay me in it?
I am left alone! so totally alone!!

Abandoned by all
Connected only with death,
I hang around on the rim
With the cross in my hand,
And I stare with a longing gaze
Down – into the deep grave!

Oh home of peace,
Land of the blessed!
My soul is tied to you by
A magical bond.
You beckon to me from the distance,
You eternal light:
The stars are disappearing –
My eyes are already fading!
I am sinking – I am sinking! – You loved ones,
I am coming!

Familiarity has not bred contempt. This gravedigger is not like the character in Shakespeare’s Hamlet who is so inured to his work that he jokes rather than shudders the deeper he digs. This is the voice of someone who is acutely aware of the gravity of his task. At the same time he senses its futility. A lifetime of digging graves and filling them in has intensified his awareness that he too is due to end under a similar mound of earth.

It appears, though, that this has not always been how he felt about his work. His complaint now is that he is alone. He has been abandoned, presumably by the loved ones who he had expected would close his eyes on his deathbed and arrange his burial. It could be that there has been an epidemic (some old plague or new virus, perhaps) which has wiped out all of his family and friends. He alone is left standing, tottering on the rim of the grave that he has been digging. Perhaps he has just dug the grave of the last of his children, which would explain why he is so concerned about who is now going to bury him. His only connections left on earth are with the dead. All that is left for him is to join them.

Original Spelling and notes on the text

Totengräbers Heimwehe

O Menschheit - o Leben! -
Was soll's - o was soll's?!
Grabe aus - scharre zu!
Tag und Nacht keine Ruh! -
Das Treiben, das Drängen1 -
Wohin! - o wohin?! - -
»Ins Grab - tief hinab!« -

O Schicksal - o traurige Pflicht -
Ich trag's länger nicht! -
Wann wirst du mir schlagen,
O Stunde der Ruh?! -
O Tod! komm und drücke
Die Augen mir zu! - -
Im Leben, da ist's ach2 so schwül! -
Im Grabe - so friedlich, so kühl!
Doch ach, wer legt mich hinein? -
Ich steh allein! - so ganz allein!! -

Von allen verlassen
Dem Tod nur verwandt,
Verweil' ich am Rande -
Das Kreuz in der Hand,
Und starre mit sehnendem Blick,
Hinab - ins tiefe Grab! -

O Heimath des Friedens,
Der Seligen Land!
An dich knüpft die Seele
Ein magisches Band. -
Du winkst mir von ferne
Du ewiges Licht: -
Es schwinden die Sterne -
Das Auge schon bricht! - -
Ich sinke - ich sinke! - Ihr Lieben -
     Ich komme! - - -

1  When Craigher published the poem this line was 'Das Drängen, das Treiben'. It is impossible to know if Schubert made the change or if he was working from an earlier version of the poem
2  Schubert appears to have added 'ach' (a sigh) here

Confirmed with Poetische Betrachtungen in freyen Stunden von Nicolaus. Mit einer Vorrede und einem einleitenden Gedichte begleitet von Friedrich von Schlegel. Wien. Gedruckt und im Verlage bey Carl Gerold. 1828, pages 59-60.

Note: Schubert received Craigher’s poem in handwritten form. Craigher issued it later in the book mentioned above.

To see an early edition of the text, go to page 59 [83 von 244] here: