Wonne der Wehmut, D 260

The pleasure of sadness

(Poet's title: Wonne der Wehmut)

Set by Schubert:

  • D 260

    [August 20, 1815]

Text by:

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Text written probably 1775.  First published 1788.

Part of  Goethe: The April 1816 collection sent to Goethe

Wonne der Wehmut

Trocknet nicht, trocknet nicht,
Tränen der ewigen Liebe,
Ach, nur dem halbgetrockneten Auge,
Wie öde, wie tot die Welt ihm erscheint!
Trocknet nicht, trocknet nicht,
Tränen unglücklicher Liebe.

The pleasure of sadness

Do not dry up, do not dry up,
Tears of eternal love!
Oh, even to half-dried eyes,
How bleak, how dead the world appears to them!
Do not dry up, do not dry up,
Tears of unhappy love!

Themes and images in this text:

EternityEyesLack of water – thirst and droughtTears and cryingWet and dry

Sadness can be either a temporary emotion or a psychological trait, involving an inclination towards ‘melancholy’ or ‘depression’. It is not quite the same thing as ‘unhappiness’, which usually refers to a passing phase, where we lack something that will return (‘happiness’). When we are ‘sad’ or ‘low’ there is a sense of loss; something irrecoverable has gone from our lives, and how we manage the loss will determine whether our sadness will turn from a mood or a momentary emotion into a more permanent fixture of our personalities.

Tears are therefore a coping mechanism. In Goethe’s poem ‘Trost in Tränen’ (Schubert’s D 120) they are explicitly seen as offering comfort or consolation in a difficult world. Here, though, they offer not just ‘Trost’ but ‘Wonne’ (pleasure? bliss? delight? – definitely something stronger than just ‘comfort’). They are a sign that we can still feel, that we are still engaged with the world. They protect us from the bleakness and emptiness of depression. Even ‘half-dried’ eyes (in cases where we have started to numb ourselves to pain) lead us to see the world as barren and dead (wie öde, wie tot). We need to keep the tears flowing in order to retain our sensitivity to the full range of pleasure and pain.

Original Spelling

Wonne der Wehmuth

Trocknet nicht, trocknet nicht,
Thränen der ewigen Liebe!
Ach! nur dem halbgetrockneten Auge
Wie öde, wie todt die Welt ihm erscheint!
Trocknet nicht, trocknet nicht,
Thränen unglücklicher Liebe!

Confirmed by Peter Rastl with Schubert’s source, Goethe’s sämmtliche Schriften. Siebenter Band. / Gedichte von Goethe. Erster Theil. Lyrische Gedichte. Wien, 1810. Verlegt bey Anton Strauß. In Commission bey Geistinger, page 87; with Goethe’s Werke, Vollständige Ausgabe letzter Hand, Erster Band, Stuttgart und Tübingen, in der J.G.Cottaschen Buchhandlung, 1827, page 108; and with Goethe’s Schriften, Achter Band, Leipzig, bey Georg Joachim Göschen, 1789, page 151.

To see an early edition of the text, go to page  87 [101 von 418] here: http://digital.onb.ac.at/OnbViewer/viewer.faces?doc=ABO_%2BZ163965701