Eichendorff: Die Stille (The stillness)

20 06 2011
Stillness, by AlicePopkorn

Stillness by AlicePopkorn (CC)

Knows or guesses but no one
How I am so well, so well!
Ah, if but one, just one would know it,
No person should know it otherwise.

Not so calm is it outside in the snow,
Not so quiet and hushed
Are the stars in the heights
As are my thoughts.

I’d wish I were a birdie
and travel over the sea,
far over the sea and beyond,
until I were in heaven.

Like the prior poems Schumann chose for his Liederkreis, this poem has a definite longing for an existence beyond perception through the mortal veil. It is a portrait of the inner life of a soul reaching toward the one and only thing that will fulfill it.  It is unclear whether the speaker yearns for the beloved or the Beloved and what form fulfillment will take.

The mystery of the poem is greatly enhanced by Eichendorff’s masterful manipulation of the German language — it’s worthy of a thesis unto itself! Eichendorff keeps the reader guessing by twisting grammatical constructs, by inserting slight variations of thoughts, and by delaying crucial pieces of information as long as possible. Images come into focus, go out of focus, and come into focus again, slowly and  gradually.

By using the subjunctive voice in the first and last stanzas to evoke the world of the imaginary and the”what if”, Eichendorff mystifies the reader; when he uses the indicative voice — the “real” voice — in the second stanza, the imagery is so ethereal and dreamy that it still seems imaginary. No matter how calm and clear the speaker’s thoughts may be, the reader really doesn’t know precisely what those thoughts are or where they are going.

I’m still puzzling about the placement of Waldesgespräch, because its menacing tone between Intermezzo and Die Stille seems somewhat out of place. We’ll see how this plays out in the next few songs!

Es weiß und rät es doch keiner,
Wie mir so wohl ist, so wohl!
Ach, wüßt es nur einer, nur einer,
Kein Mensch es sonst wissen soll<t’>!

So still ist’s nicht draußen im Schnee,
So stumm und verschwiegen sind
Die Sterne nicht in der Höh,
Als meine Gedanken sind. […]

Ich wünscht’, ich wäre ein Vöglein
Und zöge über das Meer,
Wohl über das Meer und weiter,
Bis daß ich im Himmel wär!

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