Das Wandern ist des Müllers Lust

Wilhelm Müller's Das Wandern ist des Müllers Lust (Wandering is the Miller's joy), set to music by Franz Schubert along with the other Lieder in the cycle Die Schöne Müllerin, is usually taken to be a jaunty folksong, but when the context of the song is considered, it carries a tragic message. i

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  y Julian ScuttsA jaunty wanderer's song with ominous implications DAS WANDERN IST DES MÜLLERS LUST BY WILHELM MÜLLERDas Wandern ist des Müllers Lust, das Wandern ist des Müllers Lust, dasWandern. To wander is the miller’s joy, to wander.Das muß ein schlechter Müller sein, dem niemals fiel das Wandern ein,Wandern.It must be a bad miller indeed who never has spared a thought for wandering.Vom Wasser habens wir’s gelernt, vom Wasser.Water taught us how to wander, water,Das hat nicht Rast bei Tag und Nacht,which knows no rest by day or nightist stets auf Wanderschaft bedacht,but has a mind to wander.Da sehn wir auch den Rädern ab, den Rädern:We catch it from the mill-wheels, too, the mill-wheelsDie gar nicht gerne stille stehn,which cannot bear to be at restdie sich mein Tag nicht müde sehn, die Räder.but never tire throughout my day.Die Steine selbst, so schwer sie sind, die Steine.Even the mill-stones, heavy as they are, the mill-stones,Sie tanzen mit den muntern Reihendance a sprightly roundelay,und wollen gerne schneller sein,and want to turn yet faster.  O Wandern, Wandern, meine Lust, o Wandern!O Wandering, wandering, is my joy. O wanderingHerr Meister und Frau Meisterin,Master and MistressLaßt mich in Frieden weiter ziehn, und wandern.let me continue on my way in peace, and wander. To consider a poem in the light of the cycle of poems to which it belongs maysometimes give one cause to deepen one's sense of the poem's seriousnesswhen popular interpretations suggest otherwise.Wilhelm Müller belongs to the German Romantic movement during its terminalphase. This is not to say that the quality of his poetry is necessarily inferior tothat of other Romantic poets. In my view Das Wandern ist des Müllers Lust belongs to that class of poetry which appears beguilingly simple, even naive,yet which harbours unsuspected profundity and subtleties. The title refers atthe primary level to the miller , yet implies a reference to the poet himself,Wilhelm Müller. Is this apparently jaunty poem in the folksong tradition aboutthe nature of the poet and the poet's identity?Müller's poem is the first in a cycle of so-called Lieder in the cycle of poemsentitled Die schöne Müllerin , (The Miller's fair Daughter) , published in 1820. The poem srcinated during a three-year Period of mental gestation producedby the experience of co-operating with other young poets and songsters whowere then composing Rollengedichte ( role poems ) at meetings in the Berlinhouse of one F.A. Stegermann, a well-situated Prussian official during thewinter of 1816/17. This genre was greatly influenced by contemporary Italianopera as well as by strong patriotic undercurrents. On the surface, the poemscontained in this cycle conjure up a seemingly uncomplicated Idyll of unspoiltrural life but this picture is not quite as ingenuous as it seems. Each songrepresents the point of view of a dramatic character playing a part as though acharacter in a play or opera. The story told by the cycle proves tragic, however jaunty the mood in the opening song, Das Wandern ist des Müllers Lust . Thedramatic person assigned to this song, a wandering miller's apprentice, finallydrowns in the waters beside the mill the movement of which he celebrates inhis first song. The miller's daughter spurns his overtures of love and bestowsher affections on his rival in love, a young huntsman. The souring of the youngapprentice's emotional state is reflected in his change of attitude to the colourgreen, which first evokes feelings of spring but later becomes associated in hismind with garishness and poison. The sublime evocation of a place of final rest for the weary wanderer echoes  Goethe's treatment of the theme of the wanderer's return to a hut, the symbolof a final solace. Müller's own name predestined him to play the role of themiller's apprentice. In fact, during the later stage of the cycle's composition,the role found a poignant corollary in Müller's emotional commitment to one bythe name of Luise Hensel, a young poetess, who resembled the miller'sdaughter in rejecting Miller's ardent feelings of love. The rural idyll presented in the cycle also reflected an idealisation of nativeGerman values and the hope that they would soon help to mould a new unitedand free German nation. However, as the Romantic movement entered itsdying years, an deepening sense of pessimism was seeping in. Such isintimated in Müller's Der Lindenbaum , beautifully set to music and song byFranz Schubert. The speaker recalls the linden-tree beside the fountain outsidethe gateway of his childhood home but finally describes his vain attempt, as adistraught and wind-swept wanderer , to return to the linden-tree of hallowedmemory. In the wider historical context surrounding the poem, we trace thedespair which attended Romanticism in its final throes, its demise beingprecipitated not so such by the after-effects of foreign occupation as by thestiffling oppression of Metternich's system.In some ways Müller was German Romanticism's Byron, for both he and Byronembraced the cause of Greek independence and both died at a comparativelyyoung age. Though his philo-Hellenism was more pronounced than that of hiscontemporaries, with the possible exception of Friedrich Hölderlin, he typified alonging shared by other German writers and poets, including Goethe andSchiller, that a new age would usher in Greece on German soul, marrying thebest of the ancient Greek heritage with the best in what was hoped wouldbecome a united and free German nation. This hope is reflected in the verytitle of Goethe's Epic poem Hermann und Dorothea, telling of the encounterand subsequent marriage of two young fugitives caught up in the disruptionscaused by the invasion of French military forces during the Revolutionary wars.Goethe's idealisation of a symbiosis merging ancient Greece and hiscontemporary world is anticipated in Wandrers Sturmlied and possibly evenin the Shakespeare Speech, in which Prometheus merges with a figure derivedfrom native folklore.ANNOTATIONS1. Das Wandern ist des Müllers Lust , like I wandered as lonely as a cloud apparently suffers from the great popularity it enjoys in as far as its 'simplicity 'discourages critics from being willing to discover a deep level of significance.  2. The motifs of the miller's apprentice and the fair daughter of a miller find aprecedent in Goethe's writings. The opposition of wandering and thewanderer's goal of rest and peace is evident both in the poetry of Goethe andthe songs of Wilhelm Müller. Even the figure of a tragic romantic wanderergoes back to Goethe's early Sturm und Drang period of writing. Is the deathof the lovelorn apprentice perhaps an expression of a poetological concernrelated to an awareness of the volatile or fluid aspect of a musical aspect inpoetry? Literary references to drowning in Romantic - and post-Romanticliterature (viz Grillparzer's Der Arme Spielmann (The Poor Musician) - imply theself-dissolution of the artistic process.
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