Guest poem submitted by Mark Penney, an excerpt from:
(Poem #1679) Ariadne auf Naxos
There is a land where all is pure, And this land is called The land of death. Here nothing is pure. All things suffer corruption. But soon a herald will come. Hermes is his name, his winged wand rules all souls. Like birds affrighted, like withered leaves before him they fly. O beautiful, peaceful god, See, Ariadne waits. Ah, from all pains and miseries must my heart be purified; then you will nod to me, your steps will reach my cave, on my eyes there falls a darkness, on my heart you'll lay your hand. In the regal festal garments that my mother wove for me, I will wrap my weary body, and this cave will be my tomb. But my soul in solemn silence follows its new-made lord, like a leaf by winds driven downward falling, gladly following. On my eyes there falls a darkness, darkness too will fill my heart, and within this cave my body richly robed alone will lie. It is you who will save me, my captive soul freed of this burden of being. Lift it from me. To you I will lose all myself with you will Ariadne dwell.
This requires quite a bit of explanation. It's Ariadne's "Es gibt ein Reich" aria, from what is in many ways one of the strangest operas ever written, Ariadne auf Naxos. (More on how it's strange in a minute.) Hofmannsthal (1874-1929) was an Austrian poet, responsible in his early career for some fascinating and truly beautiful lyric poetry. He abandoned poetry, despairing of the power of language in a crumbling world, and turned to drama, and ultimately opera, after he met Richard Strauss. With Strauss he wrote six operas, including at least four true masterpieces (Elektra, Der Rosenkavalier, Ariadne auf Naxos, and Die Frau ohne Schatten), making this one of the most productive artistic collaborations ever. Without doubt, Hofmannsthal's libretti are among the most poetic ever written, and can stand alone in their own right. Pre-First World War Viennese art has a certain unique flavor to it; this is a background in which you have to read this poem (which was written in 1911 or 1912). Vienna was becoming ever more illiberal, ever more reactionary. Moreover, there was a sense of values being lost, of the society decaying all around. How do you react? Do you wallow in it, becoming a champion of the decadent and amoral? Do you pine for the lost world? Do you just decide you want to die? Do you instead try to shock the world around you into seeing its failures? Do you create an artistic fantasyland of escapism? Or can art even matter at all? (Here I'm parroting (and probably making a travesty of) the ideas in Carl Schorske's fascinating book "Fin-de-Siecle Vienna: Politics and Culture.") This indecision about how to react to a dying world is captured pretty well by Ariadne auf Naxos. So anyway we have Ariadne, stranded by Theseus on Naxos, waiting to die. She's surrounded by three nymphs who do their best to make her comfortable, but also by five commedia dell'arte characters prancing around trying to cheer her up. The commedia dell'arte characters seem like they're from another play, and that's because they are. In the Prologue, we're told that the crotchety old fart who has commanded these performances at his salon has decided that, in order to be over in time for the fireworks at 9:00 sharp, the opera seria and the improv comedy are going to have to be performed at the same time on the same stage. Anyway, ultimately it's not Hermes who shows up to get Ariadne, but Bacchus. Love conquers all, Ariadne winds up sailing off into the sunset with the God of Partying, and the commedia guys get the last laugh. (It's not nearly as funny as it sounds, unfortunately, but by golly is it beautiful.) The translation above is (mostly) an unattributed public domain translation. Like a lot of translations of opera libretti, it's designed to be sung to the original music, so the main goal of the translator was to reproduce Hofmannsthal's rhythm, not his meaning. This results in some sort of dubious readings of a few lines. I've "fixed" a few of the most egregious departures from the sense of the original, since I know no one is going to be singing this version. In German, it's very beautiful, almost heartbreakingly so, though in context it's impossible to take Ariadne 100% seriously. Auf Deutsch: Es gibt ein Reich, wo alles rein ist Es hat auch einen Namen: Totenreich. Hier ist nichts rein! Hier kam alles zu allem! Bald aber naht ein Bote, Hermies heissen sie hin. Du schoener, stiller Gott! Sieh! Ariadne wartet! Ach, von allen wilden Schemrzen muss das Herz gereinigt sein, dann wird dein Gesicht mir nicken, wird dein Schritt vor meiner Hoehle, Dunkel wird auf meinen augen, deine Hand auf meinem Herzen sein. In den schoenen Feierkleidern, die mir meine Mutter gab, diese Glieder werden bleiben, stille Hoehle wird mein Grab. Aber lautlos meine Seele folget ihrem neuen Herrn, wie ein leichtes Blatt im Winde folgt hinunter, folgt so gern. Dunkel wird auf meinen Augen, und in meinem Herzen sein. Diese Glieder werden bleiben, schoen geschmueckt und ganz allein. Du wirst mich befreien, mir selber mich geben, dies lastende Leben, du nimm es von mir. An dich werd' ich mich ganz verlieren, bei dir wird Ariadne sein. -- Mark