Photo of Lorelei, a slate rock on the right bank of the River Rhine, Germany

Die Lorelei

What it may mean I do not know.

I am so sad, I find.

There’s a story from years ago

That will not leave my mind.

The air is cool and darkness falls

And quietly flows the Rhein.

The peak of the mountain sparkles

In the evening rays that shine.

High on the cliff the maiden sits

In beauty and wonder there.

Her golden jewels all gleam with light

As she combs her golden hair.

She combs it with a golden comb

And sings a song in her bower

A song that fills in wonder

With a melody of power.

The boatman in his little boat

Hears the sad song with grief

And only gazing to the height

Sees not the rocky reef.

There is now no boat nor boatman.

In the end the waves have won.

And this from the rock with her singing,

The Lorelei has done.

In Heine’s poem not a word can be bettered. Not a word is out of place. There is even one of five syllables! ‘The evening rays that shine’ is just a single word, ‘Abendsonnenschein’. How logical German can be and yet how musical at the same time!

Turner painted the Lorelei rock on his visit to the Rhein in 1817.  This was before Heine wrote his poem so the story was already well known.

Visit the Lorelei if you can. It is opposite the town of St Goer. It is best to see it from a boat but take care if you start to hear a young woman singing!

Die Lorelei

Ich weiß nicht was soll es bedeuten,
Dass ich so traurig bin;
Ein Märchen aus alten Zeiten,
Das kommt mir nicht aus dem Sinn.

Die Luft ist kühl und es dunkelt,
Und ruhig fließt der Rhein;
Der Gipfel des Berges funkelt
Im Abendsonnenschein.

Die schönste Jungfrau sitzet
Dort oben wunderbar;
Ihr goldnes Geschmeide blitzet,
Sie kämmt ihr goldenes Haar.

Sie kämmt es mit goldenem Kamme
Und singt ein Lied dabei;
Das hat eine wundersame,
Gewaltige Melodei.

Den Schiffer im kleinen Schiffe
Ergreift es mit wildem Weh;
Er schaut nicht die Felsenriffe,
Er schaut nur hinauf in die Höh.

Ich glaube, die Wellen verschlingen
Am Ende Schiffer und Kahn;
Und das hat mit ihrem Singen
Die Lorelei getan.