Die schöne Müllerin (Part 5)

Die Knappen after a long day of work.

With no time to waste our miller gets to work! After all, how else is he going to win the love of the beautiful milleress unless he proves he’s a dependable, loyal, hardworking man? And so we reach the next poem in the cycle–––”Am Feierabend.”

Hätt ich tausend                           If only I had a thousand
Arme zu rühren!                          arms to move.
Könnt ich brausend                     I could loudly
Die Räder führen!                       lead the wheels.
Könnt ich wehen                        I could blow
Durch alle Haine!                       through all the groves!
Könnt ich drehen                        I could spin
Alle Steine!                                 every stone.
Daß die schöne Müllerin            So that the beautiful milleress
Merkte meinen treuen Sinn!      would notice my faithful thoughts.

Ach, wie ist mein Arm so schwach!             Ah! How is my arm so weak?
Was ich hebe, was ich trage,                         Whatever I move, whatever I carry,
Was ich schneide, was ich schlage,              whatever I cut, whatever I strike,
Jeder Knappe tut es nach.                             every other bloke does the same!
Und da sitz ich in der großen Runde,           And so there I sit in the giant circle
Zu der stillen kühlen Feierstunde,                To the still, cool hour of rest
Und der Meister spricht zu allen:                 And the master says to everyone:
Euer Werk hat mir gefallen;                         Your work has pleased me.
Und das liebe Mädchen sagt                        And the lovely girl says
Allen eine gute Nacht.                                 to everyone, “Good night.”

What interests me about this poem is the sudden juxtaposition between it and the last one. “Danksagung an den Bach” is quiet, soft, restful, and calm. This poem, however, is filled with motion, energy, impatience, haste, and power. It’s a vivid contrast that depicts how quickly our lives are set in motion day by day.

It also calls to my mind the curse placed upon Adam by God after the Fall.

And to the man [Adam] he said, ‘Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree about which I commanded you, “You shall not eat of it”, cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return.’ (Genesis 3:17–19 NRSV)

Our miller has to work and toil for the affection of the milleress. Like Adam, his desire won’t just be given to him. He has to earn it. There’s a subtle parallel in imagery then, I believe, between Adam working to sustain him and his wife Eve in their new fallen world and the miller working to win over the milleress.

In the last four lines the master of the mill addresses the entire group of the “Knappe,” or as I translate it, “blokes.” (I get the sense that the word is being used to describe the “guys down at the plant,” as it were, so I avoided “boy” or “lad” or “friend” and went with the more distant “bloke.” The word itself, literally, means “squire,” but has an archaic meaning of “boy” or “knave,” the latter of which is a cognate of the German “Knabe,” or “boy,” “youth,” etc.)

So too does the milleress. Notice how she doesn’t really notice the work of our miller. She addresses everyone in the group when she wishes them good night. Why? Has the miller not worked hard enough? Does she not care about him? Is it too early for her to even notice him?

This ambiguity in the conclusion of the poem actually sets up the next poem very nicely, which we’ll look at sometime soon.

Here now is Schubert’s rendition.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4