Monday, November 10, 2008

Ode to Freedom

Schiller -- Freedom's Hymn

Originally published November 9, 2008 in Scott Horton's blog No Comment on

This is the exact same version of a cassette I listened to almost every single morning and afternoon during my commute from here in Oak Harbor, WA to Bellingham, WA to attend Western Washington University's Grad School of Psychology from 1989-1995. I dropped out, having run out the clock without finishing my thesis. But I never gave up!

So I've been wanting this recording, and a translation of it, for almost two decades.

In 2004, at the centennial celebration of Campbell's birth at the Esalen institute in Big Sur, CA, in attendance was a renowned German poet, whose name I can't remember. He was very big on Rilke. He could recite verse after verse after verse even as he stood to make a comment during one of the presentations.

After electrifying me with Germanophonic poetry, I sat with him in the lodge during lunch. I grilled him about the meaning of the Ode to Joy. "Yes," he said, it's akin to "the German national Anthem." And yet he couldn't translate it for me in its entirety! Arrrrrgggh!

I lost that cassette years ago. I've been wanting to hear that version ever since. So, when Scott Horton posted the following to his blog, I leapt for joy.


Freude, schöner Götterfunken,
Tochter aus Elysium,
Wir betreten feuertrunken,
Himmlische, dein Heiligthum.
Deine Zauber binden wieder,
Was die Mode streng getheilt;
Alle Menschen werden Brüder,
Wo dein sanfter Flügel weilt.

Seid umschlungen, Millionen!
Diesen Kuß der ganzen Welt!
Brüder -- überm Sternenzelt
Muß ein lieber Vater wohnen.
Wem der große Wurf gelungen,
Eines Freundes Freund zu sein,
Wer ein holdes Weib errungen,
Mische seinen Jubel ein!
Ja -- wer auch nur eine Seele
Sein nennt auf dem Erdenrund!
Und wer’s nie gekonnt, der stehle
Weinend sich aus diesem Bund.

Was den großen Ring bewohnet,
Huldige der Sympathie!
Zu den Sternen leitet sie,
Wo der Unbekannte thronet.
Freude trinken alle Wesen
An den Brüsten der Natur;
Alle Guten, alle Bösen
Folgen ihrer Rosenspur.
Küsse gab sie uns und Reben,
Einen Freund, geprüft im Tod;
Wollust ward dem Wurm gegeben,
Und der Cherub steht vor Gott.

Ihr stürzt nieder, Millionen?
Ahnest du den Schöpfer, Welt?
Such’ ihn überm Sternenzelt!
Über Sternen muß er wohnen
Freude heißt die starke Feder
In der ewigen Natur.
Freude, Freude treibt die Räder
In der großen Weltenuhr.
Blumen lockt sie aus den Keimen,
Sonnen aus dem Firmament,
Sphären rollt sie in den Räumen,
Die des Sehers Rohr nicht kennt.

Froh, wie seine Sonnen fliegen
Durch des Himmel prächt’gen Plan,
Wandelt, Brüder, eure Bahn,
Freudig, wie ein Held zu Siegen.
Aus der Wahrheit Feuerspiegel
Lächelt sie den Forscher an.
Zu der Tugend steilem Hügel
Leitet sie des Dulders Bahn.
Auf des Glaubens Sonnenberge
Sieht man ihre Fahnen wehn,
Durch den Riss gesprengter Särge
Sie im Chor der Engel stehn.

Duldet muthig, Millionen!
Duldet für die bessre Welt!
Droben überm Sternenzelt
Wird ein großer Gott belohnen.
Göttern kann man nicht vergelten;
Schön ist’s, ihnen gleich zu sein.
Gram und Armuth soll sich melden,
Mit den Frohen sich erfreun.
Groll und Rache sei vergessen,
Unserm Todfeind sei verziehn.
Keine Thräne soll ihn pressen,
Keine Reue nage ihn.

Unser Schuldbuch sei vernichtet!
Ausgesöhnt die ganze Welt!
Brüder -- überm Sternenzelt
Richtet Gott, wie wir gerichtet.
Freude sprudelt in Pokalen,
In der Traube goldnem Blut
Trinken Sanftmuth Kannibalen,
Die Verzweiflung Heldenmuth --
Brüder, fliegt von euren Sitzen,
Wenn der volle Römer kreist,
Laßt den Schaum zum Himmel spritzen:
Dieses Glas dem guten Geist!

Den der Sterne Wirbel loben,
Den des Seraphs Hymne preist,
Dieses Glas dem guten Geist
Überm Sternenzelt dort oben!
Festen Muth in schwerem Leiden,
Hilfe, wo die Unschuld weint,
Ewigkeit geschwornen Eiden,
Wahrheit gegen Freund und Feind,
Männerstolz vor Königsthronen, --
Brüder, gält’ es Gut und Blut --
Dem Verdienste seine Kronen,
Untergang der Lügenbrut!

Schließt den heil’gen Zirkel dichter,
Schwört bei diesem goldnen Wein,
Dem Gelübde treu zu sein,
Schwört es bei dem Sternenrichter!
Rettung von Tyrannenketten,
Großmut auch dem Bösewicht,
Hoffnung auf den Sterbebetten,
Gnade auf dem Hochgericht!
Auch die Toten sollen leben!
Brüder trinkt und stimmet ein,
Allen Sündern soll vergeben,
Und die Hölle nicht mehr sein.

Eine heitere Abscheidsstunde!
Süßen Schlaf im Leichenruch!
Brüder -- einen sanften Spruch
Aus des Totenrichters Munde!

Joy, beautiful spark of Gods,
Daughter of Elysium,
We approach, fueled by fire,
Heavenly, your sanctuary,
Your magical powers unify
What custom harshly parts
All men are made brothers
Where your gentle wing spreads.

Be embraced, millions!
This kiss to the entire world!
Brothers--over a canopy of stars
Our loving father must dwell.

Whoever has had the great luck,
To know true friendship,
Whoever has found the love of a devoted wife,
Add this to our greater joy!
Indeed, whoever can call even one soul
His own on this earth!
Yet those who fail must pull
Tearfully away from this circle.

Those who dwell in the great circle,
Render homage unto compassion!
It guides us to the stars,
Where the Unknown reigns.
The joy which all creatures drink
From nature’s bosom;
All, Just and Unjust,
Follow her rose-strewn path.
Kisses she gave us, and wine,
A friend, proven in death,
Even the worm was given pleasure,
And the Cherub stands before God.

You bow down, millions?
World, can you sense your Creator?
Seek him above the stared canopy.
Above the stars He must dwell.
Joy is called the strong motivation
In eternal nature.
Joy, joy turns the wheels
Of the great celestial mechanics
Flowers are summoned forth from their buds,
Suns from the Firmament,
Spheres it moves far out in Space,
Beyond the grasp of our glass.

Joyfully, as His suns spin,
Across the Universe’s grand design,
Run, brothers, run your race,
Joyfully, as a hero going to conquest.
As truth’s fiery reflection
It smiles at the seeker of truth
At virtue’s steep hill
It leads the seeker on.
Atop faith’s lofty summit
Its flags whipped in the wind,
Through the cracks of burst-open coffins,
It stand in the angels’ chorus.

Persist with courage, millions!
Stand firm for a better world!
Over the stars
A great God will reward you.
Gods one can never requite,
Save in the striving to be like them.
Sorrow and Poverty, come forth
And rejoice with the Joyful ones.
Anger and revenge be dispelled,
Our bitterest enemy be forgiven,
Not one tear shall he shed anymore,
No feeling of loss shall pain him.

The account of our misdeeds be destroyed!
Reconciled the entire world!
Brothers, above the starry canopy
God judges as we judge.
Joy is bubbling in the glasses,
Through the grapes’ golden blood
Let Cannibals drink gentleness,
And despair drinks courage--
Brothers, be lifted from your seats,
As the fully charged chalice is passed around,
Let the foam rise up to heaven:
Let this glass charge our spirits.

He whom stars above select,
He whom the Seraphs’ hymn praises,
This glass we raise to Him, the good spirit,
Over the field of stars!
Be resolute and courageous in the face of our plight,
Where the innocent weap, render aid,
Eternally are reckoned all oaths we swear
Truth towards friend and enemy,
Human pride before the thrones of kings--
Brothers, though it cost us life and blood,
Give the crowns to those who earn them,
Defeat to the pack of liars!

Close the holy circle tighter,
Swear by this golden wine:
To remain true to the Oath,
Swear it to He who judge above the stars!
Deliver us from tyrants’ chains,
But show generosity also towards the blaggard,
Hope on the deathbeds,
Mercy from the final judge!
Also the dead shall live!
Brothers, drink and join in,
All sinners shall be forgiven,
And hell shall be no more.

Our serene hour of farewell!
Sweet rest in the shroud!
Brothers--a mild sentence
From the mouth of the judge of the dead!

--Friedrich Schiller, Ode an die Freude (1785) in Sämtliche Werke, vol. 1, pp. 133-36 (H. Göpfert ed. 1980)(S.H. transl.)

Listen to a recitation of Schiller’s poem by Anna Thalbach

Listen to Ludwig van Beethoven’s immortal realization of the poem in the concluding choral movement of his Ninth Symphony in D Minor, here in a performance with Herbert von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic

In 1753, Gotthold Ephraim Lessing wrote in the Königlich Privilegierte Berlinische Zeitung a brief announcement of the publication of one of the signal works of the Enlightenment and in the process paused to offer one of his more astonishing observations on the study of man. "We can engage the human at the level of the specific or the general," he wrote. "But what, pray tell, will we learn from the specific? They are such a gallery of rogues and scoundrels... Yet when we turn to the species as a whole, a different story begins to emerge. Does he not slowly reveal greatness and divine origin? Does he not daily extend the limits of his knowledge, does wisdom not slowly come to prevail in his rulemaking, does his ambition not leave behind towering monuments?" This same quiet confidence in humanity, coupled with a burning desire to overcome the obstacles that human superstitution [sic] and suspicion place in the way of the unity of the species, is the touchstone of this, the most famous poem of Friedrich Schiller. It is known as the "Ode to Joy" and it is familiar to all peoples of the world through the music of Ludwig van Beethoven.

Curiously, Schiller was a bit slow to claim his work. He hesitated over its incorporation into his collected works and suggested at points that it was rash, juvenile--not to the standards of his more ponderous philosophical poetry. Surely it is not. But the "Ode to Joy" captured the imagination of Schiller’s contemporaries like no other poetical work, and they associated it with him. News of his fatal illness provoked spontaneous recitations of the poem from Switzerland to Denmark, and in France the great Danton pressed to acclaim Schiller an honorary citizen of the new republic on the strength of this extraordinary poem. But this work is marked by evanescence, by a sort of giddiness--does this suggest lack of seriousness? Could it be simply an occasional piece, an entry in an album for a life-long friend, Christian Gottfried Körner? At one level this certainly was Schiller’s intention. He wrote Körner on August 8, 1787 alluding to the ode and saying "I know no more certain and higher fortune in the world today that the complete enjoyment of our friendship, the wholly indivisible consolidation of our being, our joys and sufferings."

But this does Schiller no justice. Let us abjure the specific and hold to the general. Schiller’s ode is a salute to humanity’s possibilities, it is giddy, unabashedly so. For Schiller, this euphoria, this insatiable drive for friendship is a saving grace for the species. Reason alone cannot explain it. It is essential if humankind is to overcome its darker moments, including the perilous path that leads to cynicism and nihilism. Friendship is thus an exilir [sic]. "For certain humans the power of nature strips away the stupefying limitations of convention," he tells some friends in Leipzig as he is scribbling on this poem, signaling the refrain that Beethoven will make famous.

But the work is radical and blatantly political in its orientation--it envisions a world without monarchs at a time when the distant colonies of North America alone offered the alternative. It imagines a world whose nations live in peace with one another, embracing the dignity of their species as a fundamental principle, and democracy as the central chord of their organization. Its long appeal to Beethoven lay in just this intensely subversive, revolutionary core. To start with, as Leonard Bernstein reminded his audiences, the poem was originally an "Ode to Freedom" and the word "Joy" (Freude instead of Freiheit, added to the third pillar, Freundschaft) came as a substitute for the more overtly political theme. The transposition is very successful, and it reflects the esthetic theories of Schiller in which humankind’s political aspirations are shown as something ecstatic. The deeper, more political charge of Schiller’s writings appears in the final stanzas, which are not included in the lyrics set by Beethoven--he was at length a court composer, and he lived, wrote and published in a city which, for all its culture and pretension, was a citadel of political repression. Beethoven reckoned, of course, that his audience knew the whole text, just as he knew it, by heart. He was by then a crotchety old man, Beethoven, but he knew the power of a dream, and he inspired millions with it, to the chagrin of his Hapsburg sponsors.

Schiller’s words are perfectly fused with Beethoven’s music. It may indeed be the most successful marriage in the whole shared space of poetry and music. It is a message of striking universality which transcends the boundaries of time and culture. It is well measured in fact to certain turningpoints in the human experience. And one of them occurred in America this week.

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