Thursday, March 24, 2016

No. 20 The Signpost

Talking to people after our last performance I realized something about this character, the wanderer, the poet: The man was nothing. He was a nobody, whatever that means. Being expelled from the house of his beloved gives him meaning for the first time, wakes him up to the signs all around him, connects him with his world. It's not pleasant but it is uplifting because underneath every despairing image there is the joy of true perception. I think that's why people love to hear this music.
The key lines come here in No. 20, "The Signpost." When the poet reaches a "Wegweiser," a sign on the road, he asks himself, "Why do I avoid the paths of other people? What sort of foolish desire drives me into the wastelands?" He says, "After all, I've done nothing that forces me to avoid other people."
This 'doing nothing' says a lot. There is a political implication in the line, as there is in many of the poems. The post-Napoleonic government in what is now Austria had ruthlessly suppressed any opposition to its power. I'm sure that this reference to 'not doing anything wrong' characterizes many people who didn't, wouldn't or couldn't speak up against the regime.
But there is also something existential here. In No. 20 the poet has decided to take the path from which he knows he will not return. Until now he has truly "done nothing"--not only was he a political bystander, but up to this point everything has happened 'to' him. From this moment on there is agency in his becoming.

No. 20 The Signpost
Why avoid the trodden pathways
Where the other wanderers walk?
I prefer a hidden passage 
Over highlands' snowy rocks
I've committed no grave error
That would keep me far from man
What vain and foolish longing
Drives me far into the wastelands?
Every sign along the roadway
Shows the way to what is next.
Yet I wander ever onward
Without rest and seeking rest
And I see a signpost standing
So unmoving in my stare
It's a path that I must travel 
And none return from there

20. Der Wegweiser
Was vermeid' ich denn die Wege, 
Wo die ander'n Wand'rer geh'n, 
Suche mir versteckte Stege, 
Durch verschneite Felsenhöh'n ?
Habe ja doch nichts begangen, 
Daß ich Menschen sollte scheu'n, - 
Welch ein törichtes Verlangen 
Treibt mich in die Wüstenei'n ?
Weiser stehen auf den Straßen, 
Weisen auf die Städte zu.
Und ich wandre sonder 
Maßen Ohne Ruh' und suche Ruh'.

Einen Weiser seh' ich stehen 
Unverrückt vor meinem Blick; 
Eine Straße muß ich gehen, 
Die noch keiner ging zurück.

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