The Songs of Sorrow

The following is a redaction piece lifted from Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther, specifically, the selection of Ossian’s poetry as quoted by Werther in the text. This mimetic redaction entails a full-length reinterpretation of Goethe for a contemporary readership, told through a mirrored narrative lens. Where there was once embodiment, is now abstraction.

Traumgesicht, Albrecht Dürer

I smiled, fetched the songs, a shudder filled
with tears when I sat down and began to read:

                                                               Star of night in beauty
                                                               lift your head of cloud
                                                               arrayed down the hillside
                                                               a distant murmuring of streams
                                                               are moving there is evening hum
                                                               over the fields. Beautiful light, bathe
                                                               your lovely hair like a watery column
                                                               of heroes as in the days gone were airs
                                                               of spring with your gentle laments were
                                                               a faint whispering through the souls of her
                                                               sweet voice, melodious voice, forsaken on
                                                               the hills. Hear her voice when she sat alone
                                                               upon the hills:

           “Is night forsaken on the stormy mount?
             Wind moans in mountain, rivers howl
              from rocks, no shelter, from the rain appear
              stars from the hunt unstrung beside him his
              hounds sniffing above the swollen river roars
              why does he tarry? why does my love forget his promise?
             —rocks the tree, beloved radiance—where have you wandered?
                 i  want to flee my proud father and brother, but we are not enemies.
                 be silent so my voice may sound through the valley and my wanderer
                 hear me. the voice calling you, speak, friends, their swords are red chariots.
                 oh they are dead from the storm peaks mountains speak ghosts of the dead.
                 they do not answer. i wait for morning in my tears was your song, softly blushing
                 daughter. with the harp gave us song soul a blaze of light from the hunt at a time
                 before the heroes had fallen in the narrow home of their voices sword like the sword
                 were full of tears. Head in cloud struck the harp with her for the song of sorrow.”

         “Noon is fair, the clouds open restless sun up the hill. The mountain river is sweet but
           the voice I hear is sweeter, your muttering is the voice bewailing the dead man, his head
           bowed with age and his eyes are red. Excellent singer, why are you alone on the speechless
           hill? Why do you lament like a wind among trees upon a distant shore?”

         My tears for the dwellers in graves tall and slim on the hill.
           You are pleasing to look at among the sons of health. You will
           fall. The hills will forget you swift as deer on the hills, terrible
           as fires upon the sky. Your anger a tempest, sword like a torrent
           on the far force of your arm, the flames of your warfare. How
           peaceful was your countenance like sea after the moon in the
           silence when the rushing narrow. It is dark where you dwell.
           A leafless tree. Dust of the glory. Weep, weep father, but your
           son will not hear. He will never harken to your voice. Future ages
           will hear you who left no son, let song preserve your name who has fallen.”

       “Heroes' sighs would burst to remember days of youth, prince of echoing
        what there is to bewail. Do we not have songs and hymns that melt and
        refresh the soul? Like a soft mist that fills the flowers as they bloom. Why
        are you so sorrowful among the waves? I am my grief a lost son a lost daughter.
        The flower of beauty. The branches of thriving. Your bed is a dark sleep in the grave
        is heavy. The tempest howls in crowns of oak in pallor through breaking cloud sweet
        as the fallen breathing air in your eyes like mist on your cloud of fire in warfare wooing
        for her love. She did not withhold it long lay dead brother where the red berries shine with
        age. The rolling sea answered of the rocks—why do you frighten me so? hear me, son, hear
        me!—as the treacherous fled laughing to the shore. She called for her father and brother—is
        there no one who will rescue me?”

       “Nothing answered but the voice of the rocks, fierce with spoils of the hunt, arrows rattling
        on his hip. Five dark grey hounds were about him. He on the shore bound to the oak tree
        frightened the winds with his groans, trod the waves to fetch across into your dying blood.
        The wind was frightened with grief in the wars fallen. I sit on the echoing shore across the
        declining moon I see the ghosts of my children in the dimming light they walk together.”
L., in a rush of tears, halted
Werther's reading and wept
most bitterly of noble persons
she drew breath and begged
him to continue with heaven's
trembling burst of speech and page
he lifted up the words:
                                    “Why wake me, airs of spring? I water with the dew of heaven.
                                      My time of withering is near the tempest that will tomorrow me
                                      in my beauty he will seek me all around in the fields and will not
                                      find me.”