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Wandering and Das Wandern in English and German Romanticism

Wandering and Das Wandern in English and German Romanticism

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Published by Julian Scutts

Though normally the verbs "to wander" and "wandern" appear to be what teachers call "false friends", in poetry they share the same field of emotional and cultural resonances.

Though normally the verbs "to wander" and "wandern" appear to be what teachers call "false friends", in poetry they share the same field of emotional and cultural resonances.

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Published by: Julian Scutts on Feb 12, 2013
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09/17/2013

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"Wandering" and "das Wandern
A prologue is followed by an examination of Blake's "London" and Wilhelm Müller's "Das Wandern ist desMüllers Lust" The article attempts an explanation for the prominence of the verbs "to wander" and"wandern" in the Romantic period. It also investigates why poems are interpreted differently according tothe context in which they are viewed. 
PROLOGUEIn English and German both "to wander" and "wandern" refer to physical motions that typically reflect the wanderer'sstate of mind. "I wandered lonely as a cloud", among the most celebrated poems about "wandering", refers to aspecific physical excursion. Where this is not the case in other poems concerned with the same theme, they at leastreveal some aspect of a wanderer's mentality. In examining two poems under discussion we shall consider howWilliam Blake's imagination captures moments of vision and the emotions they arouse. These tell us little about a journey as such, an itinerary or a destination, but they imply some encounter between an observer and an object or scene that strikes that observer as wonderful or novel. I recall the etymological affinity of "to wander" and "wandern"with verbs meaning "to turn" ("wenden", "to wend"). The poem captures in words a psychological turning point involvingnot only enhanced awareness of external objects but also of a universal principle, perhaps an aspect of a "higher self".While the process of wandering entails exposure to intense images and visual impressions in the first case we shallstudy, Wilhelm Müller's "Das Wandern ist des Müllers Lust" is infused by the musicality of rhythmic repetition anddynamic development. Significantly, it contains no reference to the lyrical "I". Wandering - or the effect produced by theverbs "to wander" and "wandern" - integrates the imagistic or musical principles that certain critics would understandas the essential non-verbal aspects of poetry, compared to which the reference of words to matters in the world of external reality are of little account.Comparing "I wandered lonely as a cloud" and "London", one becomes aware that the verbs "to wander" and "wandern"imply not only certain reciprocal relationships but also the very principle of reciprocity itself. We differentiate herebetween two kinds of vision, one engendered by physical perception, the other by the inner vision of the minddetached from physical sensation. William Blake distinguished between "cold earth wanderers" and "the mentaltraveller" in recognition of the duality that underlies poetry and poetic "wandering". Both physical travel and dreamingprovide the optimal conditions for memorable and intense visions and images, but poets, whether they adopt thestance of a "cold earth wanderer", like Wordsworth, or of a "mental traveller", like Blake, are neither travelling or dreaming in the strict sense of these terms when they create poetry. Though the cold earth wanderer and mentaltraveller differ in their basic approach to the same reality, they share a goal in illuminating the relationship between theinner mind and external realities. Both the cold earth wanderer and mental traveller differ from the systematic andabstract thinker in that the former reveal the view point of an individual in specific situations as though exposed to theuncertainly of moment-to-moment experience - hence the sense of novelty, and expectation inculcated by poeticrenditions a wanderer's experience.In the eighteenth century, poets became more self-conscious about themselves and their art; and one result of thisnew consciousness was a close association of the poetic imagination with what Goethe, and later the GermanRomantic school, called the "Wanderer". By the same token, these poets drew a close parallel between the poeticwork and a journey or "pilgrimage". The text is not about a journey. It is a journey. With the loss of assurance in theinspiration bestowed by the Muse, the poets became increasing aware of the pitfalls that awaited poets on their "uncertain journey" (as Keats put it in Endymion) through the medium of language. The identification of "text" and a journey to an appointed goal at least held a promise that the unity of the text would contain all the stresses andaberrations associated with the process of verbal articulation.Blake's "London" and Wilhelm Müller's "Das Wandern ist des Müller's Lust"
 
If one undertakes to compare a poem written by an English Romantic and one by a German counterpart, it will be byno means immediately apparent why the resultant choice should fall on Blake's "London" and "Das Wandern ist desMüllers Lust" ? `Is this choice not a rather haphazard one in view of fact that the poems are completely different intone and content? Blake's poem presents London in a very sombre light as the scene of human degradation whileWilhelm Müller's is a vigorous, almost jaunty, song praising the joys of roving in an idyllic rural setting. Despite thesedifferences, let us explore areas of common ground such as they are and evaluate their significance.First both poems enjoy great popularity and fame. However lugubrious in tone, "London" belongs to the most wellknown. II would even venture to assert that with "Jerusalem" and "Tiger" it belongs to Blake's top three. There can beno doubt that "Das Wandern ist des Müllers Lust" is not only the most well known of Wilhelm Müller's poems. It is oneof the most celebrated poems in Germany thanks to Schubert's musical setting of the poem as Lied.Second, both are a part of a cycle of poems or songs. In Blake's case the poem is included in Songs of Innocenceand Experience and in Müller's, in Die Schöne Müllerin. The inclusion of any poem in a greater work throws open aninteresting question, especially if one insists that a poem is a unique object subject to its own internal structural logicand consistency. We will note that poems considered in the light of their participation to a greater whole, reveal facetsthat are often overlooked when the poem is viewed in isolation. This is particularly true of "Das Wandern ist desMüllers Lust" as the mill described in the poem will prove to be at the scene of the main character's death, itself theresult of an unhappy love relationship.. Germany, of course, is renowned for its Wanderlieder.. The word "Wanderer" appears in the titles of celebratedpoems by Goethe, who started the trend of giving the word an unprecedented eminence, and by German Romanticpoets such as Hölderlin and Eichendorff.. The reasons for this phenomenon are too complex to be properly discussedhere (view essay "Between the Muse and the Unconscious"). Suffice it to say that the word, though previously chargedwith religious and mystical significances, became the accepted term addressing the modern self-conscious andconsequently anguished poet, whose very raison d'ệtre seemed to be in question in the new secular age. It mightseem to some that the word served merely as a convenient label by which to identify the typical posture and partialself-dramatization of poets at the historical juncture we are considering, but such a glib assumption is challengeable,as the words "wander" and "wandern" , like all words in fact (as many linguists would concur), are not fixed lexicalterms but integral parts of the works to which they belong, sharing their singularity. The very affinities between Goetheand the German Romantics gave rise to differentiations of attitude and even to acrimonious contentions. The Englishpoet were also subject to Goethe's influence, particularly Coleridge and Wordsworth (see essay "Wordsworth'sDaffodils Reconsidered" and "From the Ripple on the Surface to the Hidden Depths") but less obviously so than in thecase of their German counterparts, though two very well-known poems in English do include the verb "to wander" intheir first line, namely "I wandered lonely as a cloud" and "London". The words "I wandered" and "I wander" set thetone for the poems that follow. In the English tradition words derived from "to wander" have had a strong profile evenfrom Anglo-Saxon times. The Bard, whom Goethe called "the greatest wanderer of all" gave prominence to the word in A Midsummer Night's Dream" for Puck announces "I am that merry wanderer of the night". A Midsummer Night'sDream, Act II, Sc. 1 Milton resoundingly concludes his great epic Paradise Lost with a reference, charged with Biblicaland theological implications, to the "wandering steps and slow" of Adam and Eve when entering the domain of experience and history. Shakespeare and Milton reflected on the nature of "wander" as a word of almost philologicalinterest, as shown by the lines:'T may be, again to make me wander thither. /'Wander', a word for shadows like myself The Passionate Pilgrim XIV In Paradise Lost Eve reminds Adam of his use of the word "wandering" by referring to her "will / Of wandering, as thou call'st it" (IX. 1145,1146 Yet as with the German poets of their age, the English Romanticswere imbued, indeed plagued, by the same sense of isolation and alienation as that which afflicted young Goethe andthe German Romantics. Indeed. Geoffrey Hartmann applies to the Romantic poets the designation of the Wanderer or Wandering Jew fully explicit in his essay entitrled"Romanticism and 'Anti-Self-Consciousness"'In: Romanticism andConsciousness Essays in Criticism, ed. Harold Bloom (New York, 1970)..**********************************************************************WILLIAM BLAKE'S "LONDON"(Printed version, 1794)
 
I wander thro' each charter'd street,Near where the charter'd Thames does flow And mark in every face I meetMarks of weakness, marks of woe.In every cry of every Man.In every Infants cry of fear.In every voice, in every ban.The mind-forg'd manacles I hear How the Chimney-sweepers cryEvery blackning Church appalls. And the hapless Soldiers signRuns in blood down Palace wallsBut most thro' midnight streets I hear How the youthful Harlots curseBlasts the new born Infants tear  And blights with plagues the Marriage hearse.The journeys and excursions described in William Blake's poetry are (or seem to be) of a quite different order fromthose encountered in Wordsworth's poetry. Blake's poetry does not depict natural scenes in the familiar or realisticmode. Blake's eye perceived what the poet understood as the spiritual realities that underlie the world of commonexperience. Following precedents set by Dante and Milton, his long poems express the author's concern for thespiritual progress of mankind from its myth-shrouded beginnings to the ultimate advent of the New Jerusalem.William Blake and Goethe, however much they differed in many obvious respects, shared the belief that, in its ultimatemanifestation mankind's "wandering" journey through history and experience meant progress in the act of striving tounite polarities and contrasts. Like Goethe, Blake conceived of inferior kinds of wandering manifested by those whoonly represent a partial aspect of wandering in its most comprehensive and inclusive sense.In "The Mental Traveller" there is a reference to "cold earth wanderers", whom the speaker disparagingly contrasts with"the mental traveller" as one who is free to move through time and space without encumbrances, even in reversesequence. This reference seems to constitute an allusion to the depictions of travel and movement found in "TheLyrical Ballads" by Wordsworth and Coleridge. However, is the difference between Blake's depictions of a traveller'sexperience and those of the Lakers' so fundamental as it might first appear? Or did both Blake and Wordsworth seekto illuminate the same fundamental relationship, though their approaches to it were from quite opposite directions,revealing the difference of stance between poets who represent travelling realistically and those who choose torepresent "dreamlike journeys"? In both kinds of journey, the realistic and more obviously symbolic or mythical modesof representation merge, making an absolute division between them appear questionable. As "wandering" was for Goethe and the Romantics a synonym for poetry and the poetical imagination, we will be in astronger position to assess similarities and differences between Blake and Wordsworth as poets if we compare twocelebrated poems introduced by a declined form of the verb "to wander".Blake's visions do not reveal any escapist refusal to confront the realities of the world, but rather manifest an acuteawareness of social and political conditions. To make a comparison, Dante's The Divine Comedy is as muchconcerned with his contemporary society as it is with realities beyond temporal reality."London" belongs to the Songs of Experience, and within a yet broader context, to The Songs of Innocence andExperience. A comparison between the draft version of 1792 1 (1) and the printed version of 1794 reveals significantalterations giving pointers to the poem's deep levels of significance.

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