Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Beim Schlafengehen

The whole process of getting old is ever fascinating, and the older I get, the more I'm interested in the perspectives of those who are older still, especially those who know themselves to be on the cusp of death. About 25 years ago, by chance I checked out a CD by soprano Kiri Te Kanawa: Four Last Songs by Richard Strauss. Composed in the last year of his life, they are about death. The mood, which was striking then to a young man, and grows more meaningful each year, is one of peace, pleasant tiredness, acceptance of mortality.

Among the four, I return the most to Beim Schlafengehen (At the Going to Sleep, my translation); a poem by Hermann Hesse, set to music by Strauss.

The words are effective even without music, and in English:

Now the Day wearies me;
all my longing Desires should
sweetly succumb to the starry Night
like a tired Child. Hands, let go of all Work;
Brow, forget all Thoughts.
Now all my Senses
would sink themselves in Slumber.
And my unregarded Spirit
would rise on spread Wings
in Night's magic realm
to live deep and thousandfold.

At age 51, I'm not the least bit tired of living, or better put, tired from living. But such work as this helps me imagine being that tired. It shows that one may reach such a point in life, and that although death is something I would avoid now, I may feel different much later, when death might seem to be more of a transition and less of an ending.

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