Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The music of Immensee - they grow, they fall from the air

"'But who composed these lovely songs?" asked Elisabeth.

'Oh,' said Erich, 'you can hear it in the little ditties themselves - tailors, barbers, and all that kind of carefree common rabble!'

Reinhard said, 'They are not composed at all; they grow, they fall from the air, they fly over the land like gossamer, here, there, everywhere, and are sung in a thousand places at once. It is our innermost feelings and sufferings we find in these songs; it is as if we all had a hand in creating them.'" (p. 33)

Immensee is packed with poetry. The character Reinhard writes poems that sound like folk songs. So does the author, Theodor Storm. A page after this passage, Reinhard reads Elisabeth a poem, a folk song, that exactly fits the plot of Immensee and causes some trouble. The folk songs in Immensee are not really folk songs, but were written by Storm.

Writers, especially those doing unusual things, often leave clues to their readers, instructions on how to properly read their books. I'm quite sure this passage is one of them. Storm is describing his own stories, his own poems.

I would love to write about this passage more, but I feel I must stop. It contains a secret, the discovery of which is almost as pleasurable as finding the Crown Jewels in Pale Fire. I will just move on.

Reinhard, the melancholy fellow who wishes he had married Elisabeth, sees a white water lily in the titular See and decides to pluck it. His swim in the lake is the oddest thing in the book, the passage most resembling the older generation of German Romantics like Tieck and Hoffmann. Reinhard seems to have fallen into a folk song himself. Here's a bit of it:

"In the end he had come so close to the flower that he could distinguish the silvery leaves clearly in the moonlight. But in that moment he felt suddenly as if he were entangled in a net; the slippery tendrils of the plants reached up ad twined themselves around his naked limbs. The unfamiliar waters around him were so dark, and behind him he heard a fish jump. Everything was now suddenly so uncanny in this strange element; forcefully he freed himself from the mesh of the plants, and with breathless haste made for the shore. When he looked back at the lake the lily was, as before, far away and solitary out in the dark depths." (pp. 36-7)

A good way to analyze Immensee, if one wanted to do such a thing, would be to trace a series of themes through the story: plants and flowers, songs and poems, gypsies and beggars. Storm weaves these objects or motifs in and out of the story, creating resonances that an attentive reader should detect, even if it's unclear what any particular element means. I suppose one could call them symbols and say the strawberries mean this (Death, presumably) and the water lily means that (also Death), but that seems like a good way to smash poor Storm to pieces. One hardly needs any of that to hear the music of Immensee.

No comments:

Post a Comment