Geh aus, mein Herz, und suche Freud

We sang my mother-in-law’s favorite song at her funeral: Geh aus, mein Herz, und suche Freud, with a text by Paul Gerhardt (1656) and music by August Harder (1813). Her heaven is full of birds and flowers. Who needs angels when you have nightingales? RIP dear Heidi.

Geh aus, mein Herz, und suche Freud

1. Geh aus, mein Herz, und suche Freud
in dieser lieben Sommerzeit
an deines Gottes Gaben;
schau an der schönen Gärten Zier
und siehe, wie sie mir und dir
sich ausgeschmücket haben,
sich ausgeschmücket haben.

2. Die Bäume stehen voller Laub,
das Erdreich decket seinen Staub
mit einem grünen Kleide;
Narzissus und die Tulipan,
die ziehen sich viel schöner an
als Salomonis Seide,
als Salomonis Seide.

3. Die Lerche schwingt sich in die Luft,
das Täublein fliegt aus seiner Kluft
und macht sich in die Wälder;
die hochbegabte Nachtigall
ergötzt und füllt mit ihrem Schall
Berg, Hügel, Tal und Felder,
Berg, Hügel, Tal und Felder.

8. Ich selber kann und mag nicht ruhn,
des großen Gottes großes Tun
erweckt mir alle Sinnen;
ich singe mit, wenn alles singt,
und lasse, was dem Höchsten klingt,
aus meinem Herzen rinnen,
aus meinem Herzen rinnen.

Also on a new recording: Des Knaben Wunderhorn. Alte deutsche Lieder. Rundfunk-Jugendchor Wernigerode, Dirigent: Peter Habermann

Kleiner, uralter Gott – Ancient little god

In a week we’ll be burying my mother’s ashes on Drummond. We’ve decided to read some of her poems, with a translation into English. She published a volume of them in the Wilhelm Andermann Verlag in Vienna in 1944 when she was 21; a miracle, since paper was so rare towards the end of the war. Her friend Stefan Hlawa provided the cover illustration.

A note on translation: With this particular poem I found you really do have to change the sequence of adjectives in English. I also found it interesting to consider the different meanings of “little” and “klein” (descriptive, diminutive, romantic/endearing…) In German, for example, Little Red Riding Hood is simply Rotkäpchen. I briefly considered writing “Tiny ancient god“. Or “Little, ancient god“, after all? Still thinking it over.

My brother Chris first introduced me to the poem when he gave me these, from a cycle he drew in the ’70s, pastels and wash on paper:

Christoph Hodgson: Kleiner uralter Gott Zyklus

Kleiner, uralter Gott meines Herzens
Getrud Berninger

Kleiner, uralter Gott meines Herzens,
der lächelt,
wenn schon die steigenden Tränen
den Schmerz bespülen.

Zärtlicher kleiner Gott ohne Namen,
ohne Gesicht,
tausendjähriger, süßer Samen
des Frühlings,

in mich vergraben, untergetaucht,
schweigend und gut,
wenn schon die Trauer der Reife
jäh überströmt.

Guter, kleiner, geliebter Gott,
einsam und dunkel wie meine Träume,
die dich verschweigen,

kleiner, uralter Gott meines Herzens.

Ancient little god of my heart

Ancient little god of my heart,
even as tears rise
to wash over my pain

Tender little god, without a name
without a face,
sweet millennial seed
of spring,

hidden deep down inside me,
silent and good,
even as suddenly the sorrow of maturity

Good little beloved god,
my own,
solitary and dark as my dreams
that conceal you,

ancient little god of my heart.

My dad

My dad died 15 years ago yesterday.

He came down with Parkinson and diabetes just as I was finishing school in 1981. That very long summer, from May to September, I got a job at the company he’d begun working for a few years earlier, a big computer consultancy, and had the fun of commuting to work with him. He was getting gentler, becoming a better listener. Gone were the days when we hadn’t seen eye to eye on anything. He’d fought my teenagedom tooth and nail. The summer I was 18 all that was no longer an issue, and I realized how similar we were.

Soon after I left home that fall he was fired because he regularly fell asleep on the job. But his colleagues stood up for him, and his dismissal was converted into early retirement, with a disability pension.

So my mother and he got very lucky. They were able to enjoy the second half of the 1980s and the early 90s together in retirement, doing volunteer work and part-time jobs and spending more and more time on Drummond. Some time, it must have been in 1991 or 1992, they moved up there year round. Larry, Mike and Adam helped them move. I was busy starting my museum career and getting to know Helmut, and saw my parents only once a year. Helmut and I got married after two years in love, relatively soon, in effect because I wanted him to meet my father as my husband. They loved each other. I’ll never forget Helmut carrying him upstairs. A year later dad was gone.

When I think of my father I see individual scenes. In Washington: Him in his home office all those years, running his own company from home, with his Wang computer. Him with his rotary printing press, printing off flyers for the various associations he was involved in. Him watering the roses. Him cooking. Him at the clavicord. Him leading Gregorian chant as the cantor at early morning mass (the only time slot granted him) with about 5 parishioners. Him reading Scientific American. Him refusing to throw out 35 years worth of National Geographic. Him laughing about wonderfully silly jokes until the tears came. Him burying one of the dogs, and almost breaking his back over it. Him looking dapper in a grey suit and a pink shirt.

On Drummond: Him at his beloved Macintosh, creating the Latin font he called “Roma”. Him in boats. Him standing silently in the water, looking out. Him defending the trees against my mother’s perpetual wish for a better view of the lake. Him falling asleep over his reading. At the end, him watching the Pope on TV.

He’d converted to Roman Catholicism in 1945 when he came to Germany and saw the cathedrals and met my mother’s family, a scientist who actually believed that Mary had risen to heaven body and soul. We still know so little about what is possible, he would say. We had to get a grip on our emotions, he believed, and think logically. That was actually a huge bone of contention between us, and I studied philosophy for a year or so to try to work out where I stand with regard to the emotions.  He was interested in everything connected with learning, a big fan of Martin Gardner and reading everything to do with how the brain works, and I sometimes feel him very close when I’m working.

How I would love to meet him again and pick up where we left off.

Question: What role do elderly parents play in your life?

My mother died last week,Muff near Eastern Market, 20 July 2004 and I’m mourning and thinking back. When I decided to stay here in Germany, an ocean away, I automatically decided against sharing her day-to-day life and being there to help her with her big and small needs. Not being there has felt morally wrong, always. After all, you simply can’t “delegate” tender loving care, no matter how involved you get in your parents’ living arrangements from a distance. Two of my brothers cared for her in Washington, which is very comforting, and I spent time with her recently. But still, she wasn’t a part of my daily life. I’ve always dreamt of a utopia where all of the generations of my family and my and our friends are nearby, but reality is very different.

Can you imagine having, or are you planning to have, your parents live with you and your family? There will certainly be more of that in the next years, as retirement homes will again become a great luxury. As for me, I’d like to find group living arrangements myself, with a small group of like-minded people sharing a house, and kind-hearted professionals to take care of our physical needs. Yet another utopia?

What about you? Are you struggling with arrangements for your elderly parents? Or are you already thinking about how you will handle your own last years?

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Gertrud Berninger (written ca. 1943-5)

Das Kinderzimmer gelb und blau,
der Mann im Mond, die Nebelfrau
und rosenrote Tapeten;
zubettegehn beim Angelus
den jeder Christ beten muß,
den frühen und den späten.

Den frühen und den späten:
er ruft nicht einen Jeden,
das haben wir gelernt.
Die Nacht war mit Kometen,
mit Glanz und Glück besternt –
wer kann da Ave beten!

Die Nacht ist prasselnd ausgebrannt
zu Morgengraun und Niemandsland,
zu Asche auf unsern Zungen.
Wir wachten bis zum Angelus
den jeder Christ beten muß:
Die Glocke war zersprungen.

Die Glocken warn zersprungen
und die Erinnerungen.
Wir bauten uns ein Haus aus Leid
– kein Lied ward da gesungen –
und siedelten stumm in der stummen Zeit
in des Tityrus Niederungen.

Da schlägt die Wachtel früh am Fluß,
der schlafenden Stadt zum Überdruß,
uns aber zum Herzen, zum Herzen:
Das ist der neue Angelus
den jeder Christ beten muß
zum Dank für Schmerzen.

Off to see my mother for a week. She wrote the above undated poem towards the end of WW2.