Britta's Letters from (and sometimes about) Berlin

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

"Half she pulled him, half he sank yieldingly..."


©Brigitta Huegel


(Being always quite shocked by the translation Google offers for our Blog texts, I will try to give you a - hopefully - better version done by myself. Assuming that you are not that deeply interested in Berlin's city views and history, I shorten my German post a bit).
"Half she pulled him, half he surrendered..." (as I put it) is a quote from Johann Wolfgang v. Goethe's poem "The Fisherman" - maybe you like Karl Friedrich Curschmann's (18005 - 1841) version better: "half pulled by her and half sinking himself," he translated.  
If you look at Ernst Herter's bronze sculpture - the title is "A Rare Catch" and it was created in 1896. it stands at a little pond bank in Viktoria Park in Berlin-Kreuzberg. . .you see that in his case it might be vice & versa. (I might even call it "Partners in Grime" :-) , because the mermaid and the fisher look both lewed).
So many German poems and short stories deal with mermaids, and all the other inhabitants of water and sea. I also love Oscar Wilde's story "The Fisherman and His Soul" - where the poor infatuated young fisherman tries to get rid of his soul to be able to live with the mermaid. And of course Frederick Leighton's beautiful picture, or Arnold Böcklin's.
There are a lot of interpretations of what the mermaid might be a symbol for - very famous is Carl Gustav Jung's "Archetype" with the devouring part of mother&woman - I would like to discuss it, but two day's ago was "International Woman's Day", and so I follow Hyacinth Bucket's (pronounce: "Bouquet") advice: "Leave it, leave it, leave it..."
The mermaid, not having a soul, is the eternal seductress; brilliantly depicted in Gottfried Keller's poem "Sea Fairy Tale" (again roughly translated by me):

(...) and kissed him the Red from his lips.
Three days she had diverted herself,
On the fourth she let the dead body
Glide out of her arms.
Then she shot up to the sunny light
And looked over to the shore;
With purple she made up her white face
And sang while drawing closer to the shore.

Not the nicest way to see women. (I might even be tempted to talk about Jung's "Shadow" now).
And not a good foundation for love... but to make a sacrifice of one's soul is also not a good option. To open up the heart: YES - let him/her in. To warm the other with one's love: YES. But don't take away the air to breathe, or the water to swim in, the elements which the other person needs to exist (but you don't, and might not even understand) - they should be accepted. How many people sacrifice their friends, their originalities, their aims when the lover just whistles once... One shouldn't: otherness is (and remains) tempting.
Otherwise it might happen that our dear prince of poets, J. W. v. Goethe, hits the nail right on the head again with another line of his poem: "and never was seen again." He speaks of the poor sinking fisherman - but we might take it as a metaphor for one partner devouring the other, wanting the sacrifice of his soul - and I know quite a lot of pairs where just that has happened.



12 comments:

  1. Peter Kagan and the Wind is a beautiful tribute to the love of a mermaid for a fisherman. I think you would like it.

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    1. Dear Joanne, thank you for this great tip! Thanks to Youtube I was able to hear it - beautiful. And a very hard decision for Kagan's wife. I love the idea that in every village at the sea there is at least one person/family stemming from the seafolks.

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  2. Your message is excellent. People who love one another should be who they are and not expect each other to subjugate. The poetic illustrations are marvelous.

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    1. Dear Emma, thank you! It is so important for every person to find out who they really are - and, though love of course means compromises too, it is important to save the knowledge of who one is at the gist.

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  3. Wonderful post, with wisdom in every line--yet not without a suitable dash of whimsy, too, popping in a bon mot from Hyacinth Bucket (Bouquet, if you please, pronunciation-wise). Reading this, I'm thinking the subject of mermaids could be quite the book, a la the book on puppets I'd noted over my way. Great post!

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    1. Dear Sue, thank you! The idea of a book is a very, very enticing one (Loreley whispers her song into my open ear :-) - I really think about it (when having finished my projects I follow now). Being of a quite distractible temperament, I feel like Odysseus: bind me to a mast!

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  4. Britta: Ahh, the Meerfrau! As an archetypal literary critic, I can talk about this topic forever. Jung had it right. Opposites attract and symbolically fuse different biological entities. Symbols always represent much more than what they purport to be on the surface, and the same holds true for mermaids. Great post!

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    1. Dear JJ, thank you! I would like a long discussion with an archetypal literary critic, and am convinced that it will be very fruitful! As a wayward Taoist I see both opposites in everything - and the change.

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  5. I have a friend who was convinced, when we were children, that she would become a mermaid. Her mother had told her that one day there would 'be a change' and she was sure that the change would be gorgeous long hair and a tail. Imagine her disappointment with the real change!
    I must say, I like Curschmann's translation best!

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    1. Dear Pondside, thank you! I can imagine the disappointment of your friend - though, in the end, I think it better to walk on two legs through life :-)
      As to the translation: thank you! See: I changed the title - a compromise - I was pondering so much before, because the "sink" of Goethe's line is more visual and real - what I wanted to express in "surrender" was the willingness, the 'death' brought on by the fisherman's own fault - seduction is a minefield, and not only the work of one person alone, I think (I'm not speaking of force and rape). I'm not utterly glad with Curshmann's "half sinking himself" - gives me a strange picture before my eyes, as if he is disconnected from what he is doing - so I will choose my first version and hope it is grammatically correct.

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  6. Dear Brigitta,
    Beautiful sculpture, instructive post. However, in this excellent discussion about mermaids and fishermen, I hope no one takes offense if I confess myself hopelessly at sea.

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  7. Dear Geo., "beim Klabautermann" (ship's kobold? hobgblin?) - as enigmatic as ever, but I think I might understand what you mean and don't want to discuss. So I call out: Land, ho!

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