Schubert’s crow

crow pic


As mentioned in our “About” section, Spectral Lyre is fond of poet Adam Zagajewski’s work. Zagajewski is fond of Franz Schubert’s music. We should take a look at — lend an ear to — Schubert’s music.

The 1828 song cycle Winterreise (Winter Journey) is a special thing. It’s a setting of poems by Wilhelm Müller. Dark and somber is this musical traipsing. It’s a beautiful tragedy. Should I present this cycle (one song in particular) on its face, as a kind of hymn to unrequited love and older age? Maybe Zagajewski loves Schubert’s music just for itself, without projecting himself into it. For all I know, Winterreise isn’t one of the Polish poet’s favorite Schubert works. But I think I’ll go ahead anyway and try my hand at some renegade psychology, some aesthetic confabulation of Schubert and Zagajewski.

The protagonist of the song cycle staggers forlornly through ice and snow, leaving behind his beloved who had become distant to him. Fittingly, expressively, he turns her emotional distance into a winter expanse of miles. He exiles himself, owing to life’s exigencies, from the bourne of his dreams. Along the cold path of his new way of being, he becomes friends, so to speak, with melancholy and lurking symbols of the end.



The Crow

A crow has accompanied me
Since I left the town,
Until today, as ever,
It has circled over my head.

Crow, you strange creature,
Won’t you ever leave me ?
Do you plan soon as booty
To have my carcase ?

Well, I won’t be much longer
Wandering on the road.
Crow, let me finally see
Loyalty unto the grave !

Translation by Celia A. Sgroi © 1998


Zagajewski longs for the city of Lvov. He was born there, but the family moved when he was very young. He yearns not for the present actual city but for unlived memories lingering there in lost potentia. His thoughts about Lvov are unrequited thoughts.

To Go to Lvov

Zagajewski eventually left Poland (since returned) to wander far paths of poetic life (he’s a professor at the University of Chicago). As time goes on, age becomes seasonal. Some people, who listen to Winterreise in their youth, have sufficient imagination to see themselves older and in winter’s moods. But in many of Zagajewski’s poems from recent years, I discern an aura of pending, actual mortality haunting the lines. And like Schubert’s hero, who is ecstatically reconciled to his situation, Zagajewski, in his poems, is more aesthetically intrigued than defeated by the mystery and loom of time.



 Die Krähe (The Crow)


Posted by Tim Buck


3 thoughts on “Schubert’s crow

  1. Hello Tim, I much enjoyed this post, including the music. If I’m not mistaken, this piece is in A minor, one of the most cherished (it would seem) in melancholic mode. The melody is very simple, something I always admire – how something simple can work so well. I doubt that many young people can conjure the sensation of being older, seriously appropriating the cloak or mantle of mortality. I do think that this piece holds within it an acceptance, or intrigue, as you call it, vs. defeat. For one thing, it is sung. I well understand the longing for home, be it an actual structure, or a geographical location. It’s in my blood. One might note, too, that the singer has severe physical disability, resulting from Thalidomide. So, in a way, he is an exile from “normal” life, though I cannot speak for him. My guess, however, is that he can “throw” himself into a song/poem regarding exile and longing. I don’t want to make too much of that; it can annoy. As always, I offer an opinion only. Zagajewski “handles” melancholy well. Interesting to me, in reading one of the Zagajewski essays last night (from his book “A Defense of Ardor”), joy is “coupled” with (both as opposite and integrally related) melancholy, not despair. I tend to think of joy as more dramatic than, say, happiness. So I’d have thought joy would “relate” to despair, not melancholy, which has always seemed more tempered. Also, in the essay, a question is asked: is not joy (or rapture) inherent in melancholy? Are they not always paired? Well, to me, yes and no. Part of me thinks, “well, no.” Another part says “yes, of course.” The key, the connection, is memory. If a thing is no more (exists no more), loss is a reflection of past rapture. However, I’m not sure that’s what is meant. One might ask, in a logical fashion, is melancholy embedded in joy? This would involve the same mechanism – memory, and vision (future expectation). This last, however (actually, both) then begs a question regarding optimism/pessimism as a fundamental approach to life – not approach, but perception, regarding an individual. But I think the best poets understand that we alternate, that life is not static. Zagajewski has a way of showing this, of embracing it. I would even go so far as to say that the key of the piece is important; other minor keys (to this synesthete) are darker, harder, moodier. But that’s a subject in and of itself, so I will stop here.


  2. Of course, the music does not show key of a minor (as in A minor), but so as not to seem dumb, I have checked the tones with my piano to make sure my pitch is correct, and indeed the piece is adapted to a minor (lower case is used for minor) for this singer. Nonetheless, it does make what I said about the key suspect; let’s just say that C minor is also, in my opinion, a good choice, even though C minor is, to me, more angry – possibly due to one of my favorite pieces, Rachminoff’s 2nd piano concerto, which is rather furious and dark (but also ecstatic).


  3. I was just re-reading–yesterday–Zagajewski’s poem, Franz Schubert: A Press Conference.

    ….yes, I admit I was wrong
    sometimes, how could I know
    that I was Schubert? I was in the state
    of becoming, looked for a way, a color,
    you can’t know me; only an echo.
    Yes, I was in that strait where
    suffering changes into song…

    Liked by 1 person

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