Songs on the Death of Children

Following the death of his children in 1832 and 1833, Friedrich Rückert wrote 428 poems about mourning. In 1904, Gustav Mahler put five of Rückert’s Kindertotenlieder (1833-1834) to music. Only a few of them have been translated from German into English. Each week until I finish, I will translate two poems a week and publish them here.
Suggestions for edits, alternative translations, or aesthetic considerations are welcome. You can read them in German here.

Luise Rückert, 1830-1833

Luise Rückert, 1830-1833

Ernst Rückert, 1829-1832

Ernst Rückert, 1829-1832


A Preface.

You – when my house, with its quiet happiness
Was enough – were the center of my songs!
You were the subjects of unimpressive material,
Writings that could not match the art they tried to describe;

You took the centerpieces of those songs and did not return them
And instead left tears in place of laughter,
And with so much force that all of the happiness in this home
Shattered like glass!

Maybe it would be better if I stopped singing;
It is no crowning achievement
To make plaintive chants.
But if I could see you, my loves, still live
In strangers’ voices, then this overwrought endeavor
Could at least give me consolation for your deaths.


Awake, light of singing,
Light of memory!
Heaven is enough for
Uneasy clouds of mourning.

My heart shouldn’t
Still be so dark.
The sun is shining outside,
And at night, we still have candles.

The sunlight makes up for
What the candle can’t do
But no other light
Can refresh my eyes.

How much longer can my heart run
Without the force of happiness
Awake, light of singing,
Light of salvation!

Watch over me, remaining energy,
Light of memory,
Until I pacify my longings,
And can fall asleep at dusk.

Week 1: 11 February 2019