My Night with Brahms; A Poem by Schiller, Set by Brahms (Nänie, Opus 82); At the Cloisters

A Poem by Schiller, Set by Brahms (Nänie, Opus 82)

Auch ein Klaglied zu sein im Mund der Geliebten ist herrlich,
       Denn das Gemeine geht klanglos zum Orkus hinab.

Even to be a song of lamentation in the mouth of the beloved is glorious,
       For that which is common goes down to Hades unsung.

Before I had much to lament, I learned to love lamentation:
Music that went where it hurt, searing and soothing at once,
Healing a heart that hadn’t experienced real bereavement—
How did I know what it was? How did I know I would know?
With that almost unbearable gift, perception of beauty,
Came its implacable twin, premonition of loss.
Being weighty of soul but also substantial of body,
I saw there wasn’t a choice—I had to contend with both.
What renders the gods immortal, says Schiller, is weeping for mortals:
Beauty passes away. Songs of sorrow do not;
And when we conjure them up from notes recorded on paper,
Our bodies bring them to life, we savor them in our mouths—
Immortal deliciousness. After the long night, joy in the mourning.
Far worse than dying unsung is not to have tasted song.