We continue our journey through the novel "Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship" by Goethe, and we arrive at the 12th post of the series about its songs.
Harfer und Mignon - W. Friedrich
Harfer und Mignon - W. Friedrich
In our previous post, we left the novel at chapter 10 in book V, when Wilhelm was in his room, awake, with Philine's slippers on his hands, hesitant (which is, as you know, his natural state). Now it's the opening night of Hamlet, with Wilhelm in the leading role; the performance has been a success, all the actors have been praised and the company celebrates with a dinner party. They eat and drink (mostly drinking…), sing and dance. The harpist and the two children, Felix and Mignon, are also present at that dinner and they are given more sweet wine than it was advisable even during the 18th century. Maybe that's why Mignon clearly shows her jealousy towards any woman who approaches Wilhelm although, as usual, he doesn't realize it. He goes to bed alone, as always, but... attention everyone and especially those who suffer due to his vow of chastity!: someone gets into his bed, and this time, he can't reject his visitor. Next morning he can't remember with he spent the night with, he really drank too much... (actually, I do know who the lady was, that’s my advantage having read the novel…). In the evening, Philine asks Wilhelm not to lock his room because she wants to get her slippers back. And while Wilhelm thinks about locking or not locking the door...

... Mignon rushes into the room shouting that he house is burning down. Everybody leaves their rooms; Aurelie gives Felix over to Wilhem to put him out of danger; Wilhelm hands over the two children to the harpist and joins the men who are trying to put out the fire. But, soon, Mignon goes back again: “Master! save thy Felix! The old man is mad! He is killing him.” Wilhelm follows her and finds the child crying on the ground, the harpist leaning against the wall, both surrounded by burning bundles of straw. Mignon gets to rescue the child and Wilhelm the harpist, who flees. Mignon explains Wilhelm that the old man set fire to the straw and drew a knife against the child; Mignon confronted him and shouted for help, then she ran to meet Wilhelm. The young man is relieved when he verifies the two children are saved and sound; Besides, although the house has been destroyed, nobody was injured. Except, perhaps, the harpist, who hasn't been seen ever since the day of the fire. Wilhelm is afraid he's dead, until a couple of days later he hears him singing "the consolations of a miserable man, conscious of being on the borders of insanity". The harpist wants to run away from the city but Wilhelm doesn't allow him; he takes him to his room and there, they have a "strange conversation" that the narrator doesn’t want to disclose in order "not to afflict our readers with repeating unconnected thoughts and dolorous emotions". After the conversation Wilhelm asks Laertes (one of the actors) for help; Laertes knows a country clergyman that heals people suffering from violent attacks of melancholy. The clergyman takes the harpist with him; Wilhelm is very sorry about the separation although he knows it's necessary; before he leaves, he purchases him a new harp because his was burned during the fire.

The song of the harpist that Wilhelm hears in chapter 14 of the book V, is An die Türen will ich schleichen (Wheresoe’er my steps may lead me), the fifth and last song of that character in this novel. We are at the end of the book V and we still know nothing more than what we already knew after his first song in chapter 11 of the book II. We can only say that the harpist is a lonely person, suffering from deep sadness, tortured by some sin that will never be forgiven. We also know that he's grateful to Wilhelm for his protection, that he loves him and the children but still he wanted to leave them because he believes that misfortune pursues him: everyone around him is in danger. Now we know that the fear of hurting someone was justified, he was about to kill little Felix. Although we don't have any more songs sang by him, we'll talk again about him at the end of the novel. We will know the secret that torments him.

The last song of the harpist is performed, in the version of Robert Schumann, by the baritone Thomas E. Bauer accompanied by Uta Hielscher.
An die Türen will ich schleichen 
An die Türen will ich schleichen,
Still und sittsam will ich stehn,
Fromme Hand wird Nahrung reichen,
Und ich werde weitergehn.
Jeder wird sich glücklich scheinen,
Wenn mein Bild vor ihm erscheint,
Eine Träne wird er weinen,
Und ich weiß nicht, was er weint.
Wheresoe’er my steps may lead me,
Meekly at the door I’ll stay;
Pious hands will come to feed me,
And I’ll wander on my way.
Each will feel a touch of gladness,
When my aged form appears;
Each will shed a tear of sadness,
 Though I reck not of his tears.


(translation by Thomas Carlyle)


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