Monday, December 2, 2013

Vivos voco...

A convoluted and amusing discussion had Brigitte writing in her diary a funny line modeled on the opening verse of Friedrich Schiller’s immortal poem, “The Song of the Bell.” We have two separate and complete “Works of Schiller” in the attic—but we now live in the latter days; thus instead of going up to fetch a volume from that these days frigid sphere, I went to get the poem, much more quickly, from the Internet. Alas.

Herewith the first verse in German and in English. The English version was produced by Margarete Münsterberg (slightly edited to bring it closer to a literal translation). The entire poem is available here (in German) and here (in English).

Fest gemauert in der Erden
Walled in fast within the earth          
Steht die Form, aus Lehm gebrannt.
Stands the form burnt out of clay.     
Heute muß die Glocke werden.
Today will give the bell its birth.
Frisch Gesellen, seid zur Hand.
Fellows, lend a hand to-day. 
Von der Stirne heiß
Sweat must trickle now                 
Rinnen muß der Schweiß,
From the burning brow,         
Soll das Werk den Meister loben!
Till the work its master praise.           
Doch der Segen kommt von oben.
‘Tho blessing comes from heaven’s blaze.

What struck us today was that the poem features a motto in Latin: Vivos voco. Mortuos plango. Fulgura frango. We’d both read this famous poem as children, later as adults. Each time new surprises await us. One of those, this time, was that motto. Translated it means: “The living I call, the dead I mourn, the lightning bolt I break.” Schiller used that motto because these words, once, were used as inscription on big bells themselves—either all three on one or one on each of three bells. The first symbolized Faith, the second Hope, the third Love. We have a case here of Schiller quoting the bell itself… The illustration, from Wikipedia (here), is the Bell called Faith in the Hoffnungskirche Berlin-Pankow. Close examination will show the words Vivos voco in the metal of this bell poured in 1913. The word above the motto is Glaube, German for Faith.

Endless discussion—perhaps a little too rich for a grey Monday morning—followed. Brigitte began with trumpets and speculated about the relationship of these two different instruments of sound in the context of religion and of culture. Eventually we came to a somewhat vague but satisfying conclusion. The trumpet, surely, was there before the bell, sounding with strident fury in the Old as well as the New Testament. And the trumpet will come again, resounding in the End Times when Revelations Seventh trumpet is finally heard. Meanwhile we have the siren. But as for the Bell, did it, perhaps, mark a geologically brief but a culturally meaningful interval when Faith was more triumphant—and raised on high—during the centuries of Christendom?

1 comment:

  1. A very nice post.
    I always like posts with Latin in them.


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