Cumming, Georgia, USA
Um Mitternacht (At midnight)
Du musst nicht die Nacht in dir verschränken
The candle burns and flickers. As the rain beats on the roof tiles, roars through the gutters, their sweet young faces return to him in his study, both together and apart as each was loved in kind.
He sits at his desk, the white sheets before him catching both flame and shadow. It's eleven-forty. Frau Rückert has long been asleep he thinks, but she has lain awake listening to the rain, the cold and steady drone of it, its raps and pattering upon the windows as if its animus sought to enter the quiet house.
The poet dips his quill and writes the words Um Mitternacht; as his tears fall, they bleed into the ink.
All day long they had avoided speaking of the date and its occasion, a pretense that in previous years was like a marble veil that could not be lifted: it had always been their way. She had spent the day in the garden pruning her autumn roses while he himself leafed through a grammar of Arabic that had arrived only that morning from Leipzig.
How many times had he heard the music of their light footsteps throughout the house, and how often had they burst into his study only to leap into his arms, his desk strewn with papers, papers he would plow aside with a sweep of his arm to grant their bright, bounding energies all the space they needed as they sat on the desk before him, the light of his life.
But now, almost midnight, the vigil is nearly over. He buries his head in his arms and weeps, and waits for the sound that will somehow grant them both a reprieve, that will set their daughters' spirits free for another year, thus ending the day they had chosen to mourn them both, for they could not bear it twice in a year's time.
He waits for the chime of the downstairs clock, as does she in a welter of folds beneath the quilt she'd embroidered with irises, her pillow soaked with tears. But the rain . . . the awful rain . . . .
will just be rising there
and for you its morning sky will seem
as if a sailor's dream had granted
this luminous world of blue
(1) German Poet, scholar and orientalist Friedrich Rückert (1788-1866) wrote over four hundred poems expressing his love and the loss of his two daughters to illness in childhood. Composer Gustav Mahler set five of these poems to music with his song cycle of 1902, the Kindertotenlieder, Songs on the Death of Children. Since the time I first heard them in my early twenties, I return to them occasionally, so that I, who have enjoyed a relatively easy life, may feel sorrow and empathy for those who have not.
(2) Du musst nicht die Nacht in dir verschränken: You must not enfold the night within you.