A supernatural being which appears, under various names, in the legends and tales of most Germanic peoples, is the Neck, or the Nixie, or the Nyx, or the Nykus, and I’ll stop here. They are spirits of the water, and I will most likely return to them in future posts; the one I wish to talk about now, though, is the Lorelei.
The most famous of the Nixes known as the Rhine Maidens, Lorelei is a mermaid-like creature of breathtaking beauty, who lures sailors with her enchanting voice, leading them to the perils of the rocky reefs of the Rhine. In some versions of the tale, she is uncomfortable with her beauty and regrets the deaths which it provokes; in others, she is no different from the evil sirens which attract Ulysses’s men in the Greek legend. Her name comes from the German lureln, meaning “murmur”, and the Celtic ley, meaning “rock”. There is a rock in Germany, on the eastern bank of the Rhine, which now bears this name, where Lorelei was said to sit and sing her endearing song.
Although it is a rather typical story, the legend is a beautiful one, and it has inspired many musicians, artists, and writers. Among them, Eduard Von Steinle, born in Vienna, in 1810, died in Frankfurt, 1886. A historical/Christian painter (he was part of the so-called Nazarene movement, the aim of which was a renaissance of the genuine, spiritual Christian art), he sometimes thought “screw that” and painted Shakespearean characters, or mythological ones. It was a good decision to do so, as Die Loreley (1864) has probably become his most known painting.
A rather… romantic painting, I guess, as the legend itself, after all. It is an almost hopeful, innocent image (seems like a fresh dawn, near the sea), but greatly enhanced, in my opinion, by knowing the actual legend, and wondering what could hide behind the simple picture of a beautiful woman on a rock.
Poems have also been written on this topic; the one that I should reference to is probably Heinrich Heine’s poem about the beautiful maiden with golden hair, which has become a classic (and which, most likely, inspired Steinle’s depiction as well). However, so many people know it (and everyone else can google it), so I’m going for someone more… recent instead.
by Sylvia Plath
It is no night to drown in:
A full moon, river lapsing
Black beneath bland mirror-sheen,
The blue water-mists dropping
Scrim after scrim like fishnets
Though fishermen are sleeping,
The massive castle turrets
Doubling themselves in a glass
All stillness. Yet these shapes float
Up toward me, troubling the face
Of quiet. From the nadir
They rise, their limbs ponderous
With richness, hair heavier
Than sculptured marble. They sing
Of a world more full and clear
Than can be. Sisters, your song
Bears a burden too weighty
For the whorled ear’s listening
Here, in a well-steered country,
Under a balanced ruler.
Deranging by harmony
Beyond the mundane order,
Your voices lay siege. You lodge
On the pitched reefs of nightmare,
Promising sure harborage;
By day, descant from borders
Of hebetude, from the ledge
Also of high windows. Worse
Even than your maddening
Song, your silence. At the source
Of your ice-hearted calling –
Drunkenness of the great depths.
O river, I see drifting
Deep in your flux of silver
Those great goddesses of peace.
Stone, stone, ferry me down there.
And some music
(and this post would’ve been dedicated to John, as he loves both Sylvia and ToT, but he doesn’t do enough nice things, so.)