Death and the Maiden

Der Tod Und Das Mädchen is a classical, German song written by Franz Schubert.

Yes it is an odd choice for assignment in which we have to analyze the language of a song, especially given that I don’t speak German in the slightest. I do however sing in German, so I know how to pronounce the words (which is really all I needed).

It is a song told in two points-of-views: death and the maiden. The maiden is confronted by death and is afraid, but death greets her fear with kindness and tells her not to worry. The lyrics work to reassure the listener that death, though initially scary, is in fact not so.

Der Tod Und Das Mädchen is not only a poem for German-speakers, but also for non-German-speakers who listen to it preformed in German. Now, that makes no sense, right? One can only analyze or be swayed by language if they understand it, right?


The first section of the song goes,

Vorüber! ach, vorüber!
Geh, wilder Knochenmann!
(Roughly translated to “Go away! Go away! You wild skeleton man”)

If you look at the word “Knochenmann,” (pronounced cuh-noch-en-man). the very sound of the word sounds like rattling bones. A different word could’ve been used, but Schubert, decided to use this one, which perfectly encapsulates the expectation of death and the fear the woman must be feeling upon confrontation with death.

The switch of point of view to death can be clearly heard by the change in tone. The woman is shrill, whereas death is calm and sings mostly in “d’s.” Death sounds nearly feminine, which makes death sound much more comforting and kind. This contrast the listener hears, affirms that the expectation/fear of death is much exaggerated.

When death speaks, death says,

Gib deine Hand, du schön und zart Gebilt (Again roughly translated to “Give me your hand, you beautiful and delicate creature”)

Now this takes a little bit of German knowledge (or google translate), but if you hadn’t been won over by the kind tone, what death says is very shocking. Why is something that causes so much pain and suffering, actually warm?

The lyrics of this song were written in a time when young people died more frequently, so I believe that Schubert wrote this song to reassure the loved ones of the deceased that death is not as bad as it might seem.

Sometimes I don’t know what’s happening

From what I know, Beloved is a classic. When I pulled the red-covered book out of my bag, my mom said, “Aw man, that’s a great book.” There has been similar reactions by every single adult in my life. Now, as a relatively smart student, I tend to find the books we read in class to be a breeze.

Jane Eyre—Easy!

The Scarlet Letter—A little bit harder, but not too bad.

But I have to admit that while reading Beloved, every couple of pages I check in with myself and realize I have no idea what the hell is happening. I know Mr. Heidkamp said the flashbacks and confusing bits would start to make more sense as the story went on, but the only way I can get through this book is by reading very slowly in complete silence, waiting for Mr. Heidkamp’s explanations, and doing little check ups with sparknotes—I’m not ashamed. 

My question is, how on earth is this a classic? Yes, I understand that it is an amazingly written story, stuffed to the brim with symbolism. However, I don’t understand how so many people could read it. If I had been trying to read Beloved alone, I would have given up after the first few pages. Maybe everyone is just a much better reader than me. Or maybe only a few people truly understood what was happening in this book and everyone else just stumbled, like me, through the metaphors and symbols, pretending to know.

Don’t get me wrong, It’s an amazing book.

A Perfect, Failed Love Story

In Exit West the main characters, Saeed and Nadia fall in love. In fact they “stay together” even through the most horrific events. We as readers see their relationship flex and fray throughout the story with them not sleeping together and not showing affection. We as readers also expect them to find their love again at the end of the story. This is because we’ve been taught that happy endings should result from this type of romance.

Instead, Nadia leaves Saeed. I like this ending because it is much more realistic to life. But I also like how It was still a happy ending; Nadia falls in love with the cook and Saeed falls in love with the preacher’s daughter. In each situation, they found something in their new relationship they realized they had lacked in their previous relationship.

You do not have only one shot at love, with each romance we have, we learn what makes us happy and change our expectations for the future.

The Mormons and Existentialism

Most of my extended family belongs to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. You might know them as the annoying little white boys who show up to your home bearing a sickly sweet disposition and a bible, ready to save your soul. My family is Mormon…

Now before you jump to assumptions, let me clear some things up. I am not Mormon and neither are my mom or dad, the rest of my dad’s family is. But I know that Mormonism is a “living” religion; the president of the church supposedly talks to God every once in a while and hears His “revised” word (that’s how they flex with changing times). Mormons believe that if they do their duty on earth, they will be rewarded with a planet (yes you read that right, a planet…) to live out eternity with those they love. I think the fear of not receiving the reward by disappointing God is why they are some of the most externally kind and polite people I’ve ever met.

You’re probably thinking, Why on earth am I learning about Mormons and what does this have to do with existentialism? Well when we talk about existentialism, we refer to a lack of understanding of purpose and motivation to exist. Mormons, like many other religious groups, have a purpose. They believe they are on earth to serve God and that everything that they do in their life has meaning and culminates in a reward after death. My question is: How might I talk to my religious family about existentialism?

Let me draw up a metaphor; A researcher someday finds a cure to cancer (lets just say all cancers), and someone else, for some reason, doesn’t like or believe in that cure and continues to search for a new cure. She then gets frustrated and says The cure to cancer must not exist! She then goes to ask the cure creator, I need to find a cure for cancer, but I don’t believe in your cure. Please help me! Now the researcher does his best to convince her that the cure he found works, but is unsuccessful in winning her over. So he thinks talking to the woman is silly. Why would he talk about finding a cure, when he knows the one he has works?

Now replace cure with the meaning of life and the researcher with a Mormon. A Mormon who has found the meaning of life (to serve god), must find it ridiculous to talk to someone about an alternative or nonexistent meaning of life when they believe their religion is factual. Now of course as a not-super-religious-person, I think that much of the Mormon faith is ridiculous (no offense to anyone who believes in god defining purpose- everyone has their own beliefs), but I still want to understand the meaning of life.

In conclusion, I don’t know how to talk with a religious person about the meaning of life… If anyone knows, please tell me.

~Simone Paul

How Not to Treat an Angel.

Image result for angel stained glass

When reading A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings the biggest thing that struck me as odd was not the existence of the “angel,” but instead the reaction of the of villagers to the “angel.” I am not a member of any church, but I’ve picked up on some aspects of religion from popular culture and visits to my conservative hyper-religious family. One thing I’ve noticed is that it is encouraged to fear the Lord and his wrath.

The villagers in the story seem to have no concept of fear when it comes to dealing with the “angel.” Surely there is some unwritten rule in religion that frowns upon capturing and keeping an angel in livestock-like conditions. Also, isn’t there a a commandment that tells people to love their neighbor. I know angels aren’t our neighbors, but I would think that followers of religion would put angels on an even higher pedestal of respect. In disrespecting the angel, the villagers didn’t seem to have any fear of the wrath of the lord. This makes me question how devout the villagers truly were.

~Simone Paul