The Parable of the Lorelei

“Do not let your eye be drawn by the false beacon lamps of wealth, or position, or fame, or possessions. Be vigilant over your will and desires, for these are the corrupt forces that dwell within, and keep you from living free.” - John of the Cross

A short time ago, I met a woman named Loralai (pronounced: “Laura-Lie”). We had a most wonderful conversation. While we were talking, I happened to comment on the beautiful sound of her name and asked about its origin. She proceeded to tell me it meant “River of Doom.” Intrigued by such a unique meaning, I asked her to continue.

She began telling me of the Rhine River and Loreley Rock which marks one of its most well-known and dangerous sections. As legend tells the story, a mermaid once lived on the very top of the rock. Through the fog, her seductive song would lure sailors to abandon ship in search of her… always resulting in their doom. Even those sailors who remained with the ship would become so enchanted with her song, they would often lose sight of the water and be washed ashore upon the rocks.

Loralai ended the conversation by saying, “And that’s why you just don’t hear the name very often.” But the legend of the Lorelei had me hooked. The metaphor for life was so apparent I could not shake it from my mind. I meditated on the story for the rest of our time together and on into the evening… little did I know the most well-known poem about the Lorelei begins with a similar thought about its seductive nature, “The legend haunts me and will not depart.

Here is the full English translation of the German poem by Heinrich Heine, 1824.

The Lorelei
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

I know not if there is a reason
Why I am so sad at heart.
A legend of bygone ages
Haunts me and will not depart.

The air is cool under nightfall.
The calm Rhine courses its way.
The peak of the mountain is sparkling
With evening’s final ray.

The fairest of maidens is sitting
Unwittingly wondrous up there,
Her golden jewels are shining,
She’s combing her golden hair.

The comb she holds is golden,
She sings a song as well
Whose melody binds an enthralling
And overpowering spell.

In his little boat, the boatman
Is seized with a savage woe,
He’d rather look up at the mountain
Than down at the rocks below.

I think that the waves will devour
The boatman and boat as one;
And this by her song’s sheer power
Fair Lorelei has done.

To me, this poem serves as a metaphor and an enchanting reminder of the trappings of this world. This world can indeed be very seductive. And many have been caught up in its offerings, its temptations, and its passions for power. The world, its riches, and its fleeting pleasures call for our attention from mountaintops all around us. And often times in our zeal to achieve them, we lose sight of the very hazards before us.

We were designed to live for far greater pursuits than the passions of this world. And with that as the metaphor, may the legend of the Lorelei always haunt our affections.

***

It’s been a busy several months here at Becoming Minimalist.

If you missed any of our newly released endeavors, take a minute to check them out. We’re very excited about the future of Becoming Minimalist. And we look forward to having you on-board with us.

Image: Cat Sidh

Joshua Becker

About Joshua Becker

Writer. Inspiring others to live more by owning less.
Bestselling author of Simplify & Clutterfree with Kids.

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Comments

  1. says

    The legend of Lorelei is very reminiscent of the far more ancient story of the sirens that Odysseus encountered on his return from Troy. More importantly, we get too caught up in the Old Testament values of money, power, title and pleasure. If you had any of these, you were blessed by God. Christ turned that on its head, although most people still are drawn to it like sailors to Lorelei or Odysseus to the sirens. It is the diminutive Mother Teresa who reminds us in her incomparably simple but pure wisdom, “Whoever is dependent upon his or her money, or worries about it is truly a poor person. If that person places his or her money at the service of others, then the person becomes rich, very rich indeed.”

  2. says

    I couldn’t agree more with your interpretation of the legend and the poem. To easily in life we are influenced and swayed by “wants” and “desires”. They detract us from our intentions, goals, and dreams. If we are not careful we may lose focus and fall victim and let them control our lives. Thank you for sharing your meeting with us!

  3. Sarah (Belgium) says

    This legend and poem are standard material in German lessons here, I studied it when I was in high school. And of course, these kind of legends (just as Greek and Roman myths or other folk tales) bear powerful moral lessons. Nice to be reminded of my high school time and this beautiful poem.

    • says

      I hadn’t heard the story prior to my conversation. But upon looking it up that evening when I got home, I found numerous references to it from a number of folklore and popular culture sources. When I realized that, I couldn’t wait to give the story a broader platform. It is quite enchanting really.

  4. says

    I had not heard about the legend of the loralei before, and I’m glad you shared it here. IT really is a nudge to get us to focus on higher pursuits than just what we see around us.

    (Many of your readers will probably smile at your mention of Loralei if they’re as much a Gilmore Girls fan as I am.)

  5. says

    Thank you for sharing this. It was a welcome read heading in to the weekend, and a reminder to not be too tempted by the world around me, lest I find myself washed ashore upon the rocks.

  6. Quynh Nguyen says

    Kind of off-topic, but there is a song by The Pogues called “Lorelei” that I find really beautiful. It’s the song that introduced me to this legend. I’d definitely recommend a listen.

  7. Gary says

    My father, a German immigrant to the United States, was a carpenter working for a man who owned land in a very hilly area of NJ. The local township inspector arrived one day and asked the landowner if he had any suggestions for the as yet un-named road on which the homes were being built. My father suggested Lorelei Rd. because it reminded him of the Lorelei Rock in the Rhine River, and so it was named. I grew up in one of the homes that my father built on this same road and his memory and this story will always be part of me.

    • says

      That’s a great story Gary. While I was not familiar with this legend prior to my conversation, I knew the re-telling of it would spark a number of memories among people who already knew it. But yours is definitely the most unique thus far.

  8. says

    I’ve heard this story in some fashion NOT too long ago. What I find interesting is that here it pops up again, making me lean a bit closer and listen to it.

    Having come to this simpler and more minimalist Life only recently, I have had some “revelations” about how I was THEN and how I AM [and am BEcoming] NOW. There is definitely much “seduction” in Life As I Know It, to HAVE this, to DO that, to BE something usually MORE…

    How then can I so easily walk this new path? How is it that the temptations just have up and left me?! This is a good problem to have, I know, yet I am completely undone by it sometimes.

    Thank you so much for this post and your others, which I read with great delight. I thought that today might BE a good time to say so, “out loud” and directly!

    Thank You, Joshua!!

  9. Brett says

    My favourite song about Lorelie is “When Mermaids Cry”, by Eagle Eye Cherry on his Desireless album. Which, thinking about it now, is a pretty cool album title to type on a site about desiring less.

  10. Lorelei says

    Hello, I like your post. Lorelei was wise and the sailors and knights and princes were foolish, following after the lusts of their eyes. If they were wise they would of asked her the meaning of her song. Story mentions the beauty that was in her eyes and in the Bible the eyes are the windows to the soul. Her beauty was inner beauty radiating from within. Lorelei does not mean ‘river of doom’ it means ‘murmuring rock’ referring to the echo’s surrounding the rock. Because I bear the name and I’m born again christian, I have another parabolic meaning to the stories. The rock that I’m on is the Lord and because I seek his kingdom and wisdom he rewards me with his spiritual treasures. I do sing about distress and destruction because I’m lamenting for this world and because of the prophecies of his word. The fishermen are peter or the hardened church who are offended by the message of the cross. They want peace but the Lord came with a sword. It’s the Lord who controls the wind and the waves obey him. If a man dies it’s because of the will of the Father.

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