“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.
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.
- We released a new book for high school students, college students, and young adults.
- We launched a brand-new avenue to book Joshua for public speaking events (conferences, colleges, churches, schools, workshops, etc.)
- We started a newsletter aimed at intentionally promoting the message of minimalism.
- We have put together a SXSW presentation on minimalism and entrepreneurship. For which, we’d love your vote.
Image: Cat Sidh
Michael Scuffil says
The poem itself is doggerel; the bad rhymes, the repetitions, the hackneyed images. It wouldn’t get past round one in a school poetry competition. BUT it is by Heine, a respectable literary figure, well known for his sense of irony. So: was he just trying to see what nonsense he could get away with? I don’t think so. This poem has a sting in the tale (which is never noticed by the Germans when they sing it, because the tune gets the stress wrong). The last two lines are very bitter: ‘And THAT’s what she’s done, the Lorelei, with her singing.’ (Spits on floor.)
We have to look further. Heine was Jewish, though fairly assimilated. The ‘Schiffer’ in the poem represents the Jew, the man without a fixed home (a stock image of the Jew). The Lorelei is the beautiful blonde German. She ‘encourages’ the Jew to assimilate, giving him the come-on, but in the process lures him on to the rocks. Her invitation is false.
Michael Scuffil says
I meant, of course, sting in the TAIL. (But there’s a sting in the tale too!)
OMG! LORELAI IS MY NAME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Lorelei Skilton says
Mine is Lorelei :)
One of my fav legends. :3 But she was a fisherman’s daughter, a human, not a mermaid. :D her beloved left her bcz of his evil greedy mother and her father did not accept her anymore. She decided to be drowned in a river, but god of Rhine stopped her. He cursed her songs and made her forget abt beloved man. He told that once she sheds a tear-she will die. After some time her knight found his Lorelei, she recognized him and started cry. They both died in the river and god’s castle has ruined.
Lorelai Monticelli says
Hi, where did you find this story may I ask? Thank you
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.
This is long after the blog was written but I just read it for the first time. First, let me address Lorelei. “River of Doom” was how a babies name book defined the name. That is why I said is it any wonder no one names their child Lorelei. I enjoyed reading all of the comments regarding Lorelei. Joshua, we learned the poem in song when I was in high school German. I truly enjoyed reading everyone’s thoughts about the name but I especially loved the naming of the road, Lorelei road.
Caelin Christante says
One day soon, males will learn that a female is the type and shadow of the holy spirit. And the Lord sings an entrancing melody of love.
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.