This was a day of cruising, winding our way up the Rhine. Besides the restaurant on the second level, the Embla has a casual setting for lunch and afternoon snacks on the bow, third deck. It’s open so you can sit in sun or shade or air-conditioning. It was about 80 degrees under clear skies so some people sunbathed in chairs, others read, talked, laughed, sipped drinks.
Green hills, green trees, green vineyards looking neatly raked or braided. Amphitheaters of homes nestled into hills along the shore, hostels and gardens and half-timbering and gables and frowning fortresses and white-washed churches and unseen lives.
The big rock, Lorelei, loomed to port where the river narrowed. It is “the most famous feature of the Rhine Gorge” (Wikipedia), which adds, “A very strong current and rocks below the waterline have caused many boat accidents there.” This has given rise over the centuries to legend and song.
Jerry had learned the best known one, Die Lorelei (by Heinrich Heinde, 1824) in German class 50 years ago and he still remembers it. He told Michael he was willing to sing it (in his marvelous baritone) but Activities Director Michael opted to play a version recorded by a woman. So as we sailed by the rock we heard the voice of a woman singing but she was not singing the song the mermaids sang, just a song about that song. I thought it would be more appropriate for a man to sing about a lovely maiden enticing men to their deaths–but I was probably just feeling slighted for Jerry’s sake.
1. Ich weiß nicht, was soll es bedeuten,
Daß ich so traurig bin,
Ein Märchen aus uralten Zeiten,
Das kommt mir nicht aus dem Sinn.
The air is cool in the gloaming
And gently flows the Rhine.
The crest of the mountain is gleaming
In fading rays of sunshine.
2. The loveliest maiden is sitting
Up there, so wondrously fair;
Her golden jewelry is glist’ning;
She combs her golden hair.
She combs with a gilded comb, preening,
And sings a song, passing time.
It has a most wondrous, appealing
And pow’rful melodic rhyme.
“I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.
“I do not think that they will sing to me.
“I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.
“We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.”
Wait, that’s from The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T.S. Eliot.
Oh, well, close enough. “Dulcet-voiced” woman sings, sailor is distracted, “enraptured with wild ache,” waves “devour both boat and man.” So, what’s new?
Lorelei, seemingly uninhabited and innocuous, overhung us briefly as we slipped past along deep, smooth waters. Despite its reputation our passage through the narrow gorge was uneventful.
That evening we left the Rhine and started up the Main River. We sailed through the night and the following morning to Miltenberg.