lenau

A manuscript of Mendelssohn’s Schiflied (Reed Song), from his Op. 71. Mendelssohn and his wife Cécile spent the winter of 1844-5 in the Frankfurt area, where Cécile had been born. While there Mendelssohn made a copy of a song he had composed in 1842: Schilflied (Reed Song), which sets to music words by Nikolaus Lenau. Not only did he write it out in his best hand, he also illustrated it with a meticulous watercolour which depicts the song’s opening line: ‘On the lake’s unruffled surface rests the moon’s fair beam.’ It was a present for his friend Henrietta Keyl, the wife of a Frankfurt wine merchant.

Favorite German Words

Weltschmerz = literally world pain, which can be understood as universal pain, world weariness, or melancholia.

A feeling of things in the world being so wrong that they can never be fixed. It’s a term coined by the German author Jean Paul aka Johann Paul Friedrich Richter (1763-1825), who was a Romantic writer, best known for his humorous novels and stories. It’s a kind of feeling experienced by someone who understands that physical reality can never satisfy the demands of the mind. This kind of world view was widespread among romantic authors such as Lord Byron, Giacomo Leopardi, François-René de Chateaubriand, Alfred de Musset, Nikolaus Lenau, Hermann Hesse, and Heinrich Heine. It is also used to denote the feeling of anxiety caused by the ills of the world. The modern meaning of Weltschmerz is the psychological pain caused by sadness that can occur when realizing that someone’s own weaknesses are caused by the inappropriateness and cruelty of the world and physical and social circumstances. Weltschmerz may cause depression, resignation, escapism, and can become a problem. The modern meaning should also be compared with the concept of anomie, or a kind of alienation, that Émile Durkheim wrote about. John Steinbeck wrote about the feeling in The Winter of Our Discontent. In music, Weltschmerz, and especially dark romanticism play an important part in Goth rock. Kurt Vonnegut also references this feeling in his novel Player Piano. 

Weltschmerz is the depression you feel when the world as it is does not line up with the world as you think it should be.