Loreley

By Sylvia Hess: 
Translated by B. Johann-Servaty

Who has not heard the song about Loreley, who is sitting on top of the rock, combing her golden hair and sings in such a cozening way that a fisher will perish in the Rhine because he only has eyes for her and disregards the dangerous waves? Numerous fishers suffered this fate but I learnt about another story:

The beautiful damsel used to be a friend to the fishers. Often she descended from the rock when the young men cast out their nets and she showed them fruitful fishing grounds. When they followed her advice, they were always rewarded with a copious draught. The fishers were very grateful for the help of Loreley and wherever they went they spread the lore of her beauty and helpfulness and those who heard about her, told others.

Eventually the news of the beautiful young woman reached the court of the palatine and when his son heard about it, he was gripped by a deep yearning for the unbeknown maid. He did not sleep at night and finally he abandoned himself to the vision that only the sight of the beloved Loreley could restore his peace of mind. In his day dreams he already saw himself marching into the court, the belle by his side, admired and envied by everyone.

One day, when the season had just opened, he bade farewell to his father and went to Wesel to go fishing. He let his men take him down the Rhine in a small boat and came to the fishers late that afternoon. 

"Wait until the sun goes down", they advised the young count, "usually she appears on the rock around that time".

He told the boatsmen to row his boat right to the middle of the river and to stay there because he did not want to miss Loreley's arrival. And it did not take long until the sun sent magenta rays across the sky and Loreley appeared on top of the rock, sat down on the edge and began to comb her long hair. In the glow of the last sunbeams it glittered like gold. Spellbound, the young palatine gazed at the magical apparition and when the belle began to sing a lugubrious tune with her clear voice, he was lost. He ordered the boatsmen to take him to the bank and he leant far out of the boat because he could hardly await the boat to disembark. When the boat was only a few yards away from the bank he could not hold off any longer and took a jump on the embankment but he had misjudged the distance and with a scream he fell into the 
Rhine, whose dangerous flow carried him away and nobody could help him.

Soon the palatine learned about his son's fate. His soul was torn by the pain about the loss and the fury about Loreley and he assembled his best soldiers. "Catch the witch and bring her here, if dead or alive I do not care!" he told the captain.

"Then allow us to throw her into the Rhine so that she drowns in the floods just like your son", the captain suggested, "because if she is really a witch, she will easily escape from the dungeon".

The palatine agreed and the captain set out for the Loreley with a small troop. Towards evening he had the rock surrounded by his men and climbed up with his bravest fighters. They found the young woman sitting on the edge of the rock singing with her charming voice like usual. In her hands she was holding a string of amber which shone resplendent in the evening sun like liquid honey. When the petite woman saw the heavily armed men she interrupted her tune and asked them, "Whom are you looking for, you brave warriors?" "It's you we are looking for, fiendish witch" retorted the captain stepping forward. - "You shall die a miserable death so that the sound of your voice shall never deprive an innocent man of his right mind again". 

Thereupon Loreley laughed, shook her blonde mane, threw the amber string over the edge into the Rhine and sang in a mysterious melody:

"Father, come here and send your child white horses on the waves to ride"

The palatine's soldiers were awestruck - as soon as Loreley had finished the tune a mighty storm fumed over the rock like they had never seen one before in their lives. The water in the Rhine was stirred up and the river rose but the damsel stood on the abyss and laughed about the furious river. All of a sudden the crests of two huge waves rushed up to the crag, seized Loreley and carried her into the depth of the river. At this moment the captain realised that that the beautiful woman was a mermaid who could not be harmed by human power. They returned to the palatine's court to bear the news but to their utmost surprise the first person they met was the young count who had survived his fall into the Rhine because a wave had washed him up the shore a short way downstream.

Loreley, however, had vanished forever since that day. People say that she still lives on the rock which was named after her but she keeps out of sight and her voice has stopped delighting those who sail by ever since.

© Sylvia Hess  
Translations: B. Johann-Servaty, Contact: bjohann@web.de

Geschichten und Bilder rund um die Loreley

Loreley Online, Stand: 13.02.2004, Reckenthäler