German Poetry I - Friedrich Schiller - Nänie

Friedrich Schiller (1759–1805 AD)

Also Beauty must perish! What gods and humanity conquers,
Moves not the armored breast of the Stygian Zeus.
Only once did love come to soften the Lord of the Shadows,
And at the threshold at last, sternly he took back his gift.
Nor can Aphrodite assuage the wounds of the youngster,
That in his delicate form the boar had savagely torn.
Nor can rescue the hero divine his undying mother,
When, at the Scaean gate now falling, his fate he fulfills.
But she ascends from the sea with all the daughters of Nereus,
And she raises a plaint here for her glorified son.
See now, the gods, they are weeping, the goddesses all weeping also,
That the beauteous must fade, that the most perfect one dies.
But to be a lament on the lips of the loved one is glorious,
For the prosaic goes toneless to Orcus below.

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
Nanie, Op. 82
Nenia: A dirge of lamentation and praise of a deceased person, sung to a flute accompaniment by a hired mourner. Named for Nenia, the goddess of funerary lamentation. One of the least known of Brahms' major works, Nanie, from the Greek word nenia, is a "song of lamentation." His inspiration for this composition, written for orchestra and four-part mixed chorus, was the poem by Johann Freidrich von Schiller, a lament that "Even Beauty must die." The text was fitting as Nanie was composed to memorialize Brahms' friend, the painter Anselm Feuerbach. Not being a religious man, the test of the poem was secular enough for what Brahms was trying to impart through Nanie...that is the transitory nature of all things - life, love, beauty and heroic glory. Instead of presenting this concept as being gloomy, Brahms chose, instead, to make it serene.

From the 12.6.10 Entry of the Tempe Symphony Orchestra.

Nänie, or in English Nenia, was the Greek goddess of funerary lamentation. Her name has also come to mean a dirge of lamentation and praise of a deceased person, sung to a flute accompaniment by a hired mourner. Schiller's poem is yet another example of a poetic treatment of the paradox of mortality, or if you prefer, the paradox of immortality.
- The Power of Irony: Brahms' setting of Schiller's "Nänie"