Sterben werd’ ich, um zu leben!

Language learning and the pursuit of beauty

I grew up, like many Americans, in a monolingual household. My only access to foreign languages was through impersonal means. I could hear Spanish on television but I had to go to the public library to find Pimsleur cassettes in order to learn a few phrases in French and Italian.

Once at university, I met a professor whose love for languages was simply inspiring. Surprisingly he only lectured in theology. (One of the brightest linguists on campus was not asked to teach languages! It remains a mystery to me!) While we shared a love for theology, he did not share an overwhelming interest in those languages that captured my imagination at the time. He was in love with German.

My first and only previous experience with the German language consisted in a spot on the first row at the Boettcher Concert Hall at a performance of Beethoven’s Fidelio. In my youthful ignorance, I could only appreciate what seemed to be to be a tragic story sung in a harsh language. Instead of catapulting my interest in German, I left the opera that night with greater decision to pursue further study of the Romance languages.

After meeting Herr Professor Antwine, I would often visit his office to talk about the Bible, theology, ministry, and our common love for languages. For many years, Clyde would speak with me about language acquisition, the importance of grammar and the beauty of being at home in your second language. Who would have imagined that he was planting seeds that would later lead me to study German?

Gwen, Jonathan & Clyde in Caracas, Venezuela

Upon hearing Clyde’s glowing reviews of German literature, I could not deny its aesthetic qualities. Either way, I had few opportunities to read German literature or to revisit Beethoven’s only opera, Fidelio. Nevertheless, after moving to Argentina, I began reading more German theology and even German language poetry and literature.

Meister Eckhart, Friedrich Schiller, Rainer Maria Rilke, Stefan Zweig, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Bertolt Brecht, Hans Urs von Balthasar and Wolfgang Borchert, just to name a few. In all honesty, I’ve only read these authors translated into English or Spanish. Nevertheless, I hope one day to read them in the original German.

I’m thankful for the seeds that Herr Professor Antwine sowed in me so many years ago. He not only sowed seeds of love for the German language, but for all languages and he taught me how languages open our eyes to beauty in unexpected places and ways.

Today, Easter Sunday, I’ve spent some quality time with legendary composer, Gustav Mahler. (You can give yourself that luxury in quarantine.) In what I now recognize as a very beautiful and emotive language, Mahler speaks to the truth of the resurrection.

La Orquesta Sinfónica Simón Bolívar from Venezuela under the direction of Gustavo Dudamel performs Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 2. This is the symphony’s final movement.

The lyrics were written by Friedrich Klopstock and Gustav Mahler.


Aufersteh’n, ja aufersteh’n
Wirst du, Mein Staub,
Nach kurzer Ruh’!
Unsterblich Leben! Unsterblich Leben
wird der dich rief dir geben!

Wieder aufzublüh’n wirst du gesät!
Der Herr der Ernte geht
und sammelt Garben
uns ein, die starben!

O glaube, mein Herz, o glaube:
Es geht dir nichts verloren!
Dein ist, ja dein, was du gesehnt!
Dein, was du geliebt,
Was du gestritten!

O glaube
Du wardst nicht umsonst geboren!
Hast nicht umsonst gelebt, gelitten!

Was entstanden ist
Das muss vergehen!
Was vergangen, auferstehen!
Hör’ auf zu beben!
Bereite dich zu leben!

O Schmerz! Du Alldurchdringer!
Dir bin ich entrungen!
O Tod! Du Allbezwinger!
Nun bist du bezwungen!

Mit Flügeln, die ich mir errungen,
In heißem Liebesstreben,
Werd’ ich entschweben
Zum Licht, zu dem kein Aug’ gedrungen!

Sterben werd’ ich, um zu leben!
Aufersteh’n, ja aufersteh’n
wirst du, mein Herz, in einem Nu!
Was du geschlagen
zu Gott wird es dich tragen!


Rise again, yes, rise again,
Will you My dust,
After a brief rest!
Immortal life! Immortal life
Will He who called you, give you.

To bloom again were you sown!
The Lord of the harvest goes
And gathers in, like sheaves,
Us together, who died.
 
O believe, my heart, O believe:
Nothing to you is lost!
Yours is, yes yours, is what you desired
Yours, what you have loved
What you have fought for!

O believe,
You were not born for nothing!
Have not for nothing, lived, suffered!

What was created
Must perish,
What perished, rise again!
Cease from trembling!
Prepare yourself to live!

O Pain, You piercer of all things,
From you, I have been wrested!
O Death, You conqueror of all things,
Now, are you conquered!

With wings which I have won for myself,
In love’s fierce striving,
I shall soar upwards
To the light which no eye has penetrated!

Die shall I in order to live.
Rise again, yes, rise again,
Will you, my heart, in an instant!
That for which you suffered,
To God shall it carry you!


I am thankful that Clyde took time out of his busy schedule to not only encourage me to proclaim the truth of our Creator but to also see the love and beauty of Christ in its many diverse expressions.

Vielen Dank, Herr Professor Antwine.

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