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The Lorelei

I’ve been listening to Clarissa Pinkola Estés talking about creativity and telling stories (always a good idea). She talked about that time when an artist becomes utterly obsessed by his (or her) art: the work is so perfect, so beautiful, so right, that nothing else matters. The artist forgets all about food, sleep, bills, family and friends. Then one day he wakes up to find the spouse has left with the children, his health has crumbled away, the power’s been cut off and the bailiffs are battering on the door, and says, ‘I don’t know what came over me!’

What came over him, Clarissa says, is what came over the sailors who heard the Sirens. The sirens sing so beautifully and seductively that the sailors lose their minds and jump overboard. Odysseus had his men’s ears stopped with wax and himself tied to the mast so he could listen and survive – and did, since all his desperate attempts to get free of his bonds failed. Clarissa’s sirens seem to be a little like mermaids: their song convinces the sailor he can live a happy married life with them underwater, and he fully expects to be able to breathe there.

This reminds me of the Lorelei, who in Heine’s poem sits on her rock above the Rhine, singing and combing out her golden hair, so that the sailor in his little boat, seized by wild longing for her, forgets all about the rock, crashes into it and is drowned. Heine is the master of irony, and tells the story as if to say, ‘Yes, naturally it’s an absurd romantic cliche, so naturally the oblivious sailor falls for it and dies horribly – and no, I have no idea why I’m so sad.’ The last four lines:

“Ich glaube, die Wellen verschlingen
Am Ende Schiffer und Kahn,
Und das hat mit ihrem Singen,
Die Loreley getan.”

Rough translation:
“I believe the waves engulf sailor and boat in the end, and the Lorelei has done that with her singing.” Laconic, matter-of-fact: no more romantic passion here, because the passion has – naturally – just drowned.

Yijing connection? Well… you’ll recognise the powerful, seductive woman, the one where trying to possess her or marry her would be a radically bad idea:

‘Coupling, the woman is powerful.
Do not take this woman.’

Sometimes the woman of 44 seems like a Muse, and sometimes like a Siren, and sometimes like Fate. And when she is in the background to Great Exceeding (hexagram 28) and lending it direction, leading one to go beyond all bounds in Coupling… well, then she is a Siren, or the Lorelei:

‘Exceeding in wading the river, head underwater.
Pitfall.
No mistake.’

That ‘no mistake’ is an enduring puzzle: how can something be a disaster without being a mistake? I mentioned it in a previous post about ‘no mistake’. The one thing I’m sure of is that the ‘no mistake’ comes from a different perspective. For the one drowning there is a disaster; from some other point of view (identified by some brave commentators, but not by Yi) this is not a mistake.

What I’m noticing now is that not only does the Lorelei seem to be singing across the river of 28.6, but the shift in perspective offered by the line might just foreshadow Heine’s final stanza.

Die Loreley
Heinrich Heine

Ich weiß nicht, was soll es bedeuten,
Daß ich so traurig bin,
Ein Märchen aus uralten Zeiten,
Das kommt mir nicht aus dem Sinn.
Die Luft ist kühl und es dunkelt,
Und ruhig fließt der Rhein;
Der Gipfel des Berges funkelt,
Im Abendsonnenschein.

Die schönste Jungfrau sitzet
Dort oben wunderbar,
Ihr gold’nes Geschmeide blitzet,
Sie kämmt ihr goldenes Haar,
Sie kämmt es mit goldenem Kamme,
Und singt ein Lied dabei;
Das hat eine wundersame,
Gewalt’ge Melodei.

Den Schiffer im kleinen Schiffe,
Ergreift es mit wildem Weh;
Er schaut nicht die Felsenriffe,
Er schaut nur hinauf in die Höh’.
Ich glaube, die Wellen verschlingen
Am Ende Schiffer und Kahn,
Und das hat mit ihrem Singen,
Die Loreley getan.

(Translates as something like:
I don’t know what it’s supposed to mean, me being so sad. There’s a fairy tale from ancient times that I can’t get out of my head. The air is cool, it’s getting dark, the Rhine flows peacefully; the peak of the mountain gleams in the evening sunshine.

The most beautiful maiden is sitting up there, so wonderful. Her golden finery glitters, she combs her golden hair, she combs it with a golden comb as she sings a song. It has a wondrous, powerful melody.

It seizes the sailor in the little boat with a wild sorrow; he does not look at the rocky reef, he only looks up to the heights. I believe the waves engulf sailor and boat in the end, and this is what the Lorelei has done with her singing.)

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8 responses to The Lorelei

  1. Thank you for this post! This was always one of my favorite poems as a child, and now I better understand why.
    Some time back I revised 44 for myself to read “God is coming” from Isak Dinesen’s book. I didn’t like the negativity the ancients associate with women. For me, this was the re-assertion of conception, of the desire to exist in the material world and not just in the perfection of (yang) theory.
    God is coming — It wants to exist in creation, to materialize. It is the yin, the matter, the darkness re-emerging, re-asserting itself whether we like it or not. It wants to be recognized and loved and ultimately surrendered to. It is fate when we need the course of our lives to change.
    I wrote “And so the spirit and intention of Divine fate intervenes. And in the open space, through this gap in one’s plans, the greater wisdom of the Divine One can interject and influence events.” I was offended by Wilhem’s writing ‘The inferior thing seems so harmless and inviting a man delights in it; it looks so small and weak…’ seeing instead that the invitation to create is how we are made in God’s image, it’s an invitation to life — conscious life. I wrote then that those men are too afraid of life and death, and in trying to resist it in their religions and philosophies, they defy the intention of the Divine One and the path It sets for us all. It is Great Good Fortune indeed when God steps in.
    That said, I’ve been caught up for a year in love. Just the love Estes describes, and the warning is a good one, so I’m thankful for it. The modern advice is always to pursue one’s true love, one’s soul’s code, one’s reason for being — and that can only be found through love. Like an artist or our fated sailors, I believed in the power of that love, in fact fully understand and accept the absolute power of it. It is God. It’s wonderfully romantic to give up your life for love/art, but terribly impractical when you have a family to support.
    We can imagine the sailor died happy and only recognized his error, if it was an error, at the very end. It is his grief at failing to reach the object of his desire that drowns him. Love doesn’t spare him in the end, but calls him home to reunite with It. It was always perfectly appropriate in my child’s mind that he must die for his desire. To love like that is to lose yourself. I used to sit on that very rock (it’s a popular tourist attraction), looking down at the Rhine, and let the updraft blow my hair. It was a lovely sadness.
    Practical, emotionless Odysseus, hated by the gods of emotion, beloved by men, found a way around the call. In the end he made it back to the farm. I’m not sure which is the right way to go. The romantic in me prefers to surrender, the egoless part of me doesn’t need to win, the mundane me says to give it up (and feel like a failure) and go back to work, the inventor asks — Isn’t there a way to bring these two influences together successfully? It seems like there must be a creative solution to this fundamental human dilemma. Something other than 17.2 and 28.6.
    That’s my question to you. Thanks again.

  2. Funnily enough, Clarissa didn’t actually mention Odysseus at all – she said that sailors tied themselves to the mast. Not very practical… but maybe she doesn’t like Odysseus either? I don’t think this is quite fair to him, though: after all, he kept on going home because he was so determined to be with his wife. (Has anyone written an epic about Penelope’s wait? As someone certainly should.)

    As for your question… I suppose the way of integrating 44 without getting drowned/bankrupted would be somewhere round line 5, and the intersection with 50, wouldn’t it? If the ‘thing of beauty’ from heaven is actually a new constitution – a new set of principles for living. Not that it quite says what they are, of course. It seems to have a lot to do with listening (50.5) and incubating (44.5).

    Or in other words, I don’t know. You could try asking Yi, of course.

  3. contemplating about hex 28, i feel myself in a big bubble. It gives some resemblance with the next hexagram, k’an. yang-line contained at it’s sides by yin. In terms of aggregation it is a gas bubble within a stream of an other aggregation, something more liquid so to say.
    So, a situations that is only stable within rapids.
    Can the process of falling in love, the flow of a creating person, the moments of the muses, be compared with psychosis?
    Odyseus and his rowers were in the bubble, the rowers in their deafness, odysseus tied to the mast, all not responding to the honeytrap of sirens. Thanks to that psychosis a story was bred.
    A great hero must do it with some leaps of faith, dare to stand alone and step the road, dare to die, dare to give up identity. When your whole surrounding is in psychosis, and runs like a blind herd, you had better step out of that bubble. Odysseus his psychosis wist his mind, his cool brain, and his daringness to follow the plan that could be made by good thinking.
    Great exceedings, line 6. I was thinking about Mozes and the israelians whom ate from the Egyptian bounties, that hooked them so well. They escaped through a bubble in the seas.
    It is about taking risks and saying farewell to the safety nets.

  4. I wanted to end the story of the possession by an archtype, spirits and gods, much to soon. I forgot to tell about this main tool of marketeers and propagandaspecialists. Songs and images are created to make us move to atone ourself by offering to the spirits of the brand and purchase something thats makes is more part of that psychosis.
    That works very well. Even so much that mainstream humanity only reflecs on its own species, enslasves and forgets about the rest of life. That is collectively living in a bubble. Bubbles have short lives, short lived protection of illusion, an easily breaking mirror, food n’ fun for ever.

  5. one more then,
    when 28 is a bubble in a in a fast and chaotic flow, the bubble “condensates in 29, unless the situation from 28 has changed in one of the possible forking points:
    line 1; be aware of your protective shell, it is fragile. Odysseus took great care to make shore his fellow sailors tied him well and sure to the mast. Taking care, very yin.
    line 2; yang energy, the formation of the calling, go with the new and young to have enough energy to make it to the end. resonate with the song, feel it in your body, in your guts. Take some flooding for granted, you come out, an ordeal will pass, the deaf rowers row.
    line 3; so much energy that you feel like bursting- keep cool now, watch out, one move could be to much, to much energy will drain you, might come to explosion when contained in a shell. Give in to energetic move and the bubble will break.
    line four; bubble rising, now you must apply energy to maintain the structure, the shell. The men must row without hesitation to save the situation, like good ministers executing the plan of the hero.
    line 5; The hero doesn’t realize yet that he is through, her song getting edges of loss and despair and loosing the momentum of enchantment.
    line 6; Odysseus only regained his sanity because he gave up sanity: only by preparing himself well he could listen to the sirens and loose his mind, give up his identity, go under in the possession, experience the calling, and later report us about, n0w, some 2900 hundred years later.
    Her took a risk.

  6. Bert, this is wonderful, thank you.

    I like 28 as bubble very, very much – frail, defying gravity for a moment, held in unsustainable tension, always going to burst. And it’s a perfect mirror to the image of 27 as egg or pupa.

    And you’ve found another kind of dual perspective for 28.6! The poet says ‘Not a mistake.’ Of course.

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