We were sailing down the Rhine and were about 18 miles north of Rudesheim when we noticed strong currents that coincided with a sudden narrowing of the river and we saw large rocks protruding between steep cliffs. Then all of a sudden we heard a melodious song from a tantalizing voice and then we saw a beautiful woman sitting on a rock, combing her long golden hair. We were entranced and we just gazed and listened and then we crashed upon the rocks, the boat’s hull was torn into shreds and we all went under the waves!
OK, that really didn’t happen. But we did cruise by the famous Loreley Rock on our way down the Rhine River on Day Four of our cruise on the Avalon Felicity from Basel to Amsterdam. It took seven minutes from our first site of the rock till we passed it and were right between the twin towns of St Goar and St Goarhausen. During those seven minutes I took a dozen pictures (only showing you eight) and Dragan, our cruise director, narrated the story of the Loreley. He also played a recording of the famous German poem that was set to music more than 150 years ago.
The Rhineland is the place where the Brothers Grimm came up with all of their stories and most people think that the Loreley was one of these old German fairy tales but that is not the case. A few years before The Grimms published their first anthology in 1812 a German writer named Clemens Brentano published the Loreley story in 1801. He probably was inspired by the poems of Ovid about the nymph Echo and her lover Narcissus but may also have been familiar with Homer’s Odyssey. Then in 1824 the German poet Heinrich Heine wrote his most famous work about the Loreley and in 1837 it was put to music by the composer Friedrich Silcher. It became one of the most popular songs in Germany in the 19th century and tourists began cruising down the middle Rhine with copies of Heine’s poem in their hands.
Several people, including Mark Twain, have translated Heine’s poem into English. Here’s how the poem starts in my favorite translation:
“I cannot explain the sadness
That’s fallen on my breast
An old, old fable haunts me
And will not let me rest”
Here’s Mark Twain’s version:
“I cannot divine what it meaneth,
This haunting nameless pain:
A tale of the bygone ages
Keeps brooding through my brain:”
The Loreley Rock stands at the narrowest and probably the most dangerous portion of the entire Rhine River and the many accidents that occurred here over the centuries most likely were the major contribution to the Loreley story. The latest major accident here was on January 3, 2011 when a barge carrying 2400 tons of sulfuric acid capsized and two crew members died.
But the Loreley was quiet when we passed and our ship cruised away peacefully toward Koblenz and we went back to counting castles until it was time for lunch.