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A favorite story of Walter Benjamin. It gets mentioned in the correspondence of Benjamin and Adorno by Benjamin and the locus classicus on forgetting. Post a Comment. In a district in the Harz Mountains lived a knight who by custom was called simply Eckbert the Blond. He was about forty years old, of barely average stature, and his pale, gaunt face was covered by a smooth, thick, ash-blond beard.
His wife loved solitude just as much as he did, and the two of them seemed sincerely to love each other, although they were wont to lament that heaven had not seen fit to bless their union with any children. Eckbert was then merry and cheerful only when he was alone; others observed in him a certain reticence, a silent and reserved kind of melancholy.
Eckbert often accompanied him on his solitary walks, and over the years an intimate friendship between the two men came into being. There are hours when it makes a person uneasy to think that he is keeping a secret from his friend, a secret that he has taken great pains to conceal until then; the soul then feels an irresistible urge to unbosom itself completely, to communicate its innermost core to the friend, in the hope that he will become all the more our friend as a result.
One misty early autumn evening, Eckbert was sitting with his friend and his wife Bertha before a roaring hearth-fire. The flames filled the room with bright light and played on the ceiling, pitch-black night peered in at the windows, and outside the cold, damp air set the trees shaking.
Walther repined at the long walk home he had to look forward to, and Eckbert proposed that he should stay over: the first half of the night he could spend in continued familiar conversation, and afterwards he could sleep until morning in one of the spare rooms in the house.
It was just after midnight; the moon could be glimpsed only intermittently through the clouds that fluttered past it. But do not take my story for a fairy tale, however strange it may sound to you. My parents were not the most provident of housekeepers, and very often they did not know where our next loaf of bread was to come from.
But what distressed me much more than our poverty was the fact that my father and my mother would often quarrel over it and would then hurl the bitterest reproaches at each other. The rest of the time I would hear them incessantly saying of me that I was a simple, stupid child who was incapable of carrying out the most insignificant tasks, and who was in fact ridiculously clumsy and utterly incompetent, that I dropped everything that came into my hands, that I had learnt neither to sew nor to spin, that I was of no use whatsoever around the house; but I understood very clearly what dire straits my parents were in.
And so I would often sit in a corner and flood my imagination with fantasies of how I would help them if I suddenly became rich, how I would pour gold and silver by the bagful into their laps, and feast my eyes on their astonishment; then I would see spirits soaring up from beneath the floor and revealing to me the hiding places of secret subterranean treasure hordes, or handing me tiny pebbles that instantly metamorphosed into precious stones; in short, my mind was kept constantly busy by the most marvelous imaginings, and when filial duty required me to rise from my seat in order to lend a hand in doing or carrying something, I would perform the job all the more ineptly on account of the giddiness I was suffering thanks to all those curious visions swimming round in my head.
By then I was about eight years old, and serious plans to force me to do or learn something worthwhile were afoot.
My father thought it was mere stubbornness or laziness on my part that made me while away my days so idly; he laid into me with the most indescribable threats, and when these proved ineffective, he began to beat me unmercifully, saying as he did so that he would repeat this punishment every day until I stopped being such an utterly useless creature.
I dreaded the arrival of dawn; I had absolutely no notion of what it was I was supposed to start doing; I longed to be really skilled at doing something and could not fathom why I was so much more simple-minded than the other children I knew.
I was on the brink of total despair. I kept on running, with my eyes fixed straight ahead all the while; I did not allow myself to feel a trace of fatigue, for I thought there was a very good chance that my father would catch up with me, and that in his anger at my flight he would treat me more horribly than ever before.
Soon I was forced to scramble up and over several hills, then to follow a meandering pathway through some rocky crags, and at that point I surmised that I had to be somewhere on that nearby mountain, and in my solitude I began to feel truly terrified.
I did not have the heart to turn back, my fear drove me onwards; I often looked around in alarm when the wind streamed over my head as it passed through the trees, or the sound of an axe-blow struck by some faraway woodcutter broke the matutinal silence. And when at length colliers and mineworkers began crossing my path, and I heard them speaking in a strange accent, I very nearly fainted for sheer horror.
I had been traveling in a single direction for about four days when I strayed on to a small footpath that carried me farther and farther away from the main road. By then the surrounding rock formations had assumed a different and altogether more peculiar shape. They were cliffs that were piled on top of each other so haphazardly that it looked as though they could be overturned and scattered by a single gust of wind. I could not make up my mind whether or not to press on. I was utterly inconsolable; I wept and wailed, and in those cliff-lined valleys the echo of my own sobs took on a strange and horrifying timbre.
Then night fell, and I found myself a patch of mossy ground to sleep on. But I could not fall asleep; all night long I heard the strangest sounds, which I alternately fancied were the cries of wild beasts, the plangent whistling of the wind among the cliff-faces, and the cawings of exotic birds.
I took refuge in prayer, and I finally dozed off only just before dawn. Directly in front of me stood a steep rock face that I started scaling in the hope of descrying from its summit a path leading out of this wild country, and perhaps even catching sight of some houses or people. I cannot describe to you how ardently I yearned even to catch a glimpse of a single human being, even one whose appearance portended nothing but danger to me.
At the same time I was tormented by agonizing hunger pangs; I sat down on the bare ground and resolved to die. But by and by my delight in living got the upper hand of this resolution; I pulled myself together and amid much stifled sighing set off again and continued walking for the rest of the day; eventually, I almost lost consciousness; I was weary and exhausted; I scarcely cared to continue living, and yet I dreaded death.
I now fancied I could hear the roaring of a mill in the distance, I doubled my paces, and to my immense relief and contentment, I soon found myself at the undeniably actual limit of the craggy wasteland; ahead I could once again behold nothing but fields and woodlands and gently rising distant hills.
I felt as though I had just stepped out of hell and into paradise, and I no longer found my solitude and my helplessness frightening in the least. Never before had I been so overcome with pleasure as at that moment; I drew nearer to the coughing, and in a corner of the woods I caught sight of an old woman who seemed to be resting from some strenuous activity. She was dressed almost entirely in black, and a black cowl covered her head and a large portion of her face; in her hand she held a walking stick.
While I was eating she sang a sacred song with a harsh and shrill intonation. When she had concluded she told me I could follow her if I wished. Thanks to her walking stick she moved fairly fleetly, and with each step she took her face contorted into a grimace that was so odd-looking that at first I could not help laughing at it.
The craggy wilderness receded ever farther behind us; we traversed a fair meadow, and then a fairly lengthy stretch of woods. As we emerged from these woods, the sun was just setting, and I shall never forget the way things looked and the way I felt that evening.
Everything had melted together into a single incomparably soothing mixture of red and gold; from top to root the trees stood bathed in the roseate glow of the evening twilight, in its cloudless purity the sky resembled a newly unlocked paradise, and from time to time the exuberant silence was broken by the wistfully joyous rippling of the springs and rustling of the trees.
My young soul was now vouchsafed its first intimation of the wider world and the things that went on in it. I forgot about myself and my conductress; I had a mind and eyes only for thoughts and images of golden clouds.
A high-spirited yapping sound was drawing ever nearer to us, and by and by a small fleet-footed dog appeared and lunged at the old woman while wagging his tail; then he came up to me, inspected me from all sides, and returned with an ingratiating mien to the old woman. I joy to abide. Through tide after tide.
To infinitude. What joy to abide. Sylvan solitude. Dusk had already begun to set in; everything was neat and tidy throughout the little house; a set of shelves held several ordinary goblets; on a table stood vessels of a more exotic make; in a lustrous metal cage hanging by the window was perched a bird—the very bird that had been singing the words quoted above.
The old woman coughed and wheezed, she seemed quite unable to catch her breath; one minute she would pet the little dog, the next she would talk to the bird, which replied to her by singing its usual song—and incidentally, all this while she acted as though I simply were not present.
I shuddered more than once as I stood there contemplating her, for her face was in such constant and violent motion—motion to which the palsy of old age seemed to contribute—that I found it literally impossible to discover what she actually looked like. Now she took notice of me, and signed to me to take a seat in one of the wickerwork chairs at the tableside. She folded her bony hands and said grace in a loud voice, all the while putting her face through its characteristic round of contortions, such that I once again could hardly refrain from laughing; but I took especial care to retain my composure for fear of making her angry.
I was required to spin thread, which I soon figured out how to do; in addition I had to look after the dog and the bird. I quickly learned to find my way about the house, and got to know all the objects that surrounded me; it now seemed to me as though everything had always been the way it was; it no longer occurred to me that there was anything particularly strange about the old woman, that the house was fantastically situated and remote from other human dwellings, that there was anything even slightly out of the ordinary about a bird that could sing actual words.
Not that I ever failed to be struck anew by its beauty, for its feathers shone with every conceivable color; its throat and torso alternated between the loveliest sky blue and the most incandescent red, and whenever it sang, it would proudly puff itself up to a prodigious size that accentuated the splendor of its plumage.
In the evening hours she taught me to read; I picked up this skill very readily, and it subsequently became an endless source of enjoyment for me in my solitude, for the old woman owned several books written a long, long time ago—books full of marvelous stories.
I have never since been able to recall the very odd name of the dog, although at the time I called it by it constantly. I had long ago noticed that the woman was always rummaging through the cage in a secretive manner, but I had never thought to ask myself exactly why she was doing this. She now entrusted me with the task of collecting these eggs during her absences and stowing them securely in the above-mentioned exotic vessels.
She now left me to feed myself and stayed away for longer intervals—weeks and months; my little spinning-wheel whirred, the dog yapped, the marvelous bird sang, and at the same time everything outside the house was incredibly still and quiet; indeed, I cannot recall a single windstorm or thunderstorm passing through the area during the entire period I lived there. Human beings would perhaps be truly happy if they were allowed to live out their lives in such a fashion.
I had even read a little bit about love, and in my imagination I now began playing curious little storytelling games with myself. I pictured to myself the handsomest knight in the world; I adorned him with every excellence without really knowing whether or not he appreciated my pains; but I could always enjoy feeling heartily sorry for myself whenever I supposed him not reciprocating my love; on such occasions, I delivered lengthy and moving speeches, mostly silently to myself, occasionally aloud and quite loudly —speeches aimed at winning his heart.
You are both smiling! Well, admittedly it has been a very long time since any of us was young. The dog loved me immensely and did everything I wished him to do, the bird replied to all my questions by singing its song, my little spinning wheel kept merrily spinning and spinning, and so I basically never felt the slightest whisper of a desire for anything to change. When the old woman returned from her extensive wanderings, she praised my attentiveness to my duties; she said that the house had gotten much tidier since I had taken charge of it; she exulted over how tall I had grown and how healthy I looked—in short, she carried on about me every bit as enthusiastically as if I really were her daughter.
This suspicion soon sharpened into a conviction. No matter how hard I tried, I could not manage to make the slightest sense of her words. I now knew full well that as soon as the old woman left again I would be able to carry off the bird and the treasure and explore the world that I had read so much about. Moreover, I thought that out there I might possibly encounter the supremely handsome knight who continued perpetually to haunt my daydreams. After having thus completely forgotten myself, I often became very sad upon looking up and finding myself still sitting in that pokey little cottage.
What was more, after I finished my chores, the old woman would completely cease to take any notice of my existence. As I was saying goodbye to her I felt somewhat uneasy, for I sensed that I would never see her again.
The old woman had been gone a good few days when I rose from bed firmly resolved to leave the cottage with the bird in hand and to explore the so-called world.
I felt stifled and hemmed in; I wanted to stay where I was, and yet the very idea of doing so was anathema to me; I felt as though two rebellious spirits were waging some bizarre war with each other inside me. One minute the placidity of solitude struck me as unsurpassably beautiful; the next I was again smitten by my imaginings of an entirely new world and all its manifold wonders.
The dog cringed and whimpered in face of this unwontedly harsh treatment; he gazed at me with supplicating eyes, but I was afraid of what might happen if I took him with me. Still, I took one of the urns filled with precious stones and stuffed it into my pocket; the rest I left on the table. The dog began yapping and whimpering uninterruptedly, and I was deeply and sincerely moved by its plaint; the bird made a few attempts to start singing, but then it fell solemnly silent; it must have found singing irksome.
I wept and was almost on the point of turning back, but my yearning to see something new impelled me to keep going. I entered the local inn very warily; I was shown to a room and a bed; I slept fairly peacefully, although I dreamt of nothing but the old woman, who menaced me with threats.
So I continued walking amid many sighs and tears; whenever I stopped to rest and set the cage on the ground, the bird would sing its curious song, and I would quite vividly remember the lovely little domicile that I had left behind. As human nature is forgetful, I now fancied that the journey I had undertaken as a child had been less dispiriting than the one I was undertaking now; I yearned to be following the old path again. The moment I set foot in it I felt the strangest sensation; I was terrified and did not know why, but I soon realized it was because this was the very village in which I had been born.
How overwhelmed I was! How violently my cheeks were inundated with tears elicited by a thousand eldritch memories! Much had changed; several new houses had sprung up, while others that had only just been built when I left were now badly dilapidated; I even noticed a few fire-gutted ruins; everything was much smaller, much more crowded together, than I had expected.
I was overjoyed at the prospect of seeing my parents again after so many years; I located the little house, with its instantly recognizable front doorstep; even the door-handle was exactly the same as it had been before; I felt as though I had last let go of it only yesterday; my heart was throbbing violently; I flung open the door only to behold a roomful of unfamiliar faces staring at me in mute incomprehension.
I asked where Martin the shepherd was, and I was told that he and his wife had both been dead for three years.
Der blonde Eckbert / Der Runenberg
Quick Links:. The Importance of Ambiguity in "Der blonde Eckbert". In Tieck's hands, however, the combination of these two fairly straightforward forms takes on a life of its own, confronting the reader with an astounding depth and intricacy: the interweaving of both mundane and fantastic, even demonic occurrences, the emphasis on psychology and subjectivity, and the insistence on unresolved ambiguities leave the reader at once frustrated and intrigued -- and open up nearly endless avenues for interpretation. Tieck's "Der blonde Eckbert," published in , is a classic example of this genre in early Romantic writing, incorporating representative philosophical as well as literary tendencies.
Der blonde Eckbert
In a district of the Harz dwelt a Knight, whose common designation in that quarter was the Fair-haired Eckbert. He was about forty years of age, scarcely of middle stature, and short light-coloured locks lay close and sleek round his pale and sunken countenance. He led a retired life, had never interfered in the feuds of his neighbours; indeed, beyond the outer wall of his castle he was seldom to be seen. His wife loved solitude as much as he; both seemed heartily attached to one another; only now and then they would lament that Heaven had not blessed their marriage with children. Few came to visit Eckbert; and when guests did happen to be with him, their presence made but little alteration in his customary way of life.
Der Blonde Eckbert
Events start suspiciously, and soon go from bad to worse. This is one of the most haunting texts that German literature has to offer. It shows how desire and fear can be interlinked: Bertha and Eckbert are torn between the desire for friendship and the fear of intimacy. The narrative technique remains tied to the perspectives of Eckbert and Bertha: since they are both unreliable and confused witnesses, it becomes virtually impossible to distinguish between reality and delusion.
Eckbert the Blond
A favorite story of Walter Benjamin. It gets mentioned in the correspondence of Benjamin and Adorno by Benjamin and the locus classicus on forgetting. Post a Comment. In a district in the Harz Mountains lived a knight who by custom was called simply Eckbert the Blond. He was about forty years old, of barely average stature, and his pale, gaunt face was covered by a smooth, thick, ash-blond beard. His wife loved solitude just as much as he did, and the two of them seemed sincerely to love each other, although they were wont to lament that heaven had not seen fit to bless their union with any children.