Germany – The Lorelei
Above Coblentz, where the Rhine flows through hills covered with vineyards, there is a steep rock, around which many a legend has been woven — the Lorelei Rock. The boatman gazes up at its gigantic summit with awful reverence when his boat glides over the waters at twilight.
Like chattering children the restless waves whisper round the rock, telling wonderful tales of its doings. Above on its gray head, the legend relates that a beautiful but false nymph, clothed in white with a wreath of stars in her flowing hair, used to sit and sing sweet songs, until a sad tragedy drove her forever away.
Long, long ago, when night in her dark garment descended from the hills, and her silent comrade, the pale moon, cast a silver bridge over the deep green steam, the soft voice of a woman was heard from the rock, and a creature of divine beauty was seen on its summit. Her copper locks flowed like a queenly mantle from her graceful shoulders, covering her snow white raiment so that her tenderly-formed body appeared like a cloud of light.
Woe to the boatman who passed the rock at the close of day! As of old, men were fascinated by the heavenly song of the Grecian hero, so was the unhappy voyager allured by this Being to sweet forgetfulness, his eyes, even his soul, would be dazzled, and he could no longer steer clear of reefs and cliffs, and this beautiful siren only drew him to an early grave.
Forgetting all else, he would steer towards her, already dreaming of having reached her; but the jealous waves would round his boat and at last dash him treacherously against the rocks. The roaring waters of the Rhine would drown the cries of agony of the victim would never be seen again.
But the virgin to whom no one had ever approached, continued every night to sing soft and low, till darkness vanished in the first rays of light, and the great star of day drove the gray mists from the valley.
Ronald was a proud youth and the boldest warrior at the court of his father, the Palatinate Count. He heard of this divine, enchanting creature, and his heart burned with the desire to behold her. Before having seen the waternymph, he felt drawn to her by an irresistible power. Under the pretence of hunting, he left the court, and succeeded in getting an old sailor to row him to the rock. Twilight was brooding over the valley of the Rhine when the boat approached the gigantic cliff; the departing sun had long sunk below the mountains, and now night was creeping on in silence; the evening star was twinkling in the deep blue firmament. Was it his protecting-angel who had placed it there as a warning to the deluded young man?
He gazed at it in rapture for some time, until a low cry from the old man at his side interrupted him. ”The Lorelei!” whispered he, startled, “do you see her — the enchantress?” The only answer was a soft murmur which escaped from the youth. With wide-open eyes he looked up and lo!, there she was. Yes, this was she, this wonderful creature! A glorious picture in a dark frame. Yes, that was her copper hair, and those were her flowing white garments. She was hovering up above on the rocks combing her beautiful hair; rays of light surrounded her graceful head, revealing her charms in spite of the night and the distance, and as he gazed, her lips opened, and a song thrilled through the silence, soft and plaintive like the sweet notes of a nightingale on a still summer evening. From her height she looked down into the hazy distance and cast at the youth a rapturous look which ran down into his soul, thrilling his whole frame. His eyes were fixed on the features of this celestial being where he read the sweet story of love…Rocks, stream, glorious night, all melted into a mist before his eyes, he saw nothing but the figure above, nothing but her radiant eyes. The boat crept along, too slowly for him, he could no longer remain in it, and if his ear did not deceive him, this creature seemed to whisper his name with unutterable sweetness, and calling to her, he dashed into the water. A death-like cry echoed from the rocks… and the waves sighed and washed over the unhappy youth’s corpse. The old boatman moaned and crossed himself, and as he did so, lightning tore the clouds asunder, and the loud peal of thunder was heard over the mountains. Then the waves whisperedgently below, and again from the heights above, sad and dying away, sounded the Lorelei’s song.
The sad news was soon brought to the Palatinate Count, who was overpowered with grief and anger. He ordered the false enchantress to be delivered up to him, dead or alive. The next day a boat sailed down the Rhine, manned by four hardy bold warriors. The leader looked up sternly at the great rocks which seemed to be smiling silently down at him. He had asked permission to dash the diabolical seducer from the top of the rocks into the foaming whirlpool below, where she would find a certain death, and the Count had readily agreed to this plan of revenge.
The first shades of twilight were gliding softly over the mountains and hills. The rock was surrounded by armed men, and leader, followed by some daring comrades, was climbing up the side of the mountain, the top of which was veiled in a golden mist, which the men thought were the last rays of sunset. It was a bright gleam of light enshrouding the nymph who appeared on the rocks, dreamily combing her copper hair. She then took a string of pearls from her bosom, and with her slender white hand bound them round her forehead. She cast a mocking glance at the threatening men approaching her. ”What are the weak sons of the earth seeking up here on the heights?” said she, moving her rosy lips scornfully. “You sorceress!” cried the leader, enraged, adding with a contemptuous smile, “You! We shall dash you down into the river below!” An echoing laugh was heard over the mountain. “Oh! The Rhine will come himself to fetch me!” cried the Maiden. Then, bending her lovely body over the precipice yawning below, she tore the jewels from her forehead, hurling them triumphantly into the waters, while in a low sweet voice she sang: ”Haste thee, haste thee, oh father dear! Send forth thy steeds from the waters clear. I will ride with the waves and the wind!”
Then a storm burst forth, the Rhine rose, covering its banks with foam. Two gigantic billows like snow-white steeds rose out of the depths, and carried the nymph down into the rushing current.
The terrified messengers returned to the Count, bringing him the tidings of this wonderful event. Ronald, whose body a chance wave had washed up on the banks of the river, was deeply mourned throughout the country.
From this time forth, the Lorelei was never seen again. Only when night sheds her dark shadow on the hills, and the pale moon weaves a silver bridge over the deep green stream, then the voice of a woman, soft and low, is heard echoing from the heights of the rocks.