Poetry & Protest: Schubart’s ‘Trout’

In a clear stream in happy haste

The impulsive trout darted by like an arrow.

I stood on the bank and watched in sweet quiet

The bath of the lively fish in the clear stream.

A fisherman with his rod stood on the bank

And saw cold-bloodedly how the fish moved about

So long as the water stays clear, I thought,

He won’t catch the trout with his fishing rod.

At last the thief became impatient.

He maliciously made the stream opaque

And I thought, his rod quaked

The fish, the fish was writhing on it,

And I, filled with rage within, looked at the deceived.

You who linger at the Golden Spring

Of a safe youth,

Contemplate the trout;

Recognize her danger, and hurry!

Generally she is missing only

Wisdom. Maidens, keep an eye on

That seducer with the rod! –

Lest you bleed too late.

Christian Friedrich Daniel Schubart, “Die Forelle” in Gedichte (1782)

 “Schubart was, like the trout in the muddied waters, lured back for a visit under the pretense that all had been forgiven. He was immediately seized and thrown in the dungeon of Hohenasperg. There were no charges, no trial—the order of the tyrant was enough. Schubart spent nearly a decade of his life confined in the basement of the fortress tower, deprived of light, and initially forbidden to read or write.

Midway through his imprisonment, Schubart composed the poem “The Trout.” Can there be any doubt but that he was thinking of his own capture and imprisonment when he did so?”

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