Schlafe (The Story)

I got quite sick one morning when I was in Vienna. It was the third week of my backpacking trip in Europe. I panicked for a while as I had plans for the day and limited time in the city, I couldn’t afford (literally) to waste any time. So I went to the local mart next to the hostel, and got myself some healthy food, hoping to ramp up my immune system. By then, I had decided that it was wise to take the morning off to rest.


“Healthy Food”; Wombat’s City Hostel Vienna Naschmarkt, July 2013

While resting on my bunk bed alone in the mixed dorm, a song came to mind, it was an old nursery rhyme I learned when I was younger. I had a vocal teacher briefly in elementary school to prepare me for a state’s traditional singing competition. Apart from Mandarin songs, she also taught me Italian and German songs, “Schlafe” was one of them. “Schlafe (Wiegenlied, D. 498)” was composed by Franz Schubert, an Austrian composer, while the author of the lyrics remained unknown. Schlafe means sleep in German. By the way, most people in Austria speak German. Both Schubert and I had one thing in common, we adore Beethoven. Schubert had the honour to be Beethoven’s torch-bearer at his funeral, and requested to be buried next to him.


Beethoven (left), Schubert (right), Mozart monument (center); Zentralfriedhof Wien, July 2013

I hummed the verse of Schlafe quietly, and added my own melody and lyrics to it. Thankfully, I fell asleep and woke up feeling better in the afternoon. Then, I spent the rest of the day at Haus Der Musik (Museum of Sound and Music). The following day I was almost fully recovered, and resumed my travel plans, one of it was to visit The Vienna Central Cemetery shown above.


View from the ward; July 2016

Being sick in a room in an unfamiliar place was one of the lonelier moments one could encounter. Similar feelings returned three years later when my dad was hospitalised because of cancer. I visited my dad daily before and after work, most of the time he would be asleep, and I would accompany him at a corner. There was one particular day that was extremely quiet, the room looked like a still picture. Once again, Schlafe came to mind, this time I wanted to hum for him. That was the moment when I decided that I had to complete my own version of Schlafe.


“Schlafe” performed by Gundula Janowitz – the version that I learned

German Lyrics:

Schlafe, schlafe, holder, süßer Knabe, 
leise wiegt dich deiner Mutter Hand; 
sanfte Ruhe, milde Labe 
bringt dir schwebend dieses Wiegenband. 

Schlafe, schlafe in dem süßen Grabe, 
noch beschützt dich deiner Mutter Arm; 
alle Wünsche, alle Habe 
faßt sie liebend, alle liebewarm. 

Schlafe, schlafe in der Flaumen Schooße, 
noch umtönt dich lauter Liebeston; 
eine Lilie, eine Rose, 
nach dem Schlafe werd’ sie dir zum Lohn. 

Direct Translation:

Sleep, sleep, gracious, sweet boy, 
softly rocked by your mother’s hand; 
gentle rest, mild refreshment 
brings you this floating cradle-strap. 

Sleep, sleep in the sweet grave, 
still protected by your mother’s arms; 
all her desires, all her possessions 
she holds lovingly, glowing with love. 

Sleep, sleep in the downy bosom, 
still notes of love grow around you; 
a lily, a rose, 
after sleep they will reward you.