The Song of the Carpenter’s Plane
By Roon Lewald
Inspecting his own face in his shaving mirror is a man’s most regular opportunity to commune with himself. For a watching male child, the sight of his father grimacing under a foamy white layer of shaving cream as the carefully guided razor draws attention to this or that bump or hollow is a fascinating spectacle that reveals a great deal about his parent’s facial and sometimes emotional characteristics.
Among my earliest memories of my father are the little German ditties he used to hum or sing while I watched him shaving. They included some rather off-colour barrack-room songs he picked up as a young lieutenant in the Weimar-era Reichswehr, e.g. “Mein Sohn heißt Waldermar / weil es im Walde war / O Anne, Anne, Anne-Marie!” (my son’s name is Waldemar / because it happened in the “Wald” [i.e. forest] / Oh Anne-Marie!), and “Freu’ dich, Fritzchen, freu’ dich, morgen gibt’s Seleriesalat!” (Be happy, Fritz, they’ll feed us celery salad tomorrow – an allusion to the supposedly eroticizing powers of the celery allegedly fed to the troops going on furlough to counteract the libido-suppressing “bluestone” with which their usual canteen grub was said to be dosed).
But his own favourite “shaving song” was a humorously wise little popular ballad that summed up his own attitude to life and death. “Das Hobellied” (The Song of the Plane) likens destiny to a carpenter whose plane levels everybody in the end, making a mockery of perennial human dissatisfaction over the supposedly better fortune enjoyed by others. Gracefully accept the life you are granted and enjoy it until the very end without letting life’s large or small vicissitudes get you down. And when Death comes for you, you needn’t be too quick to heed his call – but when he insists, lay down your carpenter’s plane with good grace and go. It’s a message my dad fully accepted and lived out until the end of his life. As I myself head towards my 80s, I increasingly appreciate the grace and wisdom of that little song, capturing as it does one of my most intimate memories of my good father. Here is the text (scroll down for English translation):
Text & music: Konradin Kreutzer
Da streiten sich die Leut’ herum wohl um den Wert des Glücks,
der eine heißt den andern dumm, am End’ weiß keiner nix.
Da ist der allerärmste Mann dem andern viel zu reich.
Das Schicksal setzt den Hobel an und hobelt alles gleich.
Die Jugend will stets mit Gewalt in allem glücklich sein,
doch wird man nur ein bissel alt, da gibt man sich schon drein.
Oft zankt mein Weib mit mir, o Graus, das bringt mich nicht in Wut;
da klopf’ ich meinen Hobel aus und denk, du brummst mir gut!
Zeigt sich der Tod einst, mit Verlaub, und zupft mich, Bruder komm!
da stell’ ich mich im Anfang taub und schau mich gar nicht um.
Doch sagt er: lieber Valentin, mach keine Umständ’, geh!
Da leg ich meinen Hobel hin und sag der Welt adé!
The Carpenter’s Song
You often hear folks squabble over what good fortune means:
One fellow calls the other “fool”, but neither knows the truth.
The very meanest pauper seems to others far too rich.
Fate clamps them all into its vice and planes them equally.
The young forever strive with might for constant happiness
But once you age a little bit, you settle for much less.
My wife oft nags me woefully, but I don’t turn a hair;
I knock the shavings from my plane and let her grumble on!
And when Death shows up one fine day and beckons, brother – come!
I’ll act a little deaf at first, and simply look away.
But when he says: dear Valentine, don’t give me trouble, go!
I’ll lay my plane down on my bench and bid the world farewell!
Entry filed under: van pletzen.