Poet of the week                

(April 4th 1785 – January 20th 1859)

Bettina Brentano von Arnim (the Countess of Arnim) was born Elisabeth Catharina Ludovica Magdalena Brentano, in Frankfurt am Main. She was a German writer and novelist.

Bettina Brentano was a writer, publisher, composer, singer, visual artist, an illustrator, patron of young talent and a social activist. She was the archetype of the Romantic era’s zeitgeist, and the crux of many creative relationships of canonical artistic figures. Bettina is best known for the company she kept. She had deep friendships with Goethe and Beethoven and tried to foster an artistic union between them. Her composition style was unconventional, in that it moulded and melded her favourite features of the old folk music and historic themes.

Bettina von Arnim was related to the German writers Clemens Brentano and Achim von Arnim: the first was her brother, the second her husband. Her daughter Gisela von Arnim became a prominent writer as well.

She was born into a large family of an Italian merchant. Her brother, Clemens Brentano, the great poet known for his lyric poems, libretto and singspiel was a mentor and protector to her, and influenced her to read poetry of the time, especially Goethe. In 1811 she married Achim von Arnim, the renowned Romantic poet. They settled in Berlin and had seven children. She wrote, inspired and published until January 20th, 1859 when she died surrounded by her children. From 1991 until 31 December 2001, her portrait was printed on the German 5-DM bill.

The years of 1806-08, she was integral to gathering the folk songs for Des Knaben Wunderhorn, the collaborative work of her brother and her future husband, Achim von Armin. This piece became a touchstone of the Romantic musical and poetic style. From 1808 to 1809 she studied voice, composition and piano in Munich under Peter von Winter and Sebastian Bopp. She published her first song under the pseudonym Beans Beor. Bettina sang briefly in the Berliner Singakademie and composed settings of Hellenistic poems by Amalie von Helvig.

She was a muse to the progressives of Prussia. She was linked to the socialist movement and was an advocate for the oppressed Jewish community. She published two politically dissident works but she evaded chastisement because of her friendship with the King of Prussia. After the death of her husband, Bettina continued her dedication to the creative community. She published a collection of seven songs as a public sign of support for Prussian Music Director, Gaspare Spontini, who was under a great deal of duress.

A great love of Goethe’s work and friendship, which began when she was 21 and Goethe 58, stayed with her over the breadth of her life. Bettina’s Briefwechsel mit einem Kinde (literally: “Exchange of letters with a child”) was a published volume of letters between her and the renowned author which portrayed a mutual romance. However, the originals of these letters were discovered after her death. However, it is not disputed that thirteen letters to her from Goethe have been found as has been one to her from Beethoven. The text of the found letter from Beethoven is identical to what she published. Also, in 2002, the Beethoven Journal, published by the American Beethoven Society, included an article that claimed that Bettina was Beethoven’s famous “Immortal Beloved”.

Have a penchant for writing heartfelt poems? Send in your heart songs to lakna199@gmail.com or snail mail The Nation-Soul, 742, Maradana Road, Colombo 10. Please write ‘Heart songs’ on the envelope or as the subject line of your email.


A lost world

This world has lost its glory for me,
The word teacher means nothing to me,
Once so precious students of mine
Now seems so meaningless,
Like the dust in the wind.

(Bertholamuze Nisansala Dharmasena – Matara)


I tried to hide

Though days passed by,
And the sun rose,
A thousand times,
I never thought,
Of coming out of my hutch.

I tried to hide,
From the sailing clouds,
I tried to hide,
From the blooming flowers,
And the dew drops that fall.

I tried to hide
From your smiles,
To escape from your kindness
I tried to refrain
From understanding you.

I tried to hide
From your eyes of joy;
To escape from the burden
Of your friendship
I tried to hide.

I tried to hide
And keep my eyes and ears closed,
So that I wouldn’t hear your voice,
And I wouldn’t see your shadow
That tried to follow me.

I tried to hide,
And I did hide,
I kept myself away,
From you and from your eyes
I stayed away.

But when I came out
Of my hiding place,
I realised that I have lost everything
I lost you,
I couldn’t find you.

I ran about everywhere
Trying to find you
But you had gone away
Out of my life
To somewhere I don’t know

I couldn’t find you
Though I tried to,
I can’t believe it
Once, I tried to hide from you
But now, I’m trying to find you.

(Amanda Benjamin)


I watched the choppy waves……

I watched the choppy waves as I strolled on,
Along the Galle Face Green;
The uproar, turbulence or bedlam on the watery kingdom,
Seemed greater than it has ever been.

Like grey stallions, the great billows came galloping
Till they were checked by the shore;
The belligerent breakers with the stone dyke,
Seemed to have declared war.

The great billows fell as swiftly as they rose,
And were, forever, on the race;
Despite the sweltering heat, perfectly cool I felt,
As sea breeze caressed my face.

Yet deeper turbulence, I felt in my heart,
As I passed by the lovers;
Who sat smooching along the modest stone ledge
Mistaken always for their personal bowers!

Faster and faster still, I felt my heart pulsate,
Lest I should bump into her there;
My sweet angel and my best friend,
And my lovely lotus fair.

Like a snooper, I watched every girl,
But a voyeur I didn`t want to be ever;
I only wanted to see if my dove was there
Like a lover, jealous, doubtful but clever.

But, with my destination looming larger and closer still,
I let up my search and hastened my steps thither;
Soon I felt jealousy loosen its noose on my heart,
And all my apprehensions swiftly wither!
(Jayashantha Jayawardhana - Wayamba University)



Fortunate eyes see
The heavenly display of seven colours
In the dull skies,
Hopeful hearts wait,
Until it disappears
Patient minds stare
For a longer period,
Calm hands do not
Senses with solidarity and friendship
Imply the fellow beings to see the Rainbow;
Which is not synthetic!

(Tharindu Weerasinghe - Alumni of the University of Peradeniya)