we spin gossamers of air

From Bonhoeffer by Eric Mataxas (page 19):

Sometimes in the evenings they played ball games with the village children in the meadow. Inside they played guessing games and sang folk songs. They “watched the mists from the meadows waft and rise along the fir-trees,” Sabine noted, and they watched dusk fall. When the moon appeared, they sang “Der Mond ist Aufgegangen”:

Der Mond ist aufgegangen,

die goldnen Sternlein prangen

am Himmel hell und klar!

Der Wald steht Schwarz und schweigt

und aus den Wiesen steiget

der weiβe Nebel wunderbar.

The worlds of folklore and religion were so mingled in early twentieth-century German culture that even families who didn’t go to church were often deeply Christian. This folk song is typical, beginning as a paean to the beauty of the natural world, but soon turning into a meditation on mankind’s need for God and finally into a prayer, asking God to help us “poor and prideful sinners” to see his salvation when we die—and in the meantime here on earth to help us to be “like little children, cheerful and faithful.”

Full lyrics (translated by Matthias Claudius, 1773):

The moon has risen.
The golden stars shine
in the sky, brightly and clearly.
The woods stand black and silent.
And magically, from the meadows
the white mist is rising.

How still is the world
and, wrapped in dusk,
as intimate and lovely
as a still chamber
where you can sleep
while forgetting the day’s grief.

Do you see the moon up there?
You can only see half of it,
all the same, it is round and beautiful.
The same goes for many things
that we laugh at without hesitation,
just because our eyes don’t see them.

We proud children of man
are vain poor sinners
who do not know much at all.
We spin gossamers of air
and search for many skills
and further depart from our goal.

God. let us see your salvation,
let us neither trust in any transitory things,
nor enjoy vanity.
Let us become naiv
and here on earth let us be, in your eyes,
devout and happy like children.

Without grief, will you finally please
take us out of this world
by a gentle death;
and when you will have taken us,
let us get to Heaven,
you, our Lord and God.

So then, brothers,
lie down in the name of God –
The evening breeze is cold.
Spare us punishment, God,
and grant us peaceful sleep –
and also to our sick neighbour.

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