Nikolaus Becker

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Plaque for Nikolaus Becker and his Rheinlied - "Sie sollen ihn nicht haben, den freien, deutschen Rhein ..." (They shall not have him, the free, German Rhine)

Nikolaus Becker (8 October 1809 in Bonn - 28 August 1845 in the Hünshoven district of Geilenkirchen) was a German lawyer and writer. His one poem of note was the 1840 "Rheinlied" (Rhine song) which was set to music over 70 times, the most famous setting being Die Wacht am Rhein.

The Rhine Song[edit]

While the French–German enmity already was about 200 years old, it was inspired by the Rhine crisis of 1840, caused by the French prime minister Adolphe Thiers, who again voiced demands that France should own the left bank of the Rhine (described as France's "natural boundary"), as France had done decades earlier during Napoleons reign. In response, Becker wrote a poem called Rheinlied, which contained the verse: "Sie sollen ihn nicht haben, den freien, deutschen Rhein ..." (They shall not have him, the free, German Rhine).

German English

1. Sie sollen ihn nicht haben,
Den freien deutschen Rhein,
Ob sie wie gier'ge Raben
Sich heiser danach schrein,

1. They shall not have him,
The free German Rhine,
Even if they cry like avaricious ravens
Until their voices are hoarse,

2. Solang' er, ruhig wallend,
Sein grünes Kleid noch trägt,
Solang', ein Ruder schallend,
In seine Wogen schlägt.

2. As long as he, flowing calmly,
Is of green colour,
As long as rudders sound
On his waves.

3. Sie sollen ihn nicht,
Den freien deutschen Rhein,
Solang' sich Herzen laben
An seinem Feuerwein;

3. They shall not have him,
The free German Rhine,
As long as hearts refresh themselves
With his fiery wine;

4. Solang' in seinem Strome
Noch fest die Felsen stehn,
So lang' sich hohe Dome
In seinem Spiegel sehn.

4. As long as rocks
Stand firm in his current,
As long as big cathedrals
Are mirrored in his waves.

5. Sie sollen ihn nicht haben,
Den freien deutschen Rhein,
So lang' dort kühne Knaben
Um schlanke Dirnen frein;

5. They shall not have him,
The free German Rhine,
As long as bold boys
Court beautiful girls;

6. Solang' die Flosse hebet
Ein Fisch in seinem Grund,
Solang' ein Lied noch lebet
In seiner Sänger Mund!

6. As long as fish
Swim in his floods,
As long as poets
Write songs about him!

7. Sie sollen ihn nicht haben,
Den freien deutschen Rhein,
Bis seine Flut begraben
Des letzten Manns Gebein.

7. They shall not have him,
The free German Rhine,
Until his flood has covered
The last man's bones.

This patriotic poem brought him much praise throughout Germany. The Prussian King Friedrich Wilhelm IV send him 1000 Thaler, and King Ludwig I of Bavaria honoured him with a goblet. The "Rheinlied" was set to music over 70 times, amongst others by Robert Schumann, and other Rheinlied songs followed, the most famous being Die Wacht am Rhein. The wording was mostly defensive.

The French answered, with Alfred de Musset: "Nous l'avons eu, votre Rhin allemand" (We've had him, your German Rhine) rubbing salt into the wounds Napoleon and others had caused, while Lamartine's "Peace Marseillaise" (1841) was peaceful.

He published a volume of more poems in 1841, but none achieved much popularity.

External links[edit]