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The Lorelei is a large rock on the Rhine river in Germany.


The Lorelei in 1900
Heine + Turner
View of the Rhine as seen from the Lorelei

The name comes from the old German words lureln, Rhine dialect for "murmuring", and the Celtic term ley "rock". The translation of the name would therefore be: "murmur rock" or "murmuring rock". The heavy currents, and a small waterfall in the area (still visible in the early 19th century) created a murmuring sound, and this combined with the special echo the rock produces to act as a sort of amplifier, giving the rock its name.[1] The murmuring is hard to hear today owing to the urbanization of the area. Other theories attribute the name to the many accidents, by combining the German verb "lauern" (to lurk, lie in wait) with the same "ley" ending, with the translation "lurking rock".

By the German language orthographic reform of 1903, in almost all German terms letter "y" was changed for letter "i", but in some German names the letter "y" was kept, such as Speyer, Spay, (Rheinberg-)Orsoy, and including Loreley, which is thus the correct spelling in German.

Original folklore and the creation of the modern myth[edit]

The rock and the murmur it creates have inspired various tales. An old legend envisioned dwarfs living in caves in the rock.

In 1801, German author Clemens Brentano composed his ballad Zu Bacharach am Rheine as part of a fragmentary continuation of his novel Godwi oder Das steinerne Bild der Mutter. It first told the story of an enchanting female associated with the rock. In the poem, the beautiful Lore Lay, betrayed by her sweetheart, is accused of bewitching men and causing their death. Rather than sentence her to death, the bishop consigns her to a nunnery. On the way thereto, accompanied by three knights, she comes to the Lorelei rock. She asks permission to climb it and view the Rhine once again. She does so and thinking that she sees her love in the Rhine, falls to her death; the rock still retained an echo of her name afterwards. Brentano had taken inspiration from Ovid and the Echo myth.

In 1824, Heinrich Heine seized on and adapted Brentano's theme in one of his most famous poems, Die Lorelei. It describes the eponymous female as a sort of siren who, sitting on the cliff above the Rhine and combing her golden hair, unwittingly distracted shipmen with her beauty and song, causing them to crash on the rocks. In 1837 Heine's lyrics were set to music by Friedrich Silcher in the art song Lorelei[2] that became well known in German-speaking lands. A setting by Franz Liszt was also favored and over a score of other musicians have set the poem to music.[3]

The Lorelei character, although originally imagined by Brentano, passed into German popular culture in the form described in the Heine–Silcher song and is commonly but mistakenly believed to have originated in an old folk tale. The French writer Guillaume Apollinaire took up the theme again in his poem "La Loreley", from the collection Alcools which is later cited in Symphony No. 14 (3rd movement) of Dmitri Shostakovich.

References in other works[edit]

Works about, or referencing, the Lorelei:

  • German composer Clara Schumann composed another version of Heine's poem in 1843.
  • German composer Felix Mendelssohn began an opera in 1846 after a libretto by Emmanuel Geibel based on the legend of the Lorelei Rhine maiden for Swedish soprano Jenny Lind.[4] however, he died before he had the chance to finish it.[5]
  • Besides, another completed opera having Lorelei as main character is the English Lurline, by William Vincent Wallace, (first performed in 1860).
  • Soviet composer Dmitri Shostakovich composed a setting of the poem in a 1913 translation by Guillaume Apollinaire as part of his Symphony No. 14.
  • In Eichendorff's 1812 poem "Waldesgespräch", a rider meets a beautiful young woman in the forest who turns out to be "the witch Loreley"; she tells him that he will never leave the forest. Robert Schumann set the poem to music in his 1840 song cycle Liederkreis, Op. 39.
  • Sylvia Plath wrote a poem entitled "Lorelei" (part of the collection The Colossus and Other Poems, first published in 1960).
  • The Surrealist painter Edgar Ende produced an oil painting titled Loreley toward the end of his career, in 1963.
  • The Heine Memorial in the Bronx, New York City, better known as the "Lorelei Fountain", takes the form of the mythical siren from Heine's poem.[6]
  • Stephen Foster's song "Beautiful Dreamer" refers to mermaids chanting the wild Lorelei.
  • Roxy Music's song "Editions of You" references sirens wailing on the Lorelei.
  • Polish musician Kapitan Nemo released a synthpop song, "Twoja Lorelei" ("Your Lorelei"), in 1984.[7]
  • German heavy metal band Scorpions released their song "Lorelei", which is about the love of a sailor, in their 2010 album Sting in the Tail.[8]
  • UK/US Renaissance band Blackmore's Night wrote a song, "Lorelei", telling about the nymph legend and the death toll she took.
  • UK prog rock band Wishbone Ash produced a song about the mystery and dangers of Lorelei on their 1976 album New England.
  • The 1973 animated Star Trek episode "The Lorelei Signal" is about a planet of beautiful women who periodically lure ships to their world and draw the ships' men to their deaths.
  • The Marvel Comics character Lorelei was inspired by this legend.
  • Norwegian goth metal band Theatre of Tragedy released a song entitled "Lorelei", with lyrics by band member Raymond Rohonyi, on their 1998 album Aégis.[9]
  • The Elite Four class of Pokémon trainers in the Pokémon games set in the Kanto region have a member named Lorelei. She is a master Ice-type trainer and all of her Pokémon are part Water-type, possibly alluding to the water spirit myth.[10]
  • The Pogues recorded "Lorelei" in 1989 on their album Peace and Love. "But if my ship, which sails tomorrow / Should crash against these rocks, / My sorrows I will drown before I die / It's you I'll see, not Lorelei".[11] A cover version of this song was recorded by Marc Seymour (formerly of the Australian band Hunters and Collectors) on his 2013 album 'The Seventh Heaven Club'.
  • Israeli Poet Nathan_Alterman wrote two poems in "The Seventh Column" titled "Lorelei" and "Lorelei's Liberation", citing Heine's poem and using the image of Lorelei as a symbol for Germany and its people in WW2. The first written in 1942 at the height of Germany's attack on the Soviet Union near Stalingrad (battle), the second written in 1944 during the Allies campaign in Germany.


A barge carrying 2,400 tons of sulphuric acid capsized on January 13, 2011, near the Lorelei rock, blocking traffic on one of Europe's busiest waterways.[12]

Name usage in mainstream media[edit]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Loreley - Ein Beitrag zur Namendeutung. Accessed June 16, 2006.
  2. ^ Note: A scan of the sheet music and lyrics (printed in 1859; note the spelling "Lorelei") are available on the commons in three images: File:Lorelei1.gif, File:Lorelei2.gif, File:Lorelei3.gif
  3. ^  Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Lorelei". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 
  4. ^ Holland, Henry Scott; Rockstro, William Smith (October 2011). "La Tempesta". Memoir of Madame Jenny Lind-Goldschmidt: Her Early Art-Life and Dramatic Career, 1820–1851. vol.2. Cambridge University Press. pp. 131–132. ISBN 978-1-108-03869-0. 
  5. ^ Steve Schwarz. "Felix Mendelssohn". Classical Net. Retrieved 18 February 2012. 
  6. ^ Joyce Kilmer Park Highlights - Heinrich Heine Fountain : NYC Parks "The Heinrich Heine Fountain (also known as the Lorelei Fountain) honors the German poet, writer, and social dissident Heinrich Heine (1797–1856), whose poem 'Die Lorelei' immortalized the mysterious creature of romantic legend."
  7. ^ Kapitan Nemo - Twoja Lorelei
  8. ^ Scorpions - Sting in the Tail
  9. ^ "Aegis Disocraphy". 
  10. ^ "Aegis Disocraphy". 
  11. ^ "Lorelei". 
  12. ^ Mara, Darren; Illmer, Andreas (January 13, 2011). "Tanker carrying acid capsizes in Germany's Rhine River". Deutsche Welle. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 50°08′22″N 7°43′44″E / 50.13944°N 7.72889°E / 50.13944; 7.72889