A Rhine River Tale
The story of Lorelei is a romantic tale authored by Clemens Brentano at the beginning of the nineteenth century which evolved into or became blended with another story of a woman made famous in a poem of the same name later in the century by H.Heine. Was the tale based on a legend or did it appear just a few hundred years ago in the imagination of these two men?
Brentano’s Lorelei was accused of bewitching men to their death. On the way to her banishment in a nunnery, she leapt to her own death from the rocks above the river Rhine. The subsequent poem by Heine transforms Lorelei into a siren who, similar to tales of mermaids who lure sailors to their death by sitting on rocks by the sea, combing their long beautiful hair and singing a haunting song, lured vessels to their destruction in this section of the Rhine River.
This part of the tale is based on fact : the Rhine at this point on its journey to the North Sea is very deep and extremely narrow. It is near the bend in the river close by the towns of St. Goar and St. Goarhausen. Below its surface the rocks and the subsequent current make the river a danger to boats and men. Many shipwrecks have occurred here over the centuries. The name of Lorelei or Loreley as it sometimes is spelled appears to have been derived from the old German and Celtic words meaning “murmur of rocks”. There was once a distinct sound made by the flow of the fast flowing water over the rocks which was echoed back from the rocky cliff above .This sound was noted before the area was transformed by the intrusion of modern day noise. Today you would be hard pressed to hear this siren song .